Today, we’ll start a new series called The Shop, where Jabari Davis and Lang Greene debate a few topics in a somewhat less formal style than what you may be accustomed to from us. Consider it an ongoing ‘virtual barbershop’ conversation, if you will. Both writers cover the entire league, but Davis is based out of the Los Angeles area while Greene is in Atlanta.
Davis: Alright, Lang, let’s kick things off with death, taxes and the freaking San Antonio Spurs since Gregg Popovich’s soldiers absolutely ran the Golden State Warriors ragged in their home opener, no less. We won’t overreact to one game, but two things were very evident: the Warriors’ adjustment period will be tougher than some of us may have anticipated and the Spurs truly don’t give a d*** about our narratives or preconceived notions about the season ahead.
From Golden State’s side of things, obviously the addition of a player the caliber of Kevin Durant didn’t cause such an extreme drop-off as we saw in the opener. The total impact of all the roster changes, however, definitely seemed to make a difference with the overall connectivity this group had enjoyed these past few years. Guys like Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and even Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights may not have gotten a ton of the credit along the way, but each seemed to play a vital role in contributing to the chemistry and perhaps even the culture that led to their success. Lang, how long before they get that second unit together and how long before Golden State’s staff gets that interior defense in order?
Greene: Listen, man: It is going to be fun this season to observe how the class bully (Golden State) acts after returning school after finally getting a beatdown by an underdog (Cleveland, Finals). Quick question … remember when Mike Tyson was considered “The Baddest Man on the Planet” before James “Buster” Douglass starched him in Tokyo? After that, Tyson still showed up to arenas with a can … but do you remember how his opponents stepped to him after he was KO’d? He was still a bad man, but the fear factor was gone. I liken it to when Rocky cut Ivan Drago (Rocky IV) and his corner yelled out “He’s just a man!”
Anyway, back to basketball. Make no mistake, Golden State is still going to run roughshod on the league, but teams are going to step to them differently because the mystique was dimmed by their Finals collapse.
How many championships would guys like Shaq and Kobe have without dudes like Ron Harper and Rick Fox? How many would MJ and Pippen have without guys like Steve Kerr, Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong? Role players are key. Not even just on the court, but off the floor as well. Guys like Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Leandro Barbosa, Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush and Festus Ezeli were BIG parts of the team’s chemistry. I’ve said it before … this isn’t NBA 2K; chemistry and trust matter in real life.
Davis: Without a doubt. We like throwing those cliches out at times like “championships are actually won during the summer.” That sounds nice and they are certainly ‘prepared’ for during the summer months, but there’s a difference between being a paper champ and actually doing it on the court. I think Golden State eventually puts it together, but the transition is never going to be easy when you have that much roster turnover.
And from San Antonio’s angle: If Kawhi Leonard takes another step offensively (as it certainly appears he has), then we need to have a serious conversation about whether he is the league’s best player not named LeBron James. His overall impact is just absurd. Also, where in the world did Jonathon Simmons come from and does Popovich basically have a huge cauldron of basketball greatness that he just churns these players out of?
Greene: Kawhi Leonard is just ridiculous. I know a lot of people feel he is a system offensive player and not a true go-to scorer or offensive dynamo. But the man was rumbling on opening night in Golden State. My goodness, he was eating whenever he wanted and took all of the Warriors’ lunch money. I can’t take the leap and say he is the best player in the league … but he IS the best two-way player right now.
In regards to Simmons, systems matter. How many times have we witnessed young player A struggle in one situation and then blossom in the next? In San Antonio, there is a system in place and guys have a clearly defined role. The problem with a lot of young guys is getting into situations that are chaotic. Just look at the difference between Hassan Whiteside in Sacramento and him in Miami. Now I know Hassan matured a great deal, but are you telling me NO ONE in Sacramento saw that raw talent? But yes, Popovich, Pat Riley and even Mike Budenholzer seem to get these young guys ready, pronto. Simmons could be next up.
Davis: It’s WAY early to even have this thought, but it does make me wonder about Danny Green’s future role and standing with the team if Simmons is able to continue to flourish in that system. I’d imagine a team in the playoff race near the deadline might consider giving up a decent pick or asset to have a guy like Green in their rotation.
Greene: Oh for sure, there would be teams lining up quick to bring in Danny – a guy who plays his role without complaining or creating drama … which is exactly the reason why Popovich and R.C. Buford won’t trade him. San Antonio does a great job monitoring playing time so I’m sure once Danny gets back, they’ll handle this seamlessly – as usual. Death, taxes and the Spurs, bro.
Davis: Moving on, I’m really intrigued by all of the youth movements currently taking place around the league. After several years of focusing on tanking for top picks (whether they admitted it or not), it’s great to see the fruits of such labors actually coming to fruition in the form of Joel AKA “The Process” Embiid in Philly, D’Angelo Russell and a whole slew of young, talented guys in Los Angeles, Devin Booker and his trio of young (lottery pick) big men as well as a nice, promising group in Denver. Minnesota, Boston and Utah are sometimes lumped in with these groups, but I feel like those squads are ahead of the curve when it comes to this discussion, so let’s focus on those first three. If Embiid stays healthy, that young man is going to be a problem. To be honest, while watching that opener against OKC, I actually had a moment where I said, “Oh yeah, they do still have Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel.” Some of the grief many of us gave this squad is legitimate and I refuse to allow revisionist history to completely erase the reality, but if Embiid truly develops into the monster we always heard he could be, none of that will matter. Essentially, you really only need one of those guys to end up being incredible as long as the others are at least serviceable.
