NBA

NBA Heat Check: Tatum turns up while Minnesota man Russell melts

By Sports Desk April 01, 2022

There are just days remaining in the 2021-22 NBA regular season, but plenty is still on the line.

While the red-hot Phoenix Suns have long since secured the top seed in the Western Conference, four teams retain realistic hopes of leading the East.

Which of their superstar players are in the best shape heading into April, though?

Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check highlights the standout performers of the past month...

RUNNING HOT...

Jayson Tatum

Only the Suns (.867) had a better winning percentage in March than the Boston Celtics (.786, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks) – and much of that was due to an outstanding month from three-time All-Star Tatum.

His 32.8 points per game in March ranked third behind LeBron James (34.3) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (33.3) but significantly appeared to represent a major leap, having averaged 25.7 to that point. It was the fourth-largest increase in scoring across the NBA last month.

It figures that Tatum's three-point shooting should also be up, as he made 4.2 threes per game in March, compared to 2.8 previously.

Tatum actually saw the fourth-largest decrease in rebounding, from 8.3 per game to 6.6, but the Celtics were down in this regard across the board and it did not seem to hamper them.

Jordan Poole

As the Celtics climbed in the East, the Golden State Warriors fell in the West – but Poole did more than most to keep them competitive.

Stephen Curry's absence for the second half of the month was the chief factor in the Warriors' fading form, yet Poole is increasingly proving he can be the man to fill the void when the team's superstar guard is out.

Poole was the sole player to see a greater increase in threes made than Tatum in March (2.3 per game to 4.2), while his scoring improved from 16.1 points per game to 25.4 – second only to Drew Eubanks in this regard (4.8 to 15.0).

Those are stunning statistics but remain in line with how Poole has played all season long when Curry has been out. He has started all 12 games he has played without Curry, averaging 35.7 minutes (up from 28.6), 10.7 three-point attempts (up from 6.8), 4.3 three-point makes (up from 2.4), 5.2 assists (up from 3.5) and, admittedly, 3.3 turnovers (up from 2.2).

While taking more shots, Poole's field-goal percentage decreases slightly without Curry, yet his three-point shooting and free-throw percentage are both up, perhaps showing Golden State a future beyond the two-time MVP.

Cade Cunningham

The Detroit Pistons are nowhere near the playoff picture, but March did wonders for Cunningham's Rookie of the Year hopes.

While Evan Mobley suffered an ankle sprain that makes another appearance before the end of the regular season far from certain, Cunningham averaged 22.9 points, up on 16.0. The number one overall pick is up to 17.6 for the year, leading all rookies.

GOING COLD...

D'Angelo Russell

Russell is merely the third man on the Minnesota Timberwolves, but that looked to be evidence of the team's depth of scoring options at the start of March.

Although the T-Wolves remain one of only five teams to have had three different players average 18 or more points while playing in at least 60 games, Russell's scoring has dipped significantly from 19.4 at the end of February to 18.0 now.

Having scored just 13.1 points per game in March, Russell saw the largest decrease in the league, while his fall in three-point shots made (3.0 to 1.7) was also the greatest.

The former Warrior has too often struggled for consistency this season, but his four-point performance in the face of intense Celtics defense last weekend was especially alarming.

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    Experienced coach Jones had his future called into question on the back of another poor Six Nations campaign for England, who finished a distant third behind Ireland and champions France with two wins from five matches.

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    "I think pressure is always there with a head coach," said Gregan, ahead of Saturday's first Test in Perth. "I'm not going to speak on his behalf, but he knows that as a head coach it's all results driven in professional sport.

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    "But then obviously some things also which can get taken out of your hands, which is decision-making, you lose plays in the bin, all that kind of stuff. But that's rugby. And so how do you adapt? And how do you adjust? But they're all good experiences and learning experiences.

    "I know there was no Jonny May, there was no Owen Farrell, there's a lot of players missing in that Six Nations campaign, they'll probably take part in this coming tour. And then he's built a nice squad."

    Gregan is supporting The Open Championship Claret Jug Tour, partnered with HSBC UK, and he added: "I think you've always got your eyes a little bit ahead for the World Cup. And that's definitely the case for someone like Eddie and all coaches, but it's also the here and now, and they'll be looking to really improve and try not to drop out of games. I think every good team wants to do that."

    England may have struggled for consistent form, but they have won their last eight Tests against Australia since October 2015, conceding an average of just 14 points per game across the last four of those matches.

    Jones is undefeated against his country of birth during his near-seven-year England tenure, meanwhile, and famously oversaw a series whitewash in 2016.

    Gregan believes the England boss will have the full backing of his dressing room.

    "Eddie is a real players' coach. He's really driven to create the best environment for his players to perform," Gregan said. "He's the hardest marker on the team's performance on himself. I think you see that a lot.

    "He'll deflect to the team when it's doing well, and he’ll take ownership when it's not doing well. That's a classic head coach, and he's never wavered from that. And I think that's why the players really respect him.

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    Australia have lost three straight Tests heading into their first fixture with England this weekend, two of those by a margin of no more than two points – the last time they lost more successive games was a four-game stretch from June to August in 2018.

    However, the Wallabies have won their last four matches on home turf, and four of their past seven when hosting European opposition, which Gregan believes will make for an entertaining series.

    "England playing Australia in any sport is always exciting – particularly rugby," Gregan said. "Obviously there's that little touch with Eddie being a former Wallabies coach and obviously Australian. And he's had a great record against the Wallabies since he's taken over the helm in English rugby.

    "It's gonna be a fantastic series, Dave Rennie, the Wallaby coaching staff and the playing group will be really targeting the series as something, which is another step in the right direction for being consistent and beating some of the top international teams.

    "Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, on the bounce. So, three big Test matches over three consecutive weeks. And I think both teams, stating the obvious, will want to get off to a pretty hot start in Perth, because it's always good to be one up in those types of series."


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    "It's pretty surreal," Appel said. "I was trying to hold back the tears. It was emotional. It was special."

    The right-hander, who turns 31 on July 15, became the oldest top overall pick to make his major league debut when he stepped foot on the rubber to face Marcell Ozuna at Citizens Bank Park.

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    "Having perspective and remembering even just two, three years ago," Appel said. "Even if I was just trying to come back, it's never been a straight line for me.

    "Even in that whole process, I was lost. I felt like there were times when I was hopeless, that this dream would never happen. So yeah, I was choking back tears."

    A native of suburban Houston, Appel was selected first overall by the Astros in the 2013 draft and spent three years in the Astros system before being traded to the Phillies in a multi-player deal in December 2015.

    He struggled on the mound and battled through injuries in the minors before announcing in early 2018 that he was retiring, saying he was at peace with the decision to step away.

    Three years later, Appel returned to the Phillies organisation but again scuffled at Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2021, posting a 6.06 ERA in 23 appearances – 15 starts.

    He came out again this past spring and this time excelled – as a full-time reliever. In 19 appearances out of the bullpen for the Iron Pigs, Appel went 5-0 with a 1.61 ERA and 24 strikeouts over 28 innings.

    "This whole year has been so special for me," Appel said. "I was coming in, trying to figure out: where do I fit? What's my role going to be?

    "The fact I got to go to Lehigh and learn how to be a reliever and have some success, that was fuel to my fire. I didn't need a call-up for it to be a successful year.

    "In that sense, this is all just extra. I'm just really thankful for it. And I'm glad that I'm able to go out and do my best and get to face the world champions from last year. It's pretty surreal."

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