Just some things to ponder ahead of Sunday’s second half of a back-to-back with the Island Storm:
1. This just in….Billy White is still good….but how much better can he be?
With allllllll the turmoil surrounding the recent trade/not a trade, and the scrambling of Moncton fans to wrap their heads around roster changes (my post-trade article had the staying power of a carton of milk left out on the counter), how much did we really stop and think about the “why” behind the deal? We all love Billy as a player, and teammates and coaches have been universal in their praise of his professionalism and their happiness to have him back. Still, Coach Salerno is no dummy. If he was exploring trades, what are the areas he felt he could improve without Billy on the roster? And now that Billy is back, what can he do to address the concerns the franchise had about his place on the team? I’m gonna hit you with some numbers:
40.8—this is White’s shooting % this year. It was actually still in the 30’s before his 11-21 shooting performance in Friday’s win on PEI. His season is only 8 games old and, no matter what, we can all be confident that % will rise. However, sometimes the team’s efforts to force-feed him the ball has been to their, and Billy’s, detriment. Being quicker/stronger/more skilled than almost anyone else in the league has its privileges to be sure. No one in the league is more confident going downhill to the hoop, particularly to the left, than White. But his tendency to over-dribble and piece together multiple spin moves gives time for defenses to send help or route him where they want him to go. White played well in the Magic’s victory on Thursday night over London, but was stymied on multiple occasions by long, athletic defenders muscling him under the backboard and forcing him to go up against 4 or 6 hands and arms. Billy plays with unselfish, smart guards who just want to win. There is no shame in that first series of moves not working, kicking it back out and then re-posting when the defense retreats. The Magic are fond of running multiple screen and rolls to get Billy mismatches in the post. No need to go away from that.
2.4—the number of assists White is averaging this year. That’s down an assist over last year and his turnovers are slightly up. This isn’t to say that Billy is a selfish player, not at all. He’s merely being overly aggressive and forcing the issue when he doesn’t need to. Some of those kickouts I mentioned above will instantly turn into assists given the array of shooters he has as teammates.
3.5 offensive rebounds a game/1.3 blocks per game—at first glance, these season-long stats may not seem connected, but what they indicate is a player wreaking more havoc on both ends of the floor than he gets credit for. The criticism of Billy throughout his career has always been his tendency to lose focus and float when calls or plays haven’t gone his way. Well, the past two games have provided AMPLE opportunity for White to play into that narrative. The London game got very heated for portions of the second half, but White’s emotions got focused in an entirely positive direction and he finished the game strong. Against the Island on Friday, the Magic really felt the whistle was against them, but Billy had his best game of the season and didn’t get rattled. A focused, intense White is capable of providing huge traditional counting stats, but also so much more. If THAT is the White the Magic get the rest of the year, then the trade being rescinded will have been a true blessing.
2. 20 PPG on 67% shooting overall and 69% from 3-point land/8 boards and 6 assists per game since New Year’s Day:
Does that sound like a starting point guard line you might be interested in? Has ANYONE in the league been better than Jeremiah Mordi since the new decade began? His shot selection has been nearly perfect and his balance of pushing the ball when Moncton has numbers versus controlling the game with a mastery of pace is everything you want in a primary ball handler. He has turned the ball over only 8 times in those 7 games. Want some more fun stats? How about this? Mordi is in the top 20 in the league in EVERY major statistical category except two, offensive rebounds and minutes played. Given that the Magic’s depth is the only thing keeping the minutes down, he’s probably another flu victim away from nudging his way up from 24th in offensive boards. When you add in his all-NBL level defense, you get a guy having a phenomenal year
3. If Mordi isn’t having the best recent run in the league, then his counterpart on Sunday is:
The Storm may be on a 5-game losing streak, but it’s not the fault of Johnathan Loyd. His recent per- game averages are eye-popping as well; 34 ppg on 61% shooting and 17 made threes in his last four games. He’s also averaging 7.5 assists. For the year, Loyd is up to 19.7/7 and is shooting 48% overall, 40% from three and over 90% from the line. Want the list of NBA/WNBA players to get to 50/40/90 in one season? Larry Bird, Malcolm Brogdon, Steph Curry, KD, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Price and Elena Della Donne……pretty good list. And like the man tasked to stop him in the Avenir on Sunday, he plays truly elite defense. He trails only Ryan Anderson in steals so far this season and he’s a Kyle Lowry-esque bulldog when switched onto a bigger man in the post.
4. So where ARE the Storm struggling?
Well, pretty much everywhere else. After a torrid shooting start, most of their best players are having some degree of a dry spell. Alex Campbell was looking like an MVP candidate after 7 games but has only made 13 of his 44 shot attempts in the last three. He made 23 from distance in those first 7 as well, but only 7 total in his last 5 games on heavy volume. He has logged the most minutes in the league and it’s his legs that are looking a little heavy at this point. Robbie Robinson’s first 7 games were similar to Campbell’s, but of late, he’s been human. He was averaging over 3 assists per game through 7, but has only 3 assists total his last 4 games. He’s only made 2 three-pointers in that time and his scoring is down over 4 ppg. Nathaniel Wright is 3-23 from the floor the last 3 games and Antwan Lillard’s scoring has dipped almost as much while getting to the line about half the time as he had through the first 7. That’s a lot of stats….but here’s your takeaway. The offense is more stagnant of late. The ball isn’t flying up and down the floor or from side to side in the half-court and the Storm are working FAR harder to get quality looks. If I’m them, I’m letting Loyd initiate everything and ride his hot hand. Instead of force-feeding Robinson and Campbell in heavy minutes, let Loyd do the heavy-lifting and allow them to live off of open shots due to his shot creation. Even if it’s a temporary change that provides Campbell, Robinson, and Lillard a break from shot-creation responsibilities while getting their confidence back, it’s something to consider. Instead of attacking defenders prepared for them off of dribble handoffs, that trio may welcome the opportunity to attack close-outs off of Loyd’s ball penetration. Getting to the line and converting is where the Storm excel. Also, heavier minutes can be deployed to players like Abrian Edwards and Lewis Diankulu. Neither one logs even 17 minutes per night, but their skills can be put to good use while helping some of their stars to some fresher 4th quarter legs.
5. What kind of whistle can the players expect on Sunday?
Anyone who follows my social media knows I’m a staunch defender of NBL Canada referees for the most part, but certainly the Magic have sufficient reason to make them part of their pre-game discussion. Over their last 5 games, Moncton has had 6 players foul out and 4 more have finished with 5 fouls. All players and coaches want is a fair whistle at both ends of the floor, but several of these games have finished with vast free throw differentials between teams, alternatively favouring the Magic and working to their detriment. And it seems as if the leagues zebras have no idea how to officiate Denzell Taylor. In his last 4 games, he’s finished with 6, 5, 6 and 6 fouls. I’ve watched and re-watched every single one and was in some manner of agreement with two-thirds of them at most (Sigh….here come some social media DMs). His physicality and motor are almost unmatched by anyone else his size in the league, but instead of working to his benefit, it’s held against him at times. And fellow players have noticed. Smart opponents are selling officials on calls and getting away with it. It will be up to Taylor to make an adjustment.