Alright folks, thanks for joining us back in The ‘Shop for another discussion. Allow us to welcome in James Holas, a writer, podcaster and analyst for BBALLBreakdown, Blazers Edge and PressBasketball.com.
Jabari: Thanks for joining us today, James. Having finally gotten the chance to see and appreciate what Kristaps Porzingis looks like in person, I think it’s necessary to start things off with him. I’ve kept tabs on his progress and watched a quarter or half here and there, but last Sunday night was really something else. Not to be a prisoner of the moment, because I would like to see D’Angelo Russell at full strength when they square off at MSG on February 6, but Porzingis was the best player on the court (26 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks) at Staples Center for at least that night.
The Knicks are rolling right now (11-5 in their last 15), Porzingis is continuing to develop and impress, Derrick Rose is back in the mix and looking as good as he’s looked in years, Carmelo Anthony is at least buying into positive run they’re on… so why is Uncle Phil ruffling feathers and seemingly poking the bear with his readdressing of previous comments at LeBron, while seemingly taking jabs at Carmelo and his offense?
James: Man, I’m just glad I got invited to the big boy’s table today! First of all, let’s pump the brakes on New York “rolling.” Looking inside the numbers gives us a different perspective. Wins are wins and 11-5 looks dandy, but over the last 15 games, the Knickerbockers sit at a decent ninth in offensive rating, but a gross 24th in defensive rating, per NBA.com. Their -1.6 net rating over that span would be 18th in the league for the season. Good wins over the likes of Detroit and Charlotte are diminished by losses to the woeful Wiz and lowly Suns. They haven’t exactly faced a Murderer’s Row: beating up on the Timberwolves (27th in defensive rating the last 15 games) and this iteration of the Hawks (26th in offensive rating over this same 15-game span) ain’t “rolling.”
Now, on to Phil Jackson. The Zen Master is adding another layer of drama to the always tumultuous Knicks saga. The franchise is like a VH1 celebrity; even when things are going well, they somehow have to get themselves in the headlines for some nonsense. Phil Jackson has a long history of stirring the pot. It’s mind boggling- the guy JUST SAID how wrong he was for speaking on other teams’ players, but he can’t help himself.
Phil is known as a Machiavellian manipulator, a strategist who’ll needle even his own guys to gain an advantage. But in the case of LeBron, the Cavs are miles ahead of the Knicks; there’s no advantage to poking at the King unless he thinks getting his squad drubbed by 32 at the Garden could be some sadistic motivation for NY. The only answer I have for why Phil is stirring the pot is “Because he’s Phil.”
Lang: My man J-Holla is in the building. We’ve both been at this for a minute now, but this is the first I believe we’re linking on a project – directly. Welcome and respect to you my brother.
Let’s get to it. Kristaps Porzingis, in my opinion, has a higher career trajectory than D’Angelo Russell at this point; a seven-foot guy pulling off crossover pull-up jumpers from outside the three-point line? Check. Three-point range. Check. Handles? Check. Ability to grab 15+ boards on any given night? Check. He is plain ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I think Russell has high growth potential, as I’ve said countless times, but despite being more gifted than Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams or Nick Young he hasn’t done much to truly separate himself from them this season. This would be equivalent to Porzingis splitting time with Lance Thomas in New York. We’ll see if D’Angelo can change my mind when the Lakers invade MSG.
James nailed Phil Jackson. I just can’t get behind Phil’s statements on LeBron’s crew. The comments had too many undertones from an ugly era in our nation’s history for my taste. But let me add this about his needling of Carmelo Anthony. I absolutely love it. The Knicks haven’t beaten many elite teams and his meddling is just a way to ensure guys are staying humble. Phil is needling Carmelo because he wants his franchise player to change his game for two reasons:
1. To start compensating for the effects of Father Time because, make no mistake, Carmelo has lost a bit of zip off his fastball.
2. He understands the Knicks’ future truly rests on the shoulders of Porzingis. Period. By the time the Knicks are title contenders, if it happens, Carmelo will be the face of the franchise, but Porzingis will be the actual workhorse.
Yes, Phil is setting up the Knicks to be destroyed by the Cavs in a potential playoff series. But I also think he’s trying to light a fire under Carmelo, who has typically bought his “can” when going head to head versus Bron-Bron.
