5 Questions: The NBA

The 2021-2022 NBA season has seen plenty of twists and turns. From the unprecedented Kyrie Irving situation in Brooklyn to the struggles of LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, we’ve had more than enough drama. Those aren’t the only storylines though. Anthony Canton III and Lorenzo Smith decided to answer some questions about the NBA season as we head towards the playoffs.

1. What’s your level of concern for the Golden State Warriors’ championship chances after Steph Curry’s sprained right foot?

Lorenzo Smith: The championship chances for Golden State weren’t that high for me even before the Steph injury. It feels like their big three are all past their prime and their role players, outside of Poole, all feel inconsistent. It doesn’t help that Steph, Green, and Thompson are all recovering from injuries. 

Anthony Canton III: It has to be high. The core of Golden State has played a lot of playoff basketball since 2013. Historically, when teams make runs like the Warriors have (particularly five straight finals) the accumulation of wear and tear takes a toll. While the Warriors have an incredibly deep roster with a new infusion of talent(Moody, Poole, Kuminga), they can’t win the NBA Championship without a healthy Steph Curry. As of Monday they’re only 2 games up on the Jazz for the 3 seed. This path could get more perilous assuming Curry misses the rest of the regular season.

2. Rank these three teams as to who’s the most dangerous in the playoffs and why… The Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, and Denver Nuggets.

LS: Dallas, Denver, Utah.

The Dinwiddie trade was great for Dallas. He’s the best secondary ball handler Luka has ever had. Luka will now have room to play off the ball, making Dallas way more dangerous. Denver has the best player in the league in reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. If they get back Porter and Murray, they’ll be pretty dangerous. I don’t trust Utah in the playoffs, where it seems like Gobert is easy to game plan against. They really have to figure out how to keep him on the court and be effective against teams who play small ball.

AC: Dallas, Denver, Utah.

As it turns out Jason Kidd has been a great hire to the contrary of many (myself included)who have been watching the league. Dallas has really taken off due to their defense this season (6th in defensive rating as of Monday) and Luka Doncic has been playing at an All-NBA level since the earlier portion of the season. 

Denver might have the highest ceiling of this group. While they’ve slipped to the play-in tournament via tiebreakers as of Monday, soon two important players will be returning. Both Michael Porter Jr and Jamal Murray are prepping to come back. Is it a lot to ask for them to get back up to speed just mere weeks from the playoffs? Probably. However, Nikola Jokic is as good as it gets and any type of pressure you can take off of him offensively is extremely important. I think Denver is still very dangerous.

The book is out on Utah, particularly in the playoffs. Rudy Gobert is their defensive anchor, but he can’t cover everywhere. Teams have generally in the playoffs played smaller and just attacked their perimeter defense. That has forced Rudy out of his comfort zone and put him in more compromising positions. The Jazz just don’t have enough, despite the individual greatness of Donovan Mitchell. Come this off-season Utah should look into an overhaul because this iteration is not a title contender. Anyone that’s not Donovan Mitchell should be on the table to trade, including Rudy Gobert.

3. Which tanking team needs the number 1 pick the most? 

LS: The Houston Rockets are the NBA team that needs the number one pick the most. Jalen Green is a gifted scorer, but has not shown enough high upside as a primary play maker. The Rockets are in desperate need of an identity and may find one if they get in a position to choose from the multiple talented and versatile front court prospects in this years draft.

AC: The Portland Trailblazers. Whether they want to admit it or not, the Damian Lillard era needs to end. The hardest part of rebuilding is the recognition that you need to. Trading CJ McCollum was the first step. There’s been plenty of hesitation from the Blazers to move their franchise cornerstone, but it’s time to change their tune. Considering all of the contenders in the West, they should trade Dame this summer and continue to see what they have in guys like Anfernee Simons and Trendon Watford. If they get the number 1 pick they shouldn’t mix timelines. Dame Time is up.

4. The Timberwolves are shaping up to have their most winningest season in almost two decades. Is this a fluke season or are the T-Wolves a relevant franchise again?

LS: The 21/22 season contained a lot of “new” for the Timberwolves. Sachin Gupta was promoted to President of Basketball Operations (after Gersson Rosas was fired), Coach Finch completed his first full season as a Minnesota head coach after being hired midway through the previous season, and Alex Rodriguez & Marc Lore became the new owners of the franchise. 

With so many changes for the franchise this season, the biggest “new” was that they’re on pace to have their best season since 17-18. The T-Wolves currently have a top ten offensive rating while also maintaining a top 12 defensive rating. How is that possible for a team that gives heavy minutes to Karl Anthony-Towns and D’Angelo Russell, two players who are well known for the consistent defensive struggles? 

Well, the front office surrounded their offensive stars with scrappy, defensive role players that compliment them well. As they continue to build their roster, I have hope that a positive and winning culture is brewing in Minny.  If that is the case, even if their best player Karl Anthony Towns leaves in free agency, I have confidence that it won’t take long for the Wolves to have another great season.

AC: A 1-2 Punch of Karl Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards is not to be trifled with these days. Towns, at 26 years old, has played with the poise and precision to back up the attitude the team has shown as of late. Edwards not only as a talent but as a confident, positive presence in the locker room has made these guys quite the combo. A lot of credit does also have to be given to Head Coach Chris Finch who had the Wolves playing better once he was hired last season. They’ve just continued to carry that over. In the western conference it’s always hard to gauge whether a team will have longevity, but I’ll answer this question with a question. Do we think the new ownership is going to be better when they take over? If so, then absolutely. Looking at you Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez.

5. How would you evaluate the legitimacy of the play-in tournament in its 2nd season? 

LS: I like the play in tournament but I wonder if there should be a win percentage threshold to qualify. I’d have to think about this more but it doesn’t seem right. With the Lakers and Pelicans being so far under .500 it looks funny in the light.

AC: From a fan interest perspective it’s helped the league. Having meaningful games in March and April have reduced the load management/tanking complaints from many over the past 10 seasons. With that being said, this season isn’t a great proponent for the play in. The Lakers and Pelicans are both 11 games under .500 (as of Monday) and a team like the San Antonio Spurs who has 28 wins at this point still has a chance. It’s a dilution of the product to be quite frank. This is a trend that’s started to occur across all the major sports and eventually it could become an issue of legitimacy.

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