Here we take a look at 24 questions/ideas that have been fulfilled in the 2019-20 season.
1. Jimmy Butler has found a home in Miami
Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have practically settled in as a middle-of-the-pack team since moving on from the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh trio.
There is a new star in town and that would be Jimmy Butler. Riley signed players like James Johnson, Dion Waiters, and Hassan Whiteside (no longer with the team) to questionable contracts. However, the new young talent he added in guys like Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and All-Star Bam Adebayo has given the Heat new standing in the East.
Also recall that Chris Paul was rumored to be a main target of this team over the summer. That talk appears to have all but vanished. South Beach is heating up again with Butler averaging career-highs of 9.4 FTA, 6.8 REB, 6.3 AST.
2. Derrick Rose Hall of Fame talk is also heating up
D-Rose just recently ended his streak of 14 consecutive games with 20 or more points. That’s the first time that’s happened since his 2010-11 MVP campaign. It would surely be rare to see a regular season MVP winner actually miss the Hall of Fame but that’s where Rose appeared to be heading until the last year or so.
Despite scoring 50 points in a game while reuniting with Coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota last season, Rose missed over 30 games and the Timberwolves went down with him. Rose has played in 44 of 53 games this year, however, and has simply been terrific. That’s raised the question, “does Rose now deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame?”
Rose is shooting just shy of 50 percent from the field as well as averaging 25.2 points per 36 minutes. Both of those are career-best marks.
3. The Nuggets are no fluke
Denver battled with Golden State for first place in the West nearly the entire 2018-19 season and eventually came up three games short. As of today, the Lakers are the only Western Conference team with more wins. It’s a lot more than just winning numbers though.
Nikola Jokic’s sensational offensive regime (20.6 PTS, 10.3 REB, 6.8 AST) gives them every reason they need to challenge (or actually be) the best of the West. The Nuggets are one of seven teams with a top-12 offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency and their defense has actually been slightly better than their offense.
This remains the team that overwhelms almost every other team with too much depth. The Nuggets would probably have to sacrifice some of that depth in order to get another star-caliber player alongside Jokic and Jamal Murray. The notion around the league seems to indicate that’s in their best interest.
4. OKC is way better off after trading Westbrook/George
Let’s quickly recap the Thunder’s offseason: traded Paul George to the Clippers for Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five future first-round picks (plus the right to swap picks), traded Russell Westbrook to the Rockets for Chris Paul and two future first-round picks (plus the right to swap two different picks), traded Jerami Grant to the Nuggets for a first-round pick, and drafted Darius Bazley.
OKC clearly intended to reset and proceed into rebuilding mode despite acquiring a win-now player in CP3. The difference after 50 games from last year: that’s right, only two games worse than the team led by Westbrook and George. 21-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (26.6 PTS per 100 possessions) is no pushover but a rising star.
5. Trae Young is the real deal
I’m not sure it’s completely fair to proclaim him the second coming of Stephen Curry and here’s why: so many guards these days have a shoot-first mentality because they can really shoot the ball. Young is one of many but definitely does give us flashes of a young Curry the way he lets loose from the halfcourt logo.
Young is averaging almost 30 points in his sophomore season and Curry didn’t even average over 20 points until his fourth year in the league. It’s scary that Young still has so much room to improve, and in reality, has no ceiling whatsoever. You may not know he shoots better than 50 percent from inside the arc too.
Unfortunately the Hawks are one of the three most lowly-performing teams this season but Young figures to change that in due time. Atlanta pulled the trigger on trading for Clint Capela to bolster its frontcourt and that should go a long way in assisting Young in his quest for greatness.
6. The Clippers know how sought-after Montrezl Harrell will be
Montrezl Harrell (career 31.3 PTS, 11.6 REB per 100 possessions) is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this year. With or without him though, the Clippers do and will continue to have championship aspirations.
Here’s where they may run into a problem: L.A.C. has over $98 million tied into Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Ivica Zubac for next season. Harrell’s market is really going to be buzzing and the Clippers may be financially unable to meet his requests.
Here’s another thing about Harrell: he has missed just one game over the past two seasons and that makes him perhaps even more valuable based on the contract he is about to earn this offseason. That’s the type of competitor any team would welcome with open arms.
