Throughout the season, I’ll be conducting an NBA Roundtable with our 5 NBA Experts, Kassa Korley, Rilwan Ameen, Leutrim Rexhaj, Peter Hess, and Richard Rivera. I’ll ask them 5 questions each, and we’ll see how their answers compare. Enjoy!
Zack: The Lakers have gotten off to an extremely slow start—time for LA fans to panic that they may not even be the best team in their own city?
Kassa: Not yet, but only because the Lakers have 79 games left to solve some of their problems. Some is the operative word here, because it was evident that the Lakers would have lingering issues regardless of their early season struggles, particularly with their 3-point shooting and production off the bench. The strength of the Lakers starting five was supposed to camouflage these issues. As long as their starting lineup struggles, the Lakers are simply an above average team, and nothing more. Which brings us to that starting lineup, and this dysfunctional offense. Charles Barkley said it best and I could not agree more: “I want my accountant from Princeton, but not my offense.” Steve Nash playing off the ball is just silly.
Rilwan: Not time to panic per say, but when you start off 0-3 with the type off all-star acquiring spree the Lakers went on this offseason, in Hollywood the sky is falling. The Lakers have an assortment of ailments they’re dealing with (Nash’s ankle, Kobe’s foot and Dwight’s back). Not to mention trying to grasp the complexities of the Princeton offense and a subpar bench that is scoring an average of 16 points in 3 games adding to the tune of a nine point differential in three losses for LA. Still there is an 82 game season for a reason, and it doesn’t matter what happens in early November but how you’re playing in May and June. Los Angeles is not a city brimming with patience. The Lakers need to get it together and in a hurry otherwise Mike Brown unfortunately will be the scapegoat, and dare I say rumblings of a certain Zen master hanging out in Montana will surface.
Leutrim: Well, Lakers fans had reason to panic even before they saw the team play. D12 and Steve Nash were both amazing coups by Mitch Kupchack, not to mention the low-key arrival of Antawn Jamison and the unheralded re-signing of Jordan Hill, but the Clippers arguably did just as much to fortify their roster. Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill are both joining to capture their first rings and will be extra motivated as a result. Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom rejoin the Clippers after experiencing mixed fortunes last season, Mr. Big Shot rupturing his achilles tendon and Lamar Odom becoming anonymous as a member of the Mavericks and dealt with mental anguish as a result of a death in the family. They may not pan out, but if they do they add a wealth of experience as former champions. Matt Barnes and Willie Green round out a deep, deep roster that can hang with the best. Blake Griffin may never improve as a player, but he is still the perfect PF to pair with CP3. The Lakers have 4 future Hall of Famers on their team, but their aging key personnel, new offense and bare bench all count against them, not to mention D12 coming off back surgery and Steve Nash already fracturing his left leg. The Clippers have the best PG since Magic Johnson retired, and have signed several players with something to prove. I favored the Lakers before the season started, but I believe the Clippers are primed to beat them out for the Pacific Division title.
Peter: The Lakers should be in panic mode. Look at their starting lineup: Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Gasol, and Dwight. How can this team be 0-3? Well, so far only Kobe, Pau, and Dwight have contributed, while everyone else has not done anything. The Lakers have been looking for a point guard for the past couple of years, trading for current Charlotte Bobcat Ramon Sessions mid-season last year. Nash has not provided any spark to the Laker offense, and is now sidelined for a week. Howard’s rebounding numbers have dropped by about three boards a game and he fouls way too much, averaging over five a game. The Lakers need to get in sync, as the team certainly upgraded from last season so results are definitely expected. With Chris Paul playing at the level he currently is, don’t be surprised when you see the Clippers become the kings of LA.
Rich: The Heat started out 7-8, and seemed anything but cohesive and deadly in their first season.The Lakers will catch on. Mike Brown, however, needs to quit the token college offensive schemes. Save that for the NIT.
Zack: Three All-Stars, Kevin Love, Amare Stoudemire and Derrick Rose, are out for the first part of the NBA Season. Which of these injuries will have the most impact on their respective teams?
