The game that we call the 2013/14 regular season is almost over, and the closing minutes appear to be the most exciting. We hope that you’ve enjoyed the ride as much as we have. In The Pick and Pop: 4th Quarter Timeout, we assure you that there’s a lot of action left to be dissected. The Indiana Pacers are in a tailspin, we try to preview the best playoff match-up for the reigning Western Conference champions, and we’re also passing out some accolades.
On court at the end of regulation for #TeamPnr is Steve Chalmers, Kein Chua, Josh Haar, Michael Tozer, and myself [Darrel Wilson].
How concerned should the Indiana Pacers be about their dismal play as of late leading into the playoffs?
Chalmers VERY CONCERNED! With the superstar status bestowed on Paul George early on in the season, plus the emergence of Lance Stephenson as the Pacers’ ‘X-Factor’, nothing has really gone right since the All-Star break.
The reason teams win championships is due to defense, teamwork, and depth. The Pacers certainly boast one of the best defenses in the league over the past few seasons; however Frank Vogel’s inability to use his bench players is frightening. The fact is, his bench is actually deep with the likes of Luis Scola, Evan Turner, Chris Copeland and Ian Mahinmi. Vogel fails to use them effectively (see: Gregg Popovich) during the season and it will haunt them come playoff time.
Wilson Could it be just a coincidence that things haven’t been right since Evan Turner became a part of the rotation? Well, the Pacers have a mediocre 11-12 record since their trade with Philadelphia brought in Turner in exchange for Danny Granger. Maybe it’s their inability to put the ball in the hoop. Over their last twelve games, they’ve only surpassed the 100 point mark one time (101-94 win over Detroit), going 4-8 in that span; to stretch it even further, only reached that total in four of their last 21. Yes, that offense is God-awful. You know when Roy Hibbert is pointing fingers, they should be very concerned.
Haar Well, let’s see: the second-seeded Pacers have dropped eight of their last eleven ball games, have failed to score more than eighty points in five of their last ten ball games, and have experienced an increase in tension amongst teammates in their locker room. So….. yeah. They should be extremely concerned.
Kein I’d be questioning their mental fortitude and sanity if they weren’t even the least concerned. We can all wave it off as the good old “playoffs switch” not being flipped at this point, and dream that the team will be as good as ever the moment the postseason arrives, where Indy magically morphs into the snarling, defensive juggernaut it always has been, while PG24 carries the team when things get down to the wire.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the locker room however. Roy Hibbert has commented on the presence of “selfish dudes” and David West calls the team “the most downtrodden 50-plus win team in the history of the game”. Even Larry Legend himself is expressing disappointment at the team.
It’s all too obvious that the Pacers right now, aren’t the same team they were in the playoffs last year. If they aren’t concerned, something is definitely very, very wrong. No such playoffs switch exists in the team, and they most definitely have to work on their game and on-court chemistry. Food for thought: Zach Lowe from Grantland has some ideas on how Indy could grease the offensive gears a little better. One way or another, the team has to be on the same page by the time the postseason hits, before the proverbial sh*t hits the ceiling fan.
Tozer If the rumors are true that Roy Hibbert was in fact watching King of the Hill during the recent blowout loss at home against Atlanta at half-time, the entire Pacers organization should be worried. Roy Hibbert’s complaining about selfish players on the time, Paul George looks lethargic on offence; George Hill’s play is making the Kawhi Leonard trade seemingly lopsided in favor of the Spurs, while Evan Turner’s addition hasn’t done much to help the cause. It doesn’t help knowing that the Pacers top 5-man unit of Hill, Stephenson, George, West and Hibbert has played the most minutes on the court together this season in the entire NBA, or the second most-minutes on average per game of all 5-man units. In a dynamic league, it might be time for Frank to look for some consistency and inspiring play from the bench with not long to go before the real party starts.
Who do you tab for this season’s defensive Player of the Year award?
Tozer LeBron will still be waiting to fill that empty space in his awards cabinet, after Chicago big man Joakim Noah claims the latest Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s spearheaded the Bulls attack towards the league’s second best defensive efficiency of 95.6 points per 100 possessions since the Luol Deng trade which has seemingly given the Bulls a new life. Without Noah on the floor, the Bulls are 8.1 points worse off. He’s averaging 11.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, numbers phenomenal for a big man. Joakim’s basketball IQ is the top of the league; he knows how to stop the pick and roll, how to keep his man in front of him, and how to protect the rim. This season especially, it’s made him the league’s most feared matchup on defence.
Wilson The Chicago Bulls are easily the best defensive team in the league this season. Joakim Noah is their leader and most versatile defender. On any given possession, he guards wings on the perimeter (even Lebron James). He helps on screens (that’s for you nerds that praise Marc Gasol), and he’s a great post defender. More importantly, a defensive possession is not over until the opponent scores, turns it over, or the defense secures a rebound; Noah is fifth in the NBA with a 11.1 per game rebound average.
Chalmers I have two players in mind: Serge Ibaka and Australia’s own Andrew Bogut.