7. Malcolm Brogdon is a really good player the Bucks don’t need
This is anything but a knock on Malcolm Brogdon because he might be one of the most fundamentally sound players in the league. The Bucks just had enough firepower to withstand his loss without giving an inch to opposing contenders.
Therefore, this is more about how the Bucks contentedly built their team over the years rather than the individual destiny of Brogdon. He isn’t en enemy of Milwaukee either because this was the team responsible for giving him the freedom to transform from second-round pick to Rookie of the Year.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe give them everything that Brogdon gave them and more. Brogdon is now with the Pacers and could potentially match up with the Bucks should they escape the first round. That would be a fun matchup but a healthy Bucks team should easily win.
8. Pascal Siakam is unarguably a franchise player
Their Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard moved across the U.S. but the Raptors have somehow found a way to remain elite – at least in the company of Eastern Conference teams not named the Bucks.
Here’s a little clue: it’s mainly because of Pascal Siakam (2.1 3PM, 23.7 PTS, 7.7 REB), one of the top two-way players in the league and now a constant threat in the East. The Raptors are currently riding a franchise-best 12-game winning streak and they’ve even fared reasonably well through injuries (Siakam included).
Siakam was seen as more of an unsung hero at this time last year, like not quite an All-Star but more than serviceable as a second or third option and a certified pest defensively. Siakam has come a long way in a short period of time. Maybe the restaurants in Toronto should offer him free food since Leonard didn’t accept it.
9. The Spurs are (finally) an average team at best
The Spurs traded for DeMar DeRozan (53.7 FG%, 23.2 PTS, 5.2 AST) two summers ago with the intent of maintaining playoff legitimacy in the Western Conference. That hasn’t worked out so well though as it appears time is finally not their friend but their enemy.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s best days are behind him, and while he can still erupt for 30 points any given night, younger big men like Bam Adebayo, John Collins and Domantas Sabonis have surpassed him in convincing fashion. Soon enough there will be more players joining that list.
Dejounte Murray recently put the pen to paper on a four-year, $64-million extension but has yet to capitalize on the player we anticipated him to be. Murray might be fully recovered from his torn ACL but he’s clearly still adapting to the situation while playing just 24 minutes per game.
10. Brandon Ingram is finally showing his KD-like tendencies
Being drafted by the Lakers gave Brandon Ingram all the attention he needed as soon as he entered the league in the 2016-17 season. By the standards there, however, Ingram was underwhelmingly nothing more than a solid player and turned into more of a trade rumor topic when LeBron James signed there.
The trade to the Pelicans has given Ingram new life and he’s emerged on the scene and blossomed into an All-Star before our eyes. It might be a reach to compare anyone to Kevin Durant but an early-career Ingram isn’t a terrible comparison.
Ingram is one of 13 players averaging 25 points per game and is now very reliable beyond the perimeter where he shoots exactly 40 percent.
11. Andre Iguodala’s work is not finished
The 2015 Finals MVP has collected three Larry O’Brien trophies in the last five years as a member of the Warriors, who felt obligated to trade him for salary reasons. Iguodala refused to report to the Grizzlies, the team that traded for him, and his wish was finally granted with him now heading to Miami.
At this point in his career, Iguodala wants one thing and that’s more championship rings. There were several suitors for the 36-year-old swingman who has done it all from winning championships to hitting game-winning shots to claiming All-Defensive honors and so forth.
Is there any team (especially contender) that couldn’t use Iguodala? He’s a guy there’s always room for regardless of how solidified a team’s rotation is more than halfway through the season. That’s why the Heat conceded a young asset in Justise Winslow for Iguodala’s services.
12. Big men continue to get the most credit on defense
Since Michael Jordan won the award in the 1987-88 season, 13 of the 17 Defensive Player of the Year winners have been big men (when including power forwards Draymond Green and Dennis Rodman). That’s not unordinary with guys like today’s Rudy Gobert, the back-to-back DPOY, having the height, wingspan and motor to thoroughly affect the game on that side of the ball.