Kassa: Kevin Love, and it’s not even close. Amare Stoudemire and Derrick Rose are great players in their own right, but their absence doesn’t alter the identity of the team. The Knicks are going to get plenty of scoring from Carmelo, so they’ll be fine. The Bulls are always going to play great defense, so even though they’re not going to be the #1 seed, they’ll stay afloat. What are the Timberwolves without Kevin Love? Definitely not a playoff team.
Rilwan: Of all three I’d have to take the rout of Kevin Love. The Knicks and Bulls are going to be playoff teams for the most part without their star players, but I cannot say the same for the Timberwolves without Love for six weeks. The Knicks actually play better without Amar’e at the four, as Carmelo Anthony becomes a vastly improved and efficient player in Amar’e position. Last season with Amar’e Stoudemire in the lineup, Melo averaged 20.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.7 APG and shot 40% from the field. Without Amar’e in the lineup he averaged 28.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.4 APG and shot 49% from the field. As for the Bulls, they can hold the fort down until Rose returns sometimes after the all-star break. They went 18-9 in 27 games without the former MVP last season, which gives them confidence they can hold to a playoff spot if he does indeed come back. The West is going to be a knockdown drag out fight, so how the Timberwolves start without Love may determine their postseason viability early on. Remember with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love last season, they were 17-17 and on track to procure the eight seed. Without them they fell apart and finished a disappointing 9-23 to end with a 26-40 record, falling short of the playoffs.
Leutrim: Without a doubt the Minnesota Timberwolves will be hurt the most. The Bulls and Knicks are prepared to deal with injuries because they are better on defense than offense and have the blessing of being in the Eastern Conference, making it easier for them to make the playoffs. The Timberwolves have lost their best player, unlike the Knicks who lost their 2nd or even 3rd best player, and have unproven players to fall back on. Brandon Roy is coming back after sitting out an entire season and there is no reason to believe his knee pain won’t return. Andrei Kirilenko also missed last season, albeit playing in Russia for CSKA Moscow, and there is trepidation around his ability to start in a more athletic NBA than the one he left. Throw in the fact that Ricky Rubio is already out, and it is clear Kevin Love undoubtedly picked an awful time to break his hand. The West is as competitive as ever and this 6 week stretch will test Rick Adelman’s mettle to keep his team even remotely close to a playoff position.
Peter: The injury to Kevin Love will be the most detrimental to his team. The Knicks scored a huge win against the Heat in the season opener with their new roster and the Bulls were 18-9 without Rose last season, beating playoff teams like the Celtics, Heat, Sixers, Magic, Hawks, and Knicks. However, with the Timberwolves, Kevin Love is the centerpiece to their new look. With PG Ricky Rubio still recovering from a season-ending knee injury from a year ago, the Timberwolves will not be able to compete until December. Minnesota needs Love in the lineup to see if the team can contend for a playoff spot – he is the foundation to the franchise, coming off a 26 PPG, 13.3 RPG season. With Love, the Timberwolves’ best season included a meager 26 wins, indicating that the Timberwolves have an extremely low ceiling. However, Minnesota has brought in Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko to bolster their roster, with PG J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour capable of filling in for Rubio. This is a make-or-break season for the T-Wolves, but minus Love will dig them into too deep a ditch to be able to catch up.
Rich: New York doesn’t need, nor want an injured and slow STAT. He is more of a role player now a days, and he needs role player minutes. I don’t see him getting 15+ shots a game anymore, not with his frequent trips to the hospital. D Rose makes the Bulls a contender with him being on the floor, but, Tom can coach any team to a playoff run. Kevin Love, however, make the Wolves a playoff team with deadly talent. The Wolves need Love to make some extra money for the city in the spring, and so he is the most important marquee injury.
Zack: James Harden has been on a tear on his new team. What are the chances that by the end of the year, he is acknowledged as the best 2-guard in the NBA?
Kassa: Zero percent, at least for me. Kobe Bryant is still in the NBA right? Harden is an excellent player with a ton of upside, but no 2-guard has the arsenal of weapons on the offensive end that Kobe does. That is why he is still the best two guard. What is impressive about Harden’s production thus far is that in addition to scoring and being incredibly efficient he’s had amazing assist numbers. Everyone knew he was the best playmaker on the Thunder team, but if he’s getting 7-8 assists per game that’ll be very impressive.
