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Is Jose Alvarado the NBA’s Most Likable Player?

An undrafted rookie point guard from Georgia Tech, Jose Alvarado has endeared himself to just about everybody since entering the New Orleans Pelicans’ rotation on January 20th; his handsy, heady play is so inherently likable that it’s hard not to fall for Alvarado’s charms. Sometime over the last two-ish weeks, Alvarado became your favorite player’s favorite player.

“He’s just a great dude. He’s full of joy, full of love. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Josh Hart said of Alvarado. “We see that. We see the hard work, we see him out there just grinding. Guys like that, you always want them to do well — in basketball, but also in life. He has all our confidence and trust when he’s on the court.”

“He didn’t back down, and I respected him,” Joel Embiid said, offering to pay a $2000 fine that Alvarado incurred during a skirmish with Embiid.  “I like that about him so after the game, I really just went up to him and I told him to keep fighting and to keep it going.”

The 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Alvarado’s pesky style has translated fairly seamlessly to the NBA. Despite his relative smallness preventing him from switching onto larger players, he’s a plucky on-ball hindrance, climbing into his man’s airspace and swiping at the ball; over the last five games, Alvarado has averaged 2.4 steals (a mark that would lead the league by a sizable margin) in just 19.9 minutes per game. Like Patrick Beverley or Alex Caruso, Alvarado is the rare point guard whose defense is truly game-changing—beyond simply hectoring his own assignment, he prevents opponents from easily establishing a rhythm and getting into their offense. 

On offense, Alvarado is more steady than spectacular. More, he’s perhaps the most fuck-up-averse player in the entire league: in his 22 games so far this season, he’s accounted for just four turnovers. In this sense, Alvarado’s meager per-game stats fail to capture the true impact he carries—he guarantees that each possession has purpose. It sounds unimportant, but merely ensuring that each possession ends with a shot is a tremendous source of value; the average shot yields about 1.06 points per possession , but a live-ball turnover results in 1.35 points per possession for the other team. Simply by lowering his team’s turnover percentage by 3.2 percentage points when he’s on the court, Alvarado ensures that his team scores 5.8 more points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court than when he’s on the bench. 

While he’s on a two-way contract for now, it’s only a matter of time until Alvarado inks a guaranteed contract with the Pelicans. Alvarado is the kind of hidden gem that every NBA team hopes to unearth, but Alvarado’s play has been so brilliantly competent that that he’s become impossible to ignore. 

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Sports Strength

The New Orleans Pelicans Are Embarrassing

For the most part, the New Orleans Pelicans have existed in the abstract—they’re a real basketball team with real basketball players that’s played real basketball games, but also, have they really? The NBA season is full of empty, forgotten space that’s catalogued by Basketball Reference pages rather than anybody’s memory, but the 1-11 Pelicans have been especially nondescript, floating through the season and silently losing games.

The Pelicans are a very bad team, but that alone isn’t a defining feature—there are lots of bad teams. But whereas the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder or Houston Rockets lose games as part of an alleged masterplan, the Pelicans lose games simply because they stink.  Although this is a fairly young team, the combined goodness of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram has robbed the Pelicans of the luxury of patience; Williamson and Ingram are ready to win now, so the Pelicans have scrambled to accommodate them. They’ve adopted the ambivalence of at once trying to win now while still rebuilding. As such, David Griffin, the VP of basketball operations, has imbued the roster with a schizophrenic quality, alternately  stockpiling draft picks and then trading them for veterans. 

Without Ingram (hip contusion) or Williamson (fat and sad), though, the Pelicans are a hodgepodge of role players who have floundered in the absence of an anchoring offensive force. Over the summer, the Pelicans acquired Devonte’ Graham and Jonas Valanciunas with a particular vision of how Graham’s pull-up shooting and Valanciunas’s burliness would unclutter the court for Williamson; now, Graham and Valanciunas are jibbitz without a Croc, accompanying pieces that no longer have something to accompany. 

But for the Pelicans, the shittiness on the court is secondary to the sour vibes that have quickly subsumed their season. Whereas their badness isn’t so interesting (it’s hard to muster much analysis beyond yikes), their general grumpiness is a rich text to mine. In their recent defeat to the Sacramento Kings, the Pelicans succumbed to the weight of their down-badness, setting an NBA record by registering five technical fouls in the second quarter alone. What’s more, the Pelicans’ orneriness extended beyond the court and into the front office—David Griffin tried to fight Alvin Gentry, a former Pelicans head coach who’s now an assistant in Sacramento. 

These almost-fisticuffs with Gentry are emblematic of how poisonous Griffin has been in New Orleans. Since taking over the Pelicans in 2019, Griffin has fired two coaches (including Gentry), alienated Williamson, tried and failed to reconcile with Williamson by playing piano for him, and established a reputation as a two-faced scoundrel. In just two-and-a-half years, Griffin has managed to unravel all the good will that he earned by building the Cleveland Cavaliers team that won the 2016 championship. 

In a season where they desperately needed to prove to Williamson that he can win in New Orleans long-term, the Pelicans have instead demonstrated how badly they need Williamson to even approach respectability. This is not just a bad team, it’s a broken one. They have until 2023 to find a fix. 

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Sports Strength

The 10 Best Win Total Bets For The 2021-2022 NBA Season

There’s no better time of year for sports degenerates than October. MLB playoffs are in full swing, contenders are separating from the pretenders in the NFL, the NHL season is beginning and, most important, basketball is back. After a flurry of off-season moves, the NBA hierarchy has been restructured. Here are five teams that will exceed expectations—and five teams that will bust.

