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October 29, 2009
Box-Score Watching
Opening Night Observations

by Kevin Pelton


During his final days as head coach in Seattle, Bob Hill said something during a media availability that has stuck with me ever since. "In the NBA, everybody's watching," Hill explained, describing how the strong play of Mike Wilks as an injury replacement might open eyes around the league. As often as that is with scouting, it's also done by keeping an eye on box scores. So it is with that philosophy in mind that, having been unable to watch any of last night's games except a few minutes of Denver and Utah on ESPN, I scoured the final stat lines looking for interesting bits of information from the first full night of the 2009-10 season.

The Cleveland offense has some issues
OK, I suppose this one comes as no surprise to anyone who watched the Cavaliers on TNT Tuesday night. (I missed that game because I was busy prepping for Portland and Houston.) Actually, Cleveland's 100.7 Offensive Rating in the opener wasn't bad against one of the league's better defensive units. On the other hand, scoring at a rate of 93.6 points per 100 possessions against a Toronto squad that looks porous on paper raises some red flags. The Cavaliers mustered just 39 first-half points before finding success in the second half by going to a smaller unit of Daniel Gibson and Mo Williams in the backcourt with Anthony Parker and LeBron James at forward. The biggest problem with that strategy from Mike Brown's perspective is that it makes it very hard to rest his guards with Delonte West unavailable. Parker has totaled 78 minutes in two games, while Williams has rung up 75. That's a lot of mileage early. Until West comes back, it's hard to say how much of the issues on offense are explained by his absence and how much they reflect John Kuester's departure from the coaching staff.

The showdown of the second-year big men
That headline probably didn't lead you directly to Ryan Anderson and Marreese Speights, but both players had big nights in the opener. The Magic scarcely missed Rashard Lewis in rolling up 70 points by halftime and taking a 31-point advantage to the final period. Anderson was a big reason why, scoring 16 points and knocking down four three-pointers in 25 minutes. As a team, Orlando scorched the nets with 16 triples in 29 attempts. Speights helped lead a short-lived Sixers comeback by scoring nine points in the first five and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, but his production was hardly all in garbage time. Speights finished with 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting, showing why he topped our list of top 10 "NBA prospects."

The Charlotte offense ... not a typo
Do not adjust your monitor. Yes, the Bobcats did really score just 59 points, with a 66.8 Offensive Rating. Obviously, things will get much, much better. In particular, D.J. Augustin is unlikely to repeat his one-point effort, and Tyson Chandler's 0-for-5 shooting is another fluke. Still, if you were looking for reasons to believe that SCHOENE was unfair in projecting Charlotte 29th in Offensive Rating, few were on display. That was even before the Bobcats were giving journeyman Stephen Graham 29 minutes of playing time at shooting guard (in which he shot 2-of-11).

Danilo Gallinari?
I'm not exactly sure what to make of it, but in a disappointing loss in Miami the Knicks' second-year forward attempted 13 of his 14 shots from beyond the arc. He hit seven of them, which translated into a rather nice if bizarre 22-point night.

Damien Wilkins, improbable hero
In addition to his game-winning bucket, Wilkins also recorded his first double-double since February 2006. Granted, 12 points and 10 rebounds aren't exactly Tim Duncan territory, but given Wilkins was shackled to the bench much of last season in Oklahoma City, he'll surely take it. Elsewhere in Minnesota, Jonny Flynn had a solid debut, but he and Ramon Sessions split 48 minutes. At some point, Kurt Rambis is going to have to find a way to get both players on the court together.

The NBA, where DeJuan Blair now happens
In his San Antonio debut, the Prospectus fave put together a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) in 23 minutes while shooting 7-of-10 from the field. (By contrast, the New Orleans bench combined for 19 points and nine boards.) No matter the competition, no matter the type of game, Blair has produced like crazy, which is why he's a Prospectus fave. I am hoping to get Blair a strong nickname at some point this season. The bear-related puns like Grizzly Blair (his nickname at Pitt) are interesting but predictable. Blair demands a more creative, old-school nickname (I liked Bad News Blair, as suggested on Twitter, but the News is already Marvin Barnes). Ideally, Blair should be described as a force of nature, possibly a destructive one.

Favoring the veterans
As expected, Desmond Mason got the start for the Kings at small forward. However, rookie Omri Casspi made a strong case for playing time in his debut, scoring 15 points on 19 minutes on 7-of-9 shooting. Casspi is potentially good enough to hold his own while gaining valuable experience. On the other side at the Ford Center, I was surprised to see Kevin Ollie and Etan Thomas in the Thunder's rotation at the expense of Shaun Livingston at the point and either Serge Ibaka or D.J. White up front. All three received DNP-CDs.

The usage-efficiency debate continues to rage
Tuesday, efficiency lost. Last night, usage lost as the Grizzlies put up a 91.1 Offensive Rating against Detroit. Actually, the Memphis starting five wasn't terrible on offense other than O.J. Mayo (2-of-12). It was the second unit, without Allen Iverson there as an anchor, that sputtered--11 combined points on 4-of-22 shooting. Also, in a slow-paced game, the Pistons' 96 points are misleading. They actually torched the Grizzlies D to the tune of nearly 120 points per 100 possessions. Not a great start for SCHOENE's most unorthodox projection.

Speaking of Prospectus faves ...
In his NBA debut, Ty Lawson scored 17 points and handed out six assists against just one turnover in 26 minutes off the bench. With J.R. Smith serving the first game of his NBA suspension, Anthony Carter started at off-guard, but Lawson and Chauncey Billups ended up playing about 11 minutes together. The Nuggets were +5 with that backcourt in a nine-point win over Utah.

For more NBA observations and instant analysis, follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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Five Thoughts (10/27)
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Is One-and-Done Done? (10/29)

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