Okay, folks. With the season about to start and a hurricane about to blow my house down, Andy G and I are doing a rapid-fire INBOX-style NBA Preview wrap-up. We argue about Chris Paul, which teams will rise to the top of each conference, who will win the major awards, and why Rasheed Wallace is currently collecting an NBA paycheck, all below the fold.
Andy G: Let’s begin with a player we disagree about. Of course I mean Chris Paul. You’ve always considered Paul the best point guard in the league. I recently lost my temper on Twitter when Paul was being called underrated — this, despite the fact that he’s almost universally considered an MVP candidate. And he always has been. My problem isn’t that people think Chris Paul is great. Clearly, he is a great point guard; one of the league’s best. But that’s just it. He’s one of the best. He’s not clearly the best point guard in the world. At least not when Deron Williams is motivated, Derrick Rose has two healthy knees, and Steve Nash is
alive under the age of 50. More than any other player, Chris Paul is a sacred cow, immune from criticism. EXCEPT HERE HE’S NOT! Paul has played with good players at every turn, and his teams usually make the playoffs (“usually” being generous–the exact number is 4 times in 7 seasons.) Paul has never been past the second round of the playoffs–a place even notorious playoff loser Carmelo Anthony has been. Paul’s sidekick, Blake Griffin, was ranked 5th by John Hollinger in last season’s MVP race, so “bad teammates” don’t excuse playoff failure for a supposed “Tier 1 Superstar.” My question to you is: Will Chris Paul advance to the first conference finals of his career, which is entering its 8th season?
Patrick J: I suspect he won’t. The Clippers have the talent, but are still too dysfunctional, to be a predicted WCF team. Look, you win – you did your lawyer thing and got me to concede that Paul will (again) likely fail to make the Conference Finals series. That must mean he’s not as good as billed – guilty as charged. You win. Right?
I don’t think so, because we’re framing the argument differently. We both rate Paul among the League’s best players – that is, among the top 10. Whether or not Paul is better than Williams or Nash in any given season is essentially a coin flip. They’re all really good. I personally think that, on average, Paul is the best – but only by a hair. Most bloggers and analysts seem to agree. I’m pretty sure you and I actually are closer on this one than you are to most mainstream Paul-sniffers. They think he’s consistently better than the rest, I think he’s a tiny bit better, and you think he may not be better at all. What bothers you is that they take it for granted; it’s no longer an open question, and that stings when your favorite player, Derrick Rose, is also competing for that nod. I don’t get riled up about the issue (except when we debate it) because I think it’s pretty much an unanswerable question: yeah, I like CP3, but if you were to tell me that you had traveled through time to April 2013 to see the sports future, like Biff did in Back to the Future II, and what you found out was that Deron Williams had the better year, I’d shrug it off because I know they’re basically neck-and-neck, and so environmental factors like their teammates and coaches matter a lot in trying to evaluate them, and teammates and coaches are always moving targets. In this case, the Clips have a lot to overcome, with Vinnie Del Negro and Donald Sterling making the McHale and Taylor duo of a few seasons ago look like a pair of John Woodens. They don’t have a winning culture, and that’s hard to overcome. I still think they’ll win 50 games and have a solid season, but in a stacked West, they would need to do a few things beyond CP3’s control for me to write them in as a WFC team.
On the WFC: The Lakers and Spurs will be the class of the West; the Lakers will be head and shoulders above the rest. Lakers defeat Spurs, 4-1.
Patrick J: Who do you see coming out of the West?
Andy G: The Lakers, almost without a doubt. There would be more doubt if Oklahoma City had kept James Harden — he provided a bench, x-factor that would’ve been very difficult for the aging Lakers rotation to contend with. But without Harden, Oklahoma City drops from a juggernaut down to a regular old “contender.” (“Not so bad,” says Clay Bennett’s financial advisor.) They’re more like the Spurs or Clippers than the special team that we saw last summer. The Lakers, on the other hand, are going to absolutely punish teams for one simple reason: Dwight Howard is surrounded by three playmakers. Orlando, and its great [former] coach, Stan Van Gundy did an excellent job of maximizing the Dwight Factor with pick-and-rolls and “4 out, 1 in” sets. Dwight’s importance to the Magic was huge. But his raw physical talents were not accentuated the way that they will be with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol. Nash is an expert pick-and-roll setup man. He also spreads the floor as a shooter. Kobe and Gasol are wonderful passers and will force-feed Dwight with lobs for dunks. For at least this season, while Kobe and Nash still have enough gas in the tank (or, assuming that’s the case, anyway) the Lakers should win the West without a series going past Game 6.
Andy G: Let’s move to the East. First things first: Miami will represent the East in the Finals again. I assume we agree on that. Also, LeBron will win the MVP again. Also agreed? Stipulating that much, who will face Miami in the conference finals, who will win runner-up for MVP, and what non-injury factor could change the assumptions we’re making about LeBron and his team?
