The NBA season kicked off last night with the Cleveland Cavaliers routing the New York Knicks, the Portland Trail Blazers squeaking by the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs putting a surprising spanking on the Golden State Warriors.
A few members of the Society convened to discuss the teams that participated in the league’s Opening Night, responding to some questions in regards to those squads. Our writers for this Roundtable are:
Alec Walt (@AlecWalt)
Kyle Allan (@KAllan441)
DJ Allen (@DJAllen23)
Alfonzo De Falco (@FonzyDeFalco)
B.J. Boyer (@wcboyer24)
1. Will we see much of a championship hangover from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first few months of the season?
Walt: I don’t think the Cleveland Cavaliers will be hungover from their championship to start the season. They brought back a large majority of last years team and are the favorites to return to the Finals this season. The biggest key is everyone staying healthy. If the Cavaliers stay healthy they’ll take over the Eastern Conference once again.
Allan: Unless they get off to a hot start, I can see a little bit of a championship hangover. When LeBron was in Miami, I remember that they did not start off well coming off their first title, to eventually come back and win it again. Even if they do get off to a slow start, it’s all about how you finish and the Cavaliers are obviously very capable of finishing with another championship trophy.
Allen: Maybe a championship hangover from LeBron, but not the Cavs as a whole. As James ages, I think he’s going to save his body until the second half of the season. Kyrie Irving will take over early on and once we get closer to the playoffs, that’s when LeBron will begin to pick things up. It won’t hurt the Cavs though because LeBron at half speed is better than a lot of players in the league.
De Falco: I don’t think so. Knowing LeBron James he’ll make sure that his teammates will be ready to go at all times during the season.
Boyer: I don’t anticipate the Cavaliers having much of a championship hangover. LeBron James is one of the best leaders in the NBA, which will help the Cavs combat any lethargy, and I believe Kyrie Irving’s emergence will help to stave off sluggishness as well. Irving is coming off the best basketball summer imaginable, and his eagerness to continue to build on that will prevent the Cavs from looking listless early on.
2. On a scale of 1-10, how much is the Knicks’ lack of bench depth a concern?
Walt: 8. The New York Knicks’ bench is awful. Their second unit is Brandon Jennings, Justin Holiday, Lance Thomas, Maurice Ndour and Kyle O’Quinn. Jennings and O’Quinn are reliable bench players, but their wing depth isn’t reliable. If anyone in the Knicks starting five gets injured they’ll be in a lot of trouble. Derrick Rose is the most injury prone player in the NBA. Phil Jackson didn’t do enough this offseason to improve his bench.
Allan: 7. I would say they are really only set at the point guard position, which is something to keep an eye on with Derrick Rose’s injury history. The bench is just very young, we will see how they start the season because they can make a mid-season move to improve their bench.
Allen: 8!! I don’t know anyone on their bench outside of Brandon Jennings. That’s where a lot of their problems will come, but there shouldn’t be a time where one of their big names isn’t on the court to help lead that second group.
De Falco: 6. I am fine with the Knicks bench. The only concern is if anyone in the starting lineup gets hurt, will a member of the bench step when needed too.
Boyer: 8.5. Depth is of minimal concern when you reach the postseason because rotations get shorter and teams are more reliant on their top-tier talent, but New York’s starting five is going to have to exert maximum effort to just reach the playoffs. Their bench is rail-thin outside of Brandon Jennings, Kyle O’Quinn and Lance Thomas, littered with young and or unproven talent. Phil Jackson has some tinkering to do with his second unit because depth can make a huge difference in the regular season, and the Knicks simply don’t have much of it right now.
3. Trust It or Bust It: The Utah Jazz are a 50-win team.
Walt: Trust it. The Utah Jazz will win 50 games this season. Utah has the deepest team in basketball. They acquired George Hill to lead the offense and Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw to lead the locker room. It’s still Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors’ team, but the Jazz finally have the veteran leadership with playoff experience to help guide this team to 50 wins. Watch out for the Jazz.
Allan: Bust it. I think the Jazz are going to be a very good team but will fall just short of 50 wins. Missing Gordon Hayward to start the season will be tough for them. They will be in the playoffs but I am just not sure if they can get to 50. Compared to last year, if they got 50+ wins they would’ve been the fifth seed, I am just not sure if they are top-five in the West yet.
Allen: Trust it! I like this Utah team and I believe it’s finally their time to take that next step. I like their acquisition of George Hill who I feel is underrated. I believe Rodney Hood will take a leap and overall this team will be very solid.
De Falco: I trust it. I originally had them as a 45-win team. This team is young and talented so they will have a few nice surprise wins.
Boyer: Trust it. I think. Utah finally infused some veteran talent into their roster to flank their youngsters, and that will give them the experience they’ve been deprived of the last several seasons. Gordon Hayward’s injury is a minor setback, but fans should expect a major comeback from him, as well as a Rodney Hood coming out party. If Utah wants to breach the 50-win territory, they’ve got to get healthy right away, and hope to see more from the likes of Dante Exum, who oozes eons of potential.
4. Trust It or Bust It: The Portland Trail Blazers are a top-five seed.
Walt: Trust it. The Portland Trail Blazers are a top-five team in the Western Conference because of Kevin Durant. Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder, which takes them out of the top-five. That also eases division competition to win extra games in 2016-2017. The Trail Blazers were a top-five team last season when the Western Conference was stronger than it is this season. Expect Damian Lillard to post elite numbers.
Allan: Trust it. Even when they came into the season without LaMarcus Aldridge last year, the young core of Portland responded. They finished at No. 5 in the West and have improved from last year. The combination of Lillard and McCollum will be dirty once again, and their bench is actually pretty solid.
