Welcome back to the “Pick and Pop”. So much excitement and unforeseen events have transpired thus far in the early season, we had to take our 1st timeout from this game that is the 2013/14 NBA season and discuss how this game is being played. In the pre-game warmups, #TeamPnR designed some plays for the game. Let’s look at some that haven’t worked so well and make some tweaks.
Let’s review some game action that didn’t quite go like we thought.
Wilson I don’t know what it was about Rudy Gay that made me believe that he was ready to take his game to the next level, but having more outings similar to the 11-37 shooting night versus Houston isn’t going to win him any votes, nor will it boost the confidence that I had in the choice. He is shooting an abysmal 38% so far this season. I’m changing reels and going with DeMarcus Cousins. Shaq being part of the ownership team will be a positive thing for Boogie’s mindset, but Shaq won’t be around him during games, so it’s up to Cousins to keep his cool and let his game do the talking. If he can stay out of the referees’ bad side, he should be an All-Star.
Sykes I really want to revisit my prediction of the Grizzlies being able to crack the Western Conference’s top 4. So far, this team has totally disappointed me. Their offense has actually gotten worse than it was last season largely because it hasn’t really changed. Sure, they’ve added a shooter in Mike Miller and Quincy Pondexter is much more of a feature. Having Mike Conley as a focal point is a progressive idea, but the continuity is just not there. Their defense has also dropped from 2nd in the league to 22nd as far as efficiency goes. Hopefully, that number will jump as the season goes along but there have been a lot of breakdowns because of the new lineups that the Grizz features. Dave Joerger has to get these guys on the floor in the right combinations or the team won’t succeed this season.
Tozer I also thought Memphis wouldd be able to crash the top four but Portland seems to be the more likely candidate. Terry Stotts has completely reinvigorated the way these Blazers play. The defense is much improved, not just with the addition of Robin Lopez –who fills the need of defensive anchor in the center– but the Blazers are now doing the little things better like fighting through screens, closing out, and playing overall tougher defence; just look at Wes Matthews’ job against James Harden as an indication of that. On offense, the ball is moving quicker than ever, leading to more open shots on the perimeter. With a plethora of three-point shooters this season, Portland finds a lot of their opportunities from deep, and they make the most of them, hitting 42.4% of them, equal for third in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge possesses an even more killer mid-range shot compared to last season, while big men Thomas Robinson, Joel Freeland and Robin Lopez are also capable of finishing at the hoop. The Blazers currently look like an extremely fun League Pass team, I can see them causing some big upsets out West.
Cox Although I still believe there is a strong possibility that Miami will not finish with the strongest regular-season record in the East, I was shocked to look back at my original answer to see that I’d not so much as mentioned the Indiana Pacers. Paul George looks to have legitimately made the step up to a top-10 player – he’s started this season’s campaign like an MVP candidate. Indiana are ruthless. Their combination of size and athleticism, in both the front and backcourt, creates matchup nightmares for any opposition. Perhaps most importantly, the Pacers have an identity and each player on the roster appears willing to play their part!
Haar In the premiere of “The Pick and Pop”, I typed my belief that the Houston Rockets’ addition of Dwight Howard served as the most impactful signing of the 2013 offseason. The big man boasts solid individual numbers; his rebounding has significantly improved Houston’s efforts on the glass (1st in NBA with 47.5 per game). However, the reality of the situation is as follows: Dwight’s performance on the defensive end of the floor has failed to live up to expectations. With the Rockets sitting at 29th in points allowed per matchup (106.3), it is clear Howard is failing to help Houston fully flourish in all aspects of their game. Overall, due to Dwight’s inability to enhance Houston defensively, it has become evident in my mind he no longer stands as the most significant signing of the summer.
Just like in a basketball game, #TeamPnR will make substitutions in the “Pick and Pop” with our writers so that we can continue to bring fresh perspective on this game that we love. Entering the game, we have Mark Bruty and Jamaal Price.
The Indiana Pacers are on top of the Eastern Conference standings. What can you attest to their fast start?
Bruty I think they have been building this team for a long time now and the results are showing. They are focused on defence which is a terrific attribute if you want to be successful. There is no doubt Paul George has developed into a terrific young player, but there are a number of others like Lance Stephenson who are also improving. They made shrewd moves in getting players like Luis Scola into the fray, and they play for each other. All those factors help the fast start but will also see them win 60 odd games this season and push every team for the Eastern Conference Championship.
Price Two words: Paul George! No, seriously, they’ve been coming for about three years now. When Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, and Frank Vogel built this squad they wanted guys who would play team basketball, buy into playing defense, and hustle for 48 minutes. Those things are what can be attributed to the Pacers’ great start in my opinion. George is solidifying his superstar status, Hibbert and West are some big dudes with a lot of muscle who make it difficult for anyone to score, and they’ve addressed the depth on the bench. A lot of credit can be given to Lance Stephenson; before last year’s playoffs he was only remembered for taunting LeBron James, now he’s carved himself out a solid career and is a big part of what they’re doing in Indiana. The big question will be, how will Danny Granger fit into all of this once he’s ready to return?
