No coaches have been ejected from this game yet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any who are deserving. When things go bad, does the blame go to under performing players, injuries, or is it coaching? Two coaches who certainly aren’t on the hot seat are Portand’s Terry Stotts, whose team was a main talking point in our last review, and Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek. We’re in the 2nd quarter and as we take our 2nd timeout, the team will discuss these gentleman in this edition of “The Pick and Pop”, as well as evaluate a pair of organizations who will be without some key guys.
What effect, if any, will Russell Westbrook’s injury have on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the short-term?
Tozer None. Even though replacing someone with the level of Westbrook is difficult to do, as we saw last year in the Western Conference semi-finals last year, the improved play of both Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson should make-up for it. Both players have seen increased minutes, and are currently making the most of it. Both have increased in points and assists per 36 minutes since last season and look mighty impressive in the somewhat young season.
Cox Russ was arguably playing the best basketball of his career, so it’s obviously a huge blow for OKC. However, it won’t hurt Oklahoma City down the line to throw some extra minutes at the likes of Jeremy Lamb. It should be fun to watch KD fly solo for a while in full-blown MVP mode.
Smith Depth is what’s really hurting OKC this year. Presti will have to address this crucial issue if OKC plans on making a deep run in the playoffs. The west is a dangerous place to play without a premier point guard these days. Forget the Chris Pauls and Tony Parkers (always a threat) now OKC have to contend against the likes of Steph Curry, Ty Lawson, and Dame Lillard. I mean this with great respect, Reggie Jackson is about to have a hard couple of months ahead of him. In short, this is what is means to not have Westbrook in the line up.
Kein Apart from the loss of the primary ball handler who is also an offensive spark plug, tossing a few 50-50 games to fellow contenders, amping KD’s fatigue level, and possibly losing home court? Not too much of an effect I’d say!
Young The Western Conference is obviously very strong. With the amount of time Westbrook is out, it may be the difference between a 2 seed or a 4 seed. This may directly determine how far they can make it in the playoffs.
Who has done the best coaching job so far?
Young Terry Stotts is making all of the right decisions in Portland. This is helping his players buy into his system and style of coaching, which is obviously translating into the impressive record the Trailblazers have put together so far.
Cox Terry Stotts. At 26-7, the Trailblazers have blown everyone away – no one expected them to be this good so quickly. Lillard & Aldridge are playing like legitimate All-Stars, complimented by a cast of role-players who know their job and respect the system. Stotts has everyone signing from the same hymn sheet.
Smith I can’t put my finger on this one. Stotts has been great, I’ve never been a huge believer, but I’m eating crow at the moment. I really like a lot of the rookie coaches. Brian Shaw is winning while figuring out his rotations, Brett Brown and Brad Stevens are making something out of nothing, which is amazing. Look at Brown’s impact on Michael Carter-Williams . . . ROY hands down.
Tozer Jeff Hornacek. Nobody believed the Suns would be anything this season. Nobody believed that the Dragic/Bledsoe backcourt combo would work efficiently. Not only has Hornacek gotten his Suns into the playoff contention, he’s brought the most out of his young players. Miles Plumlee is one who is particularly excelling; averaging almost a double-double (10 pts, 9.1 reb), Hornacek has given Plumlee an opportunity to succeed in the NBA, as he has done with every member of the squad. A job well done so far. Ryan McDonough looks like a genius.
Kein A few candidates come to mind: Jeff Hornacek for the Suns, Mark Jackson has been brilliant for the Warriors, but I’m going to go with Brad Stevens. He has been exactly what the Celtics needed in this rebuilding phase, showing an unruffled and self-possessed exterior regardless of how the night turns out, and has motivated the team to play hard and not look upon themselves as a filler season sideshow. The C’s roster is an unbalanced, overloaded lineup of power forwards and shooting guards right now, and they are still eighth in the east, second in the Tanklantic.
Will the New York Knicks be able to turn their misfortunes around enough to win the Atlantic division?
Cox Despite being only 4 games back from the Raptors and possessing the best player in the Division, Carmelo Anthony, I doubt it. The Knicks face too many problems – from a lack of a serviceable point guard, to the team’s over-reliance on Chandler defensively. It seems no one is happy in the Big Apple right now.
Kein I doubt it. They seem determined to charge their way to the bottom of the league with unmotivated play, a vast change from the Knicks of 2012/13, considering how the roster has been mostly untouched. Perhaps Chandler’s return could flip things around, but I’m skeptical.
