Welcome back to The ‘Shop for another week of hoops talk. Our Jabari Davis and Lang Greene will continue last week’s point guard discussion with a few new players, take a look at how some of the youth movements from around the league are going and examine hometown fans actively recruiting opposing players.
Jabari: Good to be back in the mix with you, Lang. I wanted to continue with one of last week’s topics because I’ve really noticed a shift surrounding the top point guard debate. I won’t ask you to necessarily to rank a top-10, but has James Harden ascended to the best at the position?
Lang: Happy New Year, JD! Good to be back in the ‘Shop my man. Personally, I still consider James Harden a shooting guard but what he’s doing is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. I can’t think of another player that takes the volume of shots he does and still functions as a high-level playmaker. Stop and think about that for a minute. Someone asked me on Twitter a few days ago who my early season MVP candidate is and right now I am rolling the Beard. I know what Russell Westbrook is doing in Oklahoma City is insane, but Beard has the Rockets with the FOURTH-best record in the league.
Jabari: What’s crazy about it is this is absolutely NO disrespect to the Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving (or any other top player at the position) – it’s really just a testament to how incredible Harden and Westbrook have been this year. Folks may not be in love with his style, but at a certain point, 28.4 PPG, 11.9 APG, 8.2 RPG while shooting 45/36/85 from the floor/3pt/line simply has to be acknowledged for as great as it truly is. Shout out to my guy Kofie Yaboah (SBNation) for pushing the “Harden is the best point guard” narrative from the start.
Speaking of great point guard play, let’s take a moment to circle back to John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Like Harden, Wall was the Kia Player of the Month for December. Beyond putting up impressive numbers, his Wizards seem to have finally gotten things going in the right direction, having just completed their first 10-win (10-5) month since December 2014. Not only did Wall drop 52 (career high) in Orlando, but he shot 49.1 percent from the field and 81.4 percent from the free throw line over that stretch.
His Wizards are also now tied with the Bulls in the loss column for what would be the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, so I have to ask if your thoughts on what they should be looking to do moving forward have changed? Not to be the downer of the week, but shouldn’t they should STILL be looking to upgrade or make significant changes to that roster? Part of me feels like we’ve seen how this story ends, but could I be wrong about it THIS season. Might these Wizards be able to maintain this pace (6-4 over the last 10) and make another serious push for the playoffs come April and May?
Lang: My view on teams close to the playoffs might differ from a lot of folks. My view is if you’re close to the playoffs, then push the gas and try to secure a seed. I think making the playoffs, even as an eight seed, is better than eating popcorn on the couch watching the festivities as a fan. I use the Atlanta Hawks as an example. Do you know how many times over the years I’ve answered the question on whether the Hawks should just blow things up? Remember, this team was at one point led by Joe Johnson, then Josh Smith and then Al Horford. Joe is battling Father Time, Josh is out of the league and Al is no longer in Atlanta. The team has adjusted on the fly and have kept up the winning, and could be staring at 10 consecutive trips to the playoffs.
Back to your Wizards question. I think they should go full speed ahead, but I do have my doubts on the Bradley Beal and John Wall combination winning at a high level together. At first, I thought they complemented each other well … Beal’s shooting to Wall’s prowess at slashing, but if I’m Washington I would entertain trades for everyone on that roster not named John Wall (and maybe Marcin Gortat).
Jabari: I can definitely appreciate where you are coming from and would like to see them eventually find a way to be competitive (together) again. Otto Porter Jr’s breakout year has been great to see, and while I’ve doubted Coach Brooks’ ability to make in-game and in-series adjustments in the past, his track record in helping with the development of young players is impressive.
We’ll keep an eye on their progress of course, but let’s shift gears and take a look at some of the progress of the youth movements from around the league. I’ll throw a few quick-hitters at you.
I absolutely love the fact that Joel Embiid has finally been able to get on the court and show all that he can do. All the social media stuff has been fun these last couple years, but it’s great to see Embiid go to work. He’s still every bit as entertaining on Twitter, but the man is also putting up 19.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 46/38.9/77 from the floor/3pt/line in 25 minutes per contest. Is he your leader in the Rookie of the Year race at this point?
