30/8/5 on 50/40/90: Another Weekly Roundtable
These weekly roundtables have quickly become a part of our weekly routines and we have every intention of extending through the rest of this barren offseason and right into the season proper. We hope you’re enjoying them as much as we are. Don’t forget to check out question 6, which asks for answers from you, the readers.
Editor’s Note: Daniel Lewis wrote this week’s questions so I would have a chance to participate.
1. Which currently injured player will have the biggest absence this season?
Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh): I see this from the angle of which player’s absence now will have the biggest impact when we look back on the entire season. For that reason Kobe and Westbrook are out because I think the Thunder and Lakers will ultimately find themselves in about the same places as if Kobe and Westbrook had been available for these first few weeks. But Rondo’s absence could shape the Celtics present and future. If he was here and healthy there’s a chance this team becomes competitive. At the very least development would be sped up for some of the young pieces and nearly everyone would look a lot better with Rondo steering the ship. But since he’s gone they’ll struggle more profoundly, development will be slowed and his absence will probably make him less important to the Celtics’ plan moving forward because they’ll have been given a big shove towards the top of the lottery. If he was here this rebuild might move faster and actually be built around him. Instead it seems more likely that things will be taken slowly and Rondo could finish the year with a new team.
Cole Patty (@ColePatty): Strange answer, but Emeka Okafor. Kobe and Rondo are on teams that I don’t think are playoff bound even with them, so it’s better that their respective teams can lose more without the them. The Thunder can float without Westbrook for the short span — comparatively speaking – he should be out. The Wizards were fifth in Defensive Rating last season, and Okafor was a huge part of that. Without Emeka, the identity of Washington is skewed, and a playoff hopeful team now has many more questions in the front court.
Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): Russell Westbrook. We saw what happened to Oklahoma City’s offense when Westbrook is out of the lineup last year in the playoffs, and those problems should be compounded by Kevin Martin’s departure. Kevin Durant is an amazing scorer, but his efficiency saw a major drop-off in the Memphis series last spring. If Durant is the team’s only reliable scoring option, we could see the Thunder dropping games early in the season that they probably wouldn’t otherwise, and with the top of the conference expected to be so competitive, every win counts.
Patrick Redford (@patrickredford): Kobe Bryant. Did you see Zach Lowe has them in his ‘shitty teams’ tier? If Bryant was healthy, nuh uh no way now how. The gap between Kobe and Jodie Meeks isn’t so much as a gap but rather a chasm populated by nations of people who haven’t made contact with each other because the chasm is so large and full of natural barriers like mountains and oceans.
Kevin Ferrigan (@NBACouchside): I’m going with Rondo, if only because the Celtics have such an incredibly bad roster without him. Rondo’s a competitive dude, but I think he’s different from Kobe in that he sees the writing on the wall and isn’t going to rush to come back. Kobe still thinks he can come back and drag this terrible Lakers roster to the playoffs. So I’m guessing Rondo stays out longer than Kobe and as a result, he’s got a longer and thus bigger absence. Cole’s answer has some merit, though, as the C’s and Lakers both have almost no chance of making the playoffs even with their star players returning. The Wizards are right on that playoff bubble, but with Okafor missing any significant amount of time, it gets harder to see them beating out the Atlanta, Detroit, Toronto, or Cleveland for one of those final 3 playoff spots.
Andy Liu (AndyKHLiu): Biggest means amount that we care? That has to be Russell Westbrook, right? The amount of reactions and reactions to those overreactions will be enough to blow our brains out a month into the season. But the biggest loss? Kobe Bryant. I get the fun stuff with Nick Young and the new guys, but yeah, they’re going to suck more than The Walking Dead this season.
Matt Cianfrone (@Matt_Cianfrone): Russell Westbrook. I think Westbrook is one of the best eight or so players in the league so this one was pretty easy. We saw how important Westbrook was when he missed the end of the Thunder postseason last year and now OKC is without Kevin Martin. Kevin Durant will keep the Thunder offense passable but when Westbrook returns it will be elite. That difference will probably cost the Thunder a game or two early and with how tough the top of the West is this season that may cost them home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
2. Will Kevin Durant average 30/8/5 on 50/40/90 this season while Russell Westbrook is out?
Kyle Soppe (@unSOPable23): No. I believe he may achieve one or the other, but it is very possible that his efficiency dips a bit without Westbrook to take some of the offensive pressure. I mentioned that I think Reggie Jackson fills in nicely, but he simply isn’t going to attract the same amount of attention from the defense (no matter how well he plays). Durant will get less easy buckets, thus making the 50/40/90 a tough plateau to hit for the 4-6 weeks without Westbrook.