Allen: Trust it. As long as Damian Lilliard is healthy, the Trail Blazers will be in the playoff hunt. Many people believe they overachieved last season but I think they were where they were supposed to be. This team is tough and they have two guards who are hard to defend. Lilliard will be in the MVP discussion this season and as long as he’s in that discussion this team will be successful.
De Falco: I trust this also. They were the 5th seed last year and the 4th seed the year before that. Damian Lillard is their superstar and he has a nice supporting cast with him.
Boyer: Trust it, but not completely. Portland was the beneficiary of a few hot months last season, but outside of January and February where they went 18-7, they were 26-31. Evan Turner’s transition hasn’t been as seamless as I anticipated, and Festus Ezeli is still nursing an achy knee. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum made it hard to bet against the Blazers snagging a top-five seed, but I’m not as easily sold as everyone else seems to be.
5. Who is Golden State’s third best player: Klay Thompson or Draymond Green?
Walt: Draymond Green. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant bring elite offense. Draymond Green brings elite defense. Green gives the Golden State Warriors an attitude and energy on defense. He covers the opposing teams best players and leads the defensive rotations on the wing. Green’s defensive presence slides him into the third spot. Thompson as the No. 4 option shows how scary the Warriors can be.
Allan: Klay Thompson. I still can’t get over that 37-point quarter from two years ago vs. the Kings. It is very close, but I go with Thompson because I think he would still be more successful than Draymond if he was taken off the team. The stats may not reflect it this coming year, as Green has the ability for triple-doubles on a nightly basis, but Thompson’s shooting efficiency can never go unnoticed. Give me Klay.
Allen: Easily Klay Thompson. With KD on this squad, we will see a drop off from Draymond Green. Klay is going to see so many wide open jumpers that it’s not going to be funny. Draymond will still have his opportunities but they won’t need him to score because they have three great shooters who should be getting majority of the shots. I think Klay is the third best player but they will desperately need Draymond to continue to do the little things.
De Falco: I say Draymond. Every successful team has always had an energy guy. He does all the little things that I think will help Golden State this season.
Boyer: Klay Thompson. We laud Draymond Green for being a defensive dynamo, but Thompson isn’t too far off. I can’t name many wings capable of guarding James Harden, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving in rapid succession, and that’s what Thompson did this past postseason. Although he struggled to corral Kyrie in the final three games of the series, if you go back and look at the film, he was forcing Irving into the shots Golden State wanted him to take. Pair that with his superior offensive capabilities from a scoring standpoint as compared to Draymonds’s, and I think it’s fair to say Klay is the Warriors’ third best player.
6. Is San Antonio the clear-cut second best team in the West?
Walt: No one in the Western Conference is close to the San Antonio Spurs for the second spot. The Los Angeles Clippers are a good team, but they won’t be as consistent at the Spurs. The Spurs are entering their second full season with LaMarcus Aldridge. They did lose franchise star Tim Duncan, but Pau Gasol, who averaged a double-double last season in Chicago, should temporarily fill the void. Gregg Popovich enters 2016-2017 with a championship contender.
Allan: I think that they are the second best team in the West by default. The Clippers have not shown me enough as to why they could over take them this year. If they stay healthy though, they could give San Antonio a scare.
Allen: Yes. I don’t really see anyone outside of the Warriors and the Spurs who can contend for a spot in the Finals. Many may mention the Los Angeles Clippers but my faith in them has never existed. They always find a way to shoot themselves in the foot or just crap the bed.
De Falco: I actually have San Antonio as the first seed in the West in our Society Forum. My gut feeling is that Golden State will actually struggle in the beginning of the year, which in turn will help the Spurs gain the first seed. However when it comes to the playoffs, the Warriors will be the best team in the West while the Spurs will be the second best.
Boyer: No. I know most pundits berate the Clippers, but for some reason there’s this cloud of mystique engulfing them for me. They understand their window will remain slightly ajar for only so much longer, as Chris Paul continues to advance in age (with surprisingly no slippage), and Blake Griffin being dangled as trade bait. I think this will all coalesce itself into a sense of urgency we’ve yet to really see from this team. Will this result in the No. 2 seed? I’m not completely sure, but I think them challenging for it isn’t completely unfathomable.
BONUS: Which team (besides your own) will you make a concentrated effort to watch during Opening Week?
Walt: I will make a concentrated effort to watch the Minnesota Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are two future NBA stars. This is the first full off-season they have together as teammates. With Tom Thibodeau, their defensive struggles will be fixed. The Timberwolves are a borderline playoff team this season. Their season starts with Memphis, Sacramento, Memphis, Denver, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Orlando. The easy schedule should win them some games early in the season.
Allan: I will be watching a lot of the Chicago Bulls. I am curious to see how Rondo and Wade do with Jimmy Butler. They need to know that this is Butler’s team and their time there is limited. I think they can be a top 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Allen: Ugh there’s so many. I obviously wanna see the Warriors because who doesn’t!? I also want to see what the New York Knicks will be this season and if they can make the playoffs. But I’m excited to watch the youth out in Minnesota. I’m high on this team like many and I believe they can make the playoffs this season.
De Falco: I’ll be looking at the two teams we discussed earlier (Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers) and the Minnesota Timberwolves. All three of these teams are young and have a lot of potential so I am excited to see how they will do. It makes the Western Conference a lot more interesting.
Boyer: The Oklahoma City Thunder. Everyone cannot wait to watch Russell Westbrook release his post-Kevin Durant fury on the entire league, and although I don’t believe it can result in an MVP like many speculate, his rage will be one of the greatest spectacles in the Association this season.