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The Bucks’ Offense, Max Christie And More

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Welcome to “Four Things With Frank,” a column I intend to make a fairly frequent tradition in which I share a handful of NBA observations. Sometimes, I’ll touch on four things. Sometimes, it’ll be five. All that matters is maintaining the alliteration and conveying an assortment of NBA-related thoughts.

Not everything will be positive. Not everything will be negative. It might even be neutral, a mere highlighting of a trend without any firm positive or negative connotation. Hopefully, you all enjoy it or, at the very least, learn something from these pieces. Let’s get to it.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ Offense Is Sticky

When the Milwaukee Bucks traded for All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard shortly before the season began, the belief was that they were swapping the defensive juice Jrue Holiday provided for the seismic offensive pop Lillard could inject. For years, Milwaukee’s title hopes rested on a stingy, elite defense — the very identity that powered it to a ring in 2020-21. But after a pair of early playoff exits, part of which stemmed from Holiday’s inconsistent decision-making and scoring, the Bucks pivoted to land Lillard and embrace an offense-first vision.

Through one month, the experiment has gone fine. Milwaukee is 12-5 and one game behind the Boston Celtics for the top spot in the East. Despite a frigid start from deep, Lillard is averaging 25.6 points (60.1 percent true shooting) and 6.3 assists. Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to rampage through opponents, averaging 29.9 points (62.7 percent true shooting), 10.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks.

Yet the Bucks haven’t established themselves as a premier offense or even resembled one for lengthy stretches. They’re seventh in offensive rating, 21st in defensive rating and 12th in net rating. The offense is good, but certainly not any sort of juggernaut ready to torch defenses and fuel a championship right now. I see far too many possessions devoid of a clear purpose, reliant on the talents of Lillard, Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez to counter any stagnation.

Milwaukee has to be a flamethrowing offense to win it all. I do not trust the defense. Although it has been better since reverting to standard drop coverage against pick-and-rolls on Nov. 3 (13th in defensive rating over the past 13 games), the point-of-attack options and wing depth are shaky. Andre Jackson Jr. and MarJon Beauchamp feel crucial. They provide some much-needed  defense, size and range. That’s a bit concerning, given they’re first- and second-year players.

Fortunately for this group, it’s not even December. The Bucks have time to navigate these kinks, establish cohesion and find the optimal formula offensively. Starting from a top-10 baseline is not a bad place to be, particularly after so much turnover occurred during the summer. But they must make substantial progress over the next 4.5 months. This is not a dominant offense, and so many possessions these days are a stark reminder.

Moritz Wagner And The Orlando Magic’s Bench Brigade

On Friday afternoon, the Orlando Magic routed a shorthanded Celtics team, 113-96, to extend their winning streak to six games (it’s since moved to seven games). Leading the charge was Wagner, who notched a game- and season-high 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Wagner has appeared in each of the 12-5 Magic’s 17 games this season. He’s only failed to score in double-digits three times and is averaging 12.5 points on a league-best 70.9 percent true shooting.

As Orlando aims to snap its three-year playoff drought, Wagner has proven integral. He’s one of the NBA’s foremost backup centers piloting a delightfully fun, cohesive and good bench unit. Since joining the Magic, he’s cemented himself as an efficient complementary scorer, averaging 9.7 points on 62.7 percent true shooting across 2021-22 and 2022-23.

This year, he’s ascended to another level and formed a snazzy two-man game with Cole Anthony and Joe Ingles. Wagner is a rugged screener who embraces physicality, finishes with both hands and drives closeouts. He moves into space keenly off the ball, is drilling 36.7 percent of his triples and touts a nifty little low-block game with dexterous footwork.

When Wagner is joined by fellow reserves, Anthony, Gary Harris, Ingles, Jonathan Isaac, Orlando has outscored opponents by 13 points in 58 minutes. His play is a leading reason why.

Cade Cunningham’s Finishing Woes

Through 92 career NBA games, Cade Cunningham sports a true shooting percentage of 50.2 — nearly identical to this year’s 50.1 percent mark. That is bad. League average true shooting is currently 57.5 percent. According to Cleaning the Glass, he’s ranked in the 99th or 100th percentile every year for percentage of unassisted makes. He shoulders a monstrous creation burden. But it does not entirely absolve him of the glaring struggles he’s endured thus far.

