QSAO’s Biggest Takeaways from the NBA In-Season Tournament

Authors: Callum McIntyre, Skyler Hogan, Connor McCourt

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Despite skepticism at first, it is safe to say the NBA’s new in-season tournament has succeeded in elevating the intensity of regular-season action. Along the way, there have been many surprises and things to be excited about. Things are set in place for an incredible final, with rising superstar Tyrese Haliburton and the Pacers facing off against the omnipresent Lebron James and the Lakers. The final kicks off today, December 9th, with the Lakers as a 4.5-point favorite.

Here are some key takeaways from the entire tournament:

Indiana’s Incredible Ascent

By: Callum McIntyre

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The biggest surprise of the In-Season Tournament has to be the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers finished last season as the 11th seed, subjecting them to face more challenging teams on their way to Las Vegas. Finishing as the 11th seed and winning Group A, which contained 3 playoff teams from the previous year in the 76ers, Cavaliers, and the Atlanta Hawks, is a fantastic accomplishment. They were also in a group with the Detroit Pistons, who ultimately went winless in the tournament.

The Pacers are a fun, exciting team with a dominant offense, ranking 1st in the NBA with an offensive rating of 122.5 at the time of writing. They are led by their star point guard, Tyrese Haliburton, one of the league’s best passers. Sharpshooter Buddy Hield is another crucial aspect of their offensive prowess, with a career three-point average of around 40%. New free agent signing Bruce Brown provides elite defense, hustle, and experience to this young team, and Bennedict Mathurin, the Canadian and second-year player, provides buckets off of the bench. The longest-tenured Pacer, Myles Turner, holds down the paint with fantastic defense and his ability to stretch the floor on offense.

It is already an incredible feat beating the Celtics and Bucks in massive upset wins, but do they have what it takes to go all the way? With the exhilarating Haliburton and a fire-hot offense, they are definitely a serious threat.

Western Conference Roundup

By: Skyler Hogan

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Group A: The Laker’s Dominate

As per usual, the Los Angeles Lakers have been the most confusing team early on in the season. Despite hovering around .500 for the first few weeks of the season, Lebron’s squad has easily been the most unstoppable force in the tournament thus far, going 4-0 in group play and taking down the KD and Booker-led Suns in the quarters to solidify their spot in Vegas. Call it a coincidence or the result of being in a pretty weak group. Still, the team is collectively averaging higher numbers in every major stat, from points to shooting percentages to rebounds and assists, during their tournament games compared to regular ones.

Group B: Pelicans Come Out On Top Of A Stacked Group 

Looking at a group that includes the reigning champ Nuggets, real-life 2k MyPlayer Luka Doncic with his Mavericks, and the Clippers with their 4 Hall of Famers, you wouldn’t expect the Pelicans and Rockets to lead, but they did. This season is the first time we’ve gotten an extended look at the pairing of Zion and Brandon Ingram, and the two have played some excellent basketball together. BI, in particular, should be considered to win the first-ever In-Season Tournament MVP, as he’s been consistent across the board, leading the Pels to Vegas. Expect this team to make waves later in the season if Zion manages to stay healthy for playoff time.

Group C: The Spurs Struggle, The Kings Shine

Will the nightmare ever end for the San Antonio Spurs? Due in no part to the man himself, Wemby’s rookie season is off to a brutal start as the Spurs sit at 3-17 on a 15-game losing streak. Pop’s squad went 0-4 during the tournament with a point differential of -58, the worst of any team in the association. The Kings, on the opposite end, went 4-0 in a group with the Timberwolves and Thunder, two teams that have had remarkable breakout years and are currently leading the West. Emerging superstar De’Aaron Fox averaged 34 points across their 5 games, which undoubtedly gives them much to be happy about despite being eliminated in the quarters.

New York Knicks

By: Connor McCourt

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A massive 24-point win against the Charlotte Hornets allowed the Knicks to sneak into the In-Season Tournament quarter-finals. The Knicks have been a surprise as of late due to the resurgence of Julius Randle, who started the season dreadfully but, in his past 11 games, has since picked up excellent form, averaging 23.4 points and ten rebounds. He will be essential if the Knicks can go far in this tournament.

The main driving point to the Knicks’ recent success is their staggering defense. They currently rank 3rd in the NBA in defensive rating, only allowing 109 points per game to opponents in a historically offensive-driven league. This defense can be attributed to limiting the offensive rebounds for opponents, at a 74.4% clip of obtaining defensive rebounds. And limit opponents to the lowest second-chance points in the league.

Although losing to the Lillard and Giannis-led Bucks in the quarter-finals, this team has a lot of potential going forward, especially if they can turn rumors into deals in the trade market.

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