Patty: No, but I think he will do the 50/40/90 part. I think if this was the playoffs, Durant would take the helm and possibly average those stout base numbers. To start of the year however, I expect Oklahoma City to test out the growing talents of Ibaka, Lamb, and Jackson. Gauging what they can do to start the year isn’t a terrible experiment, as I’m sure they will make the playoffs regardless. Could you imagine how deadly the Thunder could be if they realize Ibaka can create his own shot at the level of a strong second option?
Conlin: The 30/8/5 part seems reasonable, the 50/40/90 doesn’t. Durant’s usage rate might spike up towards 35%, and it just seems hard to imagine him maintaining last year’s level of efficiency in those circumstances.
Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla): That would be such an unfair expectation, although it’s possible. With no Westbrook, teams will be able to focus all their defensive energy on Durant, leaving Ibaka and the others open. Durant’s still good enough to score when he’s double-teamed, but he needs at least one sidekick to go 30/8/5/50/40/90. Right?
Redford: Sure why not. The Thunder have a pretty easy schedule early on and with Kendrick Perkins maybe out, Durant may have to rebound more.
Ferrigan: As usage increases, efficiency generally dips, so it’s hard for me to see 50-40-90 for KD without Russ feeding him the open looks he feasts on. He will almost surely score 30 points per game, maybe as high as 35 points a game, without Russ, and given how many minutes he will have to play to keep the Thunder afloat without Russ, it’s certainly possible he gets to the 8 rebounds and 5 assists per game, but if I was gambling on it, I’d say he doesn’t get either of these milestones.
Cianfrone: Sure. I know logic suggests that without Russ things will be harder for Durant but honestly I am not sure it matters. Durant is such a pure shooter and his length allows him to shoot over the top of basically any defender trying to check him. My belief in the 8 and 5 stems a bit from my hope that OKC plays small more often to try and help the offense without Westbrook which should help the rebounding numbers. I assume five assists is pretty safe with the amount of playmaking Durant will have to do to make the offense run smoothly, especially late in the game.
Liu: I’m compelled to respond “yes”, with an “easily” attached to it. Since those stats don’t include turnovers – one would assume those would go up with his usage rate. Durant’s younger than Stephen Curry and he’s only getting better. There’s no reason to think those aren’t his season-long numbers.
Levy: No and No. While the importance of Westbrook to Durant’s overall performance was emphatically restated in the playoffs last year, these first few weeks of the season are an entirely different set of circumstances. The Thunder won’t be playing the Grizzlies every night and frequently will be able to win without superhuman efforts from Durant. Those kinds of numbers come only with great talent and monumental, sustained effort. Durant has the talent, but I’m not sure the situation will require him to push himself to that degree.
3. Is this the year that Ricky Rubio becomes a top five point guard?
Soppe: There is not a bigger Rubio fan than me (he was my Twitter avatar until I had to “get more professional”), but I’ll say he finishes just outside of the top five. He’s an elite assist man and has the sticky fingers it takes to lead an exciting defense, but at the end of the day, there are two things that hold him outside of the top five this season: lack of help on his roster and the insane amount of athleticism at the point guard position. The Timberwolves will be better, I like the Kevin Martin addition and a healthy Kevin Love is huge, but this isn’t a playoff roster. He has the skill set of a top five point guard, especially if he can develop a scoring touch, but there are five players who are simply more physically gifted than the young Spaniard. Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, and Deron Williams are currently my top five PG’s in the league, with Rubio, John Wall, and Damian Lillard not far behind. By the end of the season, I expect Westbrook (assuming health) to jump into that top five, making it even tougher for Rubio to make the cut. He’s a great player (and, for the record, I think a good team can win with him as their point guard), but the point guard position is simply loaded, making it tough for him to rank among the elite.
