The Unteleported Man: Another Weekly Roundtable
USA Today Sports
These weekly roundtables have quickly become a part of our regular routine and we have every intention of extending them through the rest of the regular season. We hope you’re enjoying them as much as we are.
Editor’s Note: This week’s questions were written by Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla)
1. Has the East turned out to be as bad as we thought it could be back in December, or are six teams over .500 because the bottom of the conference is just really, really bad?
Andrew Johnson (@countingbaskets) I think the relative improvement is mostly legitimate. The three teams that seem to have resuscitated their seasons are the Nets, Bulls and Raptors, who are all playing legitimately decent ball right now. Last week the Bulls beat the Rockets handily and the Nets beat Heat. Although it never hurts to have a couple of Sixers games on the schedule to pad your record.
Zachary Bennett (@ZacharyBD) Throughout the year, the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers distanced themselves from everyone else in the East. As a whole I don’t believe the conference significantly improved, but the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls have become the clear-cut third, and fourth best teams behind the Heat and Pacers. The East has been top heavy all season, sure, but at least now the wealth is distributed – somewhat – evenly.
Seth Partnow (@WhrOffnsHppns): Not to pat myself on the back, but I thought that the East being as bad as it was in December was the aberration – Brooklyn and New York (whoops) were always going to bounce back. That said, the success of the Bulls has been downright shocking, and Toronto’s largely hidden transformation into a quality team post-Rudy Gay has to come as a small surprise. The overblown “tanking” controversy is makes Philly and Orlando seem worse than they are (every year, there are 2 or 3 miserable teams, regardless of “tanking”) and Milwaukee is just as bad. But there is nothing really notable aside from the fact that the terrible teams are clustered in one conference.
Patrick Redford (@patrickredford): The latter. Back when everyone was jawing about how bad they were, the Raptors, Bulls, Nets and Wizards were all underachieving. They’re still the weaker of the two, but it’s mostly a function of how disappointing Atlanta, Cleveland, and Detroit have been.
Kris Fenrich (@dancingwithnoah): It’s a bit of both. The bottom of the conference is possibly worse than we thought. Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Orlando have the worst records in the league and are giving pro basketball a bad name. But Brooklyn’s not as bad as we thought and Toronto’s come together in ways no one expected.
Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): As above, I think Toronto, Chicago, and Brooklyn are legitimately good teams, and have shown as much even against teams not dwelling at the bottom of the table. New York’s terrible-ness has (somewhat) subsided since Andrea Bargnani left the lineup. And Washington and Charlotte, at the very least, have competitive defenses. But you can’t really deny that teams like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando and Boston don’t seem particularly interested in winning games.
Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu): Conference realignment, please. Everything is awful there.
2. Is Portland simply regressing, or is something more troubling going on?
Johnson: I really think it’s mostly regressing. Wesley Matthews was hitting threes at an insane rate at the beginning of the season for example.
Bennett: The Blazers’ bench was a concern prior to the season, from my understanding. Now, after injuries sprinkled the depth chart throughout the year, Portland is running low on ammunition. They’ve definitely regressed but to determine whether or not more trouble is imminent will take some time. I don’t think they fall out of playoff contention, but do believe any issues beyond injuries will surface in the first round of the postseason.
Redford: Regressing. Their defense isn’t really that good, and their impressive shooting abilities have levelled out. This is who they are now.
Fenrich: I’d say it’s regressing, but that regression is also elevating self doubt. Earlier in the season, they had some absurd record in close games. I had to look this up:
- First 29 games: 7-1 in games decided by 5 points or less, 24-5 record
- Following 37 games: 5-11 in games decided by 5 points or less, 18-19 record
The real Blazers are likely somewhere in between the two personalities we’ve seen so far this year … a good team, but not the contender resembling team we saw in November and December.
