NBA

NBA Roundtable: Soaring Clippers, Sinking Rockets and other storylines

There are many juicy storylines floating around the NBA right now, including the surprisingly surging Los Angeles Clippers, the struggling Houston Rockets and the resurgence of Derrick Rose. Several of our writers gathered for a roundtable discussion on these topics. Our participants are:

1. Who’s more likely to right the ship after their shaky starts: The Houston Rockets or Boston Celtics?

Bash: Boston Celtics, with Brad Stevens at the helm they have a top-three coach in all of basketball. Their two best players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, are working their way back from major injuries and will take time to get back to playing at a high level consistently. The Rockets haven’t had the same cohesiveness as they did last year and Harden will need to play at an MVP level to carry them into the playoffs. That being said, a 65-win season is pretty far out of their reach at this point.

Kirkland: The Boston Celtics have more correctable issues. They are in the top half of the league in assist percentage and have no issue generating open looks. Boston is below the league average on catch and shoot three-pointers (under 35%) and are also putrid in the paint. Jayson Tatum is already shooting better this month than he did in October and Gordon Hayward continues to find his rhythm just over a year removed from breaking his ankle. The offensive averages should go up as long as the C’s keep moving the ball and shooting good shots. The Rockets can’t clone Trevor Ariza and they just cut Carmelo Anthony after 10 games. When combined with the fact that they play in the tougher conference, they certainly have a steeper hill.

Walt: The Boston Celtics. It’s been incredibly disappointing to watch the Boston Celtics early this season. They have one of the most talented rosters in the NBA, but they’ve yet like the Celtics teams we’ve seen in the past. Past teams bought into Brad Stevens’ system early on and accepted their roles. This season, it seems like roles aren’t yet defined. Most of the players on this roster bought in last season and they were one win away from winning the Eastern Conference. Roles are different now, but this team he has what it takes to turn this season around.

Anderson: The Boston Celtics. They have great young and veteran talent that is supposed to make them one of the best teams in the East… on paper, but it’s not looking like it early on. Struggles assigning roles to all these players have played a grand part in their downward slope, but things can and will be situated accordingly. While Kyrie Irving is leading the team averaging 22 points per game, Gordon Hayward must be more effective on the offensive end as he continues to climb back from injury because 10 points per game won’t be enough. Any team under Brad Stevens, who is one of the most intelligent coaches in the league right now, will have things turned around by the end of the season.

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Photo via: Getty Images

Boyer: The Boston Celtics. Boston has the corrective tools on its roster to climb out of their early-season hole. Meanwhile, I watch Houston and think to myself: “This team really expects to compete in the Western Conference?” Boston getting it right might mean a surge that sends them to the top of the Eastern Conference. With the way things are currently going for Houston, the Rockets getting hot may secure them homecourt in a first-round series, which is a far cry from what they were last season. 

2. Which team’s hot start has you more surprised: The Memphis Grizzlies or Los Angeles Clippers?

Bash: The Memphis Grizzlies! Memphis is filled with aging stars, bad contracts and not much in terms of young talent. There is one exception though, Jaren Jackson Jr. has been an absolute force for the Grizzlies, proving to be a defensive stalwart with a quickly developing offensive game. The Clippers tore it down in terms of their star players but they still had talent throughout the roster. It is difficult to gauge both teams because both teams seemed to be heading downwards in terms of trajectory but the Grizzlies have definitely surprised.

Kirkland: The Memphis Grizzlies continue to defy the odds behind their old patented “Grit ‘N Grind” mantra. They are last in offensive pace and third in defensive efficiency. How in the world are they able to be so successful despite playing almost polar opposite of the jack-happy, up-and-down style that most teams favor? There is a minor culture shock every time a team plays Memphis. Every night you play at 150 miles per hour until you get to Memphis and you have to play the speed limit. Memphis has an identity and their pieces fit.

