In the Loopus has covered many a niche topic so far. But, we have yet to do something completely unheard of, so I’m going to toss my hat in the ring with this:
“The bear loved the deer, it was obvious. It ripped the deer’s throat out, and then licked the dying deer with the most passionate affection
I thought of you and me.”
That’s a poem by David Cronenberg. It also reminds me of how Detroit Pistons fans feel they’ve been treated by their team, from top to bottom. Let’s get into it.
The Sixers Don’t Need Tobias Harris
Do you remember when Tobias Harris claimed that “casual” Philadelphia 76ers fans would trade him for a Crumbl cookie (btw those things have like 1000 calories per cookie!) and meant it as a shot? I think most Sixers fans would really do that trade about now.
Harris is in the final year of his correctly maligned five-year, $180 million dollar contract and is no longer of use to this team. When he was acquired for Landry Shamet, a Miami Heat first-round pick that was not actually that valuable, and cap filler, Harris had importance as a supplementary offensive option who could attack close outs from the four spot next to Joel Embiid and space the floor off of a career best shooting year. He was also acquired because Elton Brand likes names.
After the infamous (and franchise altering) Kawhi Leonard shot, the Sixers lost Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris’ role changed again. He became a late game shot creator and a small forward next to Al Horford. That went predictably terribly. Two years later, he became the second option as Ben Simmons sat out. This is partially to exonerate him of some criticism but also to make this dramatically clear: the Sixers have no idea who they want Tobias Harris to be and, because of that, Tobias Harris has no idea who he should be.
When PJ Tucker was brought in, part of it was because of his relationship with James Harden and President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey (ironic, considering Elton Brand’s tenure), but Tucker also replaced what had been Tobias’ most successful role as a 76er. After the Harden and Tucker trade, however, Harris has not reclaimed that role. Instead, Robert Covington and Nicolas Batum (check last week’s ITL!) have been incredible as rangy injections of energy, defense, and shooting next to Maxey and Embiid.
That’s not to say Harris has been bad this year. The Sixers have a net rating of +3.3 with Harris on the court, which is not a bad number. The number that does look bad for the Crumbl Cookie Comeback King is that the Sixers are a whopping +14.9 with Harris off the court.
That’s a huge number. For some context, the Boston Celtics currently have the best team net rating in the NBA at +9.5. Not only is that miles behind the Sixers sans Tobias, the difference between Harris being on court and Harris being off court is the same as the different between the Celtics and the 23rd ranked Chicago Bulls.
Additionally, Harris carries a $39.3 million dollar cap hit this year. The Sixers seem insistent on holding on to the 12th year vet, but there is no reason he should be on this team after the deadline. The Sixers need him now less than ever, and it’s questionable if they ever really needed him.
Shades of (Yurt) Seven: Omer, Toni, and Kevin
Let’s get one thing clear: the Utah Jazz have not been a fun watch this year. Their only real offensive option is Lauri Markannen, who remains very good. They’re eighth in assists and 3-point attempts, as well as sitting in second in total rebounding and first in offensive boards. And yet, they’re 7-13 and 12th in the West.
Many would point to Walker Kessler’s statistically disappointing sophomore year (albeit mired a bit by injury). He’s taken a step back in every shooting category, rebounding, assists, blocks, steals, turnovers, and points per game. Jazz fans will inevitably call me a box-score watcher, but from my POV, it seems that Kessler is the same player, the Jazz are just a worse team.
However, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that Omer Yurtseven is now starting over the Auburn product. And he is a fun player to watch.
Yurtseven is not shooting well. He’s not playing more minutes, and he has definitely not been contributing to winning basketball all year. But, in place of Kessler, he had a casual nine-point and four-assist game with a game winning block. Oh yeah, and 15 rebounds!
I understand this is a Timberwolves site, and that I am a Timberwolves fan, and this will look like Walker Kessler/Rudy Gobert Schadenfreude. That is not what this is. Kessler will undoubtedly be the starter for the Jazz when he is cleared from the injury report. But Yurtseven is still a fun developmental story. His stats on the year have not taken a big step in any direction, back or forward, but these past few games offer a theory of who Omer could potentially be.
The Jazz have proven to be a rehabilitation facility for big men, from Markannen to John Collins to Yurtseven and Kelly Olynyk. This may be who Omer is becoming. It may be a stretch that Jazz fans will remember and as such assign the title of “Jazz Legend.” While we’re on the subject, comparisons to Kevin Durant and Toni Kukoc are purely flammable and meant to stir the pot. Omer Yurtseven in not going to become a Hall of Famer.