Patty: Top five is overly ambitious, but I like what Rubio could do this season. Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Steph Curry are all going to be NBA players next season. There are some others that are better than him now, but those six would be the upper echelon tier I feel Ricky couldn’t possibly pass this season. I like Rubio’s ability to jump into Mike Conley, Damian Lillard, Jrue Holliday, and Ty Lawson’s class. I’m leaving John Wall out of this because he could realistically leap into the top class with some strong play..
Conlin: Rubio is a good point guard, but a top-five designation seems very optimistic in a league where Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and John Wall play. Rubio does many things well, but there are still things he does too poorly to be granted inclusion in that group.
Karalla: That’d mean he’d have to leap frog one of the guys Cole and Kyle mentioned above me. He needs to stay healthy, most importantly, and Love would need to play a majority of the games as well. Every jumper-less point guard needs a big guy to attract attention. I don’t see how he becomes a top-5 player at his position, but those lists are super subjective to begin with.
Redford: Doubt it. A hypothetical Top-5 would feature Rose, Rondo, Paul, Westbrook and probably Kyrie Irving. Plus there is a host of interlopers on the way up like Damian Lillard, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley and John Wall. Rubio is unceasingly awesome and cool and #positive, but yeah, no, I don’t see it.
Ferrigan: I don’t think Rubio will ever shoot it well enough to be a top 5 point guard in his career ever. He’s a good player and an even better player to watch because of his creativity, but his impact is always going to be limited by his inefficiency scoring the ball and the spacing issues he creates with his lack of ability to shoot from outside, to say nothing of his struggles to finish inside.
Cianfrone: Nope. I love Rubio and would definitely put him on any list of fun to watch players but he just can’t shoot. I just don’t see a realistic way to put a guy who shoots 36 percent from the field and 31 percent from three over guys like Rose, Westbrook, Paul, Irving, and Curry. And there are a host of others in the group with Rubio that you could argue are better than him. I just don’t see it ever happening.
Liu: The top-five point guards right now consists of some combination of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker and even Stephen Curry, right? With Rondo coming off knee surgery (there’s some hypocrisy here as Rose is also coming off surgery and Westbrook still hurt) but I certainly am not too enthused about a pass-first point guard that doesn’t live up to his potential on defense and is a middling shooter. Where’s the potential? Even if he’s top-ten, guys like John Wall and Kyrie Irving should surpass him soon enough.
Levy: If we’re giving style points he can be in the top five. If we’re going on actual impact I’m not sure he’s in the top fifteen.
4. Which former Gregg Popovich assistant will have the best season?
Soppe: Mike Budenholzer. I think the Hawks have a sneaky decent team, and I love the fact that they let Josh Smith move on. Budenholzer spent 17 years as an assistant in San Antonio, and the more time under the toolage of Popovich the better.
Patty: I would say Budenholzer, mainly because there are more tools in his shed to work with. I like the potential of the younger collection of Pop assistants, but it’s not like the 76ers are going to do anything to make Brett Brown look good. We already know what guys like Mike Brown and Monty Williams bring to the table. Give me Bud. I do have to add though, Jacque Vaughn is a really strong dark-horse pick. If he develops Harkless, Harris, Oladipo, and the rest of the young Magic crew, I think Vaughn should earn a lot of praise inside NBA circles.
Conlin: Best season judged by wins and losses, or best season judged by building towards a successful future? Because the two might have very different answers. The Hawks are clearly the more talented team right now, and by that measure it’s basically guaranteed that the Hawks will win more games than the Sixers. But Philadelphia has a lot of room to grow, and more importantly, a lot of time to grow together. Budenholzer’s squad will win more games, but it very well could be Brett Brown laying the foundation for future success that in retrospect is seen as the better season.
Karalla: If the 76ers find a way to win 30-35 games, Brown has to be the guy with the best season under his belt. There are absolutely no expectations in Philly this season, so finishing in the top 12 or 13 would have to be considered a success. My runner-up would be Williams in NOLA. The Hornets looked alright offensively against Dallas last week. Anthony Davis is a freaking monster. I’m not saying New Orleans will make the playoffs, but if they can compete for one, Williams might get the nod
Redford: Budenholzer. I have a soft spot for teams with bird mascots, but I also like what’s going on in a basketball sense here. Hopefully, Dennis Schroeder will grow into his arms and the team will get even cooler.
