HBT’s NBA Opening Week Discussion

Brendan Wagner, Colin Henderson, Mike Nelson, NBA, Peter Curtin

Slap some court and run those suicides… the NBA season is finally here. One week in and plenty to discuss including some outlooks on the year, how some teams have fared so far, and its never too early to start discussing who will win an MVP award. So with no further ado, here is HBT Sports’ first NBA discussion with our NBA writers Colin Henderson, Michael Nelson, Peter Curtin, and Brendan Wagner.

Colin:

Hey boys. So the NBA season has finally tipped off. We are one week into it now. Peter, Mike, Brendan… How do you see the 2015-16 season playing out?

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Peter:

First off, I’m so excited the Association is back. The first week has reminded me just how much I missed it so many times.

To your question: I mentioned in my preview that there are 5 teams that could conceivably win the West, which is insanity in a generally predictable sport. It’s an absolute bloodbath out there, but I picked Oklahoma City to win based on the ideas that 1) sooner or later, they have to catch some small amount of injury luck and 2) there’s no one they can’t beat when Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka are playing. I think that a healthy Thunder can take down the winner of the East, too.
Wags, I defer to you as author of our East preview: is there a team in the East that stands a realistic chance of beating LeBron and the Cavs in a 7-game series, or is that team going to cruise as long as LeBron is healthy? It’s no secret that they’re the East’s prohibitive favorite. I guess I’m asking what would have to happen for what team to topple a healthy Cleveland. Paint the picture for us.
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Colin:
I feel like now is the time we bring up Wagner and his Cleveland fandom. Come on Wags… tell me.. is this the year you and the rest of your Cleve friends taste sweet victory? Or is Cleveland, as I believe, truly cursed and will somehow never win a title.
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Brendan:
I’m not putting that black magic on my beloved Cavs, Col.
Boys, I’m going to level with you, I don’t even have the Cavs winning the regular season. That distinction is going to the Bulls. I’m on the Fred Hoiberg train and this b*tch is an Accela. Did you see how much more fun they looked in the season tip-off? Granted there are still kinks to work out, but we haven’t even seen Bobby Portis in the regular season! Barring a Jimmy Butler injury, I see this team taking the East.
The Cavs will take the 2nd/3rd seed depending on how long it takes Irving to acclimate, but it will be Cavs-Bulls Eastern Conference Finals. I can see the Hawks, Raptors, and Celtics making noise in the regular season, but in a 7-game series I see all three coming up short.
As to who will win Bulls-Cavs, I point you to my first sentence.
My question is, who is everybody’s top 5 MVP candidates? This list could arguably be 10 if we wanted it to be…..
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Colin:
Wow. No firm love for your Cavs. Spoken like a true Cleveland fan. Cant get hurt if you dont have your hopes up.
And to your MVP question… Outside of the big names (LeBron, Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Curry, and Anthony Davis) I dont really see many challengers to the MVP throne. Durant and Westbrook could cancel each other out depending on how things run in the Billy Donovan system, but neither can be overlooked. I am having trouble coming up with a name that could beat all 6 of these behemoths this year.
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Peter:
