The NBA is a fun follow almost every night but last night… last night stood out.
It all started away from the court as the three players above were all in the same 3-way trade… a trade that LITERALLY BROKE TWITTER!
It’s 2015 now. The “_________ just broke Twitter” tweet reaction to a pop-culture event felt old back in 2013. The “just broke Twitter” reaction should have been retired in November when Kim Kardashian’s PAPER cover was titled “Break The Internet”, and the internet, Twitter, and Photoshop’s rep all withstood it.
In fact, to my knowledge, there are only two events that literally broke Twitter from functioning: Ellen’s A-List Oscar selfie locked out users for a time before it recovered for 3.3 million retweets.
And now, the J.R. Smith / Dion Waiters trade.
The timeline of events (no pun intended):
Wait, former Syracuse player Scoop Jardine got the scoop before Woj?
By now, I was mashing the refresh button on my browser. The details of the trade began to be reported, in suspenseful, one-by-one manner.
Legit LOLs at this point. Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith are both getting traded!?!
My first coherent thought was: wait, I don’t want these me-first volume shooters to go anywhere! How can they be more fun than where they are now? I’ll miss Dion waving his hands in Cleveland. I’ll miss any J.R. Smith going out in New York story.
But then I immediately realized… Wait! Dion will be waving his hands at Russell Westbrook now and J.R. Smith is in the playoffs, potentially doing this to LeBron. I’m in! That was quick.
Then, Reggie Jackson was originally reported in the deal, going to New York as critics started lauding New York for getting a real piece out of this, and winning a trade for once, and simultaneously scoffing at OKC’s penny-pinching again. Fortunately for the latter, OKC did not include Reggie Jackson and we can collectively smh at the below “sources”.
Finally, shortly after, Twitter broke.
Your timeline wasn’t refreshing tweets after the 6:50/6:55 CT range for about 45 minutes, but tweets were still going through. I knew I was addicted when I sat at my computer refreshing Woj, Zach Lowe, Marc Stein, and netw3rk‘s feeds (the former for more news, the latter for comedy.)
(I can totally picture this.)
Twitter broke at the news of a trade involving both J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters. I’d like to believe that this was no coincidence and the previous statement will guarantee a laugh 5 months from now when I watch them both in the playoffs.
So where does that leave us from a basketball standpoint, looking ahead to said playoffs?
Well, to me, it’s generally a low risk-high reward move for the contenders and a cleaning of the slate for the Knickerbockers. Quick aside: the Knicks could have moved Iman Shumpert much earlier than this season for more, but that was before Phil Jackson was in charge. We can assess this trade for the Knicks next summer when they actually use the increase in cap space because right now, everything is just pure speculation.
For OKC, they get Dion Waiters for a protected future 1st-round pick and Lance Thomas. Very marginal losses, especially given their full roster going forward. Waiters’ knack for scoring in bunches while taking a lot of other things off the table (like ball movement and man-to-man defense) are well documented. This season, he has shown flashes of both what makes him a commodity and a perceived cancer with his 10.5 PPG average on 40% shooting reflecting that.
Now, he joins an OKC culture with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the clear alpha dogs and Durant already saying they’re going to make him feel welcolmed. If Waiters can find a role akin to Reggie Jackson, then perhaps he can have a moment like Jackson’s in last year’s playoffs when KD & Westbrook are off. If not, then Brooks won’t play him in crunch time. Simple as that, and Waiters then won’t really detract from OKC’s other options. Waiters is also still on his rookie contract for this season and next and serves as a dynamic guard insurance policy should Reggie Jackson bolt for a starting job elsewhere at season’s end. Understanding Sam Presti’s track record, he’s no doubt looking at that for the future.
So all that said, assessing the returns for both OKC and the Cavs, Waiters feels like the lower risk of the two.
(Odd seeing “Waiters” and “lower risk” in the same sentence, huh?)
For Cleveland, they get the OG Dion Waiters in J.R. Smith, whose per-game averages are nearly identical to Waiters this season, with a better 35% mark from 3-point land (to Waiters’ 26%). This is also on 3.8 3-point attempts per game, compared to Waiters’ 2.6. The two players may be similar, but given that Coach Blatt is looking for more of a spot-up shooter, I think J.R. fits that bill slightly better since he can score more aversely on the catch and shoot. (The second part of this tweet is also great.)
On paper as well, Iman Shumpert should help the Cavaliers as another perimeter defender and lessen the per-minute burden in which LeBron James may have to guard the team’s best perimeter threat in the playoffs. I think back to a couple games where Shumpert disrupted Derrick Rose, and then speculate that this scenario may be in play again, just on a bigger stage come May.
Shumpert’s addition comes with the caveat he hasn’t really been healthy this season and dating back to last. Plus, this advanced stat indicates uncertainty about Shumpert as a surefire defensive stopper (albeit the Knicks have a horrendous team defense too.)
So again, the higher risk is for the Cavs. They now have to acclimate Smith and Shumpert into the rotation and see how they respond to their new roles within a roster that’s still trying to figure it out for themselves in the wake of Varejao’s season-ending injury, LeBron possibly missing double-digit games, and the general inexperience of playing with each other and under a first-time NBA coach. All these elements combine to extend the process of the Cavs realizing their full potential even more than I think we all expected.