Ferrigan: I’m going with Budenholzer, because the Hawks have the most talent of any of the Popovich-disciple-led teams. I do think, though, that Mike Brown will remind people that he is a very good defensive coach by dragging the Cavs toward something approaching a league average defense, despite lacking much in the way of defensive talent, save Andy Varejao and Bynum- if he’s ever healthy.
Cianfrone: Budenholzer. The Cavs are possibly the most talented team of the group led by former Pop assistants but there are just way too many injury risks there for me to trust them. Meanwhile the Hawks may have actually become trustable as Al Horford’s team. The Atlanta offense should be great with the combination of Jeff Teague, Horford and Paul Millsap. The ceiling isn’t all that high but I find it hard to see how the Hawks miss the playoffs which is more than I can say about Orlando and Cleveland.
Liu: The Magic’s Jacque Vaughn had a decent first half of last season before the Magic tanked it up. There’s enough talent in Orlando, though not anywhere close to make the playoffs, to warrant consideration as a prime playoff team team in 2014 if guys like Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless and Nik Vuc develop. The Atlanta Hawks are neat but we’re getting exactly what we’re seeing. The fun stuff is happening in Orlando.
Levy: Budenholzer. He simply has the best assortment of pieces available and the right combination of lowered (but not too low) expectations.
5. Who has the most impressive play during the preseason to this point?
Patty: How about Austin Rivers? He has one of the worst rookie seasons ever and earns a bunch of ridicule for it. Then all of the sudden he plays decently in Las Vegas Summer League and we all brush it off. Then he starts looking like a legitimate NBA player in preseason, and some people are starting to turn their heads. I fully believe you should never count out a player after a rookie year, no matter how bad.
Karalla: Rivers looked really good for parts of NOLA’s game against Dallas, and then he looked like he was making no impact on the game. That’s still an improvement from last season. His fellow guard Anthony Morrow was devastating from the outside in that game as well, and he’s getting the starting minutes for now in New Orleans. Morrow rode the bench in Dallas last season, and Rivers was considered one of the worst rookies in the league last year. Considering the lack of expectations, those two guys have been relatively tremendous.
Conlin: Speaking of guards with disappointing rookie seasons, Dion Waiters has looked like a much improved player through the first week of preseason. He appears to be playing with much more control and has been more judicious in his shot selection. The story surrounding Cleveland’s future always seems to be regarding Kyrie Irving (and now, the health of Andrew Bynum), but a big step forward from Waiters could be what ultimately pushes the Cavs into the playoffs.
Redford: Anthony Bennett. He is tubby and it rules, but he also put a pretty serious whooping on the Magic late in Friday’s game. I propose we call him Anthony Beignet.
Ferrigan: Taj Gibson. He’s put on like 15 pounds of muscle and that’s not the typical #MUSCLEWATCH pap; Taj is legitimately yoked. His midrange jumper has been wet and he’s flashed improved post footwork. He also dropped a hammer dunk off of a Mike Dunleavy Jr. dish against the Pacers which was awesome.
Cianfrone: JaVale McGee. Defensively JaVale is staying on his feet a bit more often instead of running around the court jumping at anything that moves towards the rim which is a vast improvement for him. Offensively he seems confident and actually looks good when he catches the ball in the post. He knows where he wants to go and doesn’t waste any time. This may be the year that it all clicks for McGee.
Liu: I love basketball but the preseason bores me more than Summer League. We’re so close to watching the great ones play that this tease of D-league talent and some elite play is torturous. That being said, I’ve watched Derrick Rose play and he can run and jump and shoot and jump and run again! Of course he sits out a game with knee soreness but he’s looked great. Here’s hoping he’s back.
Levy: Tony Wroten has been absolutely incredible. I’m not sure if anyone has actually seen what he’s done because anyone brave enough to watch the Sixers play preseason basketball has been focused on Evan Turner. But in case you’ve missed him he’s been – running the point, breaking down the defense, locking down opponents, hitting outside shots, throwing down alley-oops, creating wide-open shots for his teammates, curing diseases, destroying stockpiles of chemical weapons and generally looking like the most athletic player in the Northern Hemisphere. Preseason is preseason, but egads, he looks good.
6. What is the most important thing that your favorite team needs to do to be successful this season?
We’re leaving this last question up to you the readers. Put your answer in the comments or use the hashtag #Question6 to share your answers on Twitter. I’ll find them and drop them in here. Check back throughout the day as answers roll in.