I agree that the Bulls might take the 1-seed, but that has nothing to do with them not being the best team. It has everything to do with them recognizing the regular season as what it is for a team that just made the Finals in a bad Conference: 82 games that you have to get through without killing LeBron. If he only played 65 games this year, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Regarding the MVP I think that there are 5 guys who could win and it’s mostly those guys Colin listed: LeBron, Durant, Harden, Curry, and Anthony Davis. I don’t think there are other guys who have the right combination of skill and “on a good team” that you need to nab that award and I wouldn’t be surprised by any of them except maybe Anthony Davis. Davis could be the best player in the world this year and it would come as little surprise (to me, at least), but I think that to even get consideration, the Pelicans need to at least be very close to 50 wins, which may be over their heads.
Mike you haven’t spoken up yet. Who ya got? And, as an aside, is there an unusual suspect that you think could make the leap this year and surprise people by winning?
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Colin:
Anthony Bennett for the win!
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Mike:
Hey fellas – this is going to be a tough transition for me.  I’m slowly getting over the Mets debacle, so I’ll still be a shell of myself for the foreseeable future.
That being said, aside from the likely candidates, I can see Blake Griffin making a huge jump.  His stats have always been there, but with yet another year under CP3’s belt, Doc is likely to run extra possessions through Griffin.
Another darkhorse that I like is Kawhi Leonard.  He’s battled back ever since Kemba Walker and my beloved UConn Huskies ripped his heart out in the 2011 NCAA tournament.  Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili are going to be put on even bigger minute restrictions this season.  So it will be up to Leonard and Aldridge to carry the load during the regular season.
My last sleeper pick is Boogie Cousins.  His stats have always been there (averaging about 22-12-3) but his team has not.  So if Rondo decides that he wants to play basketball this season, and if Rudy Gay realizes that 18 foot pull-ups are the least efficient shot in basketball, then Boogie has a real shot.
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Peter:
Mike, I’m glad you brought that up, because I actually like the Kings more than just about anyone I’ve talked to or read. I really like the depth they added this offseason by bringing in Bellinelli, Koufos, the corpse of Caron Butler, and Willie Cauley-Stein, who will be useless on offense but add important rim protection on the other side. And for all the flak that Rudy Gay has gotten over his career for being a midrange pull-up chucker, he was a very good professional basketball player for the Kings last season (19.6 PER). As for Boogie, I’m putting eight exclamation points in parentheses after every time I type his name. I love Boogie (!!!!!!!!). If you don’t love Boogie (!!!!!!!!), you are objectively wrong.
It’s not likely and I don’t expect it to happen, but it’s not that hard to create a world in which the Kings make the Playoffs. They’re my favorite dark horse this year. Any teams in either Conference that any of you think we may be underrating right now?
And am I crazy for liking the Kings a little bit? I can’t help feeling that I may be crazy for liking the Kings a little bit.
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Colin:
The Kings have the ability to make a little noise out West, but let’s remember… its the West. There are about 9-10 teams arguably better then them. Boogie (!!!!!!!!) is a great player who is going to put up major numbers, but I don’t think Sacramento can hang for 82 games and end up in the Top 8, although a lot of this could be me not thinking that Rondo can stay healthy (or in good graces with any head coach) for a full season.