There are plenty of factors at play here. He is comfortable shooting from all three levels, but has never been effective from deep (31.3 percent) or inside the arc (46.3 percent), despite that comfort. He rarely draws shooting fouls (.179 career free-throw rate). The Detroit Pistons’ floor-spacing constantly impedes on his driving lanes and room to maneuver.

Yet among the most prevalent problems for him is his dreadful finishing. His blend of size, pace and savvy screen usage help him generate tons of paint touches. They haven’t helped him convert that volume into steady production, though. As a rookie, his 58 percent clip at the rim ranked in the 28th percentile. Last season, in an abbreviated 12-game sample, he shot 54 percent (14th percentile). This year, he’s shooting 51 percent (15th percentile).

Cunningham rarely operates with force downhill. His final step is hesitant and timid. He does not explode off the ground. It leaves him susceptible to late rotations or being blocked, and doesn’t lend him the benefit of the doubt for potential foul calls. So many of his looks are daunting. That should not be the case for shots within such close range of the hoop.

Again, not all of this is Cunningham’s responsibility. The severe lack of space hamstrings how regularly he can mash the accelerator and commit to a hard, forceful drive. But improved spacing also won’t solve everything. He has not been merely a poor finisher. He is among the league’s least worst since being drafted in 2021. If he’s going to eventually emerge as an efficient scorer, he has to remedy these woes.

Max Christie Is Finding A Role

Despite Gabe Vincent, Cam Reddish, Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura all being sidelined, the Lakers outlasted Cleveland, 121-115, on Saturday night. The upshot of those absences meant second-year wing Max Christie received a career-high 33 minutes, including down the stretch in closing time.

Over the past three games, the 20-year-old has played 81 minutes, started twice, and averaged 8.7 points (54.6 percent true shooting) and 2.3 assists. After knocking down 41.9 percent (26-of-62) of his long balls as a rookie, he’s struggled to the tune of 25 percent (6-of-24) this season. The hope for him and Los Angeles is he rediscovers that shooting stroke because the flashes in other areas are glowing.

Christie matched up with Donovan Mitchell on Saturday. Against the Dallas Mavericks days earlier, he wrangled with Kyrie Irving periodically. In both instances, he showcased intriguing point-of-attack chops. He’s an exceptionally fluid lateral mover and mirrors changes of directions with quick hips, though his slight frame can allow him to be pushed off of spots. His blend of defense, shooting and ancillary facilitating are enticing.

Whenever Vincent, Reddish, Vanderbilt and Hachimura return, Christie’s spot in the rotation may evaporate. But the outline of a highly useful role player who nets threes, bothers star scorers and offers playmaking value as a connective passer is easy to envision. The past few games have reinforced that.





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Tyrese Haliburton Leading League in Offensive Rating – Basketball Insiders

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Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton has been a revelation this year. Not only did he make his second All-Star Team, but he has developed into one of the best floor generals in the NBA. Haliburton is leading the league in assists per game (11.7), but he is also leading the NBA in offensive rating (124.5), a key advanced statistical category. Offensive rating is a category that measures a player’s efficiency at producing points for the offense. Considering the Pacers have one of the best offenses in the league, the fact that the young guard is leading in this category is highly impressive.

Pacers Point Guard, Tyrese Haliburton, Leading NBA in Offensive Rating

Tyrese Haliburton’s All-Star Season

Tyrese Haliburton is having a career year. Not only is he the league leader in offensive rating and assists per game, but he is also tallying a career-high player efficiency rating of 25.3. On top of this, the former Sacramento King is also averaging 21.9 points per game and a three-point shooting percentage of 40.0 percent. Haliburton is also getting more acclimated to more ball-handling duties this year as he currently possesses a career-high usage rate of 25.9 percent.

Clearly, the Indiana Pacers are becoming more and more comfortable with giving the young point guard the keys to the metaphorical car. Trading for Pascal Siakam also helped matters by giving Haliburton another weapon to utilize in the pick and roll and take some of the scoring pressure off of his shoulders. Tyrese Haliburton has not just been one of the best point guards in the NBA this year, but one of the best players in general. As a result, he has the Pacers in prime position to make some noise in the postseason in the Eastern Conference.

Can the Indiana Pacers Make a Deep Playoff Run? 

As of February 23rd, 2024, the Indiana Pacers have a win-loss record of 32-25 and reside in the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. As a team, they have a team offensive rating of 120.9 to go along with a team defensive rating of 119.3. On top of this, Indiana also possesses a team rebounding percentage of 48.6 percent. Tyrese Haliburton is not the only weapon the Pacers have on their roster. As alluded to already, they brought in Pascal Siakam and were able to retain Myles Turner in the process. Do not be surprised if the Indiana Pacers make a deep playoff run this season in the Eastern Conference. Especially if they get a favorable matchup in the first round.