Walt: The Memphis Grizzlies. Expectations were very low for the Grizzlies entering this season. They looked trapped in a deep Western Conference, but they are showing the rest of the conference that they are no team to take lightly. Both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are healthy and lead the Grizzlies in scoring. Outside of Gasol and Conley, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Garrett Temple are averaging 10 or more points per game. The Grizzlies gritty play style is back and this team isn’t afraid of a challenge. J.B Bickerstaff’s done an excellent job in his first full season in Memphis. He’s second to Nick Nurse for the early season Coach of the Year.

Anderson: The Los Angeles Clippers. The L.A. Clippers have been consistent when it comes to closing out games so far this season and it’s enough to be at the top of the Western Conference. Yes, that’s above the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Los Angeles Lakers, but will they remain there throughout the season? I believe they can, especially with Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari doing a good job scoring the ball. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been playing very well alongside these veterans and is fitting in well with their gameplan. Hopefully, they can continue to stay hot throughout the season to make it to the NBA Playoffs.

Boyer: The Memphis Grizzlies. I anticipated the Clippers still humming competitively because of the proven NBA pieces their roster is peppered with. That’s not to say that Memphis’ roster isn’t stocked with quality, veteran players, but there was a fair amount of uncertainty regarding how Mike Conley would bounce back from his tender Achilles, and what Marc Gasol’s motivation was after some dissatisfaction with the franchise last year. Garrett Temple has proven to be a free agent steal, furnishing Memphis with solid three-point shooting, and Jaren Jackson Jr. is the rookie everyone should be talking about, and if they aren’t yet will be soon. We’re years removed from the inaugural edition of the “Grit N’ Grind” Grizzlies, but the remix is proving to be just as nice throughout the first quarter of the season.  

3. How refreshing is it to watch the resurgence of Derrick Rose?

Bash: Unbelievable. After the last few years, you had to think that D-Rose was done as a contributor in the NBA. He was not doing much in Cleveland and that was a tumultuous time for the former MVP. Now in Minnesota with the pressure off of him and playing for his old coach Tom Thibodeau, things seem to be clicking for the former star. He may not make the All-Star Game this year but he has been a great story in the NBA. Derrick Rose is a guy that pretty much any NBA fan can root for after what he has gone through.

Kirkland: I was disappointed in how many fans and media willingly turned a blind eye to Derrick Rose’s past, where he admitted to not knowing what consent was, and that he and his friends were “just being men,” while on trial for sexual assault. While his on the court achievements this season merit appreciation considering his multiple knee injuries, I fail to recognize his story as a “refreshing” feel good comeback for a fallen hero. His resurgence, with the proper perspective, is impressive. We just need to be mindful not to contribute to a culture that prizes athletic accomplishments and minimizes or ignores all else, particularly the treatment of women.

Walt: It’s incredibly refreshing to watch the resurgence of Derrick Rose. Rose went from an NBA MVP to a below average role player in his previous eight seasons. Now he’s back to averaging more than 30 minutes per game and posting his highest scoring average in his last five seasons. Whether Rose played his best days in Chicago or some of his worst in Cleveland, one thing that stayed consistent was his intense work ethic. His hard work is paying off. There’s nothing more refreshing than watching a former MVP prove the world wrong.

Anderson: It is unbelievable. I remember watching D-Rose in his 2011 MVP form and watching him play like this is exciting. His 50-point performance was a wake-up call for his resurgence and it’s going to pay off for the Timberwolves. All these injuries over the past years after his MVP season were devasting to see to, but he never gave up and has become a great example of why you should never give up. 

Boyer: Watching Derrick Rose’s reemergence this season has been moving. Here is a guy who has experienced every high and low the NBA has to offer, yet he’s remained even-keeled despite it all. Rose’s patience through everything: injuries, flipping through different teams and roles, is now being rewarded, and there may not be a player more deserving than the former MVP. As fans, we have players that we hate, love and love to hate. I think it’s fair to say that almost everyone has a little love for D-Rose. 

4. Will Stephen Curry’s return really solve most of the Warriors’ issues?

Bash: Probably, but the issues that the Warriors face are more short-term than long-term. They will get back on the right track but it will take a moment that galvanizes the locker room to bring them back to the close-knit unit that they have been for the past several years. Curry returning gets them back their leader, their point guard and the engine that makes this super-car run. Just give it a bit a time and the Warriors will reign supreme out West once again.

