TFPP is back with our favourite roundtable discussion; Four Thought. Our team of writers like to tackle the NBA’s tough topics and throw some wild predictions around, answering four questions centred around a particular topic but focusing on our roster of teams. This year we will be joined by a guest for every edition, who will take control of the moderator’s roster and get in on the discussion.
Our second edition of Season 2017/18 is: Over/Under – Early Reactions. Let’s meet the panel;
Josh Eberley – @JoshEberley – a Canadian native with a soft spot for Dallas, Josh’s work can be found at NBA.com’s Hoop Magazine plus a whole host of other places. He thinks he looks like a brown-haired Dougie Hamilton but we say he’s Kris Humphries without the Kardashian past. Josh will sub in for Xander and take his roster of DET, MIN, NOP, POR, SAC, TOR, WAS plus GSW & CLE.
Joel Noble – @Jobba0312 – a Charlotte Hornets believer who is disappointed with their start to the season and can’t wait for Batum to return. Fitting that his lookalike, Nate Wolters, has signed a Two-Way deal with Utah because Joel is focused on the Jazz plus BOS, CHA, CHI, DAL, LAL, MEM and the CLE/GSW combo.
Sam Eley – Too Old For Twitter – a Miami Heat tragic who also isn’t all that happy with his team’s slow start. Aron Baynes is currently stepping up big with Boston but Sam covers DEN, IND, LAC, MIA, ORL, PHI, SAS, CLE & GSW.
David Nash – @dkn17 – stepping out from moderating the First Edition, David likes to think of himself as K-Love in both looks and on-court game. He has the physique of Love’s Wolves days if anything and his team, the Suns, are just as out of shape right now. David looks at ATL, BKN, HOU, MIL, NYK OKC, PHX plus CLE & GSW.
Question 1: Over/Under on Teams – Lots of teams are under or overachieving compared to preseason expectations. Who’s start are you a believer in and what team’s hot start could be fools gold?
I was hesitant at first but I think this Pistons team is legitimate. Andre Drummond’s effort level defensively is improved, Reggie Jackson’s demeanor seems completely reversed and Tobias Harris is having a career year. There are a lot of reasons to be positive, Avery Bradley was an excellent pickup and Ish Smith is one of the better backups in the league. It’s really coming together for a balanced Detroit team, hopefully fans realize this and level out their unsightly attendance figures.
At the other end, I’ve been exasperatingly disappointed in John Wall and the Washington Wizards. That 8-5 record doesn’t look like horse manure, but it is. Squeaking out wins against low-end playoff teams and vocally calling out lottery teams just to lose on national television is some gross stuff. That team has too much talent and has been playing together far too long to look mediocre. The East is open for the first time in nearly a decade and they have a contender sized payroll. I think the Wizards turn it up a notch and go on a big run before Christmas.
Boston, I’m a believer. The defense is looking very strong, as one of only four teams with a defensive efficiency under 100 right now. That’s going to drive things while the likes of Tatum and Brown can grow offensively. They still have depth in that area too with Kyrie getting whatever he likes plus Horford, Morris and Rozier all capable of averaging over 10 points per game. I’ve even liked Theis, Ojeleye and the like when they have played too. All that in an Eastern Conference as weak as we thought it was going to be, you have to expect they keep performing.
Memphis. I don’t want to sound like a hater, but if you look at their wins, it has been one player scoring 20+ and a couple of others chipping in. Only 3 three players are averaging over 10 points per game so far. If you compare them to someone like Boston, Memphis just don’t look to have any depth offensively. I think they will struggle to keep this up. Noting that historically, one of those three players – Tyreke Evans, Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol – have missed large chunks of a season.
I am doubling down on San Antonio, who are looking alright without Kawhi. LMA looks rejuvenated after a tough couple of years, Danny Green looks like he has either learned a few new things or is now being allowed to try new skills during games (like putting the ball on the floor). I am still going to bet on them for a top-four spot in the West.
Sorry to Orlando, but I can’t see them keeping their start up. Nikola Vucevic is coming back to earth a little bit and things like Gordon leading the league in 3-point percentage are not sustainable. Their Point Guard play and a few injuries are a concern and I think they will fall back to the pack a little.
I’m going to go a bit left of centre here and say I am a believer in who Brooklyn are. I think right now they are on track for maybe 30 wins at best and are super fun to watch in the process. Maybe it’s the fact they have some players I like watching – like Russell, RHJ and Carroll plus the odd Jarrett Allen sighting – but I find this team really enjoyable to watch and they are winning enough games to keep things interesting.
I’ll keep the left of centre theme going and go with the Cavaliers. Things look really bad in The Land right now, but we’ve seen this movie before. Ask me again after Christmas, but with the East as bad as it is and Thomas possibly returning earlier than expected, bet against the Cavs at your own peril. It’s LeBron, after all.
It certainly seems like some of the teams we expected to come out of the gates strong – Cleveland, Washington etc – have struggled, while a couple of the surprise packets might fall back to Earth. Boston can’t keep winning forever, but that defense is much better than initially advertised; Brad Stevens could be in line for his first major hardware this year. Somewhere, Danny Ainge is laughing at all of us.