Partnow: I don’t think “regressing” is quite the right word, as there was a period of overcorrection – they weren’t as good as they looked when they were making every three and opponents were missing. Now that that situation has largely reversed (especially the defensive part) and they’ve suffered a few injuries thing look bleak from if you were evaluating them as you would a genuine contender. However, anyone paying close attention (including the decision makers in their front office) knew the record over the first 30 games or so was somewhat of a mirage. Not only did they not make a move at the deadline, there was never really any serious rumors surrounding them, which indicates to me that from an organization standpoint they see any success this season as playing with house money.
Conlin: It’s a combination of regression and the novelty wearing off. At the beginning of the season, they were shooting at unsustainable levels (especially on long twos) and they had a defensive system that wasn’t particularly complex but somewhat effective. Now that their shooting has returned to normal levels and opposing teams have found ways to expose their (several) defensive weaknesses, they aren’t world-beaters anymore. Now with Aldridge out of the lineup, they’ll probably continue to fall.
Liu: Every response here is measured and accurate. Portland was never that good and everyone – at least the people watching – knew that. If they weren’t playing as “badly” as they are now, that’d be the most troubling – and awesome – part.
3. You’re a head coach. Would you rather be at the helm of Memphis or Golden State heading into the playoffs (regardless of seeding and your team’s first-round matchup)?
Johnson: I think Golden State, just to coach Curry. At this point, the Dubs have mostly addressed their bench problems and the playoffs give you a chance to shorten your rotation, so I wouldn’t have to go through a box of Maalox during every second quarter. And I could glue Harrison Barnes to the bench.
Partnow: Probably Golden State. Memphis would be more “fun” as Conley and Gasol seem like coach’s dreams, but Memphis is also much closer to their ceiling. As Andrew alludes to, Golden State has had some strange rotations all year, and like everyone else, I think they are underachieving relative to talent on offense, in ways which are directly related to coaching in terms of both rotations and schemes. Jackson has them playing mid 90s style with 2014 players under 2014 rules, so there is room for improvement just by “modernizing” there.
Bennett: I would rather be coaching Memphis heading into the postseason. I like to envision me basking in a lounge chair, as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are running the high-low to perfection on a cruise. The destination; Western Conference Finals.
Redford: Golden State. Memphis is good, but they don’t have the volatility to really push a San Antonio or an OKC in the first round. The Warriors meanwhile, have the potential to win two series at least if they get hot and the defense turns out to not be a mirage after all.
Fenrich: Oh man, what a question. I badly want to write that I’d prefer Memphis, prefer a locker room with Zbo and eat Memphis BBQ all the time, but the truth is that I’d rather coach Golden State. There are so many interchangeable pieces and the crowd so over the top that I can’t turn it down. Imagine pulling out WWE tactics to get the crowd involved … the Hulk Hogan-esque, I can’t hear you hand gesture? That crowd would eat it up. It’s not necessarily about winning and losing, it’s about the experience and this would be one of the best.
Conlin: Memphis has a much firmer ceiling, and it’s one decidedly lower than “Title Contender.” Golden State is a much higher-variance team that could pull off an upset if they get hot at the right time, like they did last year, or like Orlando did in 2009. Plus, if I was coaching Golden State, I could make them stop playing Harrison Barnes at the three next to David Lee and Andrew Bogut.
Liu: Golden State, if only because I watch every game and think there are adjustments that can be made. I would obviously be a much worse coach that Mark Jackson but I also have no idea what I’d be doing with a Memphis team that I don’t watch enough.
4. If the playoffs started tomorrow, would you take Chicago over Miami or Indiana? Would the Bulls even win a series? Is Joakim Noah the GOAT?
Johnson: No, I wouldn’t really want to face the Bulls in the playoffs, but unless Indiana is in the middle of a slo-mo implosion that we’re blythely dismissing as a mid-season regression, I can’t go against either of those teams He’s not the GOAT, but he should be the DPOY.