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Nikola Jokic 4th NBA Player With Triple-Double Against Every Team

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Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic became the first player in NBA history to shoot 10 of 10 from the field and record 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a triple-double game, in Thursday night’s 130-110 win over the Washington Wizards.

The six-time All-Star center closed out his performance with 21 points, 19 rebounds, 15 assists, and one steal in a little over 31 minutes of action. It was his 16th triple-double of the season, second to Domantas Sabonis‘ 18.

It was his third triple-double with a perfect shooting percentage on 10 or more attempts — and he’s the only player since the NBA-ABA merger to accomplish that feat once, according to OptaSTATS.

Per multiple NBA betting sites, Jokic is the odds-on favorite to win MVP this season. Sportsbooks are still showing great odds for Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Jokic, 29, also became the fourth player in NBA history to record at least one triple-double against every opponent in the league. He nearly got there in the first half, amassing 10 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists.

“After I finish my career, it’s a legacy and milestone,” Jokic said. “I’m going to look back and I’m going to say that’s a really cool thing to do.”

Nikola Jokic became the fourth NBA player to record a triple-double against every opponent

LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Maurice Stokes are the other three NBA players with a triple-double against every team. James is with his third team, whereas Westbrook has played for five different franchises.

Stokes played just three seasons (1955-58) in the ’50s, when the league had only eight teams.

He played his first two seasons with the Rochester Royals, and then owners Lester and Jack Harrison moved the franchise to Cincinnati, where he finished his career.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone praised Jokic after the victory.

“What’s unique about him is he can impose his will in so many different areas,” Malone said. “Some guys were great scorers, but Nikola, he can score, he can rebound, he can play-make. He can just impact the game across the board. As we always talk about, he’s just the definition of greatness.”

Westbrook is the NBA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles with 198. Oscar Robertson is second with 181, followed by Magic Johnson (138), Jokic (121), James (110), Jason Kidd (107), and other all-time greats.

Trailing Sabonis and Jokic in triple-doubles this season include Doncic (10), Antetokounmpo (7), James (3), Scottie Barnes (3), Anthony Davis (2), Joel Embiid (2), and Josh Hart (2).





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Nikola Jokic Makes History…Again – Basketball Insiders

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Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets came back from the All-Star Break looking refreshed and ready to show the league why they are the defending champions. While they played the struggling Washington Wizards, the Nuggets returned to dominant form after a three-game losing streak before the All-Star Break. However, the story of the night was reigning Finals MVP, Nikola Jokic. Jokic made history yet again as he posted an unthinkable stat-line and made history with the triple-double he recorded (21 points, 19 rebounds, 15 assists, and 100 percent shooting from the field).

Nikola Jokic Continues to Add to His Legacy in Dominant Win Over Washington Wizards

Nikola Jokic’s Perfect Game From the Field

The Serbian sensation passed Wilt Chamberlain for most 20-10-10 games without missing a shot in NBA history. He is also the first player in league history to finish a game with at least 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 assists while shooting perfect from the field. Anytime a player who is the number one or two option on a team and does not miss a single shot from the field, it is extremely impressive.

The fact that the Joker has now done this a total of three times is borderline unfathomable. Jokic’s efficiency alone makes him one of, if not, the best center in the entire NBA. Without him, the Nuggets would be a play-in team at best. Jokic has already proven himself in today’s league. However, the fact he continues to dominate the league as he has is very reminiscent of greats like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. His one hundred percent shooting night was not the only thing he accomplished in the win over the Washington Wizards.

He Joins Elite Company With His Triple-Double

Jokic has now recorded a triple-double against every team in the league (besides the Nuggets of course). He joins LeBron James and Russell Westbrook as the only players in NBA history to accomplish such a feat. Currently, the Joker has a career total of 121 triple-doubles. He only trails Magic Johnson (138), Oscar Robertson (181), and Russell Westbrook (198) on the all-time list in this department.

What is most impressive about this fact is that Jokic is a center. Normally, centers are nowhere near as adept passers as guards and forwards. However, Nikola Jokic is one of a kind. With the Denver Nuggets rested after the All-Star Break, the rest of the league could be in for a rude awakening as Nikola Jokic continues to make a solid case for his third league MVP award.



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