A month is a long time in the NBA, and we like nothing better than an overreaction, right? Well we are the best part of a month into the season and some things are becoming crystal clear.
Dallas needs to rebuild
The Mavericks have been great for so long, but when their best player remains a gimpy 38 year old and their franchise gets most media via its attention-seeking owner you know you are in strife. Rick Carlisle is still a top 5 NBA coach but when fans are actively checking Deron Williams’ injury status (and its not Utah, 2008) then the team is treading water, at best. Their schedule has been brutal, having played nine teams with winning records including the best four teams in the league but their points differential is the worst in the league (-10.1). Even if they get on a roll they would win 30-35 games and head into 2017-18 with Harrison Barnes as their best player. Mark Cuban may detest the idea of rebuilding, but if he wants his team to remain relevant in the future he doesn’t have a choice... And it’s a shame that Dirk is too classy to request a trade, because logic says he should be out of there quicker than James Harden disappears at the defensive end of the floor.
Offense is king
They say that offense sells tickets, but defence wins games. Well this season that might not be true. Four teams can win the NBA Finals this season, and those four (Warriors, Spurs, Cavaliers, Clippers) sit in the top 5 in offensive efficiency alongside last year’s Eastern Conference runner-up Raptors. Sure, when these teams play each other the team that plays the least-worst defence should win but the offensive firepower across the league is insane. Most assume that the Warriors and Cavs will settle the score in another classic NBA finals series, and that series could contain the most individual offensive talent seen on an NBA floor since the 80’s. Scribes will write about defense being key and talk adjustments, but that’s bullshit – good defence against today’s best player is hoping they throw the ball away or miss a shot, and nothing more.
The Warriors are unlikeable
Draymond Green is a dirty player who would leave a pick-up game in a body bag, or on a stretcher. The amount written that justifies his tough-guy act as just ‘playing hard’ is not surprising, but elite sportsman do not continually kick guys in the nuts by accident. He is a punk, plain and simple. When you find pages of results when you search for ‘Draymond Green kick’ you had better hope this cat is a ninja and not a ball player.
Steph Curry is as good a shooter as the world has seen, and you would need to be Rigor Mortis to not be entertained by the show he puts on... but his ‘nice guy’ persona is easily seen through. Kevin Durant looked his Oklahoma City teammates in the eye after they lost a tough series against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and said ‘we got this next season’, but he displayed as much integrity as a WWE wrestling match when he bolted for the easy option. There has never been a more potent combination of talent on one team, but NBA fans with no allegiance will be cheering on Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in the Western Conference finals… think about that for a minute.
Jimmy Butler is the best shooting guard alive
The Chicago Bulls have a decent history at shooting guard. Charlotte’s general manager might be stumbling through that career much like he did minor-league baseball, but anyone with a pulse knows that he IS basketball. While the Bulls are being coached by a guy who proves anything is possible with friends in high places, the biggest story is not the homecoming of Dwayne Wade or the one-way stat chasing of Rajon Rondo. It is Jimmy Butler, who is the best shooting guard in the NBA and does it without fanfare. Butler ranks ninth in scoring, and fifth in true shooting percentage among players who play more than 30 minutes a game, as well as ranking in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency among that same group. Translation – he plays a heap, and not only gives a shit at both ends of the court but is damn good and never takes a night off.
Kristaps Porzingis is being wasted
This dude is a revolutionary talent, 7’3” with shooting touch and talent to finish at the cup.
7 foot fucking 3 and you can do THIS! Sign me up! This makes fact that he ranks third on his team in usage as staggering. Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose are both ‘bout that life', in that they love the bright lights and attention that comes with playing in the world’s most famous arena. And while both remain worthwhile starters, they are not franchise players in the way Porzingis is, despite their significant ego’s suggesting otherwise. Making the situation worse is that Porzingis is fourth in field goal attempts and sixth in usage in crunch time, being the last five minutes of games where the margin is five or less points – he has become an afterthought despite being a STUD! Given the Knicks kept Kurt Rambis as an assistant coach despite him being arguably the worst NBA head coach in the last 30 years says all you need to know about the franchise; the sooner they wake up and realise what they are wasting in not making Kristaps the alpha-dog, the better.
The Timberwolves are a slow build
Young talent plus elite coach equals success, right? Eventually that should be the case, but as we are seeing in Minnesota the formula takes time to solidify into success. Karl Anthony-Towns has people questioning whether Anthony Davis is in fact the pre-eminent young big, Andrew Wiggins is proving to be an elite, if inconsistent scorer and Zach LaVine is far more than a dunking sideshow (although he can still do that reasonably well).
On this dunk, are we already being blasé about how good a dunker this kid is? This could be one of the best 10 in-game dunks EVER. Ricky Rubio will never be a starting point guard on a contending team, but Kris Dunn is seen to be that guy. Their schedule has not been difficult, and they have already lost four games against sub .500 teams. Tom Thibideau is a fantastic coach, but he has to teach defense to guys who either haven’t played it, don’t know how to play it or both. While this is an offensive league, and pace is in vogue, you still need to play some defence. The baby Wolves rank 13th in points differential and have blown five 4th quarter leads so the growing pains are real and while a low playoff spot is in play, lets temper expectations on them doing anything exceptional this season. From 2017-18 onwards all bets are off though – it is playoffs or bust.
Let’s reserve judgement on the Clippers
Historic plus/minus differential? Check. Two elite level starters? Check. Best team in the league thus far? No way. The Clippers have started in a blaze of glory but have had a nice schedule – they have played just five games against teams’ more than one game over .500 and while they are 4-1 in those games you cannot ignore their history of ignominious playoff performances. Chris Paul has never progressed past the second round – the dude is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer but you cannot ignore his playoff record. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are a great combo up front, but Jordan remains a late-game fade due to his free-throw shooting and offensive ineptness. And while the bench is rated the ‘best the Clippers have had’, that’s like saying Nathan Lyon is Australia’s best ever off-spinner; you need to take into account how low the bar has been set when considering these kinds of statements.
A top 2 seed is very likely but it counts for nothing because this team will know as well as anyone that they are playoff cannon fodder once the big boys come out to play. They may prove us wrong this season, but for now let’s not label them as anything other than a fantastic regular season team.