Don’t Panic: 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: David Vertsberger (@_Verts) is the author of this week’s questions
1. What’s one player/team/narrative that will be overlooked during the 2014 season that should be paid more attention to and why?
Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): Exactly how good Kevin Durant is from a historical perspective. When we talk about Durant, we say that he’s a top-5 player (at worst) in today’s league. And when we talk about current players’ place in history, we talk about LeBron and Kobe and Duncan (among a few others). But Durant’s level of play through six seasons hasn’t really been exceeded among forwards not named “Bird” and “James.” This never seems to come up in discussions about Durant. People seem to assume that because he isn’t the best current player in the league (and never really has been), he’s not much more than a historical footnote. But that isn’t the case.
Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla): The race for the 6, 7, and 8 seeds in the West will probably be the most exciting in basketball. We’ll have five or six teams by season end, all of whom will have, barring big-time injuries, will have won between 44-48 games. The standings will change nightly. Everyone will be swept up in the Houston/OKC/LAC battle for the No. 2 seed behind San Antonio (see what I did there?) but the real action will be happening further south in the playoff chase.
Kyle Soppe (@unSOPable23): How good the Indiana Pacers are going to be. It’s easy to fall in love with the Derrick Rose story and get swept up in the dynastic Miami Heat, but this Pacers team is good. Really good. Paul George is a superstar no matter how you cut it and this is an elite defensive squad that is only getting better. The addition of Chris Copeland, Luis Scola, and C.J. Watson to a constantly underrated starting unit should pay dividends as the season progresses. In my preseason power rankings, I’ve got the Pacers as the second best team in the NBA (not the East, the NBA), but I feel as if they aren’t portrayed as a title contender by the public/media.
Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh): The Philadelphia 76ers. Not because they’re going to be terrible and not because they might be sneaky good, but because they’re a franchise in the very beginning stages of fundamentally remaking themselves. I can’t think of another recent example of an organization that has so quickly shifted gears and headed in the opposite direction stylistically. The trappings of traditional basketball processes are all being questioned and everything appears to be on the table. Nothing about this season (except maybe their opening night win) should be bright and flashy, but watching their transitions everywhere from the margins to the middle should be incredibly interesting.
Dan Lewis (@trueDanLewis): How the new coaches fare in the league. There was a record number of new head coaches this offseason, and many of them came into situations with teams that had losing records. I am interested to see how new coaching staffs use rotations, manage personalities, and adjust systems from previous years. Are you interested to see how Boogie Cousins reacts to a new head coach?
Cole Patty (@ColePatty): All the teams that aren’t going to be playoff teams, but also aren’t tanking. Tanking has already consumed the minds of NBA’s viewers on the first day, but really there might only be six teams that are participating in it. As for the teams that are going to be left out in the race for the eight-seed on both sides, it will be unfortunate. However both eight seed races will be a lot of fun.
Andrew Johnson (@countingbaskets): The Atlanta Hawks, they’ve seemingly been on the treadmill of mediocrity, but I think Ferry has done some good things to position them moving forward dumping bad contracts and making good draft picks like Dennis Schroeder.
Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu): I don’t think any narrative/player/team can be that much under the radar in this day and age. I guess it depends on what outlet you’re coming from. The guys at CBS Sports or SI or Grantland are going to be on top of Gordon Hayward’s breakout season even if SportsCenter isn’t leading with that every night. Though if there’s one player I’d admit to us losing focus on; it’s got to be Kevin Durant. Another great season overshadowed by LeBron James and it appears much of his great play will be relegated to a substandard — at least for them — Oklahoma City season.
Matt Cianfrone (@Matt_Cianfrone): The Spurs. San Antonio will probably win another 50 games and garner a top 3 or 4 seed in the West. Yet they will fly under the radar to all but the most focused NBA fans because they want it that way. They won’t be heavily marketed, their stars won’t be flashy and Pop will rest his guys. But come playoff time this team will contend for a Western Conference and NBA title. It is what they do.
Kris Fenrich (@dancingwithnoah): There are no longer overlooked stories and certainly not overlooked narratives. If anything, narratives have gone the other way to the point where they’ve become fluffy or flaky and without much substance. There are more bloggers than NBA players and in our vain attempts to provide new and uniquely personal perspectives on this great game, we cover the league’s happenings like a heavy quilt draped across North America …. and winter’s coming, so get cozy.