Ibaka, known for his blocked shots on a nightly basis, is second in the league in blocked shots and his defense in the lane is second to none. His improvement in his game this season has become how well he can hedge on any switch inside or any pick and roll. Something he was known to struggle at times in the past.
Bogut on the other hand, plays well inside his team methodology. He can clog the lane, protect the rim and also fill the gaps when needed to on the perimeter, something that doesn’t look like it could be included in a big man’s game. Bogut is the starting point to any Warriors defensive set.
Haar This may come off as a surprise to some, but the 37-year-old Tim Duncan has succeeded in placing himself among the league’s elite defensive bigs through his performance on that end of the floor this season. Currently, the Spurs boast the NBA’s best record with a win-loss of 60-17, and a big reason as to why this is, is because the ball club ranks fourth in points allowed per game at 97.1. Timmy D’s tremendous contributions to this exceptional effort cannot be overlooked, as he is averaging 1.9 blocks in less than thirty minutes a night and has managed to consistently lock opposing power forwards down by holding them to an average PER of 11.4. Despite his old age, “Mr. Fundamental” is a serious force defensively, and with the play he has provided throughout the course of this year, there is no question he should be considered as a realistic candidate for the award.
Kein The Brow of course. Anthony Davis has been an absolute monster on both offense and defense. Averaging a league-leading 2.8 blocks a game, his length and dexterity has enabled him to become an extremely mobile help defender and at the same time, a terrifying rim protector who can disrupt shots no one else can get to. The Pelicans aren’t exactly an elite defensive team right now, but they would be far worse without Davis. Whilst still very much far from the polished product he will be in a few years’ time, the 21 year-old is certainly making a considerable impact on D.
Still not convinced? Ask Ty Lawson.
Of the three teams vying for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, which of them potentially presents the most difficult matchup for San Antonio?
Wilson I feel that the most dangerous opponent is one that has no fear at all. A team that had no expectations placed upon them to start the season, the Phoenix Suns, play without fear. They’re a silent team that doesn’t get much press but you are most powerful when you are most silent. The expectation I have for them is that they will play loose on offense and leap into the fray. If they do matchup, it will be entertaining. I much rather see the kids run up and down with San Antonio than that of the slow down games of Memphis and Dallas. The athletic Suns will surely test the defense of the Spurs.
Chalmers I would love to say Phoenix here, just because it’d be great to see them slot into the playoffs. The fact that the Spurs easily accounted for the Grizzlies in past playoff series doesn’t bode well for them either. Which means it’s going to be their Texas rivals, the Dallas Mavericks. Known playoff competitors, a ton of experience behind Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion which can cause trouble for Duncan/Leonard. Along with the fact Monta Ellis is such an offensive explosion, it can be a difficult match-up for any of the Spurs guards; most not known for their defensive prowess (Green, Parker, Mills).
In saying this, could you imagine the Spurs pulling the Mavs in the first round, followed by the Rockets in the second round? Two Texas battles which means hardly any travel, the Spurs could be a very lucky team come playoff time.
Tozer I’m a very strong believer that the efficient play of the Phoenix Suns will daunt any team in the playoffs, and it isn’t any different when talking about the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have had the Suns measure so far, on top of the season series 2-1, with the two games they’ve faltered in only by small margins. With the dangerous backcourt combination of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, full of speed, ability to create their own shot and a killer passing instinct, should cause trouble for even the experienced veterans in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobilli. The Morris twins and Miles Plumlee make deal for an intriguing match-up inside while the stout defence of PJ Tucker can cause problems for Kawhi Leonard. The Suns are not a team any franchise wants to see come finals time.
Kein I’d put my vote for Dallas, if they do drop to the 8th. A friend of mine swears by the masterful tactics of head coach Rick Carlisle, and for good reason. Carlise is absolutely brilliant at modifying his strategy to suit the strengths of his roster.
Haar Between the Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Phoenix Suns, I’d say Memphis possesses the greatest potential to bring down San Antonio as the eight seed. Not only do the Grizzlies boast the third-best defense in the league (94.2 PAPG), but history leans in their favor as well, as this squad actually defeated the top-ranked Spurs as an eight seed in 2011 with a line-up containing the exact same headline players (Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph). Of course, past events themselves are incapable of altering future face-offs, but the fact of the matter is Memphis matches up perfectly on both sides of the floor against San Antonio. If these two teams end up going head-to-head in a best of seven, the Spurs best bring their bibs, as the Grizzlies may make things a lil messy.
If we remove Lebron James and Kevin Durant from the discussion: Who is most deserving of the league’s Most Valuable Player award?
Kein I’ll go with Goran Dragic. The man has risen this season and matured into a brilliant point guard who excels in not only the run and gun game, but also playing off pick and roll sets, but was sadly snubbed as an All-Star, despite averaging 20.3 points on 50.8% –only five players accomplished 50% or better on 20 points per game: KD, LeBron, Griffin, Brow and Dragic– 6.2 assists and 1.4 steals before the All-Star break. He’s shored the team up through the absence of Eric Bledsoe, and the Suns went from a being projected lottery team, to a potential 8th seed and dark horse in the coming playoffs.
