We moved to 4-0 ATS on the NBA season with our easiest winner to date last night. The Phoenix Suns were getting nine and a half and at no point in regulation or overtime were they ever NOT covering. It’s always enjoyable to notch a winner, but that game was FUN well beyond stacking some profits. It was the most perfect encapsulation of all the splendor and frustration that is the magical Russell Westbrook. Yes, he recorded the first triple-double that included 50 points since 1975. Yes, he took 44 shots in a flurry that might have even made Kobe blush.
Can the Thunder continue to win games with Russell playing this many minutes and with a utilization rate that makes kids playing as themselves in NBA 2K look passive? Probably not. After all, he had to WIN the game late in both wins, and they have come against the Sixers and at home against the Suns; two most-definite Lottery teams. But is it a hell of a lot of fun to watch? Absolutely. The way this season has begun, there is beginning to look like no price too high in daily fantasy leagues for Russell and Anthony Davis.
Speaking of The Brow, he went bananas again last night, albeit in a losing effort at home against the Warriors. For the season, he is now averaging 47.5ppg and 16 rebounds. And is 0-2… If you need any more validation for WHY stars go seeking other stars in free agency, please see Exhibit A: Anthony Davis.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings -1 (Total: 205)
The Timberwolves are going to be much better this year and I expect them to compete almost every night. But expecting them to win road games at this stage in their evolution is going to be a little dicey. Especially in a highly-motivated setting like tonight. Sacramento lost in the unveiling of their new arena, but that was to the San Antonio Spurs. Tonight, they get a chance to christen the building against an opponent they SHOULD beat at home if they have any aspirations of competing for Boogie’s first playoff berth.
Minnesota looked good in their opener, dropping a tough road game at Memphis 102-98. Sacramento has been a mixed bag, looking fantastic in their season opening win at Phoenix (113-94) and then getting beat at home by the much better Spurs, though they did compete throughout. It will be fun to watch two of the most talented young bigs in basketball, both Kentucky alums, Karl Anthony Towns and DeMarcus Cousins. They may not wind up guarding each other a ton, as their games have different tenors to them, but it is likely both will trade some highlights and go for 20-plus.
Ty Lawson, despite all his personal issues, has been a calming influence on the court for the Kings. His eight assists a game are keeping the offense running smoothly, and allowing their two main weapons, Cousins and Rudy Gay to flourish. Gay is a notoriously inefficient scorer over the course of his career, but has started the season well shooting 48% from the floor and averaging eight FT attempts (81%). If he can remain near that efficiency level, the Kings have a chance to hang around the playoff chase.
Meanwhile, Minnesota is pretty inconsistent from an efficiency point. KAT is pretty solid, remarkably so for his age, but Wiggins will need to continue his career progression in Year Three, especially on the road, for the Timberpups to become Wolves. He shot just 43.7% his rookie season, but improved to 46% last year and was delightfully efficient in the opener. My bigger concern is with the rest of the team. Lavine is still erratic; wildly talented and capable of games like his brilliant 19/5/4 opener, but shot just over 43% last season. The rest of their core is young as well; Kris Dunn, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, and even their “veteran” Ricky Rubio leaves a ton to be desired from an efficiency standpoint. Yes, he is a great passer and capable defender, but he has never shot better than 38% in a season in his CAREER. Stunning, right? That’s an insanely low percentage to shoot and STILL be a starter in the League. His .371 shooting last season would have been the third worst in the NBA had he played enough minutes to qualify, better than only the expiring corpse of Kobe Bryant and rookie gunner Emmanuel Mudiay… By percentage, he is EASILY the least efficient shooter in the NBA over the past five seasons.
Anyhow, the Wolves are growing and have such a tantalizing young talented core. But until they become a more efficient team, I think they are going to struggle to win road games. The more I dug into Rubio’s statline, the more I regretted my preseason prediction that they’d make the playoffs… Though I DO think it is increasingly likely Kris Dunn unseats him as the team’s point guard at some point and the defense, athleticism and efficient all improve. But perhaps not until 2017-2018.
Alas, Thibs will have them defending and fighting, but I think the Sac Town crowd and Boogie will be a little too much tonight. I’ll take the Kings to win at home. They’ve been a .500-plus team at home with Boogie in the lineup the last two years, making them a sneaky home value.