The Three Most Important Takeaways For The Rest Of The NBA Season From MLK Day Games | According To The Metrics

Jayson Tatum and Boston Celtics won on MLK Day
(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

Eighteen of the NBA’s 30 franchises were in action on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Alongside Christmas Day, it is the most significant day on the calendar in terms of showcasing the league and its product.


What Happened On MLK Day In NBA?

We saw contenders, pretenders, an MVP like performance and more. Here are the three most important takeaways from Monday’s action.

The Boston Celtics are determined to return to the NBA Finals, and Jayson Tatum is a legitimate MVP candidate. 

The Celtics have won a league best 33 games and have opened up a four-and-a-half-game lead in the Eastern Conference after their 130-118 win over the Charlotte Hornets. They are No. 1 in aNET rating at +6.4, almost a full point better than the second placed Memphis Grizzlies. Boston is first in aORTG and ninth in aDRTG. They have won seven straight and look ready to get back to the NBA Finals.

They are led by MVP candidate Jayson Tatum. According to Las Vegas he’s the third favorite behind Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic. Tatum scored 51 points on MLK Day on 15-for-23 from the field, including 7-12 from three, and a perfect 14-14 at the free throw line.

For the season he is averaging 31 points and eight rebounds a game on 47/35/86 splits. He’s eighth in EPM at +6.4, second in eW at 10 (tied with Jokic and just behind Doncic [10.2]).

If the Celtics finish with the league’s best record and by a decent margin, how is Tatum not the MVP?

The Memphis Grizzlies have the most elasticity of any of the top 5 teams in the league

After playing with their food in the first half of Monday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, the Grizzlies put on a second-half clinic in holding the Suns to 41 points and earning a blowout 136-106 victory.

The Grizzlies are second in aNET rating, 10th in a ORTG, and first in aDRTG. Of the top five teams in the league (Celtics, Nuggets, Nets, Bucks) the Grizzlies have the most room to be better come the postseason.

Their defense is elite and looks championship-worthy, led by defensive player of the year candidate Jaren Jackson Jr., and All-Defensive candidate Dillon Brooks. They are suffocating teams on the interior and ending possessions quickly by securing the rebound.

Their offense is ranked 10th and can be a lot better. They are shooting a meh 35 percent from three and not grabbing available offensive rebounds. Given their ability on the defensive glass, you’d think they’d be better at offensive rebounding. Some of that is due to spacing and pace. But it can improve.

Desmond Bane was averaging 25 points per game and shooting 46 percent from three before he went down with an injury in November. He missed a little over a month. Monday’s game was only his 11th since returning from injury. Over his last five games he’s shooting 55.3 percent from three and 51 percent from the field. If he returns to the player who looked like a first-time All-Star, he and Morant might be the league’s best backcourt.

The Golden State Warriors will not defend their title if they don’t make a move, and it still might not be enough.

The Warriors won their game against the Washington Wizards on Monday but needed a heroic 41 from Stephen Curry and 32 points from Jordan Poole. Mainly because the team can’t seem to play defense on the road.

In their championship years the Warriors could always rely on steady veterans off the bench who could maintain leads when Curry was off the floor. Think Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and last year Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II and Nemanja Bjelica.

Governor Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers have opted for a two-timeline approach and believes the team can win now with their core of Curry, Thompson, and Green, as well as get the future on track with James Wiseman, Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga.

Wiseman is not a regular part of the rotation; Moody is in and out, and Kuminga is currently injured.

If the Warriors want a chance at winning more titles in Curry’s extended prime, they need to move one or more of these young guys for a contributing veteran player that can work offensively and defend. But even that still might not be enough.