NBA

NBA Heat Check: RJ erupts but Curry cools off

By Sports Desk February 02, 2022

Opinions on this 2021-22 NBA season are being firmly formed as we enter February.

Last month saw the All-Star starters announced, while the MVP race hotted up – or cooled down, with several early contenders struggling with form and fitness.

But who really lit up the league in January? And whose bright end to 2021 did not carry over into the new year?

Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check looks at the best and worst performers of the month...

RUNNING HOT...

RJ Barrett

Now in his third year with the New York Knicks, Barrett's has been a season of peaks and troughs. In the month of November, he averaged 12.8 points per game; in January, that mark was a mightily impressive 21.8.

Such inconsistency leaves the guard just below last year's average of 17.6 at 17.3, but he is now a man in form, scoring double-figures in 17 straight games – including all 15 in January.

Barrett's 31 points against the San Antonio Spurs on January 10 were followed by 32 against the Dallas Mavericks on January 12 in consecutive wins, before the Knicks traded for Cam Reddish, his old Duke team-mate, the next day. As stretches go, this was a good one.

Reddish is yet to find his feet in New York but at least finds a familiar face full of confidence in the locker room.

Kyle Kuzma

January finished with the Washington Wizards on a five-game losing streak that was extended to six on Tuesday, but it was a month of progress for Kuzma.

Comparing output for the past month to the rest of the season, Kuzma ranked second in the league for an increase in both scoring (up from 13.4 to 22.5) and rebounding (up from 8.0 to 11.1).

While this form is clearly not doing enough to get the Wizards' year back on track, it is at least providing the Los Angeles Lakers with a reminder of what they gave up in a trade for Russell Westbrook.

Kuzma was one of three players, along with a first-round pick, sent to Washington in exchange for Westbrook, who has again flattered to deceive and appears to be back on the market with the Lakers toiling at 24-27.

Anfernee Simons

One place behind the Lakers in the West, the Portland Trail Blazers are similarly out of sorts, with Damian Lillard falling below his usual standards and the rest of the team struggling to pick up the slack.

The Blazers have still had some breakout stars, however, with Simons the most obvious of those in year four after a dazzling January.

Already averaging double-figures at 11.9 heading into 2022 – something he had failed to do in his previous three campaigns – Simons was the most improved scorer last month, scoring 23.1 points across 15 games. He made 4.5 three-pointers per game over that period, also a league-leading improvement on his prior 2.0.

Third-year forward Nassir Little (13.1 points and 2.1 threes in January) ranked seventh and fifth by those metrics, only to sustain a season-ending labrum tear – a setback that just about summed up Portland's season.

GOING COLD...

Stephen Curry

Curry's 26.0 points per game this year are up on two of his three title-winning campaigns with the Golden State Warriors but significantly down on last year's 32.0 – enough to win the scoring title – and falling rapidly from his early-season standards.

The two-time MVP made a hot start with 28.7 points in October and was still operating at 27.7 come the end of 2021. In January, however, he scored only 22.3 points – the biggest drop in the NBA.

Curry also led an unwanted chart in seeing his 5.4 made threes per game decrease massively to 3.5, a career 42.9 per cent three-point shooter and 47.3 per cent field-goal shooter slumping to 32.9 per cent and 38.5 per cent.

Such is the depth of talent on the Warriors' roster – in Kevon Looney and Jonathan Kuminga, they had two of January's three most-improved rebounders – they have been able to ride out Curry's rough patch. However, Jordan Poole had also been struggling to maintain his high standards (fifth for scoring decrease in January), though a 31-point effort in Tuesday's win over the Spurs hinted at a return to form.

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  • Tuchel backs Gallagher and Hudson-Odoi to fight for minutes at Chelsea Tuchel backs Gallagher and Hudson-Odoi to fight for minutes at Chelsea

    Thomas Tuchel has backed Conor Gallagher and Callum Hudson-Odoi to fight their way into first-team contention at Chelsea. 

    However, the Blues boss was philosophical when asked whether either England international could leave in the transfer window, adding: "Nobody is for sale, and everybody is for sale."

    Gallagher appeared as a late substitute in Chelsea's opening-day Premier League win over Everton last week, while Hudson-Odoi was absent from the Blues' squad at Goodison Park.

    Both players have been linked with moves away due to the competition for places at Stamford Bridge, with Hudson-Odoi a reported target for Borussia Dortmund and Gallagher widely admired after racking up eight Premier League goals and three assists on loan at Crystal Palace last term.

    While Tuchel recognises N'Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic represent stern competition for Gallagher, he wants to see him realise his undoubted promise at Chelsea.

    "Conor fights in central midfield," Tuchel said ahead of Sunday's Premier League clash with Tottenham. "To be honest, it is a very tough fight for him because, at the moment, it seems we only have two places in central midfield. 

    "Given the amount of players we have for central midfield, it isn't ideal, I agree. But we have to do what's best for the squad, not just for each individual player.

