• Portland is a changed team this season, from its roster to its specific defensive scheme to its bottom-line record. But in a piece for TrueHoop, Danny Nowell reminds us that the Blazers' turnaround is still incredibly organic relative to where the team was last season:
In fact, let me cut to the chase here and say that what is most striking about the Blazers’ current success is the way it reflects the team’s embrace of its own character. The differences between this team and the team that last season won 33 games are differences of degree, not kind. Those Blazers also bombed away in a free-flowing offense. Those Blazers, too, were marked by a kind of quiet, self-possessed locker room character. The veterans added this past offseason -- Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Earl Watson, Mo Williams -- were brought in less to reimagine the team than to fill in the gaps and serve as an extension of how Nic Batum, Wes Matthews, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge were already playing. With that kind of support, the core of the team is able to embrace its own style, play without anxiety and carry itself without defensiveness.
• Andre Iguodala certainly has his limitations in serving as Golden State's backup point guard, but it's remarkable how compatible he's been as a passer with all of the Warriors' top offensive targets.
• Check out this potpourri of thoughts on Denver's in-game strategy this season, including a clever wrinkle that allows Darrell Arthur to facilitate a particular set from the top of the floor.
• D.J. Foster is a bit concerned about the role and usage of Anthony Davis, who has been perhaps the only consistent bright spot for a Pelicans team that is all over the place:
Monty Williams has yet to find a lineup with Davis that hasn’t worked. Over the season, any combination with Davis on the floor that has played more than five total minutes together has yielded a positive net rating. So long as Davis is on the floor, the Pelicans are in business.
Problem is, the rest of the roster hasn’t completely caught on to that fact yet. Davis has the biggest catch radius in the league with his mobility and arms that go on forever, but you’ll see the Pelicans’ guards ignore him on rolls to the rim, or worse yet, not even put Davis in situations where he can roll to the rim.
… Davis has been flexible overall, but there’s a danger in letting the other players on the roster take advantage of that. According to the SportVU player tracking system, Davis is receiving less frontcourt touches per game than guys like Andrea Bargnani and Zaza Pachulia. That can’t happen.
• Cleveland has made six first-round selections -- including four in the lottery -- since LeBron James left for Miami, almost all of which have been thus far disappointing. Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider ($) breaks the bad news:
Based on nearly a decade's worth of drafts, we can establish a baseline for expected performance from various picks in each season of their career. For example, a typical No. 1 pick would produce 7.3 WARP during his third year, or 1.2 over the 14 games Cleveland has played thus far. [Kyrie] Irving, with 1.4, has actually outperformed this mark. The Cavaliers' other first-round picks have not…
We'd expect the five other first-round picks besides Irving to have produced about 2.2 WARP so far this season. Instead, four of the five have rated near replacement level with Anthony Bennett's sub-replacement production thus far during his rookie season dragging the group down. The deficit of nearly three wins essentially explains the difference between Cleveland's actual start and a .500 record. That such a large group of players is struggling suggests a systematic issue.
• Kudos to Leigh Ellis, who went 13-for-16 from the free throw line on a live broadcast of The Starters to raise money for typhoon relief in the Philippines.