Lang: There’s no other rookie worth mentioning at this point. The guy is averaging almost 20 and 8 on sheer athleticism and energy alone. Just imagine when he really knows how to play the game- when he’s really learned how to use his size, to gain that extra leverage and to work the refs. The kid is an absolute beast and I am very happy for the Philadelphia fan base who had to endure enough over the past few seasons. Now it’s time for the Sixers front office to surround their big men with some talented perimeter players. That is the area that Philadelphia is severely lacking. No offense to Gerald Henderson and Jerryd Bayless, but those guys aren’t going to get the Sixers over the hump. They need some young gunners out there handling the rock.
Jabari: Keeping it rolling…The Lakers appear as though they are figuring it out after a rough stretch (1-11 after a 10-10 start) that followed a rash of injuries. Julius Randle continues to impress (second triple-double of the year vs the Grizzlies), Brandon Ingram is developing and Nick Young is back to doing this:
The question mark for me remains whether either one of the young players can ascend to being an All-Star player at some point?
Lang: I’m impressed by the Lakers’ young core. The kids are maturing before our eyes, even if the wins aren’t there. If I had to bet my bottom dollar, at this moment, I’m going with D’Angelo Russell becoming the All-Star out of the trio. It’s tough to get a read on Brandon Ingram at times because offensively there are possessions when he gets the rock and doesn’t even look at the basket for a shot … even as a bluff. Julius Randle is starting to put up some monster stat lines, but you have to wonder if a healthy Larry Nance Jr. would be stealing some of his time like last season. And that brings me back to Russell. There’s no reason on this Lakers squad that he shouldn’t be averaging 32-34 minutes per game. The fact he’s still below 30 minutes, like we discussed in last week’s edition, is truly a head scratcher.
Jabari: I still think the limited minutes for Russell are a result of the staff trying to even things out with that core 8 or 9 guys (when Larry Nance Jr. is healthy), but we could always see more from him over the next 45 games.
The Denver Nuggets (14-21) are currently just a game out of the 8th seed in the West in the loss column, and while we’ll tackle the suddenly easier path to the Western Conference postseason in an upcoming week, let’s take a moment to talk about the stretch their 21-year-old big man is on. Although the streak started about 15 games ago, over his last 5 games, Nikola Jokic is averaging 20.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists with shooting percentages of 58.6/44.4/81.8. The Nuggets may have lost their last three games, but prior to that Denver had won six of nine. Can the Nuggets make the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13?
Lang: I love Jokic, man. But one thing the young fella has to get under control is his penchant for fouling. Just check his Per 36 minute foul rate. My goodness. But the more I see him, the more it looks like the man is going to cause havoc on the interior for a very long time.
To your question on playoffs …everything is in play out West. The Nuggets have some solid pieces but their issue of consistency. How long can Jokic stay on the floor? Can Emmanuel Mudiay cut down on the turnovers and improve his efficiency from the floor? What are the Nuggets going to do with Kenneth Faried come trade deadline? Do I think they can make a run? Yes. Do I think they secure a berth? No.
Jabari: We’ll end on a fun one: did you see what happened in Boston when the Jazz came to town earlier in the week? Did Jae Crowder have a reason to feel disrespected by the crowd in Boston for showering Gordon Hayward with so much love in that game earlier this week?
Lang: Hell yes. The Boston Celtics aren’t some team struggling and looking for a lottery pick. So for the fans to go all googly-eyed about a guy like Gordon Hayward who hasn’t led the Jazz to the playoffs, I believe is disrespectful. It is absolutely disrespectful and I believe Jae Crowder should feel some type of way, especially since Hayward plays the same position as him. If this was something like the Philadelphia 76ers, devoid of talent, then I would understand the fans trying to do a little early recruiting. But since the Celtics are ready to win to a certain degree then I believe what the fans did there was a bit out of line.
Jabari: I can actually see both sides on this one. For one, I do understand Crowder’s disappointment. It has to be tough to hear the crowd (essentially) openly recruit someone to replace you. Ultimately, paraphrasing a great 21st-century philosopher named Omar Little (The Wire), these players know “it’s all in the game” when it comes to these situations. Hopefully, as appeared to be the case the other night, Crowder can simply use these slights as motivation to play his best basketball. If he continues to play at a high level, whether in Boston or somewhere else, someone will appreciate what he can bring to the table moving forward. Word to Andrew Bynum and his bank in every city. That’s all for this week, folks.
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