December 2, 2021 | 1:00 pm EST Update
Josh Lewenberg: The Raptors have assigned Dalano Banton and Isaac Bonga to the 905. With both the G League and parent club on long home stands, could see a bunch of back and forth coming up. For tonight, could mean Trent is back and we’ll see more of Flynn (who’s outplayed Banton recently).
Harden is taking only 14.4 shots per game, over two fewer than a year ago and a whopping 10 below his career high. (Tallying fewer than 20 points in a game isn’t the sole mark of irreversible decline, but it’s a neat round number Harden once crossed in his sleep. This season he’s failed to reach it 11 times in 21 tries. Last year it was 13. The season before? Seven. The two seasons combined prior to that? Six.) Thanks to the three-point line and some stellar work in isolation—albeit at half the volume of what it was just two seasons ago—Harden’s true shooting percentage is more or less very good (62.3% over the last 10 games). And after a slow start, he’s beginning to draw fouls and get to the line like he used to. His free-throw rate is one of this season’s 15 best, and the percentage of his points earned at the line jumped from 22.5 in Brooklyn’s first 10 games to 36.5 in 11 through 20—a mark that’s high even for him.
It’s worked so far. The Bulls are 14-8, tied for second place in the East, with top-10 ratings on both offense and defense. They’ve already beaten the Jazz, Nets, and Celtics, as well as both L.A. teams. And the revamped roster is clicking to the point that Chicago can dream about not just avoiding the play-in morass, but challenging for home-court advantage in the first round. “I’m always confident. I put the work in. But having [DeRozan] next to me, having Vooch next to me, Lonzo, that just makes me more confident and more ready to play,” LaVine said at the start of the season. He added, “We got a bunch of no. 1 options.”
That’s where the “tough-shot-maker” role comes in. Since the start of last season, LaVine’s 3-point accuracy is 8 percentage points higher than expected, based on factors like shot angle and defender distance. That’s the fifth-best mark out of 77 players with at least 400 3-point attempts in that span, per Second Spectrum, behind only Joe Harris, Curry, Joe Ingles, and Michael Porter Jr. “I’ve never played with a player like Zach before,” DeRozan said. “The things he’s capable of doing offensively is intimidating at times, how easy he can do the things he can do. It’s fun; it heightens my level to go out there and want to be neck and neck with him.”
This is a weird question to ask a guy who has won three championships, but are there times when you feel like you have to prove something as a coach? I know you don’t get up in the morning worried about that sort of thing, but do you ever ponder your coaching legacy and how people look at your part in this whole thing? Steve Kerr: I never lose any sleep over that. I count my blessings that I’ve been able to coach the players that I’ve coached and be in the organization that I’m in because I know how lucky I am. But part of what allowed me to stay in the NBA for 15 years as a player is that losing humiliates me, you know? My competitive desire drives me. But like a lot of players at this level, the fear of losing is an even bigger motivator. So even though I don’t stop and think about legacy or anything like that, I just want to f—— win, you know? It burns in me. I want to win so badly. It’s kind of how I’ve been since I was five years old, and Draymond’s the same way and Steph’s the same way and Klay’s the same way. And what I love is that collectively, we’re getting off the mat this year. And we’re saying, ‘All right, let’s get it. Let’s do it again.’ Whatever that means. Whatever people write. However people feel about us. The main thing is that we’re competing again and we’re enjoying the competition.
But isn’t there something there, internally, where you reassess? Steve Kerr: It’s great to be back in the mix. What I’ve learned, though, in five trips to the Finals, is that so much is just up in the air — circumstances you can’t control. I know it’s coach speak, but if we just come in every day and get our work in and enjoy the process, we’re going to win a ton of games. We’ve already proven that. We keep trying to get better, put ourselves in the best position possible. We think we can win a championship, but I’ve watched in the Finals. I’ve watched two guys get season-ending injuries. I watched Kevin Love and Kyrie (Irving) go down the first year we won (against Cleveland in 2015). I’ve seen everything. I saw as a Laker fan growing up, with Magic Johnson and Byron Scott holding their hamstrings (in) the Detroit series (in ’89). Just having watched this and been a part of it for so long, who the hell knows what’s going to happen? So you might as well enjoy it while it’s going.
If you go to the tail end of the Durant era, I think there was certainly a sense among people who were close to the team, and who would write about that culture of joy, that you guys may have lost it. So, do you feel like you lost it? Steve Kerr: I think the fifth year was so difficult — physically, spiritually, emotionally — but mainly because it’s just hard. And you can ask anybody from the Lakers and the Celtics in the 80s. You know, (ask) Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich. When you do something year after year after year, it just gets to be (hard). And there’s a different sense of energy from, say, the first year to the fifth that was going to be there regardless of our personnel. I think we were exhausted organizationally. I think the players were exhausted. We lost two guys to devastating injuries in the (2019) Finals (Thompson and Durant). You almost can’t write a script like that, you know? And it was so brutal. But like I said, when you do something for that long, such a competitive emotional level — five years, and teams trying to knock you off and building their team to beat you, it’s exhausting. And I think we were all just exhausted.