    "But at the moment, he is absolutely fine. I am a huge fan of Conor. He is a fantastic guy, and this is what we already knew, in the first weeks of training, he has shown how much of a step he has made through having so much playing time.

    "It is a very, very normal situation and his development is that at the moment, after some fantastic training sessions in the beginning, there is a little dip in his form and freshness. 

    "On top of that, there's a huge competition with N'Golo, Jorgi and Kova, who are used to playing with each other. 

    "This is also life in a big club like Chelsea, so everything is in its right place. We are happy with him. He keeps on fighting, and this is what he does. I think he has everything to become very important in the next years at Chelsea."

    Hudson-Odoi has been linked with a move to the Bundesliga on several occasions, having only started 32 Premier League games for Chelsea since his 2018 debut, but Tuchel is also keen to hold onto him.

    "Callum is the same. He had a long-term injury and long-term problems to overcome," Tuchel said. "I think he still has a way to go to live up to his potential. His potential is huge. 

    "I think having Raheem [Sterling] in can give him an extra boost to step up and see what's needed in these kinds of positions to reach the levels he can honestly reach. 

    "But at the moment, he is our player, and he needs to fight, fight, fight. I have nothing more to say."

    But with over two weeks remaining in the transfer window, Tuchel refused to rule out a change in the club's strategy.

    "In general, nobody is for sale,", Tuchel added. "Nobody is for sale, and everybody is for sale. 

    "It depends on what the player wants, how bad the player wants it, what we think about who is ready to pay a certain amount of money, and then maybe everybody is for sale."

  • Premier League data dive: Man Utd hit 30-year low as outstanding Jesus downs Foxes Premier League data dive: Man Utd hit 30-year low as outstanding Jesus downs Foxes

    The second Saturday of the new Premier League campaign did not disappoint, serving up a thrilling comeback, a spectacular home debut and a familiar sinking feeling for Manchester United supporters.

    If last week's 2-1 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion represented a baptism of fire for Erik ten Hag, United's trip to Brentford provided further despair as the dismal Red Devils hit a 30-year low.

    There was more joy for rivals Manchester City as they cruised to a 4-0 win over Bournemouth, while Gabriel Jesus made good on his pre-season promise with a dominant performance against Leicester City.

    Here, Stats Perform trawls through Opta's data to bring you some of the best numbers from the day's Premier League action.

    Brentford 4-0 Manchester United: Ten Hag matches unwanted Chapman record against brilliant Bees

    Where do you start with this one? New United boss Ten Hag was left in no doubt regarding the side's problems when a Pascal Gross double sent them crashing to an opening-day defeat last week.

    But not even the most pessimistic United follower could have predicted their collapse in west London, as Ten Hag became the first Red Devils manager to lose his first two games at the helm since John Chapman in November 1921.

    Things got off to a dreadful start when David de Gea let Josh Dasilva's shot squirm into the net after 10 minutes; since the start of the 2018-19 season, only Jordan Pickford (11) has made more errors leading to Premier League goals than the Spaniard.

    Mathias Jensen, Ben Mee and Bryan Mbeumo joined Dasilva on the scoresheet by the 35th minute as Brentford scored with their first four shots on target, while Cristiano Ronaldo cut a dejected figure on his return to the United team.

    Only two teams had previously scored four first-half goals against United in a Premier League game; Tottenham in October 2020 and Liverpool in October 2021.

    The result is that United have begun a top-flight campaign with back-to-back defeats for the first time since 1992-93, the Premier League's inaugural season.

    And while the table has not quite taken shape two games in, United ended the day bottom of the Premier League for the first time since August 21, 1992.

    Arsenal 4-2 Leicester City: Miraculous home debut for Jesus

    Another side with Champions League ambitions has made a far brighter start to the Premier League season, as Mikel Arteta's Arsenal made it two consecutive wins with an entertaining victory over Leicester.

    Former Manchester City forward Jesus was hailed as a coup for the Gunners when he arrived in the off-season, and he enjoyed a home debut to remember by scoring two goals and adding two assists.

    In doing so, the Brazilian became the first player to score multiple goals on his home Premier League bow for Arsenal, as well as the first Gunners player to double up for goals and assists in a single league game since Theo Walcott against Newcastle in December 2012 (three goals, two assists).

    Before Jesus assisted compatriot Gabriel Martinelli for Arsenal's fourth goal, he became the 12th different Brazilian to score in the Premier League for Arsenal – the most of any side in the competition's history.

    Jesus was not the only player to impress, however, with Granit Xhaka both scoring and assisting in the same match for the first time in an Arsenal shirt, 252 games into his Gunners career.

    Leicester, meanwhile, were subjected to a familiar feeling of frustration in north London – this was the sixth time they have conceded at least four goals in a Premier League game against Arsenal.