Kirkland: Yes. It has been proven before that this is Steph Curry’s team. Kevin Durant is the second-best player in the league but Curry’s gravity on the court is unmatched. When you have a guy that has to be guarded as soon as he crosses halfcourt it opens the offense up. The ball moves better and the Warriors are more efficient when he is around.

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Photo via: Getty Images

Walt: I believe it will. The Warriors are 10-2 with Stephen Curry in the lineup and 4-5 when he is not. Even though the Warriors have struggled without Curry, they’re still tied for first in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Clippers. This team will only improve with their leading scorer back in the lineup. Draymond Green and Kevin Durant still need to figure out their issues, but the best cure to that is winning. Curry is a winner and this team will get back to their winning ways with him in the lineup.

Anderson: Yes. Curry is the main man for this Warriors team, despite the presence of tw0-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant and sharpshooting backcourt mate Klay Thompson. He gets the Oracle Arena crowd going and he will be the reason why the Warriors will make it back to the top of the Western Conference. Curry knows what it takes to win and has shown how he can bring his team together and capture wins. Once he comes back, the Warriors will get the motor back running.

Boyer: Yes and no. I believe the Warriors have some deep-seated internal issues as a whole, but in a league where only one team can stand tall at season’s end, winning often proves to be the consummate remedy in these situations. Need a reference? Look no further than the clashes between Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls front office during their dynastic run, or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s WELL-documented feud during their three-peat days in Los Angeles. After clinching last year’s title, David West alluded to the fact that there were some challenging things going on behind the scenes. After everything we’ve watched unfurl so far this season, one has to wonder what those issues may have been. Curry’s presence may certainly mend things for Golden State in the short-term, but one has to wonder what the long-term ramifications of their early-season drama might be. 

5. Is Luka Doncic starting to run away with the Rookie of the Year award?

Bash: Luka Doncic has succeeded at every level of basketball he has been apart of so far in his young career. The young Slovenian superstar has lived up to the endless amount of hype he was being given in the leading up to his arrival in the states and he has shown to be worth every bit of it. The Mavericks got an absolute steal by trading to get Doncic, making a move that paired him with Dennis Smith Jr. The Mavs are still young, but with that talented backcourt, they have a chance to really build something special for Mark Cuban and company. Doncic should easily continue his dominance in the ROY conversation.

Kirkland: Luka Doncic was the best player not in the NBA last year and he is proving it this season. It is almost unfair to have him in the same category as the rest of the rookie class. As long as he stays healthy it’s an open and shut case.

Walt: I believe the Rookie of the Year race is over. Luka Doncic has dominated throughout the early part of his rookie campaign. He’s first among rookies averaging 19.1 points per game, second with 4.3 assists per game and fourth with 6.6 rebounds per game. No other rookie places in the top-five in all three statistical categories. It’s very clear the Dallas Mavericks made the right move swapping draft picks with the Atlanta Hawks to select Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft. There’s a lot of the season left, but there’s a large gap between Doncic and the rest of this rookie class.

Anderson: Yes, I believe so. Doncic entered this league with huge potential to be successful and had an MVP trophy from overseas. Doncic is now averaging 19 points per game while shooting 40 percent from behind the arc. The swingman can bring the ball up, score, and is the main playmaker for the Mavericks’ offense. He has helped them tremendously and looks like he was the right draft pick for them after all. Barring anything unforeseen, it looks like Doncic will take home the Rookie of the Year Award.

Boyer: If there is one thing that Luka Doncic has proven in his first batch of NBA games, it’s that the qualms some had about his play being able to translate to the Association were inane. Many of these beliefs were rooted in the fact that Doncic was waging basketball war in Europe against talents that were mostly unfamiliar to Americans, which lead to many angling the EuroLeague as notably “inferior.” Doncic has not only hushed his naysayers, but he’s become a media darling, which goes a long way in winning these type of awards. Trae Young and Jaren Jackson Jr. are playing solid basketball for their squads, but as things currently stand, it’s Doncic’s award to cough up. 

 

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