Who I do think could surprise some people this year is Phoenix. On the outside looking in the last two years, that roster has a lot of talent on it and the always reliable Tyson Chandler is a nice rock down low for them. If they can figure out a way to put it all together, they could sneak into the bottom of the Western Conference Playoffs. Even without a Morris twin.

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Mike:
I’ve always been a fan of Phoenix, but maybe this is my 2k brain speaking here.  I can see them competing with a couple teams for those last two spots in the West purely due to their guard play.  If Brandon Knight doesn’t die trying to stop another DeAndre Jordan alley-oop, they’re due for a solid year.
Since it’s still early in the season and the Lakers are mathematically alive for the playoffs, I figured this was a good time to talk about them.  I’m slightly worried about D’Angelo Russell.  Not to make this into a pop-culture debate, but I’ve been hearing rumors that he’s dating one of the Kardashians.  Which means that he’s in line for the dreaded Kardashian Kurse.
Reggie Bush – NFL bust
Kris Humphries – NBA laughingstock
Miles Austin – injuries/decreased productivity
Scott Disick – rehab
Bruce Jenner – sex change
Lamar Odom – coma
The only question is will Russell’s kurse be NBA purgatory during Kobe’s victory lap, or worse?
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Colin:
And to think… he had such a promising career…
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Peter:
Dating a Kardashian/Jenner shouldn’t be an actual concern, but Yeezus was a good enough reason for me to think that this may actually be a thing.
But much more disconcerting than that is what happens to young players who lose all the time early in their careers. I think that you may develop bad habits when your first two seasons are a complete wash. How do the Lakers get better? We see teams, particularly Western Conference teams, pick in the top 10 for decades at a time because they can’t consistently hit on their draft picks. And the Lakers … Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle, and Roy Hibbert with Nick Young and Metta World Peace as the only two players of note coming off the bench. So this team is nothing but completely unpolished talent, completely one-dimensional players, and players completely past their peak. What could go wrong?
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Colin:
What I’m more interested in the Lakers is how is Byron Scott going to use Kobe this year. Is Kobe going to be a role player who fits into the team offense Scott usually runs, or are we going to get the Kobe of a few years ago where he chucks up 25+ shots a game and forgets he is pushing 40 by trying to do everything himself.
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Mike:
It’s pretty generous of you to say that Byron Scott has an offense.  This is the same guy last year who publicly proclaimed that he didn’t want his team to shoot a lot of 3 pointers. Despite there being concrete evidence behind the efficiency and success of 3 point shooting teams in recent years.
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Colin:
Hey I didn’t say it was a good offense… just said its not a ‘Let one guy (Kobe) do whatever he wants and we will build around him’ offense like many other coaches are prone to do. I may not be fine tuned to the inner workings of the X’s and O’s of a basketball team, but I do know that relying on a 40 year old who has barely played in two years due to injury as your offensive strategy is not going to work.
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Peter:
Correct. It’s not going to work. But, that’s exactly what they’re going to do. Byron Scott is a bottom-5 Coach in my opinion. The Lakers know that they aren’t going anywhere this season, so why not just let Kobe chase Kareem’s scoring record? I also should point out that I was remiss in my last e-mail by forgetting to mention new addition Lou Williams coming off the bench — another useful yet one-dimensional offensive talent. I know they’re the League’s marquee franchise and all that, but they’re really not worth talking about. They’re not going to be fun to watch, unless Kobe chucking up everything within 40-foot is your idea of a good watch.
Their Staples Center roommates, on the other hand, are definitely worth talking about. The Clippers starting five was great last year but their lack of depth showed again when they got worn down by Houston in the second round after their epic first-round series with San Antonio. They added depth to their bench with Paul Pierce and Josh Smith. That’s a team that can run out 10 or 11 guys who actually belong in the NBA now. So I guess my question is, why not the Clips? Would any of you be the least bit surprised if they win the whole thing?
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Mike:

I think the Clips will end up being the 2 or 3 seed, but Western Conference finals at best.  It’s always tough when a team’s 3rd best player can’t play crunch time minutes because he can’t shoot free throws to save his life.  Which is mind blowing to me, I don’t care that it’s harder to shoot with massive hands.  If your full-time job is to play basketball, then maybe learn a crucial aspect of the game.  That’d be like us saying that we can’t work in Excel, just wouldn’t happen.

Even without DeAndre playing crunch time, they’re a formidable veteran team.  I just think that once the playoffs come around, defenses can lock down teams that have ball dominant point guards.
Speaking of ball dominant guards, what do we think about OKC?  They’re looking to stay healthy in the playoffs for the first time since the James Harden era.  If they can do that without wearing out Westbrook or KD during the regular season, I think that they should be the favorites right up there with Golden State.
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Peter:
They’ve never lost a post-James Harden Playoff Series when Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka have played. But if even one of those guys goes down, I don’t think they can do it. I think you can apply that caveat to a lot of teams about their best players, but health isn’t blind luck. It is a skill to a point, and it’s one that OKC does not seem to have. Without Westbrook, they’re starting DJ Augustin and Dion Waiters. Without Durant, they’re probably starting Kyle Singler. Without Ibaka, they have to count on some combination of Steven Adams, Enes Kanter (the worst defensive big in the NBA bar none), and Nick Collison to protect the rim against the beasts of the West. Their roster is built to compliment those three guys. And that’s a fine way to build a team that’s up to its eyeballs in superduperstars … but only as long as those guys are available. I picked them to win the West, but there are a scary number of variables there.
I’m a Wizards fan, so it’s in my interest to root against OKC this year, but I’m also kind of weirdly in the bag for OKC. Not because I’d like to see them win a Championship, but because I would like to see what they can do in the Postseason when those three guys are healthy. That is something that I want. It’s on my NBA season wish list.
Any wish list items for this season from any of you guys? Is there anything from any team or player that you really want (or don’t want) to see?
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Colin:

