Welcome to the Friday Five, a new weekly column where we jump around the NBA and cover five observations from here in America.
Here are five thoughts from the first week of NBA action.
1. Ryan Broekhoff’s quick trigger
Ryan Broekhoff secured his maiden NBA contract on the back of one elite NBA skill: his shooting. While minutes have been limited during his first week as a Dallas Maverick, that hasn’t stopped Broekhoff getting his shots.
In 15 minutes across four games, the Frankston native has launched eight three-point attempts.
All of Broekhoff’s field goal attempts have come from behind the three-point line. His usage has been non-existent otherwise. It has only been a week, but this serves a great indicator for how Rick Carlisle will deploy Broekhoff. Doug McDermott's departure has created an opening in the rotation for a dead-eye shooter who can operate effectively without the basketball.
We have seen two early examples of how Dallas will look to leverage Broekhoff’s shooting. The above clip will be repeated time and time again this season; with the Australian spaced out in the corner as a weak side shooter. The Mavericks will be relying on the likes of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. to beat their opponents off the dribble, collapse the defence and generate lethal looks for Broekhoff.
In transition, you must account for Broekhoff. Ignore him at your own peril.
Broekhoff will be an elite shooter in the NBA. His playing time will be dependent on how quickly he can grasp the other intricacies of life at the top level.
2. The more things change, the Mills they stay the same
Patty Mills is playing a career high 27 minutes a game in San Antonio. His personal counting statistics are down compared to historical benchmarks, but his importance to the Spurs has never been greater.
As San Antonio continue their transition into a new era, Mills is carrying the torch left behind by the Spurs’ championship pedigree. His role is bigger than ever, both on and off the basketball court.
Mills remains an Energizer Bunny for the Spurs offence. Deployed in his customary reserve role, he is entering games earlier and has been on the floor during crunch time in San Antonio’s early victories. He, of course, sunk LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night, with an elegant jumper that has come to define his NBA career.
Mills is now the longest tenured Spur. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are gone, so Mills’ leadership skills are being leveraged like never before. He is being vocal in the media. He is carrying himself like the distinguished veteran he is, and San Antonio must continue asking more of Mills as they navigate the dangerous waters of the Western Conference.
3. The Ben Simmons & Markelle Fultz conundrum
Playing Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz together was always going to come down to one question: can the Sixers generate enough offensive spacing with two non-shooters? Early returns have done little to alleviate concerns.
Through four games, the Simmons-Fultz pairing has a net rating of minus 12.8. Defensively, the numbers are bad. Offensively, they are disastrous. The Sixers offensive rating swoons to 91.5 when the two point guards share the floor. Opponents are rightfully ignoring Fultz when he is away from the basketball. This is leading to moments that run counterintuitive to the three-point revolution sweeping the NBA.
This is a base set that Philadelphia runs multiple times each game. It is quickly rendered moot as five defenders descend on the paint and clamp Robert Covington. Simmons and Fultz standing idle on the perimeter are treated as traffic cones. This is one early trend that is sticking out from watching the Sixers up close.
Fred Hoiberg and the Chicago Bulls coaching staff were demonstratively yelling at their players to collapse away from Fultz during the Sixers home opener. Steve Clifford was doing the same with his Orlando Magic two nights later.
When Fultz departs and Simmons is left riding shotgun, Philadelphia’s offensive rating rises to 101.4. That’s not a great figure by any means but it is a major improvement from the catastrophic early returns alongside Fultz. The pair has only played 61 minutes together so we aren’t at panic stations just yet. This is definitely something to monitor as the season finds a rhythm.
Brown and the coaching staff must continue to find innovate ways to merge the pair. For better or worse, Philadelphia will be one of the more unique teams in basketball as they attempt to make the Simmons-Fultz pairing work.
Simmons and Fultz both have the opportunity to launch wide open three-point attempts if they were so inclined. The majority of all NBA players certainly would in this situation. With neither willing to shoot, an inside drive from Simmons is needed to save the possession. Yes, Simmons scored on the play, but life would be much easier with a jump shot, from either of them.
4. The quintessential Aron Baynes experience
Opening night in Boston signaled the dawn of a new basketball season. For Aron Baynes, there was nothing novel about his performance. The lumbering Australian reprised his role as Joel Embiid’s personal irritant and reinforced his value to the Celtics’ title aspirations.
Baynes was the most effective big man on opening night. That is no misprint. In a contest featuring Embiid and Al Horford, Baynes reinforced that his output during the postseason was no mirage. On both ends, he infused trademark tenacity with a level of basketball nuance that has come to define his time in Boston.
One 15-second spurt early in the third quarter personified everything that Baynes has become. First, the subtle defence.
Following a Celtics turnover, Baynes is the first defender back in transition. A simple accomplishment, sure, but against a Simmons led team, there is nothing more important than transition defence. It represents the best chance of slowing a Sixers offence that can go supernova if Simmons is left to freelance in the open court. The Celtics rode this blueprint to a playoff upset over the Sixers five months ago.
Baynes sprints back, gets into position and forces Simmons to sidestep down the lane - each accomplishment characterised as one of those intangible items that don’t show up in the stat sheet – allowing Horford to slide in and swat away Simmons’ shot. In true Baynes fashion, he isn’t personally rewarded on the play, although his gratification came on the ensuing Celtics possession.
A blown pick-and-roll coverage between Simmons and Covington leaves Baynes wide open from behind the arc. Go ahead and count the three points! A man, who made four career three-point field goals in six years entering last postseason, is now a legitimate outside threat.
While jarring when first witnessed in May, Baynes deserves the benefit of the doubt now. He must be accounted for as an outside shooter. Defensive anchor and floor spacer: meet the new Aron Baynes.
5. Making their mark at Thon’s expense
We covered the potential minutes crunch facing Maker before the season, and our concerns have been realised during opening week. Maker has failed to receive a single minute of action so far.
A left knee ailment was the pretence for Maker being ruled inactive in Milwaukee’s first two games. He has been active during home victories over New York and Philadelphia, but this hasn’t changed his fate.
Brook Lopez has stepped into the starting lineup and is everything Bucks fans had been hoping for. Remarkably, Lopez is taking over seven three-point attempts per game, while playing less than 27 minutes a night. Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson aren’t setting the world on fire with their shooting. And yet, that hardly matters. Both are willing shooters and that is what coach Mike Budenholzer has been preaching. Simply taking the shots is the biggest victory of all.
Maker has been dreaming about playing at Milwaukee’s brand new arena, as expertly explained by Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Supplanting Henson represents his best, and likely only, means of nailing down a reliable rotation spot. Maker will stay ready, that is one thing that can be guaranteed.
With Milwaukee undefeated and riding high atop the Eastern Conference, it may take some time before Maker receives the chance he hungers for.
That’s the first Friday Five of the NBA season. Did we miss anything? Let Ben know on Twitter if there is anything you would like to see next week.