NBA Takeaways of the Week: Jan. 25-31

Kevin Reyes
NBA Analyst

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. 

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We’re a month removed from the start of the 2020-21 NBA regular season, and there are already some surprises that are great to see, and some that are concerning. However, there’s still a lot of basketball left to be played, and any situation in the NBA could go either way. So, with another week of NBA action in the books, let’s talk about some of the things that happened during the past week.

Once a week, I’ll be releasing an article on some takeaways I had from the previous week of NBA basketball. Today, I bring you my NBA Takeaways of the Week, from Jan. 25 to Jan. 31.

Last week’s Takeaways article was replaced for an article on the top 10 moments of Kobe Bryant’s career, on the one-year anniversary of his death. Check it out, when you’re done here, if you haven’t!

Bam Adebayo is approaching superstar status

Bam showed flashes of having an incredibly high ceiling last year, averaging 16/10/5/1/1 in his first full season as a starter, which he elevated to 18/10/4/1/1 in the playoffs, even raising his free throw percentage from 69 percent in the regular season to 78 percent in the postseason. His play came as a surprise to many, and expectations from those and from people that saw it coming only grew when he signed a five-year max extension worth $163 million this past offseason. So far, the numbers indicate improvement (20/9/5/1/1 on 58/40/86 shooting), and that even includes a better outside shot and more willingness to shoot it. Nevertheless, fans have been clamoring for Adebayo to take more of a lead role, especially with all the injuries the Miami Heat have sustained throughout the first month of the season. But he’s only attempting one more shot per game and one more free throw per game in comparison to last season.

When Bam is looking to attack, he’s shown he can put up the numbers (41/5/9 against the Nets, back-to-back 28-point games against the Pistons, notably), but that’s the problem: Bam isn’t always looking to score when he has the ball. Yes, being unselfish is a great quality and something that isn’t easy to teach, but when you’re a player of that caliber, being aggressive is a necessity. The talent is there, but what’s needed is consistency on being aggressive, which is a mental aspect that can certainly be fixed.

If Bam Adebayo continues to be more aggressive with his consistent improvement, he will become one of the best 15-10 players in the NBA. It’s only a matter of time, which could even be this season …

I’m still not convinced the Utah Jazz are legitimate contenders

Even when the Jazz when they were on their 11-game winning streak, consistently blowing out teams, I wasn’t as high on the Jazz being contenders as some began to be. First off, the team has shown their ability to be a great regular season for the past couple of seasons, and this isn’t their first time being one of the hottest teams in the league (they also had a double-digit game winning streak last season). In terms of how they were doing it, their hot-shooting is bound to cool down at some point, especially considering they have streaky shooters. They were winning one way, which was getting defenses on the move and spreading them out for threes. To be on the same tier as the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks, a team must win in different ways, something the Jazz haven’t shown consistently.

Those concerns were exposed on Sunday against the Nuggets, the team they lost to in the first round of last year’s playoffs after being up 3-1. Nikola Jokic had a field day to start, defended by Bojan Bogdanovic, and by the point the two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert was on him, he was already too hot. Bogdanovic got it going, but everyone else struggled. When the Jazz don’t have the defense on the move, they haven’t shown they can consistently generate good looks, and some players (like Jokic) have shown to be mismatches for them when defending.

That’s not to say they don’t have a shot to win. They’re on that second tier of contenders, but have to show consistency and other ways to win in order to move into that first tier, and be a serious contender to reach the Western Conference Finals.

The San Antonio Spurs won’t go away

With a 11-9 record, the Spurs find themselves in the middle of the playoffs in the jam-packed West. Many (including myself) predicted them to not make the Play-In Tournament this season, potentially moving to a rebuilding phase. Yet, led by DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray and the resurgent Keldon Johnson, the Spurs find themselves giving teams a run for their money night in and night out. Whether they maintain this pace or not is yet to be seen, but one can assume that any Gregg Popovich coached team can do that. Where do they go from here? Are they still heading to a rebuild starting next season? Do DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay stay on the team beyond this season? Those are going to be interesting questions that will need to be addressed in the summer. But, for now, take your time to enjoy a Spurs game every now and then … they’re one of the most fun teams to watch at the moment.

The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the favorites for the title

As I spoke about in my 2.0 MVP Power Rankings, the 76ers have shown they are the beast team in the league when they’re healthy, a trend that has continued: when their starting lineup (Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid) is healthy, they’re 11-0. However, even though they have the best record in the East, more people talk about the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and even Boston Celtics as contenders in the conference before talking about Philly. And while that, to a certain degree, is justified, considering their previous playoff shortcomings, they still should be in the conversation. Embiid has played at an MVP level all season long, Harris has had a career-year, Shake Milton has emerged as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Tyrese Maxey is one of the steals of this past draft, and a locked-in Ben is a problem on both ends of the court.

This team should be talked about more than people are actually willing to do so. If it’s about them not having significant playoff success, then why are we talking about the Clippers, Bucks and Jazz more? No matter how you spin it, the 76ers are one of the favorites to win the 2020-21 championship, and they should be recognized as such.

What stood out to you in this past week of the NBA season? Tweet at me and let me know!