NBA Roundtable: Players Speak on Mental Health, Best Rookie Class Ever?

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Several of our writers got together to discuss current NBA happenings including trust in the Raptors, the state of the Bucks, NBA players speaking out on mental health, and Anthony Davis. Participants this week: 

1. How much can we trust the Raptors in this year’s playoffs?

De Falco: Hopefully, I feel like this has been said before in past years. The Raptors have been a good team the past few years but once they go late in the playoffs, they flop. The team looks good on both sides of the ball but will see how the team does once they make it to the second round.

Allen: Personally, it’s an “I have to see it to believe it” situation. They look great at the moment but I’ve seen this team fold too many times in the playoffs to put much trust in them. Kyle Lowry has been himself and DeMar DeRozan has looked like he’s taken his game up a level but I just can’t get myself to trust this team. When the game slows down and you need a bucket, how will the Raptors respond with their backs against the wall? How will they handle adversity when they’re hit with it? I’ve seen them buckle in crucial situations too many times and I can’t get myself to trust them, no matter how good they look.

Anderson: It’s still shaky to me to say we can trust the Toronto Raptors in this year’s playoffs. Demar DeRozan has drastically increased his skill level to the point where he’s a top 2 shooting guard in the league right now, in my opinion. It seem’s as though every year the Raptors make the playoffs, then we see them exiting before the NBA Finals.  Overall, I still can’t seem to trust Toronto just yet. Once they prove themselves in the playoffs that they can make it to the NBA Finals, that is when I’ll start trusting them.

John-Baptiste: It all depends on the matchup. I’ll even go as far as giving them the nod against every team in the East except Cleveland. They’re currently on pace to have their best regular season record in the past 5 seasons, which should be commended. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have shown major strides this season, and Dwayne Casey has been showing out on the coaching side. The bottom line is not many teams have an answer for LeBron James. Especially the playoff form of James. I think that’s what ends up separating the two teams. I’ll believe in them when I see it happen.

Kirkland: They need to find a way to keep their offense going in the playoffs. Every year they are a good regular season team and Either Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, or both start to struggle when playoff time arrives. Something just seems especially potent about them this season with DeRozan being a top 5 MVP candidate this season. With Boston still missing Gordon Hayward and LeBron’s Cavaliers as vulnerable as ever this would be the year for these Raptors to show the world what they can do.

2. Is this year’s class the best rookie class ever? 

De Falco: It’s too early for me to say right now. Don’t get me wrong, there have been excellent rookies so far like Donovan Mitchell, Dennis Smith Jr. and Kyle Kuzma for example but it is too early in their respective careers right now to say that this is the best draft class ever. I still think the 2003 and 2009 are one of the best draft classes in recent years. However, in a few years, the 2017 class might join that conversation.

Allen: EVER is a strong word to put in this sentence. It is amongst the best and there’s a lot of talent in this draft. However, it’s too soon to label them as the best class especially when you don’t know how their games will translate down the line. When I think about the best draft class ever, I immediately think about the draft class of 1996 and how much Hall of Fame talent came out of that year. With such greatness and high-level names, it’s way too soon to put these guys in that debate.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Anderson: Definitely one of the best rookie classes ever, but not so sure number 1. Since we know and anticipate that this next rookie class can be something great, they need to show us first. Pretty much what Allen said about the Raptors, ” I have to see it to believe it”, is the same situation for this rookie class. Yes, we’ve seen Zion Williamson and what he can do, but let’s wait and see at a college level what he can do and see how these rookies can make their class an unforgettable one.

John-Baptiste: Ever? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much now. It’s a really good and competitive class, which has Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell WAY ahead of the curve. Although, I don’t consider Ben Simmons a true rookie. Take someone in the corporate world for example. If you graduated school, had a full year mentorship program and started practicing the following year versus someone fresh out of school, who do you think would have the advantage? Anyway, we’d have to take a look at the ‘96 and the ‘03 classes if we want to take this class into consideration. They’re excellent, but longevity and legacies will matter in the future. Let’s wait.

Kirkland: I think they are more exciting than some of the classes in recent years but they are not the best. I think the way this class is seen is boosted by players that were fun to watch but have yet to have a true NBA impact (Dennis Smith Jr, De’Aaron Fox, Josh Jackson, etc). I am impressed by the number of rookies that were able to come in and provide an instant impact on playoff teams. Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Jayson Tatum have been a joy to watch and I look forward to them developing into the stars of tomorrow.

 

3. How important is it that Kevin Love, Kelly Oubre, DeMar DeRozan, and others are speaking up about their battles with mental health? 

De Falco: It is very important. I think most of forget that these athletes are people too that deal with certain things in their lives. Regular people that have battles with mental health can look at guys like Love or DeRozan and know that they are not alone.

Allen: It’s amazing and I love that they’re inspiring others not to be ashamed. What I love most is the message that was spread by DeRozan and Love. I talked it about it some on the latest episode of Pump Fake to the Altar but it’s the simple message of ‘you never know what someone is going through.‘ Think twice before judging or being nasty to someone because you simply don’t know what they’re going through.