But, these are the moments that every fanbase knows in the middle of a struggling season; a bench player turned superstar for a week-long stretch. Every fan that’s been along for the ride knows how fun these moments can be, and I’m going to enjoy watching these couple of games. Why was six afraid of seven? Because Yurtseven Yurteight Yurtnine.
(Editor’s note: I apologize for that on Thilo’s behalf.)
Not So Golden State: Warriors are Falling Apart
God, that feels great to say. I sure hope I don’t jynx this one because the mighty “this ain’t Minnesota” Golden State Warriors are imploding. Where to start?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Chris Paul has another hamstring injury. Well, it’s a left leg nerve, but the point stands. During the first week of In the Loopus, I called this a match made in my personal hell. The Warriors make me angry. Chris Paul makes me angry. The two combined was almost too much to handle. At that point, Chris Paul’s fit with the second unit and Stephen Curry looked phenomenal.
He’s been good, with a stretch of double doubles against the Rockets and Thunder, but Paul is starting to show his strengths less and less. The injury prone label has now been fastened to CP3 so strongly that any attempt to remove it would likely herniate him for the rest of the year. Additionally, the shooting is no longer even reliable. Most damning though, Brandin Podziemski has been excellent in Paul’s absence, even closing the game in what Head Coach Steve Kerr experienced as an escape from purgatory.
Moving on from Curry’s new back court partner, it’s hard to properly encompass the current state of Klay Thompson. The Splash Brother is off to his worst shooting season outside of 2020-21 where he played only 32 games coming off an ACL and Achilles tear. Most notably, his press conferences have become pig-headed arguments between Klay and reporters filled with condescension and thinly veiled contempt.
Draymond is still doing Draymond things, both the good and the bad. Kerr is still struggling to play young guys, only giving Podziemski and Moses Moody minutes as a last resort. Curry is still stuck carrying a team that promised him help in the closing act of his career.
This is how dynasties end. They can end with a whimper, but many end with an explosion. The Warriors are currently letting out a wheeze that sounds like a death rattle but could also be a fuse in time for the deadline. Recent reports suggest that the Warriors could move a big contract if the team does not improve. Paul’s expiring deal likely makes the most sense, but Andrew Wiggins could also be moved, especially if he continues playing at the level he has this season.
It’s looking more and more like that 2022 Championship was just about Golden State being in the right place at the right time, a final run with a team that was not ascending, but treading water just long enough to see the top.
For the stalwart Steve Kerr, this feels similar to Brad Stevens’ exit in Boston. Sometimes, teams just need to make a change in leadership, to get a new voice in the locker room and change something, anything. Kerr is undoubtedly the Warriors’ best coach ever and a future ring of honor member, but something will need to change. Unfortunately for any Kerr replacement, the Warriors do not have a Jayson Tatum or a Jaylen Brown. Curry will be 36 next year. Thompson will be 34, as will Draymond. Chris Paul will be a monstrous 39 years old.
NBA Twitter refers to washed players largely as “Celtics Shaq” but this downfall deserves a different name. For those who do not know, the YouTube staple “Duck Song” has a new Christmas iteration in the year 2023. The Warriors are the Duck Song. They were annoying then, but now? Now, they’re just old and chasing their past glory. The product is inevitably worse. The players are not who they were, yet their egos scream with the confidence of the past, not the reality of the present. The coach is struggling to change in a place that needs overhaul. The Warriors are slowly drifting into a whirlpool they have spent Curry’s brilliance trying to escape.
Western Conference Check-In
Not much has changed in the past week. The Wolves sit atop the West, while the Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, and Portland Trail Blazers sit at the bottom. There’s a clear top-three in the West right now among the Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Denver Nuggets. However, even then, the Wolves are a full two games ahead of those two.
Behind the top three, the Sacramento Kings continue to play fast and exciting basketball and, at 11-7, are expected to land home court advantage after missing the playoffs entirely for 20 years. Behind them, the Phoenix Suns are rising and the Dallas Mavericks are falling. The Mavs miraculously went on a 30-0 lead against the Thunder only to lose. They’ve lost two straight, including five of their last seven.
In the Play-In spots, the Los Angeles Lakers might go on an In-Season Tournament run to rise out of the seventh seed while the New Orleans Pelicans will hope that the return of Trey Murphy can help buoy them into a top-six spot.
Beneath them, the Los Angeles Clippers have slowly started working their way back after a disastrous start to the James Harden era and sit at 9-10 and have won six of their last ten. The now-back-down-to-Earth Houston Rockets and Warriors are currently battling for the last play-in spot, the irony being that the Rockets are surprising to see here, as are the Warriors for all the wrong reasons. As mentioned before, the Jazz, Blazers, Grizzlies, and Spurs round out the West, but Portland has been playing much better recently and Memphis is preparing for the return of superstar Ja Morant in the next ten or so games.
