Best NBA teams against the spread, Philadelphia’s depth, Pascal Siakam’s development: Cole Huff’s NBA notebook

The NBA season is just two weeks old and already full of surprises. Here are some words on what’s happening around the league that you should know about, including which teams to bet on, which players are turning heads, and why you shouldn’t give up on certain teams already.

Philly’s depth

“Look, I’m all aboard the 76ers hype train. I’ve been vocal about this being their best roster during the Joel Embiid era, which has more than enough potential to finish with the best record in the East. They should sleep-walk into 50-plus wins, as they’ve done over the last three 82-game seasons. Also, getting a full year of James Harden should provide them with another regular-season boost. “

Do any of you recognize those high-praising words on the Philadelphia 76ers? Those are mine from just a few weeks back. And although the Sixers’ start has been uneven, I stand by what I said before – mostly because I’m still a believer in Philly’s improved depth.

James Harden’s fantastic start to the season and Joel Embiid’s unexpected slow one made up most of the headlines amidst the Sixers’ 0-3 record out of the gates. But lost in the discourse was just how much Philadelphia’s new pieces had struggled out of the gates to impact games in a positive way. But since the Philly bench combined to score a woeful 34 points over the first three games of the season, it appears as though the slow start and everyone’s favorite “it’s gonna take time” period is beginning to fade. As a result, the Sixers are back on track.

De’Anthony Melton’s uptick in play has been the easiest difference to spot. Whether it’s come from off the bench or as a part-time starter during Joel Embiid’s games missed with injuries, he’s been steady on both ends of the court. Georges Niang’s night-to-night value primarily depends on whether or not he’s making jump shots, and he’s been valuable as of late. And although Montrezl Harrell hasn’t resembled a former Sixth Man of the Year winner, he’s done enough in his minutes.

What’s encouraging about each player’s contributions is that it all feels sustainable. And if the Sixers can get that, plus health is on their side; well, just go ahead a re-read the quote above.

If you pull up Siakam’s year-by-year stats throughout his seven seasons as a pro, the first thing you’ll likely notice is the sizeable jump in production from Year 1 to Year 7. Then, your more thorough look will reveal how his points, rebounds and assists averages have steadily climbed in all but one of his seven seasons. And that’s all before you learn of Siakam’s stats this year (26.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 7.4 assists) in what’s shaping to be his best season. And if you’re like me, what jumps off the page immediately is the passing.

It’s hard for me to just gloss over those 7.4 assists per game and treat them as if that’s common to see from even the modern-day NBA forward – it’s not. The only forwards in recent years to average as many assists per game for a full season are Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Draymond Green and Ben Simmons. Most would consider all of those players as elite playmakers. Surely, only seven games into the season, Siakam has a ways to go to enter the ranks of those elite playmakers. But even this small seven-game sample size of exceptional passing shows a lot of growth in how he’s approaching the game on the offensive end.

Just turn on the film and see how diverse Siakam’s playmaking has become.

The easy ones for Siakam are the assists that come in transition, where he and his Toronto Raptors are the league’s best. The passes that truly display his growth show up nightly within the half-court offense. Whether by design or as a result of not beating the defender off the bounce, Siakam frequently uses the post-up to attract the defense’s attention before locating an open teammate. He’s also constantly touching paint off the dribble drive and spraying it out to open shooters camped behind the line. And there’s even a bit of pick-and-roll passing being showcased that has turned Pascal into a heady playmaker.

Pascal Siakam’s playmaking is certainly something we’ve seen in stretches over the years, but it now appears to be more of a mainstay than a luxury.

Golden State overs

Here’s some advice: if you’re looking for some NBA bets to place, consider glancing over at what’s happening in the Bay Area, where all but one of the defending champion Golden State Warriors games have hit the over. You’d be correct in assuming that the Stephen Curry-led offense has much to do with the high-scoring totals – Golden State’s 118.7 points per game are tied with the Phoenix Suns for the NBA’s most. But the Dubs’ defense is just as responsible for all these overs. They’re not the worst defense in the league (statistically), but they allow more points per game to opponents (122.0) than any other team this season. As Steve Kerr said recently, some of the Warriors’ outings are looking like pickup games.

Milwaukee covers

A season ago, the Milwaukee Bucks had a losing record against the spread. It ultimately didn’t impact their wins and losses much, but they often found themselves in games that were closer than they should have been. Now, two weeks into this season, the 2020-21 world champs are the NBA’s lone undefeated team and are one of four teams with a 5-1 record against the spread. On the strength of another ridiculous season from Giannis Antetokounmpo and an NBA-best defense, the Bucks are proving to be trustworthy amidst the current wildly unpredictable NBA. They’re doing so without arguably their second-best player, Khris Middleton.

NBA best records against the spread

Entering Nov. 1

Portland covers

Portland was also bad against the spread during the 2021-22 season. Factually speaking, they were the worst, and much of that undoubtedly had to do with their many injuries, followed by the obvious decision to punt on the season by the all-star break. But the past is in the past. Currently, Portland has assembled a good roster that’s clicking early on in the season. The Blazers’ 5-1 record matches their record against the spread for several reasons: 1) Damian Lillard is having an MVP-caliber start to the season, 2) Anfernee Simons is proving that his breakout 2021-22 season wasn’t a fluke and 3) Chauncey Billups has been able to squeeze every last drop out of each player whose a part of the nightly rotation.

If the Blazers can keep rolling with Lillard on the sideline with a strained right calf, they might be worth your money.

(Photo of Pascal Siakam: John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)


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