Question 2: Existing Players – NBA Players ALWAYS improve over the offseason. Insert “gained 20lbs of muscle/lost 20lbs of body fat” quote here. Which incumbent player has far exceeded early expectations and which player didn’t prepare maybe as well in the off-season as they should have?
I’m going to go back to Tobias Harris for outperforming expectations. Harris was good last year, arguably the Pistons best player but this year has been a special start for him. He’s averaging a career high 20.1 PPG, shooting above 50 percent from the three-point line and he’s hit like the 13th most triples ever through the first 13 games of the year. So, it’s not some issue of a small sample elevating his numbers uncontrollably. I had to check the other day but Harris is only 25 years old, his start is a very encouraging sign for the Pistons moving forward.
At the other end, Jrue Holiday has been an embarrassment. So much so that Jameer Nelson, who is 97 and was released at the start of the year, deserves his job. The Pelicans paid Holiday $126 million this offseason to be the third member of their Big Three, not to shoot like a blind man from deep. He really needs to figure it out because Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are playing their hearts out every night.
Jaylen Brown looks like he has doubled down defensively and he looks great. It’s hard to say how much of it is Hayward going down, but after Ainge raved about him, he is definitely backing up the hype. He has the chance to be a legit two-way star in this league.
On the other side, Dirk Nowitzki. It’s sad but it just looks over for the big German. Dallas are running him as a Centre and it’s just like watching an old man shuffling down the street because he has no knees left. He’s almost holding up Noel from getting more minutes and it could really hurt the Mavs going forward, if they want to keep Noel that is. I’m just not sure Dirk should be playing as much as he is, HOFer or not.
Despite the TO’s, Joel Embiid has been a monster. He’s going pretty nuts despite Philly handling him with kid gloves still. Embiid and Simmons look like a great duo going forward, so far so good on the health front too. Can’t wait for Philly to actually turn The Process loose…or maybe that never actually happens? He’s giving them 20 and 10 either way.
Dion Waiters and his Island might have sunk. The ankle injuries might be the issue, but it will likely be lingering all season. He doesn’t look as explosive as last year and his defensive impact feels down too. The ankle issue is making him lose a step, and he is relying on ‘craftiness’ to get by. I could see him getting shut down at some point, particularly if Miami continues to struggle.
The first one is easy for me, Kristaps Porzingis. Handing over the team to him was always suppose to happen sooner or later but I’m not sure anyone can say they expected this. KP is literally an MVP candidate right now and the Knicks look relevant with him leading the team. He also has probably the highlight of the season so far with the block to dunk combo against the Suns.
I could cheat here and say CP3 or Bledsoe for sitting out the start of the season by choice or otherwise. There isn’t a lot on my roster that has disappointed if I am honest but I’ll single out every Cav not named LeBron, including the coach, and Kevin Love and JR Smith in particular as the two main stays from the core and therefore two to single out. Love has been slightly down in almost every box score category despite the team needed him to lift more than ever, and JR has been nothing short of horrific.
Some slightly hot takes here, in particular Waiters and Holiday getting fat deals in the summer and coming out sluggish. Giannis a slight snub not getting the nod from David, (as well as Boogie from Josh) but Porzingis and Harris have definitely improved over the summer. Here’s hoping Dirk can find a little something in the tank and finish better than he’s started.
Question 3: Rookies – Keeping that same theme, which Rookies have given more than you expected of them this early on and which ones have left you underwhelmed?
Obviously, the correct answer here is Ben Simmons but of my teams assigned, OG Anunoby has the look of a valuable long-term piece. Finding a gem outside of the lottery is never easy but the Raptors might have that with Anunoby. A big wing giving early indications that he can play both sides of the ball is a dream come true in today’s NBA.
Here’s the thing, I know a lot of people are excited about De’Aaron Fox but I didn’t see it before the draft and I’m still not seeing it. He’s lacking the weight to be good in the NBA but even if we assume he bulks up – he can’t shoot and he’s not a good defender. It’s early to make real judgements with most of these kids but I stand by my pre-draft suggestion that Fox isn’t the future star people believe him to be.
I feel like I have so many to choose from here; Tatum, Markkanen, Malik Monk, Kuzma, Smith Jnr and Mitchell. However, let me shine a little light on a lesser known, Dwayne Bacon. The reason why is because he has filled in for MKG and Batum in their absence and is doing things he is not supposed to. Bringing the Hornets the 3-&-D they need right now and it’s worth highlighting a rookie starting, especially from the second round of the Draft.
Poor Lonzo Ball but when you’re the number two overall pick and everyone is talking about you, more is expected. He is not scoring or shooting well at all, and the weaknesses in his games are overshadowing what he does well in facilitating and rebounding the ball. Like Shaq said – if you’re a Laker playing 29 mins a game, you can’t have zero points.
Ben Simmons. Don’t get me wrong, I expected him to be good, but I definitely didn’t expect this. He’s in All-Star contention (let alone ROY) and even though I didn’t think it would totally happen, Philly are rolling him out as a 6’10″ PG. He’s a monster and he’s only 21.
