With the news cycle constantly swirling around the NBA and its players, it’s easy to get lost in the sauce while the opinions of others slowly become your own. Luckily, this stellar committee of two brings to you steady navigation through the league’s many storylines. Our writers, Justin Kirkland, and Felix John-Baptiste bring to you the launch of this new buy/sell type column to help you make sense of it all. Every two weeks they will take the five most interesting trends and weigh in on their legitimacy. This preseason edition of Big Facts or Fake News takes a look at the NBA now that the offseason dust has settled.
1. LeBron James will have a revenge season and be the best player in the league this year.
Kirkland: For the first time since it began, Sports Illustrated’s top 100 does not feature LeBron at number one. For me though, since Kevin Durant is hurt I’m going to say this is Big Facts. LeBron is not in Heatles condition anymore but he still managed 27/8/8 last season on 51% shooting. This season he will be back at full health with an elite teammate once again. He’s got more than enough left to dominate this season even with additional load management. Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard will be in the neighborhood though.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. For the first time in 13 years, Bron’s season ended abruptly in April. He had a WHOLE summer to rest, rehab and train. We’ve gotten so used to him dominating seasons while playing through June for 8 consecutive playoff runs. With that added time off, coupled with the idea that the media has already pegged him as slowing down, he will be more than motivated to remind everyone just what he brings to the table. Look out!
2. Carmelo Anthony will be on a roster by season’s end.
Kirkland: Facts. I don’t think he will be on a team on opening night, but during the season injuries happen. Some teams will also be unable to ignore the lack of scoring punch from their second units and might look to make a move. Portland, Philadelphia, and the Lakers could all use bench scoring TODAY. Portland won’t be happening though.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts! Much to the chagrin of Melo haters, he will be on a roster by season’s end. Although I’m not quite sure what teams are actually interested, he’s too much of a talent that can provide bench scoring for many teams. Keep an eye out for contenders who lack the bench production they anticipated to start the season.
3. The 76ers’ ceiling depends on Ben Simmons’s jump shot development.
Kirkland: Fake News. It is more than possible for Ben Simmons to contribute to winning without a jump shot. He and Giannis are two guys who will be in the league for over a decade at a high level without becoming elite shooters. What he needs to do is get to the line more (only 5.4 attempts per game) and be better once he gets there (60% ft). If he isn’t going to stretch the defense he needs to be more aggressive getting to the rim and breaking the defense in the paint. James Harden shoots 11 free throws per game. With Simmons’s athleticism id like to see him in the 7-9 range with higher percentages. If he’s doing that and their guys hit threes Philly will be fine.
John-Baptiste: Fake News. But not for the same reason my counterpart mentioned above. The ceiling for the 76ers’ depends on the health and stability of Joel Embiid. We saw during the postseason how gassed he would look in the second half of games. It reminds me of how dominant Shaquille O’Neal was in his time, all the while Kobe complained about how out of shape he was. The ‘Embiid Stopper’ Al Horford is now a member of the Sixers, leaving the Eastern Conference vulnerable to defend that position. If Embiid if healthy for a complete season it’ll be devastating for the competition.
4. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will both be All-Stars next season.
Kirkland: This is facts. I am not sure how it will translate in the wins column, but between Harden’s efficiency and Westbrook’s stat-stuffing playstyle, both of these guys will be in Chicago for the all-star break. They will have to find a way to make it work with both guys being so high-usage for the majority of their careers, but they genuinely like each other and are gifted enough passers to make it work in theory. Westbrook will have to see some of his low-percentage attempts come down which is the way the Rockets run their system anyway. I’m expecting Russ to have a surprisingly efficient year with a cleaner shot profile.
John-Baptiste: Big Facts. Remember when people said the James Harden/Chris Paul tandem wouldn’t work? Well this reminds me of that, with more explosiveness from the guard position. Westbrook is not as efficient as Paul from behind the arc, but the other aspects of his game can make up for it. Imagine, Westbrook gets the rebound and is sprinting at back-pedaling defense with P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon filing out to the corners, and Harden trailing? Scary huh?
5. If the Clippers win the NBA Championship Kawhi Leonard moves to top 5 All-Time.
Kirkland: Being a three-time champ and two/three-time finals MVP with three different franchises with two of those championships marking the end of dynasties is quite the resume. I think he needs to make a few more playoff runs to be considered top 5 after this season alone but a championship puts him top-10 comfortably in my opinion. He is an elite player on both ends and has proven that with the right team around him not even “superteams” are a match for his effectiveness and defense. A championship this season would put him on the Mt. Rushmore radar but not there yet.
John-Baptiste: Fake News. But I’d welcome the argument to make the case. Outside of the championships and Finals MVP’s, Leonard has made the All-Defensive team five times, including two Defensive Player of the Year awards. That’s as impressive of a resume you’re going to get. However, many of the greats have shown consistency throughout the years of their career. He may not be quite there yet, but with another couple seasons playing at a high level we may just see the narrative creep towards that territory.