Same deal with the Lakers, as even though some of his antics rub folks the wrong way, it definitely appears that D’Angelo Russell is going to be special. Thing is, while Lakers fans were in agony over these past few seasons as the rest of the league (and Twitter) enjoyed, the front office went to work and appears to have stockpiled a nice crew to officially (finally) start their rebuild. I’ve been on record about it several times, but I also really like what Phoenix is putting together and I think Denver might be nice if they can continue to develop under Mike Malone. I know everything is about the Warriors, Cavs and Spurs (and the quasi-contending pack behind them), but geek out with me for a moment about the “next generation” teams that might be ready to go by the time we reach the 2017-18 season.
Greene: The NBA is in great shape, man. The money is flowing and the young talent is deep, marketable and on the rise, which means the revenue will continue pouring in. Before I dive into the three squads you asked about, don’t you feel a little bad for Anthony Davis in New Orleans? While all of these young prospects are surrounded by talented guys alongside them, the Brow is all alone in New Orleans from a youth core standpoint. Such is life.
Honestly, I had the same thought watching Joel Embiid on opening night. Did you feel the electricity through the TV every time he touched the rock? Then, I looked over and saw Jahlil Okafor and it seems like there is no comparison in the upside department. I mean, Okafor is no slouch but it’s starting to look silly there was a debate on whether he or Karl-Anthony Towns should have been selected first overall last year. Now, after just one game, I am latching on the Embiid train and believe Okafor is a supporting cast member. Crazy.
We talked over the summer, about the D’Angelo Russell and Devin Booker comparison. I think Russell has a chance to be a goodie monster. We already see Devin out in Phoenix putting veterans on the bench (sorry B. Knight). But Russell has more of a BOOM-or-BUST dynamic to him. He could become an All-NBA performer or he could become an All-Hollywood media scapegoat if he doesn’t mature quickly enough. Right now, I am on the All-NBA train.
I like what the Lakers built, stockpiling young talent and then spending money on vets this past summer. Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov aren’t sexy additions, but they have won at a high level in the league and the Lakers need that. Phoenix and Denver have loads of young talent and are about three seasons away from making serious noise. Right now, Minnesota’s young core is deserving of the hype. I won’t join their playoff express train this season, but it should arrive at the station next season.
Davis: Oh, I’m right there with you on Davis. In fact, I will no longer get irritated by the #FreeTheBrow when it scrolls across my Twitter timeline (Shameless plug alert: @JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene). He’s one of the league’s best players when healthy and you just hope they can continue to put pieces around him. It’s still early, but you just don’t want to end up seeing him frustrated and wanting to leave if the struggle continues beyond this season.
When it comes to the vets the Lakers added, part of that reaction was on the organization for not appropriately managing expectations (they’ve literally thrown gasoline on the fire at times), but part of that is because you know folks love to clown when you’ve been on top for a long time and then stumble. The reality is, if you’re truly embracing a youth movement, then you want to have guys like Mozgov and Deng because they can contribute in several ways and don’t threaten the further development of the young players. I’ll say it flat-out, the tone in the locker room is about as loose and comfortable as it has ever been over the five years I’ve had the fortune of covering the team and league. That isn’t a knock on the old regime or anyone no longer in the room (as needlessly harping on that seems pointless to me); that’s just a fact.
We can fully anticipate a ton of ups and downs over the next few years as each of these teams continue their ascent in the standings, but it sure is nice to see several young teams with so much promise and so many things to look forward to for those fan bases.
We’ll end this week’s introductory discussion at this point, but we can assure you the conversation will be ongoing throughout the season. It will expand and include topics from around the league and maybe even include a surprise appearance or two here and there. Whether you cover the NBA for a living or simply live to watch NBA basketball, we are ALL fans of this game; and these discussions will specifically permit you to enjoy or simply laugh at us for “fan-boying” just like everyone else.
If you have specific topics you’d like us to discuss or have general feedback on the previous conversation, remember to use #TheShop and tag us on Twitter and we’ll work as many of your recommendations in throughout the season.
NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors
Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.
As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.
Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.
The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.
Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.
Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.
Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.
When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.
“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”
Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.
Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.
In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.
“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”
It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”
“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.
Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors
Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions
Opening week is finally upon us.
Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.
The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.
In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.
Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.
But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.
The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.
What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.
That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.
Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.
Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.
Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.
It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.
As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.
Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.
Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.
Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.
The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.
Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.
The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.
See you at tip-off.
NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season
NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.
The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.
In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.
Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.
New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:
- Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
- A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
- A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
- Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
- Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
- NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.
Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:
- Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
- Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
- NBA Team Pass: $119.99
- Single Game Pass: $6.99
- Virtual Reality package: $49.99
- Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
- Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
- NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99
As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).
This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.
Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.