2. Which head coach on a new team this year will have the biggest impact and why?
Conlin: “Biggest” doesn’t necessarily mean positive, so I’ll go with Brian Shaw here. I think he’s a good coach, but I think he’s going to force a style that doesn’t fit on this Denver team. If he had taken over in Brooklyn or Detroit or Atlanta or Memphis – where he’d have some pieces on defense he could actually work with – I think he’d be brilliant. But in Year One in Denver, I see some serious train wreck potential.
Karalla: I’m going to echo Jeremy, here. Shaw’s impact will be huge, but not necessarily hugely positive. Denver won 57 games last year with a free-wheeling style. Why mess with it?
Soppe: Doc Rivers is the big name acquisition, and after the egg they laid on opening night, I think he will assert himself and take this team over. He asked the question early in camp and the stinker against the Lakers only further proves his point: “what has this team accomplished?” Truth is, while they have been fun to watch and much better than Clippers teams of the past, they haven’t “arrived” yet as contenders. Doc has NBA equity and I think his leadership will has as big an impact in Lob City as any head coach on a new team this year.
Levy: I think it’s Shaw as well. The style he’d like to play is so different than what they did last year that I think they’ll not only struggle but it will end up forcing some big roster changes during the season.
Lewis: Doc Rivers. The former Boston head coach was questioned at times with his offensive sets, but he did help the Celtics become a dynamic defensive team. Blake Griffin is one of the top athletes in the league, but hasn’t had a head coach with the pedigree of Rivers. Can Doc cure Griffin from bad habits on defense? Can Doc help DeAndre Jordan become efficient on the defensive end? How will Doc coach a team that doesn’t have decent backup bigs? It will be an interesting year in Los Angeles.
Patty: Biggest impact doesn’t necessarily have to be positive or negative, so it has to be Brian Shaw. Starting Anthony Randolph at power forward, and benching Kenneth Faried, Shaw has already shown quirky tactics that many think will fail. It is going to be an interesting and bumpy ride in Denver this season.
Johnson: I’ll go with Rivers, just because he’s such a big personality. He’s going to make that his team in sort of an old school way that none of the other new coaches will be able to match.
Liu: Brett Brown’s doing a helluva job there in Philadelphia, eh?
Cianfrone: Shaw. Denver hired him to work with JaVale McGee and play him more than George Karl did among other things. Yet through two games McGee has played 23 minutes total. Shaw has also seemingly alienated the team’s most popular player in favor of JJ Hickson and made Ty Lawson angry about the offense. This sure seems like a major roster overhaul is coming because of Shaw’s coaching preferences.
Fenrich: Impossible to say since so many teams have new coaches, but it seems like Brett Brown (with the aid of new GM Sam Hinkie) is the guy. Philly’s trying to recreate their culture and with Brown as Hinkie’s right hand, he’s in the best position to impact change beyond this season. Michael Carter-Williams’s ability to quickly adapt to the pro game is accelerating things.
3. If every player 30 years of age and older were to retire at the end of the year, who would you try to watch the most and why?
Conlin: I’ll go with Steve Nash because it seems like he might be on his last legs for real. During the mid-2000s I was going through a spell where I wasn’t sure the NBA was really my thing – I threw myself into college basketball and had a few NCAA tournaments where I (successfully) called a few big upsets because I spent way too much time watching college hoops. Steve Nash pulled me out of that funk with his 2005-2007 run in Phoenix. I miss that Steve Nash. I would want to say goodbye to that Steve Nash.
Karalla: If I couldn’t choose Dirk Nowitzki for homer reasons, I’d go with either Tony Parker or Steve Nash. Those guys are incredible. No explanation needed, honestly. But here’s one, anyway. Along with the hand-check rule changes in 2004-05, those two are the players arguably most responsible for the basketball era we’re in right now. They’ve mastered the pick-and-roll offense. Watching them play has been such a treat, even when they’ve slaughtered the Mavericks again and again in the playoffs.
Soppe: As a Raptors fan who chose his favorite team at a young age on the back of Vince Carter, he would be my sentimental choice. But as far as being a fan of the NBA as a whole, I’d catch as many Spurs game as possible (that’s right, I’m not doubling down, I’m TRIPLING down with Tony Parker, TIm Duncan, and Manu Ginobili). This trio plays the game of basketball the right way and the league simply will not be the same when they are no longer together. If I had to pick one, it’d be Parker, the most underrated player since he entered the league. Not to mention tuning into Spurs games would allow me further develop my man crush on Kawhi Leonard.
Levy: Nash. I’ll admit that I still hate seeing him in a Lakers uniform, it just feels unnatural. But he plays such a pure and joyous form of the game that a huge void will be left when he’s finally gone.