Wilson It’s not so much of a fast start as it is a continuation of where they left off. Indiana’s defensive philosophy remains the same but the difference between then and now is the improvement of three of their players. First is Paul George, last year’s league MIP, this is officially his team now; he’s playing with a swagger and it shows with his aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball. Next is Roy Hibbert, a guy who has never appeared to me as a natural basketball player. Before this season, Hibbert’s movements looked mechanical but now you can tell that he’s thinking less; he’s actually jumping more to block shots, which is bad news for opposing offenses. Finally, Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson is playing like he belongs in this league; he takes over at point guard for portions of the game and is too overpowering for the guy he’s matched up against.
Sykes Paul George’s scoring has really given the Pacers a much-needed boost on the offensive end. Instead of having an offense that is closer to the bottom of the pack, they’re just above average. And with the top defense in the league, having an average offense is all you really need.
Haar The biggest key to Indiana’s speedy start this season has unquestionably been their lockdown D, as the ball club is currently giving up the fewest amount of points in the entire NBA with an average of 86.3 allowed per contest. Of course, this defensive success should come as no surprise: with league leading shot-swatter Roy Hibbert (4.78 BLKS) protecting the paint as well as defensive stoppers Paul George and George Hill consistently preventing penetration from the perimeter, it makes perfect sense that the Pacers are acquiring victories through their domination on this end of the floor.
The Memphis Grizzlies came out of the gates slow after many pundits expected them to be among the elite. What other team’s play has been a huge disappointment so far?
Price I would say both New York teams. The Knicks have been totally disappointing this season. Here’s a team that won 54 games and a division title last season and they look to be in complete disarray. I think Melo’s pending free agency is weighing heavy on both himself and the team. Mike Woodson is getting heat from the media, their owner is talking recklessly, and they simply don’t have any real depth. Losing Tyson Chandler for a stretch hurt them because there’s no other real interior presence. If the Knicks are still in a funk come January, they might explore trading Iman Shumpert just to get assets back. You knew there would be an adjustment period for the Nets as they worked KG and Paul Pierce into the fold, but I thought they’d have it together by now. Sometimes it seems as if there aren’t enough basketballs to go around. Deron Williams will need to emerge as a leader for them to turn it around. As well-respected as Jason Kidd is in the league, he’ll need to lean heavily on the experience of his assistant coaches as this team tries to work its struggles out.
Bruty I have been really disappointed with a number of teams, but leading the All-Disappointment First Team for me are the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Brooklyn Nets. I had the Cavs finishing in the playoffs with the addition of Bynum, the maturation of Kyrie Irving, the pick ups of Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark, and getting Varejao back. However, they are not looking anything like playoff material and that’s just sad. The other team is Brooklyn. I expected teething problems as players try to learn their role within the team and just having so many new pieces – but they have under-performed by a long way.
Sykes I’d have to say the Brooklyn Nets. It seems like everyone is trying to do their own thing on that team. Their offense really has no cohesiveness and now Deron Williams is hurt again. I don’t really know how they’re going to function throughout this season, but the early returns seem to suggest that they’re the new Lakers of 2012/13.
Haar While the Grizzlies have indeed succeeded in shattering the faith of fans everywhere, another franchise which has failed to live up to expectations in the early going is the new-look Brooklyn Nets. After acquiring a seemingly superb group of athletes capable of competing with the elite this past summer, this squad has provided nothing but pitiful play thus far, as their defense has been dreadful and their offense rather odious. While I believe the team possesses the talent to turn things around, their start has definitely been a disappointment.
Wilson I’d have to say the Washington Wizards, simply because I expected much more out of them going into the season. I know that John Wall spent a lot of time trying to improve his jumper during the off season but that has lead to his poor shot selection; he’s shooting more threes than ever when his strength is using his quickness to get to the rim. Wall is surrounded by great shooters, by him driving more, it would make life easier for his teammates; this includes Marcin Gortat whose defender would have to account for Wall and leave him with easy dump offs.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are playing some excellent basketball right now. Do you think they can maintain this level of play?
Sykes I can’t see this keeping up. I don’t think the Wolves are this good defensively because a lot of it is coming from the perimeter. It’s much harder to sustain great perimeter defense when you don’t have the best of rim protectors behind you. They’ve played well early, but I don’t think it’ll keep up. Plus, Kevin Martin is shooting the lights out at this point. His percentages seem unsustainable, so we’ll see how that goes.
