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Hawks in the NBA - Midseason Report

Several former Hawkeyes are having excellent years at the midway point of the season.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets
Luka! Also pictured - Nikola Jokic
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Everyone in the NBA passed the midseason mark in the last week. Let’s check in on Keegan, Luka, and…Joe Wieskamp?!?! Joe Wieskamp! Let’s go!

Keegan Murray

Our defending Western Conference Rookie of the Month continues his solid play for the surging Kings. Wait - the surging Kings?

These guys are in pretty rare air. That is a long time to go without being even 5 games over .500. Like, they never started a season hot, at any point, since 2006?? Then again, they’ve been poorly run for that entire time, so I shouldn’t be that surprised.

Murray continued his solid play into January. His December numbers were 12.7 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game on 46/46/65 shooting splits. That’s a great line, especially the 3-point shooting. He’s somehow improved on those shooting numbers in January, at 47 percent from the floor and an obscene 48 percent from 3.

He’s a lock to hit that franchise 3-point mark. The NBA mark is a tall order but would be an incredible accomplishment. Here’s another stat on his 3-point shooting - through 40 games, he’d made 95 3s. That was good for third all-time through a player’s first 40 games. The players in front of him are Lauri Markannen (no sloutch) and Luka Doncic (REALLY no sloutch). That’s incredible company to keep.

In his most recent game, against the Los Angeles Lakers, Murray notched the first double-double of his career, going for 10 points and 10 rebounds in a 116-111 win. He knocked down 2 more 3s for the year (now at 97 made 3s for the season). The win was Sacramento’s 5th-straight - they are now 7 games over .500! - and solidified their grip on the Pacific Division. Now, before we get crazy, divisions in the NBA do not matter. The NBA did away with the division winners getting the top 3 seeds years ago. The only time divisions matter is tie-breakers for playoff seeding (more on that in a second). Still, this is a nice feather in their cap given the division features the defending NBA champions, one of the league’s glamour franchises in the Lakers, the Suns were in the Finals two years ago, and the Clippers, and that in the seasons since their last playoff appearance (05-06), the Kings have been either 4th or 5th in the division 13 of 16 seasons. More important – right now, the Kings would be the THREE SEED in the Western Conference. That’s wild.

Back to Keegan – this year has been nothing but an unqualified success for him. In 41 games played, he is averaging 11.7 points per game, 4.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.6 blocks with great shooting splits. It’s the shooting that’s so impressive.

Crucially, he didn’t walk into a situation where he had to score 20 a night. He walked into a team that already had a center of gravity with Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox and had a good veteran core. He’s not the top line item on the scouting report either so he can just bomb 3s. Like above - he’s not the top line item, so someone went under that screen on a guy shooting over 40 percent from 3 on the year. That’s a no-no. These guys aren’t winning the title, but they aren’t someone I’d want to see in the first round, either. They have a home court advantage again and they can score a ton of points - they had a recent streak in which they scored 130 or more points in 5-straight games, the first team to do that in the NBA since the Doug Moe Denver Nuggets in November of 1988. Imagine you struggle with them and you find yourself on a flight to Sacramento down 3-2, needing a win in Game 6. No thank you!

Luka Garza

We have to stand up and applaud Luka – he’s making it in the NBA! For the month, he’s averaging 8.8 points to go along with 3 rebounds and he’s shooting well in his 11 minutes per game. Like Keegan, his 3-point shooting is a godsend for the up-and-down Timberwolves – he’s at 46 percent.

What’s impressive here is the opponents he’s shown flashes against – Denver twice, Cleveland and their big front line, and the Clippers aren’t a slouch team (they aren’t playing well and guys don’t play enough so they lack chemistry, but they still have a good talent level). In the two Denver games (January 2 and last night), he scored 9 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in a 124-111 win on the 2nd then had a smooth 16 points in a 122-118 loss last night that even had Doris Burke calling out his shot-making ability. That isn’t news to Iowa fans – we all knew he could get buckets. It was always going to be about defense, quickness, and foot speed for him. So far, he’s sticking and works hard in the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert.

Perhaps the most impressive game in the stretch was a 10-minute stint against Cleveland on January 14 in which he scored 9 points and was vital to Minnesota’s comeback.

Teammate Naz Reid had this to say about Luka:

HE IS INDEED. This is a really impressive run from Luka. With Karl-Anthony Towns still out and with no date set for his return, Luka will continue to get minutes. Currently, the T-Wolves are tied for 10th with Portland for the final play-in spot on but get the nod on – this is where the divisions matter – division record (6-6 vs. 4-7).

Joe Wieskamp

Welcome back, Joe Wieskamp! Wieskamp signed a 10-day contract with the Toronto Raptors on January 7, then picked up a second 10-day on January 17. So far he has yet to see playing time, and at the conclusion of this 10-day the Raptors must either release Wieskamp or sign him for the remainder of the season. The Raptors are believed to be shopping some of their top players, as this season has been incredibly up and down (under .500 and out of the playoff picture entirely, but they’ve won 4 of 6). Given their shooting woes, it’s surprising Wieskamp hasn’t played. If Toronto tinkers with their roster, they could need Wieskamp’s shooting and depth. Keep an eye on this.