Buyers? Sellers? Pacers! - The Indiana Pacers are having a great year. They’re having so great of a year, in fact, that they may push to make a deep playoff run. Those are not to uncommon in Indiana, but this is the first time in a long time that the Pacers truly have an MVP level player like they do in Tyrese Halliburton. Many targets have been suggested, most notably two Toronto Raptors forwards in Pascal Siakam and former Hoosier OG Anunoby.
Simultaneously, this is a team that is a year removed from the seventh pick and two years removed from the sixth pick. Is it insane to argue that the Pacers could sell veteran talent like Buddy Hield or TJ McConnell or even Myles Turner to find more space for players like Andrew Nembhard or recent high lottery pick Jarace Walker? This is the problem that every young team has to face: when does the rebuild end? The Pacers are gearing up to make that decision very shortly.
Strawther and Watson: Attorneys at Ball - There was a time when the Nuggets bench was a ton of weird, high potential, “two years away from being two years away” forwards with the occasional second round high floor point guard. Before that, it was littered with shooters who struggled to do much else (Malik Beasley, I miss you). This has been a clear difference between former GM Tim Connelly and current GM Calvin Booth. While Connelly found joys in the “maybes,” Booth has found consistency in the “definitelies.”
Julian Strawther has by no means been perfect. He’s a rookie still trying to find consistency in role and touches. But, there have there been glimpses, real wow moments at the player Strawther can be. That’s what everyone said would happen when the Nuggets grabbed him at 29th, just like they had down with Christian Braun a year before.
While Braun has continued to be himself, I’m more intrigued by his draft mate Peyton Watson. For years, there were some of us setting the stage for Zeke Nnaji as the future reserve behind Nikola Jokić. Instead, Watson has grown from underachiever at UCLA to a real rotation piece for Denver. Those developments will prove huge for a Nuggets team that just lost Bruce Brown and now needs to prepare for losing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who holds a player option for next season.
Knicks Balanced Attack - While RJ Barrett has come down to Earth, it’s pretty funny to see how the New York Knicks’ Villanova strategy is working. Jalen Brunson is already joining Carmelo Anthony at the top of the “Knicks since 2000” Power Rankings. Josh Hart is a weird, weird man on Twitter, but an incredible glue guy who grabs certain rebound that 6’4 players shouldn’t have a chance at. Donte DiVincenzo has been huge for a team that can’t score at points, and should be in sixth man of the year conversations.
Scouting the jersey and not the player shouldn’t work. Luckily though, that’s not what the Knicks are doing. They’ve just happened to bring in the best that Nova has to offer (sorry, Mikal Bridges is not crossing the city. More on him another time.)
The Theis is Right - The Clippers are 6-3 since signing Daniel Theis on November 15th. Between him, Ivica Zubac, and Mason Plumlee, the Clippers have three solidly good big men. Considering the rest of the roster, maybe stability and low usage is perfect.
Nikola Jokić - Still good, probably on pace for MVP once again.
Blazing Trails and Biting Nails - The Blazers were so close to getting their own section, largely because I have so much to say about Toumani Camara. The 52nd overall pick in this past draft was a thrown in as part of the Deandre Ayton for Jusuf Nurkic swap. He has been so incredible defensively, all while wearing Scottie Pippen’s old number, that it’s enough to get excited about. Additionally, Mathise Thybulle has improved his shooting after nearly bolting for Dallas this past offseason. Malcolm Brogdon continues to be excellent as a mentor. Deandre Ayton is averaging a double double.
All those things are nice stories, but at the center of the rebuild, Shaedon Sharpe has fully blossomed into a two way star and Scoot Henderson is playing his best stretch of basketball in the NBA. The Trail Blazers are well on their way in the post-Dame era.
Weekly Hero: The Theory of Bojan Bogdanovic
Every week has a different hero and a different trait. From Joe Ingles’ leadership and dad-like responsibility to Bismack Biyombo perseverance in rebounding and in staying in the NBA, there’s always something to aspire for. But I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted something the way I want to be counted on like the Pistons are on Bojan Bogdanovic.
The Pistons have been oft mentioned early on here, so I will gave them a break for the next few weeks, but my interest comes from a place of encouragement and intrigue, not slander and trolling.
The Pistons are 2-18. They have lost 17 straight. They are 9-54 since 2023 started. Amazingly, they are counting on Bojan Bogdanovic — good player, good guy, not a superstar — to save them. I want my friends to count on me the way Detroit has. I want to be there to help them like I hope Bojan can for the Pistons. He’s the hero for the week. He’s the hero I need for the Pistons. He’s the hero I want to be.