Young I don’t see it happening. The rest of the division is far from impressive but the Knicks have played 30 games now and only won 30% of these and really aren’t showing many signs of improvement in the near future.
Smith No. Absolutely not. This is the Dolan prime time rearing its ugly head again. It’s very safe to say the entire franchise is in disarray from the coach to the players to the GM, the orange and blue need to find the TNT and blow themselves up for the greater good. It only gets better if they can find a trade partner for Melo that includes a high pick for this year’s draft.
Tozer No. New York is going to be terrible for years to come. Even in the dreadful Atlantic, I still see Toronto and Boston finishing ahead of them. Carmelo will leave for greener pastures and the lack of first-round picks will see Raymond Felton lead this team from the point for years to come. A fate no team should ever have to handle.
Are we to believe that the Phoenix Suns are a legit playoff contender?
Smith Forrest Gump was a movie, but while we watched it, we believed that there was magic in the world. This is the type of year the Suns are having. I love the Dragic/Bledsoe backcourt, but something tells me that it won’t last. However, it doesn’t matter. Hornacek seems like a good coach, they have lots of cap space, they can re-sign Bledsoe, and they have draft picks. This is what great rebuilding looks like (take note Philly and Utah). Happy endings happen!
Kein Maybe. We’ve got the Thunder, Blazers, Warriors, Rockets, Spurs and Clippers in this race. I foresee the Suns squeezing into spots 6-8 if they continue their magical, anti-tanking season, but it’s still early.
Young It’s hard to argue with what they’ve done so far this season. I do, however, expect their record to gradually get worse over the course of the season. This may ultimately see them ousted by a high seed come playoff time.
Tozer I doubt they’d go far in the playoffs, but I definitely think they’ll be in the final seedings when it comes to playoff time. As mentioned above, each player is making the most of an opportunity they were unable to have at former clubs, and are grabbing it with both hands by playing an exciting style of basketball. They have an interesting mix of youth/veterans that is working very well so far. Hornacek is enforcing a system where they are locking down each opponent’s greatest strength each night, and is contributing to easy points on the other end. Phoenix are a legit playoff contender.
Cox The Suns are having fun right now and Bledsoe has demonstrated he can be an effective starting guard. While the likes of Plumlee & Green have excellent in their new roles, there are too many teams in the West with a superior talent base. I expect them to fall significantly short of the top eight come April.
The Atlanta Hawks recently lost Al Horford for the rest of the season due to injury. Assess their chances of remaining a playoff team without him.
Kein Goodbye Hawks, better luck next season. Al is an irreplaceable centerpiece for Atlanta, I don’t see Pero Antic stepping up to fill his big shoes. Would the Hawks survive by playing small ball a la Miami? I could see this happening in limited periods, but even Miami’s roster took the better part of two seasons to polish their play, so this is a long shot at best.
Young We all know the Eastern Conference is terrible. Which leads me to believe they are pretty much a 95% chance of still making the playoffs. Millsap is still a good player that can lead a team to be the 7th or 8th seed.
Cox Losing Horford is a huge dent in Atlanta’s hopes of making a deep playoff run. The Hawks are a well-drilled team and still sit three games above .500. Atlanta have enough talent – Millsap, Teague, Korver, Williams & Brand – to remain in the top eight in what is an incredibly weak Eastern Conference.
Tozer The Atlanta Hawks even without Al are still better than at least 10 teams in the East. Paul Millsap is experiencing a career year in Atlanta, with 17.4 points and 8.4 rebounds. If Al Horford was gone last year, and Josh Smith was said to make up the slack, I’d say an easy no. With Paul Millsap now leading the team, alongside both Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, it’s an easy yes. Elton Brand, who is currently replacing Horford at center won’t put up the same numbers, stats-wise, but he brings insurmountable experience to the starting line-up, and makes high-IQ plays.
Smith Again, coaching! Budzenholder has managed to squeeze a lot of effort from a squad that doesn’t look all that impressive on paper. Horford to me is Tim Duncan 2.0. His game is so unassuming, and that’s when the opposition realizes they’re down 14 in the 4th with 5 minutes left. I love it. However, it’s that last five minutes that seem to keep hurting the Hawks (see recent losses to Denver and New York). While I think they’re blessed to be in a bad enough division to be able to make the playoffs without Horford, they’re going to be sweep material if they happen to face Miami or Indiana.
Once again, thank you for staying with us through The Pick and Pop; hang on as we continue to bring our thoughts to you. As always, do feel free to share your opinions with us as well!