Lewis: Nash seems to be the popular pick, but he’ll be 40 at the end of the season. That’s really old. I’ll go with Kenyon Martin, and just hope that he’d get a ton of minutes so he can be angry all over the court. I used to love hate-watching Martin play, with his bulldog mentality and competitive streak.
Patty: To be practical, you have to have a player that is still playing at a high-level so you can more good memories of them. As much as I loved Vince Carter in Toronto, this incarnation doesn’t remind me much of that one. So the answer is Dirk. He’s still really good, while being older. Tim Duncan is a close second. If I wasn’t panicking about him breaking down though, the answer would easily be Manu Ginobili.
Liu: Steve Nash has been my favorite player since the day my middle school basketball coach said I was too tall to play point guard. It isn’t so much the shooting or passing as it is the flair with which he goes about dominating a defense. He isn’t nearly the same player but I’ll never forget the way he bounces up the court, eyes always surveying, always aware of where the defenders will float to before their limbs even think of doing so. Man, it’s getting dusty in here.
Cianfrone: Duncan. I am fully on the Tim Duncan was the best player of his generation, so the chance to watch him continue to play at a pretty high level is a lot of fun. Also as a basketball junkie the flawless way that he does things like hit those bank shots and work young players in the post is great. It will be a shame when he finally does decide to hang it up.
Fenrich: I’m not so sure I understand this question, but if it’s that this year is the last for any player 30 and over, I’m going with Kobe. There’s not another player over 30 who can play a game and leave you shaking your head in so many ways. For variety alone, for the good with the bad, for the beauty of predictable force, it’s Kobe.
4. Name someone, or something, that deserved to make the Knicks roster over Chris Smith.
Conlin: In the last two seasons, the Knicks’ “useless” 15th man has turned out to be Jeremy Lin and Chris Copeland. So basically anyone who is a potentially valuable NBA player. I have yet to talk to or hear of a person who believes that about Chris Smith (other than Chris Smith).
Karalla: A cap hold.
Soppe: The more difficult question would be to name something/someone that didn’t deserve to make the Knicks roster over Smith. I’ll say the recently retired (and often financially handcuffed) Allen Iverson would have been a better roster spot filler.
Levy: Charles Smith
Lewis: Jason Kidd. Oh, he retired and is the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets? Whatever.
Patty: If you are a team that is serious about competing, you fight for every second round draft pick and every roster spot. The Knicks seemingly are not here, which is sad. As for the spot, I could name so many summer league players with more potential than Smith as I have a soft spot for the little guys. Hopefully they call up C.J. Leslie soon.
Johnson: Bring back Starbury. Sorry, too soon?
Liu: Anyone? I don’t care but I do find it hilarious that he’s in denial of what’s actually happened. I’m sure this happens all over the NBA — and life, for that matter — but how do you let this leak? Methinks it’s going to be a long season in New York.
Cianfrone: Ricky Davis. I have no idea how that didn’t actually happen.
Fenrich: Omar Cook. He’s the quintessential New York point guard who’s still one of the greatest passers on the face of the earth.
5. Blake Griffin will Mozgov/Perkins someone this year. You have to bet all of your money on who the victim is. Who’s your bet?
Conlin: Festus Ezeli is just asking for it.
Karalla: After seeing Pero Antic attempt to play defense last night, I’m going with him.
Soppe: Tim Duncan. December 16th. After a seven game road stretch, the Clippers fans will be begging for a highlight show. The Spurs will be in the middle of a four game road trip. This smells like a tired Timmy getting in the way, and Blake having no regard for humanity.
Levy: Kelly Olynyk. And if Griffin doesn’t do it to him, someone will.
Lewis: Chris Kaman – and it shall be called the Ugly Mug Shot (copyright from here out.)
Patty: I bet Rockets-Clippers gets fiesty one night and Blake and Dwight square off in a titanic clash. Not sure if Blake ends up victorious, but man will that be a great narrative.
Johnson: If I actually had to put money on it, I would have to pick someone in the Pacific Division because of the unbalanced schedule. They’ve got four left with Sacramento and Phoenix, so I will go with Alex Len.
Liu: Perkins, again. Maybe Scott Brooks will play him les— ahh, who are we kidding?
Cianfrone: Big Mozzy is the best center on the Nuggets roster right now and Denver is just absolutely putrid on defense so Griffin will get his chances at the rim when they meet. So I’m taking him.
6. For the readers, a repeat of Question 5: Who is Blake Griffin most likely to destroy with a dunk this year?
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.