    Manchester City 4-0 Bournemouth: Champions cruise despite quiet day for Haaland

    Home teams hitting four goals seemed to be a theme of the day, as Pep Guardiola's Premier League champions followed up a win at West Ham by cruising past Bournemouth.

    Scott Parker's team were likely not expecting a result at the Etihad Stadium; City have now won all 11 of their Premier League matches against Bournemouth, the best 100 per cent winning record against a particular team in the competition's history.

    A Jefferson Lerma own goal came after strikes from Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden, as the Cherries made it 17 league matches without a win against City in their history – the most one side has faced another without a victory in English league history.

    Kevin De Bruyne was at his creative best for City, scoring his 16th league goal since the start of last season before teeing up Foden's strike.

    The Belgian has both scored and assisted in 20 separate Premier League matches since his September 2015 debut. Only Mohamed Salah (24) and Son Heung-min (21) have done so on more occasions in that time.

    But while City were rampant, new talisman Haaland was quiet. The Norwegian only managed eight touches and two successful passes, but still managed to make an impact.

    One of Haaland's passes was from kick-off, the other teed up Gundogan to score the first goal.

    Southampton 2-2 Leeds United: Saints manage rare comeback as Aribo opens account

    Elsewhere, Jesse Marsch's Leeds failed to make it two wins from two as Southampton launched a stirring comeback on the south coast.

    Rodrigo was on the scoresheet in a win over Wolves last week before hitting a brace at St Marys, making him the first player to score three goals in Leeds' first two games of a Premier League season since Alan Smith in 2000-01.

    But Leeds could not hold on, failing to win after going two goals ahead for only the second time in their last 36 Premier League games, and for the first time in 14 such contests (since a 3-3 draw with Charlton Athletic in May 2004).

    Southampton have now avoided defeat in two of the last five Premier League games where they have gone two goals down (also a 2-2 draw against Brighton in April), but their love of a comeback is a new characteristic.

    Before April, the Saints had only managed one win and one draw from the last 58 Premier League games in which they went two goals behind.

    Joe Aribo represents one of their most impressive additions following his arrival from Rangers, and his goal made him the first Nigerian to score in the Premier League for Southampton, as well as the 38th in the competition's history overall.

  • Ten Hag will not abandon his philosophy at Man Utd after Brentford humiliation Ten Hag will not abandon his philosophy at Man Utd after Brentford humiliation

    Erik ten Hag is adamant Manchester United's humiliating 4-0 defeat to Brentford on Saturday was caused by individual mistakes rather than it being a consequence of flawed tactical decisions.

    United were hoping to bounce back from last weekend's 2-1 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion when they travelled to London, but they left with one of their worst defeats in Premier League history.

    Brentford were 4-0 up at half-time, becoming only the third team to reach such a scoreline against United in the Premier League by the interval, while the Red Devils succumbed to a fourth successive league loss for the first time in 43 years.

    As such, United finished the day bottom of the Premier League, something that has not occurred since the competition's second matchday ever in August 1992.

    Part of United's problem seemed to be their persistence at trying to play out from the back, with Christian Eriksen twice robbed in compromising positions, the second such instance leading to Mathias Jensen making it 2-0 as the United player received a needlessly risky pass from David de Gea.

    It was put to Ten Hag in his post-match news conference that United got their tactics wrong against a Brentford side that pressed high with impressive intensity, but the Dutchman refused to accept such an assessment.

    "This is a conclusion, I will not admit that," he said. "They can and show already in pre-season this has nothing to do with that and it's about when you make the mistakes you make, every plan and strategy you can put in the bin.

    "I think we all have seen the game and I think Brentford was more hungry, and we concede goals in individual mistakes.

    "You can have a good plan but we had to put the plan into the bin. I think it had nothing to do with tactical and that the first two goals, it's about dealing with the ball, that's one, and decisions.

    "I think they follow my instructions, but they make bad decisions and that's football, it's a game of mistakes and you get punished."

    But while Ten Hag is keen for United to try and play out from the back, he was frustrated by the players' inability to adapt to a slightly different approach when aggressive nature of Brentford's pressing became apparent.

    Quizzed on Eriksen twice being caught on the ball in deep positions, Ten Hag said: "Yes, but he didn't have to receive the ball there, because we give options and the players have to choose but we said play long, invite them and play long.

    "I don't want to play from the back when it's not possible. It was naive how we played today; you have to play more direct. We attracted them, the space was high up the pitch, you have to do that option but that is what we didn't do.

    "We will learn, we will have to learn, it's not good enough, clear, it's not the level and the standard how we want to act.

    "It's not possible the opponent is more hungry than you are. I saw in the second-half a comeback but you have to start well and it's not good.

    "When the results are like this, I can imagine that feeling, it's also no good. That we show that, clear, so we have to change that. We need more hunger on the pitch and show that as an individual and as a team."

    Up next for Ten Hag and United is the visit of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool to Old Trafford a week on Monday.

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