Rilwan: James Harden has a better chance of becoming a first-time all-star this season in the Western Conference, than he does of being the best 2-guard in the NBA at the conclusion of the 2012-2013 season. His hot start has been impressive to date with 45, 38 and 24 points to begin the season. Leading the NBA in scoring thus far proves he can handle the mantle that comes with being the ‘man’ outside of his comfort zone in OKC surrounded with stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Teams should fear the beard, but for now let’s see him do it over the remaining 79 games and then I’ll be a believer. At the end of the season the top five 2-guards will be 1. Kobe Bryant 2. Dwayne Wade 3. James Harden 4. Manu Ginobili 5. Joe Johnson
Leutrim: 0% chance that he is recognized as the best SG in the NBA. Harden has had a historic start with his new team, but it is still going to be hard for him to convince me that he has surpassed Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant (who is also tearing it up to start the season.) Of course it is going to be hard to gauge how close Harden is because he is the only genuine offensive threat on a team that would be 0-2 without him. He can average 30 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and have good percentages, but can we honestly say that Kobe and Dwade couldn’t do that too if need be? After 2 games I am ready to admit he is the 3rd best SG in the league, comfortably beating out Joe Johnson, Eric Gordon and Andre Iguodala. Kobe’s impending deference to D12 and D-Wade still playing second fiddle to LeBron will give plenty of ammo for Harden-bandwagoners, but it will be at least another season before I am ready to change my opinion.
Peter: There is absolutely no chance that Harden will be recognized as the best two-guard in the NBA. Harden’s numbers in his first two games in Houston are borderline incredible – 41 PPG, 7 APG, and 6.5 RPG. However, his showing against the Blazers has humanized him. I would not say that he gets the nod over Dwyane Wade. Wade constantly gets overshadowed by LeBron, but keep in mind that he won a title on his own back in 2006. He can not only score, but also heavily contribute on the defensive end, which I have not seen from Harden. Indeed, Harden’s stats resemble those of LeBron’s. Yet, I think that it is way too early in the season to say that this type of megastar level of performance will continue throughout the season. The Rockets must win games in order for Harden to be considered the best 2-guard in the NBA.
Zack: Anthony Davis headlined this year’s draft class, but who has been the most impressive rookie thus far?
Kassa: It’s not even close. Damian Lillard is playing real NBA regular season games the way he dominated in the summer league. He is the first player since Oscar Robertson (!!!) to average over 20 points and 6 assists in his first three games. You can add him to the list of talented explosive scoring point guards in the league now. The great thing about him thus far is that he’s been extremely poised and in control down the stretch, making big threes and assists when his team needs it. He’s the real deal.
Rilwan: Damian Lillard is the stud point guard Blazers fans have been craving for after seeing Jerryd Bayless, Andre Miller and Raymond Felton all make cameo appearances at the position. The flashy guard out of Weber State is the real deal. Lillard will be the main challenger to Davis all season long for Rookie of the Year. With all of the attention featured on all-star LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum, Lillard’s transition at the point will be eased into. Through three games, a 2-1 record in conjunction with averages of 21.1 PPG, 47% shooting, 9.0 APG and 4.0 RPG, Lillard is in pole position for the award. The Blazers’ have had their history with high lottery picks, so as NBA fans let’s hope Lillard can continue to bring flare to rip city, as the Blazers continue forward in the post Brandon Roy-Greg Oden era.
Leutrim: Anthony Davis was phenomenal against the Spurs, completely living up to the pre-season hype, but through 2 games Damian Lillard has really left an impression on me. He is averaging 22 points, 9 assists, 1 steal, 1.5 3-pointers and has shot 44.4% from the field. He oozed confidence against the veteran Lakers and the young stars of the Thunder, taking the ball to the basket, showing no hesitance on his jump shot and dishing the ball like a young CP3. What impressed me most was the fact that he embraced his face-off with Russell Westbrook and Steve Nash, never looking out of place. Along with Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard represents the new class of star PG’s.
Peter: Damian Lillard. The point guard has been phenomenal in every game that he has played so far. After three games, Lillard averages 21.3 PPG, 9.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, and 47% from the field. He provides the scoring punch to the Trailblazers, clicking with star forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Entering the NBA Draft, Lillard had been deemed the top point guard prospect, seen more as a shooter rather than passer. However, the guard contributes in both aspects, steadily decreasing his assist/turnover ratio. If Lillard is posting such impressive numbers in addition to limiting his mistakes, then expect to see the Weber State product not only as Rookie of the Year, but also leading the Blazers to a post-season berth.
