After an exciting weekend of play, TSN's Jack Armstrong offers his thoughts on the play of Steph Curry, Jeff Teague and J.J. Redick, the effect of Rajon Rondo's injury on the Celtics as well as the Raptors' inability to close out games in the fourth quarter.
1. STEPH CURRY (Warriors): In town to play the Toronto Raptors on Monday. I remember him as a kid running around the ACC when his Dad, Dell played with the Raptors. He is a terrific young player. I was disappointed he wasn't chosen to the All-Star Game. David Lee has been significant for the Warriors as well and is deserving of his nod but Curry should be there, too. Love his change of pace and assortment of runners. Excellent at using and reading screens/defences. Basketball IQ is top-shelf. Shoots it textbook. Finally healthy and he has figured out what works for him at the pro level. He'll be one of the better guards in the league for a long time.
2. JEFF TEAGUE (Hawks): Major loss with the injury to Lou Williams. He's a big reason his team will stay afloat in the East playoff picture along with Josh Smith and Al Horford. When I look at improved/emerging players in the league, he's one of those guys that has finally delivered on his promise when he came out of Wake Forest. Loved his explosiveness then and still do. Now he has figured out the pace/tempo at which you need to play and how important it is to make the right basketball reads/decisions. Much more polish to his game now. Nice to see.
3. RAPTORS FOURTH QUARTER COLLAPSES: Are they in almost every game? Yes. Very competitive. Going into the season, I felt like they were a year away from being a playoff team but would be in the discussion for that last spot if they stayed injury-free and caught some breaks with some other clubs having major issues above them. Bottom line, after a brutal 4-19 start, at least it's been entertaining yet highly frustrating as well. It's happened all too often this year where the Raptors lead to start the fourth quarter only to collapse and kick games away. On Saturday night, I joked that they might need Mariano Rivera as a closer but all kidding aside, it truly is like a baseball team that can't get those final 3-6 outs. You can honestly point the finger in every direction and find fault in this area. Situational basketball time and score, making decisions and plays under duress and making sure they're the right ones are critical. It's what separates the excellent from the good to the poor. The best teams in any sport do the 'little things' that define success when the light shines brightest. The 'devil is in the details' and you can go through at least a dozen Raptors games this season and say 'What if?'. Even if the result changed only half the time, the narrative of this season is different and they'd be in the playoff discussion. Instead it's woulda/coulda/shoulda. In the words of former NFL coach Chuck Knox, 'If you coulda, you shoulda!' You are what your record is and at 16-28, too many chances have been kicked away. With 38 games to play in the season, beyond trades and player development, the biggest area that has to grow is the ability to play 48 minutes with consistency and purpose and be able to play the final 12 minutes in particular with a greater degree of results. Does this team need to improve the talent area? Sure. Who doesn't? Even with improved talent though, this is the area that separates in every sport. Learn and grow; improve from the setbacks.
4. J.J. REDICK (Magic): He's a free agent at the end of the season and has got a lot of value. He's a really good shooter and outstanding team player. He is a top shelf 5-on-5 half-court player who really operates well within structure. Can't leave him open and is deadly in transition when you don't find him outside the arc. Is a fundamentally sound team defender. Can he guard guys straight up? He struggles but if your defensive system is organized/cohesive, he can be a very effective guy within it. You put him on the floor with talented guys and he'll space the floor and make all the 'right' plays for you as a complimentary piece. He's become a good pro; a gym rat who works at his craft. He is a good get under the proper salary circumstances.
5. RAJON RONDO (Celtics): Hanging onto the eighth spot in the East and now he goes down with an ACL injury. It's officially over in Boston. When I say 'over', I mean banners because anything less in Beantown is not worthy of discussion. GM Danny Ainge's most tradeable commodity if he wanted to blow it up and start over is going to have to sit it out for the season and it will be interesting to see whether they try to piece it together for a little longer or begin the painful dismantling of his organization. Yes, it was a wildly entertaining win over the Heat on Sunday but can they truly sustain that fever pitch without Rondo for 38 games and playoffs? It will be really hard and they know it. Rondo can be a pain to coach and/or play with but there is no denying he's a special talent who, when he's totally focused/engaged, is an impact player. Hard to replace those guys. Some difficult decisions lie ahead for Ainge and coach Doc Rivers.