In NBA, Irving's return hasn't helped Nets ... yet


Well folks, we are well into the New Year and we can now enter one of the best portions of the calendar: Trade deadline watch!

Yes, we are less than a month away from the deadline, and players will begin to move with urgency in the coming weeks. There will be largely inconsequential moves, such as the Bol Bol trade, and there will surely be blockbusters. Stay on your toes and monitor those future markets as reports of potential deals begin to leak.

With that out of the way, let’s get to our topics this week. For this edition of the column, I am going to transition to just two things to watch for next week because I wanted to spend some time on them. Brooklyn is back again, but this time it’s the team as a whole, not just Kyrie Irving. We also focus on Memphis and what’s behind this dominant stretch that the team is on. When, if ever, does the regression come?

Betting Report

Favorites: 30-20-1 ATS (Season: 303-287-4)

Totals O/U: 22-29 (Season: 286-310-6)

Home-court advantage: + 2

It was a chalky week for NBA bettors, and coincidentally a rough week for a dog player such as myself. I would like to chalk this up to the peaks and valleys of an NBA season, and that is likely the case. As you can see, favorites are only covering at a 51.4% rate, which is a loss at -110 juice. There is really nothing one can do but chalk it up as a week for the favorites and move on.

Two things to watch

Brooklyn’s Defensive Regression

In last week’s column, I brought up the defensive regression that Kyrie Irving was sure to bring, and that did indeed happen. In two games with Irving on the floor, the Nets have allowed at least 1.19 points per possession in the two most frequently used lineups with Irving at point guard. As expected, though, Brooklyn is putting up 1.199 points per possession on offense with Irving on the floor, but that hasn’t translated to success. After a loss in Portland on Monday, the Nets fell to 0-7 ATS in their last seven games. Brooklyn is failing with or without Irving.

Over this seven-game slide, the Nets have been outscored by 6.1 points per 100 possessions and their defensive rating of 118.5 is 26th in the league. The Nets were a team that was sixth in defensive efficiency at one point this season but now finds itself 13th entering Tuesday. For most teams, a slip like this would be considered a blip on the radar, but it shouldn’t be for Brooklyn. Remember, the Nets finished 21st in non-garbage time defensive efficiency last season, so it is certainly plausible that this defensive regression is real. Perhaps not to this extent, as a 118.5 defensive rating is historically poor, but in the sense that the Nets will be a poor defensive team from here on out.

From a betting perspective, this would naturally point us toward betting these games Over the total, but that angle is just 4-4 despite the subpar defensive play. That’s in large part due to the offense suddenly getting stuck in neutral, averaging 111.9 points per 100 possessions. With more lineup continuity, this offense will find its flow once again, so expect Brooklyn to start looking like the team that was on the floor last season.

The Grizzlies’ Dominance

At the beginning of the season, I was a massive skeptic when it came to Memphis. Through 19 games, the team was 9-10 SU and ranked 30th in defensive efficiency, giving up 117.4 points every 100 possessions in non-garbage time minutes. Despite having a -7.5 net rating at the time, the Grizzlies were just one game below .500, which did not compute. It seemed they were on the verge of a massive slide, but the complete opposite happened. Since Nov. 28, the Grizzlies are 19-4 SU and 17-6 ATS with a league-best + 12.8 net rating in non-garbage time. They rank third in offensive efficiency (116.0) and third in defensive efficiency (103.2) over that span. Obviously the true Memphis team is somewhere in the middle, but where?

The change in defense is what is most startling. You can sell me on a team with Ja Morant having one of the best offenses in the NBA, but how does a team go from worst to first, literally, in the span of a month on one end of the floor? One statistic sticks out above all others: turnovers. Through the first 19 games, Memphis forced an opponent turnover on just 14.4% of possessions, but over the last 23 games that defensive turnover rate is 16.5%, tied for first with Toronto. Those turnovers have turned things around for the Grizzlies. They have gone from 30th in half-court defense (101.1) to first (86.3) due in large part to the massive increase in opponent turnovers. Those turnovers also lead to offense. Memphis is third in points added per 100 possessions through transition off of steals during this 23-game run, and their offensive rating in those situations is 140.4 which is one of the best in the NBA.

It might seem overly simple to boil down the Grizzlies’ success down to one metric, but that seems to be the case. Over the course of a 100-possession contest, not only is Memphis grabbing three extra possessions, but it is grabbing three extra possessions that have a high probability of leading to points. The Grizzlies deserve a ton of credit for forcing mistakes, but turnovers can be fickle. Twenty-three games is not that large of a sample size, and once those turnovers dry up, if they do, we could see a version of Memphis that looks much closer to the team from the beginning of the season.

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