As a Bulls fan, this point looms larger to me. Can the Cavs really figure out all of these things and perform at a championship level by April? Plus, they just traded their best asset and didn’t address their big man/rim protector issue (albeit Zach Lowe suggests the extra 1st round pick they picked up in this deal will be used for that.) Right now, I’m confident that this trade doesn’t nudge the needle forward, but January to April is still a lot of time.
Another reason why I’m confident has nothing to do with the Cavs and everything to do with the Bulls. Last night was probably their most complete team win.
The Bulls matched the Rockets’ west-coast style pace and flexed its offensive depth for a 114-105 win that was in doubt through the last minute.
They fielded big contributions from damn near everyone. Pau Gasol dominated the first half especially, ending with a game-high 27 points. Joakim Noah added 10 rebounds and 6 blocks with a +13 net rating for the night. Derrick Rose added 19 points, looked aggressive going to the hoop (including 3 straight layups in the 2nd quarter to bring them back to even) and 9 assists overall. 3 of those assists led to 9 points in the closing minutes.
The two things that stood out even more though were the early success of the Nikola Mirotic Experience at the 3 and Jimmy Butler’s hounding defense of James Harden in the 2nd half, holding him to 0 FGs, and then Butler hitting the 2 biggest shots of the night.
Mirotic played 27 minutes, all at the 3 (UPDATE: John Schuhmann with the lineup breakdown), and scored 17 points (9 in the 4th), chipped in with 8 boards, and had a game-high +15 net rating. He had a couple of key blocks (one on Harden in transition) and played stout enough defense against Rockets forwards who couldn’t take advantage of the perceived mismatch.
Though it will also be dictated by the opposing matchup in future games, if Mirotic can provide good enough defense at the 3, he has proven he can contribute mightily on offense with more minutes and touches. Perhaps this is how Mirotic can meaningfully crack the rotation when the Bulls’ 3 bigs are healthy. Something fun to watch going forward as the early returns look promising.
As for Butler, Coach Thibodeau began the game with Kirk Hinrich guarding James Harden and he scored 17 in the first half. Maybe it was to save Butler’s energy so he could also contribute on the scoring end? Or maybe it was so Butler could have enough to limit Harden to, again, zero field goals in the 2nd half when he guarded him full time. The full highlights below do Butler’s individual defensive performance justice as he handcuffed Harden into dead ends and prevented him from getting to the line (3 FTs total for the league’s leader, and one was on a technical foul.)
Butler also had a quarter-ending stuff of Harden that tied his twisting alley-oop as the coolest, *flip shades down* moments of the game. Press play for those, and the aforementioned 2 biggest shots of the game that tied and gave the Bulls the lead in the waning minutes.
Jimmy Butler is legit. And these Bulls are good. More dissection on Mirotic, Butler, and more on a quality new episode of The Bulls Show earlier today + if you’re on the Jimmy Butler high, watch his post-game interview appropriately titled “Why Jimmy Butler is So Loved by Chicago”.
Elsewhere in the league, the Warriors blew out the Thunder 117-91 with Steph Curry putting on a dribbling display that’s still as surprising and awe-inspiring today as when it happened.
The full wizardry:
The Warriors held the Thunder to the league’s second-worst team shooting night this season at 30.6% from the field. Off nights by a non-explosive Durant and Westbrook feels more like an aberration than telling of how a playoff series between these two teams may play out. But the Warriors’ dominance drove the fact home that they haven’t lost that much of a step without Andrew Bogut. Look, since he went down, the Warriors are still the league’s top defense. I’m not saying the Warriors should be punching their ticket for June right now. They’ll still need Bogut to go that far, but last night is surely a confidence boost for the Dubs and anyone picking them that far irregardless of their relative playoff inexperience.
Milestones also happened last night. Dirk Nowitzki passed Moses Malone for 7th on the all-time NBA scoring list — an accomplishment that doubled as a vintage Dirk dagger, over Brooklyn in overtime.
Those aforementioned Cavs lost to the Sixers last night. That’s never a good look, especially considering it’s the Sixers first home win of the year (not just 2015, but the 2014-15 season.) I suppose Cleveland gets a pass since LeBron and Kyrie were both out and the Waiters trade literally happened a minute and a half before the game. If I was a Cavs fan, I wouldn’t be that upset at the loss because then we would have never gotten this tweet.
The 2014 NBA Twitter Champ is on track to repeat.
Lastly, let’s close it out on the west coast as A.) the Hawks kept rolling and beat another quality opponent in the Clippers, and B.) Damian Lillard put up 39 points in a Blazers victory that also saw the Swaggiest 3 from Swaggy P this season. The buzzer beater only begins last night’s top 10 plays below (and even worse, Steph’s layup up above was only #9. I know it’s a subjective list, but c’mon, NBA. That same ole Tyson Chandler alley-oop went about 1.2% as viral as Steph’s layup.)
– The J.R. Smith / Dion Waiters trade literally broke Twitter.
– The Bulls are good.
– The Warriors are too.
– Joel Embiid needs to get back to tweeting more.