U mean besides the Knicks hopefully not being as much of a dumpster fire this year?

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Mike:

I’m a Bulls fan so this is a contradictory statement, but it pains me watching Derrick Rose.  It’s never fun when you assume that he’s going to get hurt every time he leaves the ground.  Especially knowing how recklessly he used to play.

I’m exciting to see Kyrie Irving once his knee heals up.  His craftiness and jump shoot cater to my playing style, as I’m not soaring for dunks like Westbrook, Wall, Lilliard, etc.  Huge letdown with him going down in the playoffs last year.  I think with him, it’s a completely different series vs. Golden State, the Cavs may have won in 6.
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Peter:
I disagree. The Warriors were a juggernaut last season. And after week 1, it looks like they’ve picked up right where they left off.
It feels like we’ve sort of glossed over the East. That’s fair. It is comically worse top-to-bottom than the West and the Cavs getting to the Finals is basically a foregone conclusion. But I do think there are more teams in the East this year who sort of fall into that “good, but obviously not good enough” category. I’m thinking that those teams are (in no particular order) Washington, Toronto, Atlanta, and Miami. Do any of them stand a chance of making a run, or is this whole conference just a two-horse race (Cleveland, Chicago) with a clear favorite (Cleveland)?
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Colin:
I mean there is clearly a two team race in the East with Chicago and Cleveland. No real way around that. And yes, those teams you mentioned have a fighting chance of making some noise in a seven game series (I’ll also throw Indiana and Charlotte in there as well). The Knicks, Nets, and Orlando are all teams that could fight for a playoff spot if everything goes right for them, but who knows. What I do know is that a team will make the playoffs in the East that has no right being a playoff team.
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Peter:
Oh wow, you like Brooklyn a lot more than I do. I expect them to be one of the worst teams in the League. I think Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, Toronto, and Atlanta all have to be considered locks for Playoff spots. I think that those last three spots are going to be fought over by Miami, Indiana, Boston, Charlotte, and Milwaukee. Maaaaaaaybe Detroit can sneak in if Andre Drummond keeps doing things like grabbing twenty-nine rebounds.
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Colin:
Yea… I dont see that happening on a regular basis. Nor am I putting too much faith in Detroit. I was high on them last year and they burned me. And as the poets from The Who once wrote, I wont get fooled again (cut to CSI montage). But I agree with you on everything else. Going to be a mad dash for the 2-3 playoff spots open in the East that a lot of teams could get if everything goes right for them. Then they can have to honor of getting whipped by Cleveland or Chicago in the first round.
Well with that we will end our opening week/season preview discussion. Thanks guys and I’m looking forward to your upcoming articles in all things surrounding the NBA. Check back in around Christmas as we will have another discussion near the quarter mark of the season.

Author

Colin Henderson

Colin is a Fordham University grad, Founder of How ‘Bout Them Sports, and notable Fantasy nerd. If he isn’t annoying friends and family by talking sports for 5 hours straight, he can normally be found on the couch watching old movies, humming one of the 10 songs stuck in his head, or bragging about his most recent FIFA victory on his PS4. A New York City kid through and through, he can be heard on ESPN New Hampshire every Saturday from 2-4 along with fellow HBT Sports writer Ricky Cibrano. Follow him on Twitter @ColDontLie and be sure to tell all your friends about HBT Sports (I’m sure he would appreciate it).

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