Partnow: I could see them beating the Pacers if Indiana continues to be sloppy with their offense as they have been for much of the second half of the season. I wouldn’t predict it, but it wouldn’t shock me. Bulls should be a large favorite over their first round opponent, if it’s Washington or Charlotte, and Chicago playing either Brooklyn or Toronto in the first round would be a fascinating series. Jo Noah should probably be first team all-NBA and runner up for DPOY (Hibbert has still had a better defensive season, substantially, but the backlash against Big Roy is another topic for another time), and in the running for 3rd place on MVP ballots, so yeah, that’s a pretty good year.
Bennett: No, but if this question said Raptors and not Bulls, I’d likely not answer so quickly. No, Noah is not the GOAT…….. but he’s a very good player.
Redford: Friend of the program Jacob Greenberg told me the other day he thinks Chicago will bounce Miami, and this thought has been kicking around in my head since then. I don’t see it happening though. It makes logical sense, but I believe in the power of LeBron too much.
Fenrich: Friend of the program Greenberg is clearly smoking rocks. As much as I enjoy this Bulls team, I struggle to comprehend them beating either Indiana or Miami in a seven-game series. Have the Pacers and Heat struggled the past couple weeks? Sure. Is it enough to knock them out of what appears to be an inevitable ECF? I don’t believe so.
Noah might be the GOAT at something, but it’s not basketball.
Conlin: Chicago is playing well but in the playoffs, they just won’t be able to score well enough for it to matter. Chicago can beat anyone in the East… except Indiana and Miami.
Liu: I understand and have watched Indiana and Miami struggle in the past month. I also acknowledge than an 82 game season is freaking long and teams go through lulls and the like. Can Chicago win a series against non-Indy/Mia? Yes. Is Joakim Noah a better player than LeBron James or the collective team effort of Indiana? No. A vehement no, at that.
5. The Hawks are a top-10 team in offensive eFG, and a lot of that has to do with Kyle Korver’s career-best 64.1% eFG. What do you make of the way Atlanta has essentially built its offense around a player who rarely ever controls the ball?
Johnson: The thing about Korver is that even though he plays off ball almost exclusively he moves with the ball extremely well. Cutting and running off ball screens is sometimes an underrated skill. That said, they need a better inside threat either driving or in the post to really maximize Korver’s opportunities.
Partnow: I reject the premise of the question. I’m second to no one here in my appreciation for Kyle Korver, but they don’t run their offense through him. Their secondary break action benefits other players such as Mike Scott as well. But their half-court offense as designed really is built around the skill and versatility of Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
Bennett: There’s nothing like watching Korver running around screens. It’s also fun watching, and sometimes hearing, opposing fans as they track Korver meandering around trying to find space to catch and shoot. If, and when, he is able to obtain possession; it’s already too late for the defense to do anything about three-point attempt with a 40 percent chance of falling through. The injury to Al Horford does alter their scheme, though, so leaning on Korver wasn’t the initial plan.
Fenrich: I don’t think too much of it. I haven’t taken much time to watch Atlanta this year and I’m sure that’s in part because they’re just not that good of a team — even with that top-10 offensive eFG rating. Given the low volume Atlanta uses him, I’d challenge the idea that they’ve built an offense around him — even in Horford’s absence. There’s only one other player in the league who averages as many minutes and as few shots as Korver (34mpg and 8.6 FGA) and that’s DeAndre Jordan (35.7mpg and 6.2 FGA). Strangely, DeAndre’s the only player in the league with a higher eFG than Korver. So this is how we get to the place where Jordan and Korver are somehow players who share unique basketball characteristics.
Redford: I think it’s a nice recipe for the 9th seed.
Conlin: It will work against bad defenses and fail against good defenses, which is basically what Atlanta has been doing over the last month, and one of the prime reasons that they’ve been in free-fall. I think they’ll be able to hang onto the No. 8 seed but against Indiana or Miami in Round 1 I’m not even sure they’d make it to Game 4. The league might just call the series after three games.
Liu: Kyle Korver is a historically great shooter. But this has me thinking how good this team would have been with Al Horford healthy. Would have been good enough for another second round exit to the Miami Heat. Oh..