Jabari: I can’t even lie, while I have absolutely NO dog in the fight, part of me is pulling for the Knicks to somehow stay healthy enough to make a deep run so that we can get some type of showdown in order to make things a bit more interesting come April and May. Speaking of fun matchups, how good did that come-from-behind win by Minnesota on the road in Chicago feel to Tom Thibodeau? Not just because it must be nice to get a win your first time back into a building as a coach after being fired 16 months earlier, but also because his team really needed to start finding a way to win ball games in general.
Was this all about winning one in a big moment for your coach, or do you guys think a game like that can be the springboard this young group has needed in order to get going?
James: If this was a CBS special I’d say it was both, and the Wolves would rip off a crazy win streak and all would be well in Minnesota. But I’m gonna be the Darryl Downer by pointing out how the Timber Pups threw up on their shoes the very next game by letting the Rockets erase a 12-point lead in a little over two minutes to hang an L on them.
Reality is, the Bulls aren’t very good. Since the nice 8-4 start, Chicago is 5-9 in its last 14. If you’re a believer in net rating (the difference between a team’s offensive rating and defensive rating) being a bellwether of team performance, well, Chi-Town’s -3.6 net rating is good (bad?) for 20th in the league in that 14-game span.
And there’s no magic formula that will lower Thibs’ blood pressure over these Wolves; young teams take time. Not days or months, but teams need years to gel and learn. I was swimming against the grain all summer about Minnesota; I respect Thibs as a coach, but he stepped into a fully formed playoff team in his start with Chicago, this Wolves team still is learning to totter around and you can’t expect them to run with the big dogs yet.
So yeah, I’m sure nabbing a win over Chicago might have earned a smirk from Coach Thibs and some strutting in the Wolves locker room, but now it’s back to the grind for Minnesota
Lang: After years of talking to guys around the league, one narrative holds true and that’s how much trust is gained when guys overcome adversity together. Everyone can high five, wave towels and make dance moves together when you’re winning by 20 points a night, but it’s when you have to dig deep, go into that dark place and overcome adversity when you look at the guys next to you in the foxhole and start believing in them. I’m not sure the Chicago game does it alone, but it is games like those where guys typically gain that belief, that trust and that needed cohesion to get to the next level.
Jabari: Fair enough, and I tend to agree with each of your points on the Wolves, although I will openly acknowledge that my prediction of them winning more games than OKC is looking dumber and dumber with each passing week, so, perhaps, I was doing a bit of wishful thinking!
Alright, just a couple more topics before we get out of here for the day. Let me get your “They LIED to us” leaders in the paint at this point. So far, I have the Pacers (is the George Hill for Jeff Teague swap the actual culprit?), Blazers (with the Western Conference being a bit down so far to start the year, their slippage is even more suspect), Wizards (are they turning it around or setting their fans up for further heartbreak?) and Minnesota (we’ve covered this). Which teams do you guys have and in what order?
Lang: You know who lied to me, man? The Miami HEAT. They’re not on your list, but I have to include them here. When you turn your nose up at TWO future Hall of Famers, you better believe in what you’re doing. I get Chris Bosh’s health situation, but letting Dwyane Wade walk in free agency over a couple lousy million dollars is haunting the team. I love Pat Riley and the “mafia” he’s built down on South Beach over the years. He consistently gets mentally tough and high-character guys – dudes willing to leave it all on the court, dudes who put it all on the line. But Riley haggled D-Wade over a few million then turned around and matched the Brooklyn Nets’ $50 million offer sheet on Tyler Johnson.
Factor in Wade’s departure with Bosh’s absence due to his health and it elevated Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside into leading role positions neither were equipped to handle – as of now. Whiteside has the potential to be a franchise-leading man, but he’s still pretty green … playing behind Bosh and Wade provides air cover during tough times.
Remember, this team was one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals last season. One. Game. Away. Now they’re headed to the lottery with a first class ticket.
James: Can we get the Orlando in there too? Toss big bills at Bismack Biyombo, bring in Serge Ibaka, still scraping the bottom of the barrel.
