Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NBA, How We Missed Thee

In honor of the NBA's return to our lives, I thought I would post an e-mail conversation about the upcoming season I have been having with my buddy Phil Schneider over the past several days while he's been out in California. Phil, who may be the funniest comedian (intentionally funny division) I know who is not so employed, grew up in Berkeley as a big Warriors fan, so he knows the pro game pretty well. Without further ado...


OWEN
Phil,

While you're out in California chafing at missing the Warriors opener because you're at some lady's house for Christmas dinner, perhaps we can have an e-mail conversation about the NBA. My first question is this; other than the Clippers and their recent trade for Chris Paul, who is the most newly intriguing team in the West, and why?

PHIL
I really wanted to say my beloved Golden State Warriors. I watched both preseason games, and they seemed to be buying in to Mark Jackson/Mike Malone's defensive schemes. Biedrins looked awake, Curry was really cutting down on the turnovers, Monta wasn't being run into the ground, and Lee looked active. Then Curry sprains his surgically repaired ankle and it comes out that Monta twit-picked his dong to the Director of Community Relations, so 26-40 here we come.
If all we are saying is intriguing, then I am going to want to watch a bunch of T-Wolves games. JJ Barea, B-Easy, Anthony Randolph, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Derrick Williams? That is a group of guys I want to watch lose a 115-111 game to the Thunder. 

If you are looking for a team who is going to be better then you think they are, I think it is going to require youth and depth to do well in this goofy season. With that I am going to say the Denver Nuggets are going to be pretty good, even though half their team is in Wuhan and I am not sure who their best player is.

OWEN
I'm also really curious to see what happens with the Nuggets. They remade their team effectively on the fly last season after the Carmelo trade, and now it looks like they might have to adjust again, both before and after their guys get sprung from China.

I might be tempted to take the "over" on 226 total points for a Thunder-Wolves matchup. Those games will look more like a track meet than anything else. Will Russell Westbrook forget which team he plays for and start running the floor for dunks off of Love's outlet passes?

Next up; can someone in the East knock off the Three Amigos before the NBA Finals? God, I hope so. Reports are that the trio are very in shape and motivated, but that doesn't change the fact that their supporting cast is still old, that their fourth-best player is either an aging Shane Battier or an inconsistent Mario Chalmers. Regardless, even if the pieces don't all fit together, they do have two of the three or four best players in the league. How about Chicago? Their gaping hole last year was at the 2, where they were trotting out Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, all of whom were pretty one-dimensional. Now they've upgraded from Bogans to Rip Hamilton, who can still score enough to take some pressure off of Derrick Rose. I'm also intrigued by Jimmy Butler, the rookie from Marquette. I really liked him in college, and Marquette has quietly produced a number of decent-to-good NBA players recently. He's currently penciled in as Luol Deng's backup at the 3, but perhaps by March or April he could be rotating in to spell Hamilton also (instead of Korver or Brewer)? And let's not forget that the Bulls have four solid big men who complement each other pretty well. They're deep, they're fairly young (except for Hamilton), and they seem to have fixed some of their perimeter woes. Who do you like in the East that's not the Heat?

PHIL
I think the East is a two-team conference with the Bulls and the Heat. For Heat haters there is some solace in the fact that this truncated season isn't really ideal for the three-great-guys-and-garbage model. Five games in seven nights doesn't allow you to play your starters big minutes, and one ankle tweak means you are relying on Eddy Curry and Eddie House. That is a weak pair of Eddies; I would rather have Eddie Munster and Eddie Izzard. Same reason I don't love the Knicks in the East, scratch the surface and it gets bad. There is no way Amar'e holds up all season, and I imagine currently Baron Davis looks like Reginald Vel Johnson. I kind of like the Pacers to be a surprisingly frisky team. The David West pickup was killer and Paul George weirdly grew 2 inches in his 20s, and they are 10 deep with NBA basketball players.
Speaking of NBA basketball players, can we talk a little about the Lakers? Am I wrong to think they don't make the playoffs this year? I watched their preseason game with the Clippers and they were running out hot garbage. Jason Kapono, Steve Blake, Troy Murphy, etc. It is a parade of washed-up white guys. They have to have the worst 4-12 roster in the NBA. With Bynum suspended and Kobe hurt and the fact they open with a back-to-back-to-back and six games in seven nights, they could start the season 1-5. No way Kobe doesn't go in snarl/pout mode if he returns to a 1-5 team.
OWEN
Yeah, the Pacers are built perfectly for this season. Only West and Jeff Foster are on the wrong side of 30, and they have height, a quality point guard (I always thought Darren Collison would be a good pro; he was incredibly efficient in college, both before and after playing with Kevin Love), and plenty of energy guys for all those back-to-back-to-backs. I agree on George; I think he'll make a bit of a leap this year. And a second unit of George Hill, A.J. Price/Lance Stephenson, Dahntay Jones, Tyler Hansbrough and Foster can wreak some havoc against other teams' benches.

As for the Lakers, I'm pretty sure that every Duke fan laughs out loud each and every time they see it in print that Josh McRoberts is their fourth-best player. I know I do. In addition to all the looming dangers that you talked about, the Lakers have assembled a staggering collection of head cases. Scan this list: Metta World Peace, Andrew Bynum, Derick Caracter, McRoberts (I have it on excellent authority that he is a tremendous prick, although also minus one), and possibly Matt Barnes. Kobe isn't going to murder one of these guys? And his backup is someone listed as "Andrew Goudelock," who may or may not be a real person. I'm with you. They're out.