Same team, same position; Markelle Fultz. Not sure if it’s his fault or not but it has all gone downhill since they let Lonzo Ball hold the ball in the Rookie Photoshoot. Maybe he couldn’t hold the ball due to his shoulder? The agent stuff, the free throws. Needless to say it hasn’t been an ideal start, and it’s ironic the Sixers forced him to play injured with their track record of top picks sitting out their 1st year.
John Collins and Frank Ntilikina have both really impressed me but I was a big fan of Frank going into the draft, so I’ll give the edge to Collins as far as impressing me goes. He has put up some really strong lines in relatively short minutes so far and I hope the Hawks unleash him a little more towards the end of the season.
Josh Jackson has to get the nod here but I will give him two small passes. One being the disastrous state of the Suns early on and the other being that there aren’t many poor rookies that are playing on my roster. Having said that, I’ve seen just about every minute Josh has played so far and the same concerns are still there and he hasn’t impressed as much as I’d hope from his supposed strengths. We have only seen small flashes of playmaking, the shot looks really bad (particularly in the mid range) and there has been little to suggest he can be a truly elite defender. It’s early, but Jackson needs to show more.
I love Josh showing some hometown love to cousins north of the border. OG has been a solid contributor (and just lit up Houston), and is probably further along than Toronto dared to hope. Some tough love being doled out to the top of the Draft Class – with high picks comes high expectations, or at least the expectation you won’t randomly change your shooting mechanics. Although, Fox, Jackson and Ball might want to think about tweaking theirs.
Question 4: FA/Traded Players – Moving onto new team acquisitions and using the re-occurring theme again. Which players that came via trade or Free Agency in the offseason have impressed you and which have disappointed?
Dwyane Wade hasn’t. Let’s start there. Twitter thought the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired prime Flash. The Cavaliers got a past his prime veteran who doesn’t add anything as a floor spacer or defender. It sucks watching the legends go, but watching Wade get rim stuffed multiple times in the playoffs last year was the official, “you’re gassed,” moment for me.
As for impressing… I guess I’ll take Jimmy Butler here. The Wolves are definitely still figuring things out on offense. Butler is less involved than I thought he’d be and they aren’t yet in sync by any means. On defense – well, let’s not talk about something that doesn’t exist. However, pessimistic intro aside, The Wolves are 8-5 playing in the NBA’s toughest division. Progress is progress.
I really like what Justin Holiday and Tyreke Evans have both been doing. I’ll have to give the edge to Evans, seeing as though the Bulls aren’t very good. Evans is playing a key role on a winning team. You know what you are going to get from Gasol and Conley but after losing Zbo and Carter, Evans has stepped up as the second leading scorer and is back to ROY type efficiency.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. While he has been okay, after betting on yourself for a 1-year deal it has not been the perfect start at all. Yes he’s been injured but he would want all cylinders firing to get that payday and most numbers appear to be down on last season. The Pistons don’t appear to be missing him after adding Bradley either.
The New Pacers – Oladipo and Sabonis. Everyone thought Indiana got fleeced in the PG trade but they have come away looking pretty good so far. ‘Dipo is under contract for a while and Sabonis is on a rookie scale, so you got two young players who can fit Myles Turner’s timeline and stick around for many years to come. Both seem to be showing more to their game than they had the chance to in OKC.
Danilo Gallinari is already injured (hip) but when he was on the floor, he doesn’t seem to have gelled with the Clippers starting 5 yet. The shooting and overall numbers have both been down. My worry pre-season was the Clippers would have all their money tied up in players that can’t stay on the court and the early signs aren’t great for Gallo.
It’s still far too early but I will just say that I think the Bucks are getting a damn good player in Eric Bledsoe. Health and fit aside, I fully expect we will finally see Bledsoe in a role where he will thrive. As for the season so far though, Luc Mbah A Moute has been very impressive in Houston. He is getting roughly five more minutes a game in Houston than he was last year in LAC and the numbers aren’t exactly jumping off the page. However, his defensive versatility is on far greater show with this group and considering he signed for the minimum, he would have to be up there with the best signings of the offseason.
Another tough one to pick, so I’ll take the potential easy option in Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder defense has remained very good despite his presence but the offense is really struggling to adjust. Melo is significantly down on previous scoring and assists numbers, which may have been expected after joining Westbrook. However, they were supposed to get Olympic Melo and his shooting percentages are also down.
It’s always interesting to see how established, (mostly) veteran players fit in new surrounds; it’s not as straight forward as NBA 2K can make it look. Patience is probably key for Melo and Gallo, they are in completely new roles to what they have been used to. Butler has surprised with his impact without the outlandish stats you would expect, and ‘Reke has been telling everyone to “take that for data” this season; big time acquisition for a team desperate for talent.
That concludes our second edition of Four Thought for the 17/18 Season. Thanks for reading and please comment your own answers on the article or whichever platform you came from. We will be back again soon with another guest and a new topic.