There certainly is a fair share of lockdown perimeter defenders but that seems to blend in as more of a team effort. Gobert and Draymond Green have something in common: that’s being able to protect the rim but also have the versatility to defend quicker players at times. Anthony Davis appears to have made his way into the conversation to dethrone Gobert and it’s very possible with how effective the Lakers’ defense has been this season.
13. The Celtics’ team chemistry has been restored
It was apparent that last year’s team was lacking a locker room connections amongst all the players. Al Horford is not an easy guy to lose for that matter because his leadership has been well-documented throughout his career. However, questions surrounding Kyrie Irving’s leadership have also been well-documented.
The Celtics were hopeful Kemba Walker would not only take the keys to the offense but also be the vocal leader this team apparently needed. Does Irving get too much negative speculation over his leadership skills? Yes, he probably does but that isn’t to disregard what this team was missing last year.
Another year and another loaded roster filled with talent for the Celtics. Now they need something to show for it on the court when it comes playoff time.
14. The Blake Griffin trade isn’t looking great in hindsight
This take wouldn’t have been accepted last season as Blake Griffin had the best all-around season of his career. The root of the problem was overworking Griffin last year to the point where he just wasn’t the same by the time the playoffs came around and that has yet to change with him likely being shut down for the remainder of this season.
That being said, I’m not one to be extra critical of the move by Pistons former management because the deal didn’t look half bad at the time. The Pistons were hungry for a franchise player and perhaps Griffin could have been that long-term if they had simply managed his workload better.
Sometimes it’s tough to judge anything outside of the present-day scenario and that would be the two years, $75 million remaining on his contract following this year. The Pistons are in need of a bold move that pays off.
15. Damian “Dame Time” Lillard is officially unstoppable
Damian Lillard (career-highs 46.1 FG%, 29.7 PTS, 7.9 AST) has saluted the late legend with a string of 40-and-50-point performances reminiscent of the great Kobe Bryant. His scoring totals were as follows from January 20th through February 1st: 61, 47, 50, 36, 48 and 51.
Recall that Kobe scored 40 points or more in a period of nine straight games in the 2002-03 season. Then in 2007, he scored at least 50 points in four consecutive games. Lillard shot about 57 percent from three-point land on a whopping 49 made triples in his respective series of games.
The crazy thing about Lillard is that he’s a five-time All-Star but he’s never been named a starter. That’s not necessarily a shocker only because players on winning teams, such as Stephen Curry and James Harden, have gained more popularity in the media. Lillard has been the unscripted underdog for so long and it’s about time that’s changed.
16. Draymond Green is still a necessity for the Warriors’ success
Draymond Green is well on his way to becoming one of the winningest players in NBA history. Since averaging 49 wins in his first two years in the league, the Warriors have won 57, 58, 67 (twice) and 73 games in each individual season. That’s until this season in which Green is finally on the other end of the totem pole.
I have a problem with calling this a lost season for he and the Warriors though. Sometimes you have to drop down in order to get back up. Therefore, the Warriors will be playing to win as long as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson come back to full strength and both are young enough to be able to do so.
That leads me to this: in the midst of all these young rising stars, the Warriors need Green just as much as they ever have. It doesn’t matter how much more explosive or athletic an opponent is because he will continue to thrive and preach success off his towering I.Q. on both ends of the floor.
17. The Wizards are really missing their All-Star point guard
Although the roster makeup has changed quite a bit, it’s been over a year since five-time All-Star John Wall has been on the floor with his teammates. Wall really built his resume over the years and eventually developed into one of the league’s most dangerous athletes.
Since Wall has been out, it’s been backcourt mate Bradley Beal that’s picked up the slack. Wall’s absence has allowed Beal to expand his game in different areas, especially when it comes to playmaking. Whatever the case may be, Beal needs Wall back if this team is ever going to get back on track.
Wall and Beal’s contracts amount to over $140 million combined after this year and that’s not taking their third-year player options into account. The Wizards will have to make it work.
18. Pacers management has been stellar since dealing Paul George
If you ask me, critics are wrong about half of the time and those critics couldn’t have been more incorrect when looking at the Paul Goerge deal in hindsight. At the time, Victor Oladipo was seen as a steady two-way player but that changed immediately after he was traded from OKC before the 2017-18 season.
