Thank God we have college basketball in March, but some of this recent NBA basketball has been, well, not great. But we’re almost at the playoffs. In the meantime, here are three trends to pay attention to until then. 

1. Kyrie’s impact

The Dallas Mavericks are surging. They’ve won five in a row and nine out of 10, with that lone loss coming to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game in which Luka Doncic didn’t play. Right now, they’re just two games behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the fourth seed in the West. It’s not surprising that they’ve done this by riding the greatness of Doncic (league-leading 33.9 points, 9.8 assists, 9.1 rebounds per game, 48.7 FG%, 37.4 3P%), and that Kyrie’s presence as a No. 2 has helped. But what is interesting is the way Irving has helped. 

The Luka-led Mavericks have always been a methodical, slow team. It’s how Luka likes to play. He turns every offensive possession into a chess battle, one where he can predict, manipulate and take advantage of matchups. 

But doing that every time down is hard work. And this is where Kyrie has changed things. He likes to push the ball, and the Mavericks this season are doing so more than they have in years. 

Last season, they only turned 25.1% of opponents’ missed shots into transition opportunities, according to Cleaning the Glass, the second-lowest mark in the league. This season, that number has jumped to 30.9%, the sixth-best. They’re ninth in the league in pace, after finishing 28th last season. They’re averaging 15.5 fast break points per 100 possessions, also 10th in the league; last season, they recorded just 11.2, the league’s second-worst mark. 

A Luka-led offense is hard to stop on its own. Adding in some pace and easy transition looks might make it impossible. 

2. The Deuce is loose

The one benefit to having a roster riddled with injuries? New players are given a chance to shine. Just look at what Miles “Deuce” McBride is doing for the New York Knicks. 

A second round pick in 2021, McBride, a 6-foot-2 point guard, spent the first two and a half seasons of his career as a little-used reserve. He averaged 9.3 minutes per game as a rookie and 11.9 last season. He played 21 total minutes in last season’s playoffs. 

He’s going to see much more this time around. McBride has taken advantage of the opportunity created by the injuries to Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson. He was drafted for his defense, but now his offense has developed to the point where he’s adding value on that end of the court, as well. 

In 17 games since the All-Star break, McBride is averaging 12.3 points, including a 29-point outing on Wednesday which matched the career-high he set four games earlier. In his past five games, he’s averaging 21.6 points. Much of that is thanks to the leap he’s made with his jump shot; after hitting just 28% of his 3-pointers coming into the season, he’s shot a scorching 40.5% from deep since the All-Star break on nearly five attempts per game. That level of shooting means he can play alongside Jalen Brunson, but he’s also gotten better at reading the floor himself and creating offense in the pick-and-roll.

That he’s doing all this while remaining a hellacious defender is what makes him so valuable. And all you have to do is look at some of his recent minute totals to see how Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau feels about McBride.  

The Knicks are 44-28 and a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the East’s third seed. In all likelihood, they’ll finish between 3 and 5 and face either the Cavs or Orlando Magic in the playoffs’ first round. Both of those teams can expect to see a healthy dose of McBride on the court. 

3. Wizards figuring some stuff out?

Don’t look now, but the Wizards actually won three games in a row before falling in overtime to the Nets on Wednesday. More importantly, it looks like Deni Avdija is turning into a legitimate starter-on-a-good-team type of player. 

Avdija, whom the Wizards drafted ninth overall in 2020, has been a good defender over the past couple of seasons, and he’s always had a good feel for the game. Now, though, the offense seems to be catching up. He’s averaging 14.2 points per game on the season and most importantly making 39.1% of his 3-pointers after shooting just 29% from deep last season. Interim head coach Brian Keefe has given Avdija both more freedom and responsibility and Advija has responded by boosting his output and efficiency. 

I don’t want to overstate any of this — the Wizards still stink, and putting up numbers for a lottery-bound team in March doesn’t spell stardom. But Avdija is a 6-foot-9 wing who’s a good passer and defender, can create off the bounce and now is hitting his 3s. And he’s still just 23 years old. Predicting ceilings can be a silly game, but Avdija is the sort of player that every team would want. 

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

 

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