- Christmas Day is the NBA's unofficial start, with all of the league's best teams on display. The Crossover offers a not-so-serious recap of a banner day in the NBA.
Editor's note: The Crossover is known for its nuanced analysis and thoughtful columns about NBA basketball. This is not one of those columns.
The NBA season finally started Monday, as Christmas marked not only the celebration of our deteriorating, consumer-obsessed culture, but the official start of people actually caring about basketball. Even if a Monday Night Football game with with two forgettable quarterbacks probably did better ratings than the biggest day of the NBA regular season, yesterday was a turning point for the teams in action. Here are five unassailable truths after a Christmas Day’s worth of action.
Enes Kanter is the Real Unicorn
Is it even that rare to see a big man step outside the arc and shoot threes nowadays? Everyone keeps calling Giannis, Embiid and Porzingis “unicorns,” but there’s so much overlap in their games, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. No, if I want to see something that doesn’t happen much in today’s NBA, I’ll watch Enes Kanter. The Turk Freak lit up the 76ers on Christmas, scoring 31 points and collecting 22 rebounds, albeit in a losing effort.
But unlike Embiid and Porzingis, he did his damage without stepping behind the three-point line. What Kanter did takes true courage. He’s not playing a copycat game. He’s too busy banging down low, being an irrationally loyal teammate, and getting buckets. How many people are doing that in today’s NBA? Kanter is the real unique star. And if Tim Hardaway is making $70 mil, it only makes sense for the Knicks to max Kanter next summer. I’m not sure how you let someone with his one-of-a-kind skill set get away. I can watch a Porzingis-type any given night. The Kanters of the world are few and far between.
The Warriors Should Shut Curry Down Until the Finals
Golden State handled Cleveland sans Curry, winning 99–92 thanks in large part to a triple-double from Draymond Green. Patrick McCaw struggled as a placeholder, in that he hardly held his place, but it didn’t matter. The Warriors are that good, and they beat the Cavs despite shooting a pedestrian 27% from three. The performance was encouraging enough that I’m not sure Curry needs to come back until the Finals. I’m sorry, but this is a team that will be judged on championships and championships alone. Why risk anything happening to Steph until then? Do you even remember a Warriors playoff game from before the Finals last season?
It would be selfish for Curry to take the court in the regular season so he can pile up unnecessary stats while risking an ankle twist in February. The Dubs have already proven they can beat the best without their best, so why would Steve Kerr jeopardize their dynasty? Keep Steph on ice until the Finals, and maybe even give him a break if you go up 3–0. It’s time for Golden State to start getting serious about winning in the summer. You think Gregg Popovich isn’t coaching the same way? Personally, I’m convinced Tim Duncan’s “retirement” is just a way for the Spurs to evade Adam Silver’s DNP-rest rules. If San Antonio is saving Timmy D’s body for a potential conference finals matchup, the Warriors need to stay one step ahead.
Kyrie Irving Should Worry Less About Christmas Hoopla and More About Hoops
The NBA’s philosopher-in-chief Kyrie Irving debuted a new commercial on Christmas, and that was the most notable part of his day. It certainly wasn’t Irving’s 20-point stinker against the Wizards, in which he shot a pedestrian 8-of-18 and was outscored by both Bradley Beal and John Wall in a 111–103 loss. Kyrie, I know you don’t recognize holidays, so then why did you take the day off against the Wizards? Irving made a big production of wanting his own team in the summer, but when it came time for him to perform like Santa, he played more like an elf. I expect more from Irving, who should have more time to work on his game when he’s not reading science books.
Kyrie, I know you believe everything you read on the Internet, so believe this: The Celtics need more from you in big games against their rivals. At least when KD ran away from his problems, he still put up 35 a night in the Finals. Kyrie’s performance with the world watching was flatter than his theories about the, uh, world. Heck, Jayson Tatum put up 20 points on half as many shots as Irving—does that mean Tatum should demand a trade for his own team next summer? After his Christmas performance, Irving is actually averaging less points per game now than he was last year in Cleveland. That doesn’t seem very much woke to me.
The Rockets Better Have Chris Paul on the Trading Block
Houston dropped its third straight game Monday, a 112–107 defeat at the hands of the Thunder. All three of those losses came with Chris Paul off the court at the end of the night. Paul is on an expiring contract, and Houston can’t afford to lose to conference contenders while he sits on the sideline. Trading CP3 would save Houston the embarrassment of losing him for nothing in the summer, and also help stop the bleeding during this rough stretch. Why is Paul here if he’s not going to play? If I’m the Rockets, I send CP3 packing on his banana boat into his next insurance commercial, and bring back two or three guys who can end this losing streak right now. Why waste time with someone who isn’t committed for the long haul anyway? Can you even trust Paul’s aging hammies and ankles to hold up when everyone else is trying to play seven seconds or less? Here’s some simple analytics for you: Guys who play are more valuable than guys who don’t. Houston won’t keep losing forever. But there’s an easy fix out there if Daryl Morey is willing to finally swing for the fences.
The NBA Needs to Schedule a 1 a.m. December 26th Game
Here’s the problem with the NBA’s Christmas schedule—there actually aren’t enough games. By fourth game on Monday, I was filled with meat and Dave Matthews wine, and inevitably did that annoying thing where you doze off for two minutes at a time but keep waking up to the sound of the Thunder’s terribly outdated arena music. With all that extra rest—and all the cleaning I got done during the Wolves-Lakers game—I was wide awake at 1 a.m. You know what would have been perfect? Another NBA game.
Like Tonya Harding landing the triple axel at the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, a sixth NBA game on Christmas Day—when it’s technically not even Christmas in half the country—would be a historic feat. Don’t be afraid, Adam Silver. Play a neutral site game in Hawaii if you have to make it work. At the very least, don’t let my final memory of Christmas basketball be of the Lakers every single year. Unless LeBron signs there, we don’t need to watch the version of the Lakers with Andrew Bogut starting at center. Taj Gibson would be MVP if he played L.A. every night. Play one more game or maybe even play one less. Just stop showing the Lakers.