But from this list, I think the Pacers are at the top, at least for me. I have a lot of faith in Paul George’s talents, and while I knew that essentially swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague was a downgrade, I underestimated how much Hill’s defensive chops masked Monta Ellis’ ineptitude.
After that, it’s Portland; this is my “I told y’all” moment. The Blazers are a victim of their own moderate success last season, and their front office made the egregious mistake of actually wanting Evan Turner.
Ah, the Wizards. I figured John Wall’s pride, the signing of “boards & blocks” Ian Mahinmi and the more modern thinking of head coach Scott Brooks would elevate Washington back into the Eastern Conference’s upper-middle class. They’ve been a little better of late, but everything I listed doesn’t matter if your guys can barely stand to be on the court together, and your bench stinks.
And lastly, the Wolves are another of my “told ya” teams. I spent the summer shaking my head at “Minny should win 50” talk.
And let’s throw the Bulls, Lakers and Knicks in the mix for their fraudulent first couple of weeks; they had their fan bases all amped up like they were, y’know, GOOD.
Jabari: Ha! Only thing about the Lakers is while they had the unrealistic folks thinking they would automatically jump into being “back” after, like, 20 games, an overwhelming majority of the folks I interact with on Twitter understood it wasn’t going to be as simple as the old “easy button” when it comes to learning how to win. You simply don’t go from zero to 100, no matter what the song says.
Last one and it involves the dunk contest. Accepting the fact that it wouldn’t happen because of liability and injury concerns, but I’ve argued for a minute that adding a dude beneath the rim to contest the dunk for one attempt per round would take it up another level. You’d get all the stylistic dunks and all that, but then you’d also have the opportunity for some ridiculous poster shots similar to the ones recently given to each of the Lopez brothers by Jabari Parker and Larry Nance Jr.
I want a field of Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine, Larry Nance Jr. and Terrence Ross. Big men contesting options are Rudy Gobert (because I equally enjoy him swatting cats and getting dunked on) and Hassan Whiteside (because I think he’d legit take it seriously). Tell me why it’s a crazy idea.
Lang: Jabari, you’ve been on that West Coast moonshine I see. Ha. I like the originality of the concept, but in this social media era, there’s no way these guys are going to risk their respective reputations by getting dunked on during All-Star weekend. Could you imagine the memes? Could you imagine the Vines? Could you imagine the Twitter mentions? Could you imagine the Facebook shares? The posters, the YouTube highlight packages? I could go on and on. Why risk it? Why risk getting 720’d by Zach LaVine? The fans wouldn’t want Whiteside to be successful and actually get a clean block. I can’t see it.
But what I can see …
I’ve been saying this for some time now. I would love to see old school versus new school. Take the rookies and have them go against some of the recently retired guys. I’m talking about some of the players who can still move, but can no longer put together an 82-game season. Or, splice some of the old school guys with the rookies/sophomores. Could you imagine Allen Iverson running the break with Karl-Anthony Towns? But old school versus new school is probably the better option. Some old school who may still be able to get a few buckets: Derek Fisher, Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis, Danny Granger, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Jason Richardson immediately come to mind.
James: I legitimately laughed out loud at this dunk idea; me and my boys always bring up how dope it would be if they added a defender to the dunk contest.
But Jabari, why is it a bad idea? YOU’RE TRYNA GET SOMEONE KILLED. It’s one thing to get caught slippin’ in-game: 10 men on the court, the crowd “OOOOHs,” but the game keeps rolling.
In a dunk contest? No seven-foot NBA player worth his contract is gonna stand there, one-on-one, with the world watching and Shaq, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley waiting to clown, and let Zach LaVine embarrass them! You might see the first Belly-to-Belly Suplex during an All Star event, the big men would go to any means necessary to shut a dunk down.
Jabari: Lang, you need to come out here more often, because it AIN’T the ‘shine that we’re known for out here! Like I said, I know it won’t happen…but I’d certainly be ALL about it if they did. Just like I want them to bring back the ‘old timer’s game’ they’ve had variations of. But that’s another conversation for another week. We definitely appreciate James (@jholashoops) for joining us this week. I can assure you this won’t be his last time joining the discussion.
As always, you can tweet your thoughts to Jabari (@JabariDavisNBA) and Lang (@LangGreene).
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.