With the playoffs starting (and already a few upsets), three of us sat down with burgers (whilst the fourth got dragged along to a showing of Beauty and the Beast) to discuss the second NBA season at our ninth Four Thought Round Table.
But first, a reminder of our rosters with a big red mark of mediocrity against those who failed to make the playoffs:
So without further ado, our pointed discussion about the pointy end of the season.
The Playoffs are Big for Which Players on Your Roster?
Xander: John Wall. Going against other great point guards who all see themselves as the best point guard in the league should bring out the best in Wall. He should towel up Dennis Schroeder and if/when he gets to the second round, he will be matched up against Isaiah Thomas or Rajon Rondo (though the latter is unlikely). I also have to mention Stephen Curry as his last few Final series have been terrible. Good in the first two rounds, but struggled in the definitive series.
Sam: Chris Paul, simply because he has never got out of the second round. I will always remember when Corey Brewer and Josh Smith destroyed the Clippers in the fourth quarter of Game 6. Paul is an upcoming free agent and the knock is that he doesn’t win when it counts. Gordon Hayward as an upcoming free agent is another interesting name with something to prove, as he’s not an experienced playoff campaigner. Both need massive playoffs to prove doubters wrong.
David: Paul George and Paul Millsap. The latter because he is a free agent, and whilst PG13 isn’t, their performance in the first round will likely influence the future on their respective teams. Also Lance Stephenson (which we collectively hoped would be a Pacers v Raps match-up for this reason – if only) is the biggest wildcard of the playoffs, and I absolutely love that he is back on the Pacers.
Joel: Kevin Durant. Yes, I’m going to take the easy way out, but it just has to be. Not since LeBron James’ ‘The Decision’ has any player movement been this heavily scrutinized. Durant went to a team that two seasons ago won the Championship, the year after won an NBA record 73 games, and then forced out two of its starting five to fit him in. If the Warriors win Game 7 against the Cavs last season, Durant doesn’t sign in Golden State. But the Warriors lost, he signed and now he must deliver them a Championship this year, or else it’s a failure.
Which Team On Your Roster, Outside the Top 2 in each conference, can get to the Conference Finals at a minimum?
Consensus: The East is more wide open than the West. You might shock the Warriors but then you have to face the Spurs. But the Cavs destroyed the Celts when they last meet (Sam: they took a giant deuce on them and it was delicious) and the amazing LeBron block/ Love save to Kyrie to JR Smith for the throw-down was sweet.
Xander: Well if New Orleans had made it in… (this statement was followed by general laughter and someone yelling ‘Portland!’). This will be all about the Wizards. The Wiz will likely play the Cavs in the Second Round, but if they can get past them, they can beat the Celtics or the Raptors.
David: The Rockets and The Beard will go bonkers. As much as Paul George could have one awesome series, they don’t have the team that could get over the Cavs to get to the Second Round (at this point it was collectively agreed that we can’t wait to see Lance blow on LeBron’s ears Version 2.0). I may eat my words, but I highly doubt that Russell Westbrook will lead the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals. (Xander: he could carve up the Rockets, and how tasty would a Dubs vs Thunder Finals series be, it would be great until it would become obvious by like Game 3 that Westbrook would shoot 100 times and the Thunder will lose by 40 each night). Daryl Morey built the team to at least make it to the Conference Finals. I could see them causing the Spurs some problems. They are just going to shoot teams out of it, and the only team that tactic probably won’t work against is the Warriors.
Sam: The Jazz have the best chance of getting to the Western Conference Finals of the teams on my roster, mainly because they are just going to slow down the tempo and grind teams out of it. Perfect for playoff basketball. I think the Jazz will beat the Clips in Round 1. Either way, they have the Dubs up in Round 2, and whilst neither the Clips or Jazz will likely beat them in that match-up, the best chance is the Jazz.
Joel: Toronto for me is clearly the most likely from my rosters. With Kyle Lowry coming back, and DeMar DeRozan continuing to shine, Jonas Valanciunas being more than handy more often than not and PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka bringing top of the line defense, they have great depth, versatility and the defensive capabilities to tackle the Celtics and the Cavs in successive series.