Rich: Damian Lillard is more impressive at this point. Although defending the inside in the NBA as a rookie is extremely tough and seldom done well, scoring in volume as a rook is even harder. Lillard has the green light to the Trailblazers offense, and his growth and development this season will be indicative of this privilege.
Zack: We all know teams like the Heat and Thunder are obvious contenders. Who’s your dark horse pick though?
Kassa: People forget that the San Antonio Spurs were two games away from the NBA Finals last year. You don’t think they’re salivating at the fact that the Thunder gave away James Harden? Popovich will have his team ready come playoff time–he always does.
Rilwan: In the East, despite Miami being the runaway favorites, for the sake of compelling storylines down the road, I would pick Philadelphia, barring any health setbacks for Andrew Bynum’s ailing knees. As you saw last season in their seven-game battle with the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semis, they sorely lacked a post-presence in the half court– cue the importation of the best center in the East. The development of Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday to live up to their draft billing is as imperative as Bynum jettisoning the injury bug. City of brotherly love, you are on the rise. Another sleeper, which sounds jarring, is the Chicago Bulls. Holder of the best record in the East the past two seasons, ultimately their fate is dependent on Derrick Rose’s return and what his health and timing will be. In the ultra competitive West, there are so many choices but I’ll pick one from the top half of the conference that could break through to a finals appearance and one from the bottom half that can rise and turn many heads in the process. For the top half, lob city has arrived as a legitimate finals contender. We know what to expect from CP3, but how much have Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan improved? Will veterans Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom and Grant Hill hold up? Jamal Crawford is averaging 27.0 PPG and looks like the early choice for Sixth Man of the Year. The further emergence of Eric Bledsoe could be the key for Vinny Del Negro’s squad. Lob City is on the rise. For the bottom half, the Golden State Warriors seem to be a popular pick to crash the postseason party for the first time since 2007. It’s paramount that the Warriors get at least 70 games apiece from Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut to have any shot at being a dangerous sleeper. They’re already without Brandon Rush for the season with a torn ACL. Mark Jackson is hoping his “hand down, man down” saying doesn’t turn into “man down, man down” in the bay area this season.
Leutrim: Besides last years conference champions, the Nuggets, Celtics and Spurs all figure to be somewhere in the mix in May, but the team that I see as the ultimate sleeper are the Grizzlies. This is a team that has been the “it” sleeper team, but after upsetting the Spurs as the 8th seed in the 2011 playoffs, they underwhelmed last year, losing the 1st round to the Clippers. The team is still largely the same, apart from swapping Jerryd Bayless for OJ Mayo, two comparable guards. After last years disappointment they have received fewer looks this season as a genuine threat to win a title. Rudy Gay hasn’t made the jump top superstardom many envisioned he would after signing a max deal and Marc Gasol has stagnated since breaking out in 2010. This year may be the last chance this team has before they decide this roster no longer has a chance and blows it up for picks and youth. Despite all of this negativity, I believe the Grizzlies are talented enough and have the pedigree to still show up any team, even over the course of a 7 games series. If Mike Conley, Rudy Gay and Marco Gasol finally live up to the hype they’ve received, then nobody will want to face them in the playoffs.
Peter: I see no team in the Eastern Conference being able to compete with the Heat. However, with the loss of James Harden, I think the Thunder could get dethroned by the Spurs. Keep in mind that the Spurs had the best record in the Western Conference, and lost in the Conference Finals to OKC. The team is entirely intact from a year ago, while the Thunder lost Harden. San Antonio should never be overlooked.
Rich: Dark Horse pick? Neither of these guys are dark horses, but both the Spurs and the Celtics have a really good chance to come out of their respective conferences. Winning in the playoffs often times comes down to playing on the shoulders of giants. Leaning on players like Ginobli, Pierce, Parker, or Rondo can get these older and often times overlooked teams past their run and gun counterparts. Also, the Spurs and Celtics have farmed great young talents like Leonard and Bradley, to complement their wisdom with speed and size.
Zack: Guess I have to ask some more polarizing questions next time!