Patrick J: Yes and yes. I’m torn between Boston and Indiana to face Miami in the ECF. If I’d have written our EC Preview like you did, I’d have been inclined to predict Indiana would have the better record in the regular season, but I think Boston beats them in a gritty playoff series if they are healthy. Big if, I know. So I say Boston gets swept by Miami in the ECF. Dwight Howard gets runner-up in the MVP ballot.
Patrick J: So, back atcha: what’s your take on the ECF, and the MVP (runner-up)?
Andy G: I think Boston is going to face Miami in Round 2, after losing its grip on the Atlantic Division (to the Knicks) and winning a first-round “4 versus 5” matchup against the Bulls or maybe the Nets. I expect the Knicks and Pacers to do battle, WINNING-TIME STYLE, in Roune 2, with the prize being a South Beach Beatdown in the ECF. Since we’re having fun with predictions, and not putting even a cent where our mouths are, I’ll take the Knicks to get there. Melo and Chandler–assuming that’s the most-played combo–is the best front line in the East. For MVP runner up, I am also going with D12. If the Lakers do as I expect, and roll through a strong Western Conference, I think Howard’s impact will be noticeable to a broad audience. Like many great centers before him, he’ll be happy to be a Laker. Darkhorse picks are Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, and yes, Carmelo Anthony. If Melo averages over 26 points/game on a surprisingly-good Knicks team (50+ wins) he’ll get second-place votes.
Andy G: The Charlotte Bobcats won 7 games last year. (!!!) (!!!) (!!!) (!!!) What team will be the league’s worst in 2013?
Patrick J: I’ll go with my (new) hometown Washington Wiz-ards. I loved the Brad Beal pick as much as you can love a second or third pick in a one-star draft. I also like John Wall, and, while I don’t expect him ever to be an MVP candidate, I do think he’ll end up a fringe All Star when it’s all said and done. The pendulum has swung too far in the other direction on Wall, after it had swung too far to the hype side when he was in his freshman year at Kentucky. Unfortunately, Wall is hurt, leaving the ‘Zards with no good active players heading into the season.
The ‘Zards roster is truly putrid: until Wall gets back, you’re looking at a starting five of AJ Price, Brad Beal, Trevor Ariza (!!!), Recycled Bobcat Emeka Okafor, and Nene. They’re led by possibly the worst coach in the NBA – the one and only Randy Wittman. And they have no depth. When Beal leaves, you’re looking at Jordan Crawford and his bad shots. Ariza is backed up by JAN Vesely, who already looks like a wasted lotto pick, Kevin Seraphin, and Trevor Booker. Yuck. It would’ve been easy to peg the Bobcats as my prediction for Worst Team, but that wouldn’t have been much fun. The ‘Zards seem primed for a meltdown, and I’ll be here to see it if Hurricane Sandy doesn’t wash me away.
Patrick J: Despite Damien Lillard making some major noise in summer league and the preseason, you’d be a fool to bet against Anthony Davis as your Rookie of the Year pick going into the season. Assuming we agree on Davis, do you default to Lillard as your next-best rookie? And what kind of an impact do you see your pick making?
Andy G: We definitely agree on Davis. The ‘Brow will rack up a ton of blocks and boards en route to an impact rookie season. After him, it’s an open question. If I’m forced to answer, I’d bet on Jonas Valanciunas. [Note: I spelled that correctly BEFORE Google-checking it. (Pats self on back.)] JONAS was just announced a starter by Coach Dwane Casey; not an easy one to please. If memory serves, he was getting rave reviews over in Europe last year, and he has shown a propensity for per-minute production in recent preseason games. If forced to choose outside Davis, I’ll go with Jonas. What sort of impact? Not much–not as a rookie, anyway. I don’t expect Toronto to be a playoff team whether Jonas plays 35 minutes a night, or 0. But he is a promising big man who needs–and likely will get–his reps.
Andy G: Rasheed Wallace is back in the NBA. Why?
Patrick J: I think Glen Grunwald thinks he’s putting the Knicks in a position to make a Finals run by signing a slew of vets – not just Wallace (age 38), but also Jason Kidd (39), Marcus Camby (38), and Kurt Thomas (40), to mentor incoming rookies Pablo Prigioni (35; oldest NBA rookie in the last 40 years) and young pup Chris Copeland (age 28). I wrote some about Prigioni and Copeland yesterday; they put up nice numbers out of nowhere in the preseason, likely due to their spry youth relative to their senior teammates.
Back to Rasheed: It’s inexplicable from the Knicks side. Maybe Grunwald knew Amare was going to get hurt, so he decided to go out and get Amare’s cutout from 2002. It just doesn’t make sense. From Sheed’s side, the logic is simple: CTC (!!!)
That’s how we see it, folks. Agree or disagree, and why?