Special mention to Blake Griffin. His game has improved so much this season; he’s turned the Clippers into something special for the future, possibly starting this year.
Tozer They said the Clippers would falter during the absence of Chris Paul. They said no player on that team had the drive, determination and will to succeed without the crafty point-guard. Nobody said that Blake Griffin would become the third best player in the league this season, with his game picking up on both offence and defence. He’s upped his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers over last season, while becoming a difficult match-up on defence especially. He’s sick of those hard fouls he’s received on open dunks, and it turn has made players pay through the scoreboard. The Clippers seemingly endless plethora of three-point shooters haven’t panned out to be so efficient, with the team only 19th in 3pt point percentage, but still second in the NBA in points per 100 possessions, with Griffin the main factor contributing to this. Any time a player can go through an entire month averaging 30 points per game is downright incredible, to do that with a true shooting percentage of 59.3%, phenomenal. Blake isn’t a player that can only dunk, he can now do everything.
Wilson When Chris Paul suffered a shoulder injury in January and had to be sidelined for an extended period, I thought for sure the Clippers season would go up in smoke. However, I was dead wrong, not only did they not flame out but they got better. This is because Blake Griffin stepped his game up to the superstar level that his potential had promised. Doc Rivers unearthed the variety of skills that Griffin possesses; Griffin was the player leading the breaks and he became more attack-minded in the offensive sets. The Clippers were a very respectable 12-6 in Paul’s absence; Griffin’s numbers got even better when he returned, leading up to a Player of the Month selection for February. To the victors get the spoils, the Clippers have the 3rd best record in the NBA.
Select two guards and one center to fill out the All NBA First team. Why?
Wilson I’ll start off with Chris Paul, who should be an obvious choice even though some might exclude him due to missing games because of injury. Paul leads the league in assists and steals. His place on the first team shouldn’t be debatable. The other guard spot is more difficult to choose, it’s either James Harden or Stephen Curry. I’ll give the second nod to Curry here; he’s been just as good of a scorer that Harden is but from the point guard spot while also dropping 8.5 dimes per game.
This season has turned into a resurgence of the center position. Once dominated by Dwight Howard, there are now several players who have stepped their games up to contend with him for the top center spot; guys like DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Al Jefferson just to name a few. As of right now, Joakim Noah is the man. Noah’s play this season has been nothing short of outstanding.
Chalmers Joakim Noah is my center. Reasons were explained in the last question as he was my MVP pick. The guards are Chris Paul and Stephen Curry
Paul, despite missing games, is still the best point guard in the league. Delivering delicious dimes each and every game to average over 10 a game is a fair feat, even if he has the luxury of throwing it to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The way he goes about it too, is so professional and should be mimicked by any young guard out there either in the NBA or as a junior growing up.
Curry has grown out of his 2013 All-Star snub and become one of the best guards in the NBA this season. Needing to prove to the league he is a legitimate player in the comp, Curry has come out firing for the Warriors and has come up big, time and time again for his team, despite an underachieving season for Golden State.
Would love to throw Al Jefferson in here, a man who has been hugely underrated this season along with Goran Dragic. But of course, I can only pick three players, so there’s another topic for discussion!
Kein DeMarcus Cousins would be my pick for center. He’s performed fantastically all season and literally , got snubbed for All-Star honours which he wholly deserved. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has committed to Cousins with a hefty contract, and DMC likewise, has returned the goodwill by putting in the effort night in, night out. He’s averaging 22.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, all of which has exceeded his career average (17.7, 10.2, 1.0.) Is there anyone better as an all-around big man this year? Perhaps Joakim Noah deserves credit with his fantastic passing this season, but Cousins is the most impactful big man of 2013/14.
Tozer Steph Curry is a lock for the first guard spot. His ability to create a shot from nothing is downright incredible, his ability to shoot from anywhere on the court has been sensational; his ability to make a pass out of nothing is simply awesome. He’s increased his assist and scoring numbers to the elite level this year, and is knocking on the doorstep of Chris Paul for the title of best point guard in the league.
He didn’t even make the All-Star game, but he should be a lock for the All-NBA first-team. Goran Dragic. Averaging 20.5 points, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals on the year, Dragic’s play led the Phoenix Suns team destined for a fair shot at winning the lottery to what might soon be the NBA playoffs. Playing under Jeff Hornacek has really been a coming out party for Goran, as the whole world is now aware that the Phoenix Suns are coming.
I can’t make a decision on who I might want for the center spot. Too many options to choose from who are all having insane seasons, it may come down to those last few games to determine who I’d vote for if given the chance.
Haar Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Joakim Noah. Chris Paul does it all (18.9 PTS, 10.8 ASTS), Steph shoots lights out (41.7% 3PT), and Joakim IS Chicago. All three deserve All-NBA First Team bids.