In fact, not only will I go on the record saying that the Lakers won't make the playoffs, my surprisingly bold prediction is that those surprisingly frisky Timberwolves will. This is going to be a weird season, and the Timberwolves might have the weirdest team out there. Arguably their best threats from long distance are a tweener 3/4 (Derrick Williams, who shot 57% from behind the arc last year at Arizona) and a tweener 4/5 (Love). They have all those combo forwards, one of whom is going to have to be their starting shooting guard because Wayne Ellington isn't very good. Williams was a steal who might not hit the rookie wall because there are at least three other good players who can play the same positions as him. They've upgraded from Kurt Rambis, whose main qualification as a coach was that he's an oxygen-breathing biped, to Rick Adelman, who is generally competent. They might have two of the five best passers in the NBA in Love and Ricky Rubio; Love in particular is adept at starting fast breaks, which will help on those tough slogs through the schedule when their opponents are sucking wind early in the third quarter. So yeah, there you have it. Got a bold prediction that you'd like to make?
PHIL
I was laughing hysterically every time they mentioned Andrew Goudelock's name on TV; it was like the Lakers were grabbing bench players from Hogwarts. In that list of head cases you can add mopey Pau Gasol, change the possibly to a definitely next to Matt Barnes' name and add Kobe himself. I think the T-Wolves have improved enough to lose games competitively, but it is tough to win games in the West and you are going to have to be a really good team to grab that 8th playoff spot. I would love to see it, though. After owning the Lakers in the preseason I don't think Clippers to win the West is much of a bold prediction, nor is Lakers to miss the playoffs. Does Jimmer to win Rookie of the Year count? He can get his shot off and will have a bunch of opportunities to put up points on that Kings team, and nobody ever lost Rookie of the Year for not being able to guard anyone. How about predicting a Dallas over Heat finals rematch? I don't love replacing Chandler with Odom but it does make that team even harder to handle, I also think there is something kharmically beautiful about switching DeShawn Stevenson with Delonte West. It feels like they're just piling on LeBron. Also, it feels like they are going to be in the mix for a China guy or a late-season trade. Could you see Aaron Brooks on this team? Maybe grabbing Deron Williams at the trade deadline?
OWEN
You know, once upon a time I worked for Paul Westphal, but the roster construction of his Kings team puzzles me to no end. They might be the first team in NBA history to play entire games without recording a single assist. Could be exciting. As to the Mavs, I do wonder how Odom will hold up playing 35 minutes a night as a center, because, you know, the other option is Brenda Haywood. And if anyone can get under LeBron's skin more than DeShawn Stevenson and his Abe Lincoln neck tattoo, it's definitely Delonte West. Aaron Brooks makes more sense for them, if only because I'm not sure what assets they could give up for Deron Williams; I mean, they're pretty old. The only way they get Williams is if Cubes roofies Prokhorov like he apparently did to Jimmy Buss. Who will be the worst team in the league this year?
PHIL
Any team that is relying on Corey Maggette as their primary scorer has got to win this award. That Charlotte team might not win 5 games.
OWEN
Are you ready for Maggette? Charlotte is terrible, and New Orleans minus West and Paul might also be terrible. At least they have Eric Gordon who will keep them from being the most atrocious team in the league, but they also have at least one lottery pick (theirs) plus the possibility of another (Minnesota's if they don't make the playoffs) in what should be a fairly deep draft, so maybe they'll want to tank. But Charlotte will be worse, and Michael Jordan will probably ruin a few more careers (since he did so well with your new acquisition Kwame Brown). I hope you can sneak away from the dinner long enough tonight to see Biedrins get YouTubed a dozen times by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Lob City! Speaking of the Warriors, can I get an in-depth preview on their season?
PHIL
We are DVRing the game, so I will get to see every second of it. Can I dial back my Dallas prediction? Yikes, those pieces don't look like they fit together at all. That was humiliating, still they have the rings and Miami has the regular season victory, I think Dallas will take that. My dad suggested this question, who do you think will regress to the mean this year? A guy who had a good season last year, but will stink this year?
OWEN
How about this one for my regression pick? I'm not going to go so far as to say that he'll stink, but I predict that Kobe slips to no better than 3rd team All-NBA this season for the first time since 2004-2005 (his first post-Shaq season). This is the year that he slips from "elite" to "very very good." I think Rose, Wade, Westbrook, and Paul will all finish ahead of him in the voting, particularly if their teams outperform the Lakers (which all of them should). Deron Williams is probably the only other guard who could pass Kobe (barring an even bigger leap than expected from the likes of James Harden's Beard or your very own Curry/Ellis combo, or a Joe Johnson renaissance), so he probably can't do worse than 3rd team. I know it's bold to doubt Kobe, but he is carrying a LOT of miles on him, and I just don't think he's going to be one of the ten best players in the league anymore. In fact, here are my All-NBA teams for this season:

1st: Durant, LeBron, Howard, Rose, Wade
2nd: Carmelo, Griffin, Horford, Westbrook, Paul
3rd: My Illegitimate German Cousin, Aldridge, Amar'e, Kobe, Deron