Anderson: This is a very important act from these players and I’m glad they were able to come out and express their battles with mental health. Non-basketball players do not know what it’s like to play and travel every day and what that can do to your head mentally. At least we know that these players are not alone because there are people out there that don’t play NBA Basketball and go through the same mental battles as Love, Oubre, and DeRozan. It’s very important to come out and express feelings and I hope more players open up more like these 3.

John-Baptiste: Extremely important. Look, the notion that these guys are just athletes is idiotic and asinine. They are not robots, nor are they immune to things the rest of society deals with. They’re human, they grew up in our same communities, they have emotions, they bleed, and they vote. The difference is they have cameras around them more than your average celebrity and that exponentially enhances their platform. If we want them to be role models, they must use that platform to reach the masses for causes near and dear to their hearts. Not only does that mean justice within society, it also extends to mental health issues. We like when they give us a deep dive into their physical health issues, right? Well if their mental health is compromised, how can they function? It’s a breath of fresh air when the average Joe can look up and realize that these athletes deal with the same thing he’s been dealing with. Some individuals just look for that connection to understand that they are not alone.

Kirkland: I will never underappreciate the impact of people with a platform who give both a voice and a successful example to those who suffer anonymously all over the world. It is very important for people to see others who they identify with achieve success despite certain obstacles. I appreciate these guys humanizing themselves in order to help others.

 

4.  With his recent surge, does Anthony Davis have an MVP case? 

Jaime Valdez / USA Today Sports

De Falco: Every year Anthony Davis has always been in the MVP talks but this year it is different. Many believed that once DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the year, so would the Pelicans playoff hopes but that is not the case. In fact, if the playoffs started today, New Orleans would be the 4th seed in the West, their highest seeding in the Anthony Davis era. His stat line has stayed the same since last year, but with a higher playoff seeding and a potential move to the 3rd seed, Davis has a case for MVP

Allen: To a degree, yes because he’s playing unbelievable basketball. However, James Harden is so far ahead of the field that it would take a catastrophe for him to lose. Don’t get me wrong, Davis is playing MVP level basketball but there’s no point in debating over who’s coming in second in my opinion.

Anderson: Yes. Anthony Davis has always been playing unbelievable basketball and last month, February, he really played like an MVP. He’s helping lead his team, without Demarcus Cousins, and are currently sitting in the 4th seed in the West. He has been balling averaging 28 points and eleven rebounds. If he can keep this up and play great basketball, they’ll see the postseason without Boogie. I see the brow as the runner-up for the MVP Award behind James Harden.

John-Baptiste: I mean…for second place, sure. This idea that someone should eclipse James Harden this late in the season is absurd. Harden has been abusing the competition all season long and has his team currently in first place in the West. I totally understand that AD has been on a monster tear and has catapulted his team into a potential first-round series with home court advantage. What we didn’t expect from the Pelicans after the Boogie injury, we didn’t expect from the Rockets all season long. I honestly think if James Harden sat the rest of the regular season, this MVP should be locked and sealed.

Kirkland: James Harden is just on such a tear this season that it is hard to imagine anyone being a serious threat to his MVP candidacy. Anthony Davis is a superior talent but has lacked the team success that I would like to see from an MVP. Despite Cousins being injured the Pels are still well in the running to make the playoffs and Davis has been a huge reason for that (lead leader in ppg since the Boogie injury). However, James Harden is just playing on a different planet.

 

5. Should the Milwaukee Bucks continue their current plans with this core of players? 

De Falco: I really believed that at the beginning of the season, the Bucks were going to be a threat in the East but sadly that has not happened. They tried to make a change by trading for Eric Bledsoe but as the 8th seed in the East, changes might need to be made in the offseason.

Allen: No. If I’m in the head office of the Milwaukee Bucks, I’m doing everything I can to surround Giannis Antetokounmpo with a ton of shooters. You have to treat him similar to LeBron James and spread the floor with shooters. Give Antetokounmpo the room to operate and make it hard for the defense to send help his way. I believe that puts him and the team in the best situation possible.

Anderson: No, Giannis Antetokounmpo needs better players around him. Their core needs to be around their all-star and be able to help him more than they are now. I understand trying to get Bledsoe would help, but that did not do much. If I were the Milwaukee Bucks, I would put my team in the best position by surrounding Giannis with shooters and role players that can contribute well to their gameplan.

John-Baptiste: Assuming Giannis is the main player in this “core” then of course, make it all about him. Everyone else should be available though (maybe with the exception of Bledsoe and Brogdon), in my opinion. Giannis’ game is next level, but he still lacks outside shooting. LeBron James saw similar deficiencies in his game early on in his career. Giannis’ best use would likely be to surround him with shooters and a point guard that can handle the ball. I like the Bledsoe piece moving forward as someone that can create off the dribble and handle the ball so Giannis doesn’t need to. The Bucks currently have too many “tweener” players that are in the cusp of being good but aren’t quite there yet.

Kirkland: They need a better offensive system. I think Jabari Parker when healthy can get them over the top of simply depending on Giannis to create offense. His health should determine what they do next. If he’s healthy, go ahead with what you have and let Bledsoe, Giannis, and Parker fight things out with Boston and whoever else comes out of the tunnel at during the Eastern Conference post-LeBron era. If not, keep Giannis and surround him with shooters and playmakers. They have some youth that they need to give another year to look at.

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