Which Non-Playoff Bound Team on Your Roster Has the Brightest Future?
Sam: Homer pick – but I only have Dallas and Miami to choose from. Out of those 2, it has got to be the Heat. We have franchise foundations in place at the PG and C spots (Dragic and Whiteside had great years), and will regain a HUGE slice of salary cap pie when we inevitably waive Bosh’s contract (still love you Chris). If Riley can finally land himself a whale (or just a large fish of any description) than the Heat could make some noise as early as next season with the pieces they have in place.
Xander: I’m going to preface my answer with it depends who gets the number 1 pick (Sam: Yeah, no shit), if it’s the Lakers then they have some serious options. But other than that it’s got to be Philly. They have some great players – even if their injured, or in the case of Dario Saric, tired. Pistons looks horrible and Orlando look even worse. The Lakers look like they are four years away, and during that time they have to make a call on Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and D’Angelo Russell. I also think that if they get Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball, they dangle Russell and one of Ingram and Randle to try and get themselves some Paul George. If they get Fultz, Russell is definitely gone, but if they get Ball they may want at least one year for D-Lo and Ball to ball together to see if it could work. (Sam: And Magic Johnson would froth for some Lonzo Ball.)
But you look at what Philly and Phoenix have done, having so many quality young talent at the one position, and how that really hasn’t worked for them. If the Lakers keep Russell and get Ball, then they have too many players at point guard, so if they were too look at it, the Lakers would have to get rid of Jordan Clarkson who is locked into a reasonable contract. They’ve tried Clarkson at point and Russell at the off-guard, but Russell can’t be the off-guard for too long. I’d like to see Russell just be a shooter, but he’s not good enough defensively for that. He’s not too bad off the catch.
If I’m the Lakers and I get the number one pick, I’m staying well away from LaVar Ball. If you’re Philly, would you rather take Ball as your secondary ball handler and spot up shooter, who can seriously space the floor because of his like quarter-court range or would you take Fultz? Or do you just cross your fingers that Ben Simmons is and stays healthy, and can be the default point guard?
That’s a long winded way of saying that the Sixers have the lead by a country mile over the Lakers. If Portland don’t make the playoffs, they go second.
David: I’d love to say Phoenix, but from my roster it has to be the T-Wolves, as I wrote about in the Tale of Two Wolves. Minny are kind of old OKC-esque – they are going to be on this weird cliff at some point. If they decide to spend their cap on vets, but on not long and large contracts they can be really good as of next year and compete. But at some point you’re going to have to extend the contracts of Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
The call on Wiggins is this off-season. Would you give Wiggins the max this year? I wouldn’t. Minny has to, but he doesn’t deserve it. The T-Wolves traded their franchise player (Kevin Love) for him. Wiggins now is a decent player, not an amazing player but he’s a solid wing scorer but that’s about it. Towns also might be on the super-rookie max when it’s his turn. Though Shabazz Mohammed is definitely gone.
It’s a delicate situation with Coach Thibodeau as the coach and GM, he may make short term decisions for short term success on the basis as a coach, and not the longer term ones for possible Championship success.
Here’s a scenario – Andrew Wiggins is dangled in a trade for Paul George. Wiggins and someone, Minny would do it in a heartbeat. If your Larry Bird, do you move PG13 for Wiggins, Dunn and a pick? I think that’s the best offer you’re going to get for George, especially if he is not going to stick around.
Towns, PG13, and this version of Ricky Rubio (plus Zach LaVine), that’s going to draw in vets, and you have Georgi Dieng as a decent backup.
The T-Wolves have the best future roster in terms of talent, and have a real chance to nail it, but they also have a dangerous OKC-ish area where they could make the wrong decision on the wrong guy at the wrong time.
Joel: I am going to stick to the conventionality I have thus far displayed and go with the Denver Nuggets (and again link in David’s article about the tale of three [now two] GM’s). They have a ton of cap space, Nikola Jokic as a franchise guy (on like $1.4 million for the next year by the way), Jamaal Murray and Gary Harris who seem okay, Malik Beasley who has talent that we haven’t seen and Emmanuel Mudiay still has potential. I am not sold on Mason Plumlee as Jokic’s center sidekick, but they will have more than enough trade assets (Wilson Chandler, and maybe soon Kenneth Faried as a salary dump for teams) and draft picks that they can fill that void.