Wilson Minnesota has most of the ingredients needed to be a successful team. They have a great one-two combination with the Kevins, Love and Martin. They rebound the ball very well. They also have a great floor general in Ricky Rubio who always gets it to guys in great scoring position. Chase Budinger will bring even more scoring to this team when he returns from injury. However, they have two major flaws: The first being that they have no rim protector, whatsoever. Corey Brewer does a good job defending the perimeter but Love and Nikola Pekovic, with their good size, isn’t stopping anybody from scoring on the inside. The other thing that will hurt them is Rubio’s inability to knock down outside shots; good defenses will clog driving and passing lanes and dare him to shoot from the outside. I see the Wolves remaining competitive but will end up fizzling out like the Rockets did last season.
Bruty I think they can, and there are a couple of reasons for it. They have finally got a healthy team together and have building towards a season like this for a while now. They know each other, they know their system and they are playing terrifically as a unit. They are also utilizing their free agent signings Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer to perfection. It is clear they went out and targeted players they felt would fit the season and they certainly have. Rubio and Love have upped the ante with the individual games as well. If they can stay healthy, they can stay this good.
Haar Through their initial 11 games of 2013/14, the T-Wolves have been extremely impressive: their scoring is currently off the charts and their execution on both ends have been excellent. Now, many aficionados of the association believe Minnesota will eventually burn out and begin losing a lot more games; however, in my own personal opinion, the type of play the T-Wolves have put forth will be a trend which lasts throughout the entirety of this campaign. Quite frankly, Minnesota is too talented to start shutting down, as the roster boasts a nice blend of athletic, skilled, and youthful ballers who thrive in filling their roles to a tee. As long as team leader Kevin Love continues to provide commanding production (26.8 PTS, 13.6 REBS) and the rest of the players continue to play their part, expect this Wolves squad to keep on winning ball games.
Price I’ve been on the T-Wolves bandwagon for two years now! It’s about time they made me look good! I do believe they can keep up this level of play. The personnel they have is solid. Kevin Love and Pekovic are probably the most underrated front court in basketball. They have excellent guard-play with Rubio, Barea, and Kevin Martin – who’s resurrected his career. Rick Adelman is a proven coach, who has a great reputation. I expect this team to make the playoffs and possibly be this year’s Golden State.
What do you find interesting about the NBA season that we haven’t discussed so far?
Haar A story which really seems to be flying below the radar at this point in the season is the spectacular play of the Portland Trailblazers. Thanks to productive performances from point guard Damian Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, this ball club currently sits at 2nd place in the West with a solid record of 9-2. It will be intriguing to observe whether or not the Trailblazers can keep up this high level of play as the campaign continues moving forward. Personally, I do not see this occurring, as numerous organizations exist in the West which are capable of bringing this team down. However, if this NBA season has shown us anything, it’s that we never know what to truly expect out of any given franchise.
Price How about the “Riggin for Wiggins”? – Or lack thereof. We all knew teams like Philadelphia and Phoenix were going to be “hot garbage”, but they’ve had surprising starts thus far. It’s still early and there’s a lot of basketball left to be played, but I believe every team in the NBA is trying as hard as they can with the personnel they have. The Atlanta Hawks correspondent in me will not allow me to omit Jeff Teague. For all of the hype around the young guards in the league and the return of Derrick Rose, Teague is probably having the most efficient start of any of them this season. Averaging almost 20 points and 10 assists per game thru 11 games is impressive. Learning under Mike Budenholzer has done wonders for his game.
Sykes I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Eric Bledsoe’s play for the Phoenix Suns. Some plus/minus numbers indicate that he’s a net negative, but I think that’s just because it’s early and the Suns are still trying to find which lineup combinations work the best. But Bledsoe has been nothing less than stellar this season—his PER is through the roof and you can tell that he’s learned a ton from Chris Paul. I thought his play would drop with increased minutes, but early on I seem to be dead wrong. I couldn’t be happier.
Wilson The San Antonio Spurs just keep on winning and we all continue to ignore them. The routine remains the same; they will execute on offense, Coach Pop will monitor the minutes, and they will have a high seed and be rested for the playoffs. Another interesting thing for me is how Lebron James continues to improve. He had a remarkably efficient scoring season last year and all he’s done is gotten better; currently shooting over 60% from the field.
Bruty I think there have been some notable performances by teams and players which have been terrific. Obviously the Pacers are playing extremely well and Paul George has taken that next step, but also teams like Charlotte are pleasantly surprising and that is without a healthy Al Jefferson. I think the returns of Rose and Westbrook have been great and I look forward to seeing Kobe and Rondo at various points. The Suns are putting things together nicely when I felt they would be in the market for a very high draft pick next season and Dallas has built a great team around pieces I wasn’t sure would work together. I have been really impressed with two young big men as well – Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. These guys have huge futures and are terrific talents. Rookie watch has also been interesting with Michael Carter-Williams early, but now Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore and others showing good promise.
Thank you for checking out The Pick and Pop, we’d love to hear your comments on the discussion brewing so far. Don’t forget to stay tuned as we head into the next segment.