Busts 

Philadelphia 76ers: 

Key additions: Andre Drummond, Georges Niang 

Key losses: Ben Simmons (???), George Hill

Win Totals Over/Under: 50.5

No team in the NBA had a more painful off-season than the 76ers. In a protracted saga that felt like watching a toddler argue with their parents, Ben Simmons completely ghosted the franchise before returning this week without telling anybody. With the status of their all-star guard in flux, the Sixers may struggle to start the year. This team is still good enough to make the playoffs, but it’s unrealistic to expect them to reach the same level that made them the East’s top seed last year. Unless—until?—a trade suitor comes for Ben Simmons, it will be a long season in Philadelphia.

Dallas Mavericks: 

Key additions: Reggie Bullock, Sterling Brown 

Key losses: Jason Richardson 

Win Totals Over/Under: 48.5

Boasting a borderline MVP candidate in Luka Doncic, the expectations for the Mavericks get higher and higher every off-season. The problem with the Mavericks’ off-season moves is that they stayed too complacent. Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis’s relationship seems to be degenerating by the day. Worse, Dallas hired Jason Kidd as head coach. Granted, Kidd played a major role in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s development, but his coaching style has been described as “psychological warfare” and his ultra-aggressive defensive scheme in Milwaukee has fallen out of style. In a deep Western Conference, the Mavs could struggle to avoid the play-in tournament.

Phoenix Suns: 

Key additions: JaVale McGee, Elfrid Payton, Chandler Hutchinson 

Key losses: Torrey Craig, Jevon Carter, Langston Galloway 

Win Totals Over/Under: 51.5

The Suns’ NBA Finals run last postseason was electric—despite the fortunate fact that they didn’t play one fully healthy Western Conference team. In the Finals, though, their fatal smallness was exposed by a huge and physical Milwaukee Bucks team. Although the Suns bulked up their frontcourt by adding Javale McGee, their 51.5 over/under win total is overly ambitious, now that the rest of West have had time to heal.

Charlotte Hornets:

Key additions: Kelly Oubre Jr, Ish Smith, Mason Plumlee, James Bouknight 

Key losses: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Monk, Cody Zeller, Caleb Martin, Grant Riller 

Win Totals Over/Under: 38.5

The Hornets made a splash last season by almost making the playoffs but ultimately lost in a play-in game. LaMelo Ball has taken the league by storm and the rest of the team’s young core will continue to improve alongside him; the problem is that the East has, as a whole, significantly improved, too. As such, the Hornets should occupy a position similar to last year and get into the play-in tournament.

New Orleans Pelicans: 

Key additions: Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte Graham 

Key losses: Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams 

Win Totals Over/Under: 39.5

The Pelicans have struggled mightily since the departure of Anthony Davis. Losing key rotational guards in Bledsoe and Ball, the Pelicans will be hard-pressed to run the fast break as effectively as they have in the past. New Orleans is doing everything it can to keep Zion with them, but it feels like they’re making all the wrong moves. If another disappointing season is in store, expect Zion to be on the move in a short time. 

Boom

Chicago Bulls: 

Key additions: Demar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr., Tony Bradley, Troy Brown Jr. 

Key losses: Thadeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, Lauri Markkanen, Daniel Theis, Garrett Temple 

Win Totals Over/Under: 42.5

The Chicago Bulls have completely revamped their roster. Since taking over in 2020, Arturas Karnisovas has almost completely erased the mistakes of a Gar/Pax front office. This team is stacked with incredible wing defenders, great shooters and some of the highest flyers in the 

league. At their best, this Bulls team could contend for home-court advantage in the playoffs. The future is bright in Chicago.

Los Angeles Clippers: 

Key additions: Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Harry Giles 

Key losses: Patrick Beverly, Rajon Rondo 

Win Totals Over/Under: 45.5

The Clippers will be without their superstar forward Kawhi Leonard and many people have counted them out as a result. Still, the Clippers were able to reach the Western Conference Finals without Kawhi, behind a rejiggered five-out offense that should also help them generate regular season wins. LA has great wings and continuity, which will enable them to maintain their contender-status.

Toronto Raptors: 

Key additions: Goran Dragic, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa 

Key losses: Kyle Lowry 

Win Totals Over/Under: 35.5

At first glance, the Toronto Raptors would seem to be entering the first year of an extended rebuild. Despite trading franchise legend Kyle Lowry, the Raptors are in a good position to return to the playoffs after last year’s listless, mediocre campaign in Tampa. This team is poised to be a top 10 defense in the league, a common recipe for regular season success. Hopefully Pascal Siakam will bounce back from a disappointing season and the Raptors can make some noise this season. 

Boston Celtics: 

Key additions: Dennis Schroder, Enes Kanter, Josh Richardson, Al Horford

Key losses: Kemba Walker, Tristan Thompson, Evan Fournier, Tacko Fall 

Win Totals Over/Under: 46.5

The conversation in the East is centered around the Bucks and the Nets, and that’s about it. As a result, a promising Celtics team has been lost in the shuffle. Jayson Tatum has shown constant improvement, and Jaylen Brown is really coming into his own as a scorer. With a chip on its shoulder after last year’s disappointing season, Boston has an intriguing combination of talent and motivation. Moreover, with Al Horford back in the fold, the team’s chemistry should be A1 from day one.

Atlanta Hawks: 

Key additions: Delon Wright, Gorgui Deng, Jalen Johnson 

Key losses: Kris Dunn, Tony Snell 

Win Totals Over/Under: 46.5

Despite a slow start to the season, the Hawks surged late in the year to make the Eastern Conference Finals, showing they can handle the pressure in the biggest moments, even in enemy territory. Buoyed by last year’s run, they’re poised, once again, to win the Southeastern Division. If Trae Young can insert himself in the MVP conversation, Atlanta will finish even higher.