How Would You Re-Format the NBA Playoffs?
Xander: The tournament is like Bill Simmons ‘Entertaining as Hell Tournament’, and Joel may be just copying that (Joel: Nope. All my thoughts are original). The issue with all re-formatting proposals is that everyone is already complaining that the NBA season is too long and that players need rest. There’s a lot of talk about cutting games and that sort of thing. A tournament may work because you would get back the games later. But how long would that tournament take? You would need at least one day of rest after each game, that would be another week, week and a half to complete. I just don’t see how they are going to implement it. Then the teams in the playoffs are going to have to wait a week, week and a half at least before they start. In that scenario it is a disadvantage for the top two teams in terms of game planning while they wait for the tournament to be finished.
I like what the NHL do where they re-seed after every round. If there’s an upset, say 8 seed beats 1 seed in the first round, in the second round, the remaining teams get re-seeded, with the 2 seed becoming the new number 1 seed. So if you finish 8th you have the hardest draw each round, and that in turn puts an emphasis on the regular season.
Any change has to go in hand with the NBA draft lottery model, because you will always have some form of tanking under that model.
David: It’s not a coherent thought as of yet, I don’t think you should make the playoffs if you don’t have a winning record. It’s happening in the West this year. How you structure that if there are odd number of teams with a winning record is another thing, if a team finishes with a winning record you automatically get seeded for the playoffs. Say six teams finish with a winning record they are seeded 1 through 6 and every other team must play in a tournament.
Either way, There must be some way to end up with the numbers. The other question is what happens if you have more than 16 teams finish with winning records? Do the bottom two play off for the last spot?
Sam: Here’s my bizarre one, do away with Conferences altogether, and just have the best teams play each other regardless of their geographical location. They may have to re-do the schedule and re-weight it, each team may have to play half their season against each coast, but if you are talking about getting the best teams into the playoffs, that would do it. The schedule would have to shortened to be able to account for the amount of travel you have to. 38 games in the East and 38 games in the West, and the best teams play off.
David: The difficulty is that these things have been going on for so long, that any original, ground breaking idea would likely be too difficult to implement. The best thing to do is to look at other leagues to see what they do. Thinking in Australian sport, 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 with the loser getting a double chance, there is no way that the NBA would do it in that way.
I guess that’s why they have 7 games series. I would do away with the 7 games series in the first round, for a better viewing experience. I want less regular season games as well. Another idea that America would never adopt – and it came up with Zach Lowe’s podcast with Brian Windhorst – another competition that’s going on as the regular season as an idea to bring down the 82 game schedule, without minimizing the amount of games. Like an FA Cup or Champions League in soccer.
Joel: The whole issue of resting players has prompted many articles regarding possible solutions. If you are going to reduce the season to say 76 games, I would have every one play each other twice (58 games) and the remaining 16, I’d have a similar set-up that the Aussie Rules Football do, and have the added games weighted depending on where a team finished the season prior. So, if you finished in the bottom third you play eight games against other teams that finished in the bottom third, and then six games against the middle third and two games against the first third from the previous season (or something to that effect). I do think they need to look at the way the playoffs are formatted though, purely from a watch-ability standpoint. I don’t want to see the first seed sweep the eighth in both conferences most years. I would love to see competitive series all the way through until the Finals. How you would do that is probably not really possible without a major shake-up of the regular season (as discussed, and for an interesting look at what factors go into the NBA schedule, see this KPMG article) and the draft lottery model in conjunction with any playoff changes.
I think a mid-season tournament could work, and maybe connect it with the All Star Game so that means something again as well. Because the All Star game is terrible, but it used to mean something. Like say whomever wins the All Star game has the tournament played strictly in their conference or something like that.
Similar to David, for me it’s not yet a coherent thought that would definitively work. Fun to think about though.