In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, Tyler Herro’s stock is rising, Jamal Murray is feeding a wolf and the non-traditional big man is having a moment.
Our new look NBA Power Rankings are back, a non-traditional structure for a non-traditional era of professional basketball. The world is no longer just about wins and losses and teams are no longer the primary crucible of basketball power. So each week we’ll be dissecting how basketball power is presently distributed — between players, teams, friendships, diss tracks, aesthetic design choices, across leagues and whatever else has a temporary toehold in this ever-changing landscape.
Who has the power in this week’s NBA Power Rankings?
Tyler Herro’s future
If the Heat actually make the NBA Finals, there’s a good chance that Herro’s rookie season could essentially last a full 12 months. If Game 7 of the NBA Finals is necessary, it would be played on Oct. 13, 2020. Herro played his first NBA game on Oct. 23, 2019, against the Memphis Grizzlies, getting the start and putting up 14 points and 8 rebounds.
Herro has already played 399 minutes this postseason, more than any rookie in the last decade except Jayson Tatum (683), Harrison Barnes (461), Donovan Mitchell (411). He’s averaging 14.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, shooting 36.7 percent from behind the arc. And, most importantly, he’s proving he’s the kind of guy you can play high-leverage minutes for a championship team. That’s a lot of postseason needle-moving for a guy who looked a lot like a problematic defender and a one-dimensional shooter at Kentucky.
He had a very strong rookie season but, like everything the Heat are doing right now, only the most ardent optimists thought things would get this good, this fast. If you were lucky enough to invest in Herro stock early this season, you’re about to be a very rich sports fan.
People who hate the regular season
This coronavirus pandemic sent the NBA calendar lurching and stumbling into the future, and with the resumed regular season and playoffs holding attention, the next steps are still taking shape. The NBA Draft has already been moved back from its moved-back date, which all but assuredly pushed the opening of the 2020-21 season off the NBA’s fantasy Dec. 1 start. Now, Adam Silver is saying next season likely won’t start until January.
In the same comments, Silver said he wants an 82-game season. That seems almost absurdly unlikely. The NBA wants to play as many games as possible for revenue reasons, but trying to squeeze in 82 after a January start means compressing the schedule and putting player health in jeopardy (good luck getting the NBPA on board with that one) or semi-permanently moving the NBA season later in the calendar year.
All due respect to Silver, but I’m fairly certain we’re getting an abbreviated regular season again next year in the hopes of putting the 2021-22 season back on a normal calendar. So congratulations to those of you who have been pining for less basketball games in your lives!
The Billy Bulls
News broke Tuesday evening that the Bulls had hired Billy Donovan as their next head coach, another objectively positive upgrade. Donovan won more than 60 percent of his games with the Oklahoma City Thunder, effectively managed the personalities of several notoriously prickly stars, aided in the positive development of several young players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerami Grant and Darius Bazely and, as far as I know, didn’t treat any team chefs poorly enough to draw a lawsuit. He may not single-handedly change the fortunes of the Bulls, but he’s a solid hire and a move that bears no trace of hubris, the signature of the previous front-office regime.
The Bulls were one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference last season, but not for lack of talent. It will be at least a year before they have significant cap space, but the No. 4 pick could add an immediate contributor and the rest of this roster could be ready to make some noise with some more effective guidance. Things are definitely looking up in Chicago.
The Two Wolves in Jamal Murray
There are two wolves inside Jamal Murray. The first is just part of the pack — Austin Rivers in sheep’s clothing, inconsistent, miscast, overmatched in the biggest moments, an improper balance between swagger and hesitancy, 65 percent of something familiar and idealized, saying all the loud parts quiet. The second is the alpha — he is vicious, ferocious, an explosive vessel of raw power, master of time and space, Stephen Curry with Latrell Sprewell’s basketball id.
Right now, the second wolf is feasting.
The non-traditional big man
All due respect to LeBron James, Jamal Murray and Jimmy Butler, but the big men have been the most compelling story over the past two weeks. Bam Adebayo’s game-saving block, Anthony Davis’ game-winning 3-pointer, Nikola Jokic doing Nikola Jokic things.
There are some television hosts who will tell you that this is the re-birth of the big man, the basketball universe seeking balance and reverting to its natural preference for size. But that idea wholly ignores the essential truths that (a) the Boston Celtics could still win the title with Daniel Theis as their starting center and (b) Jokic, Adebayo and Davis have very little in common with the giants of basketball yore.
Jokic is defined by his passing and offensive creativity. He’s more Jason Williams than Jayson Williams. Squint through parted fingers and you might be able to convince yourself that Adebayo is the David Robinson of his generation, except The Admiral lived on the low-block and Bam barely averaged a single post-up per game during the regular season. So maybe he’s Robinson working out an Anthony Mason fetish? And I don’t even know how you build a comp for Davis from traditional bigs. Pat Riley trying to build his entire 1990s Heat frontline in one body? Combining the DNA from Alonzo Mourning, P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn?
Watch Bam Adebayo switch onto Kemba Walker, rotate through two progressions on the perimeter and then crash down to block a shot. Watch Nikola Jokic lead the break and throw a one-handed, no-look bounce pass. Watch Anthony Davis take a 6-foot-5 wing masquerading as a center off the dribble.
Big men aren’t having a renaissance. They’re having a revolution.