Oladipo might not have all the ability that George did but he is just as committed (especially on defense). Oladipo has played only 40 games the past two seasons. The Pacers have stayed afloat during that time though because of the tough identity and work ethic he brought there.
Oladipo is a two-time All-Star and now Domantas Sabonis (54.0 FG%, 25.9 PTS, 17.9 REB per 100 possessions), the other piece they acquired in the George deal, was also just named an All-Star. In addition to that, if Malcolm Brogdon isn’t an All-Star then he has to be something close.
19. Luka Doncic’s rise to stardom didn’t take long
It’s tough to call out the Suns for picking someone like Deandre Ayton because most other teams probably would have done the same. I think the entire league has already come to fruition with 20-year-old Luka Doncic, not just being a rare type of franchise player, but also a generational talent coming out of Europe.
Doncic is somewhere in between his predecessor Dirk Nowitzki and a young LeBron James. He’s making plays right now that James wouldn’t have even made in his sophomore season. Of course Doncic can’t attack the rim like James could but he possesses the same unselfish mentality and unprecedented playmaking skills.
Oh and another thing: the Mavs are making their Vegas over/under projection of 40.5 wins look foolish thanks to Doncic (28.8 PTS, 9.5 REB, 8.7 AST). He has taken Kristaps Porzingis under his wing and Porzingis doesn’t seem to mind being the complementary star.
20. There’s still room for Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony
Until just recently, it’s been several years since both Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were appreciated on their respective teams.
This is Howard’s second go-around with the Lakers, and while his stats aren’t nearly as good on paper, he has embraced a smaller role while accepting less responsibility on offense. He’s still expected to do what he’s always done on defense.
Anthony can be hard to gauge as it’s unclear how much he has left in the tank. This year, however, he has definitely taken a step forward while gaining the trust of Blazers coach Terry Stotts. Melo is shooting his best three-point percentage since 2013-14 and he’s still never averaged below 32 MPG outside of his short stint with Houston.
21. The Knicks are still trying to figure things out
We hear nonstop about the Knicks repeatedly targeting marquee free agents and ultimately failing to bring them in. Marcus Morris wasn’t a bad consolation prize but he didn’t exactly make sense for a Knicks team with no apparent direction.
Like Kristaps Porzingis, Morris was also traded cross-conference to a team looking to make noise sooner rather than later. The Porzingis situation is still lingering on this franchise because there was initially so much hope surrounding him there.
There’s really only one way for the Knicks to get out of this mess and that’s hitting home-runs on all of their upcoming draft picks, which is a lot easier said than done.
22. There’s no more waiting, Devin Booker’s time is now
First of all, I would like to piggyback off that header by saying Devin Booker is probably one of the more notable All-Star snubs in recent All-Star snub history. Look, there are a lot of great players and major depth at guard in the Western Conference. However, Booker can’t possibly be doing any more for his team right now.
Put an asterisk mark by his 2019-20 season statistics which show him shooting better than 50 percent from the field while averaging 26.7 points and 6.3 assists. On top of that, the Suns aren’t miserably bad like they had been his first four years.
Perhaps another 70-point performance would wake up everyone that’s sleeping on him because Phoenix might still have a ways to go before approaching the playoff conversation.
23. The Andrew Wiggins/Karl-Anthony Towns experiment didn’t go as planned
The Wolves have lost 13 straight games and counting. Let’s just say the ball has not bounced their way as of late and the Andrew Wiggins trade rumors finally turned into a reality. Wiggins (30.3 PTS per 100 possessions) was getting a lot of praise earlier this season but that has quieted down since.
They took a chance on Jimmy Butler a couple of years ago and that never panned out either. They did, however, just trade for D’Angelo Russell who is a close friend of Karl-Anthony Towns. Russell now joins his fourth team in five seasons and we can only hope he flourishes as the veteran point guard Minnesota needed.
As for K.A.T., he remains one of the highest-upside players in the entire league. While he’ll be counting on Russell to give him the support he needs, the Timberwolves could still be looking at significant offseason changes.
24. The Rockets can’t be considered the contenders they were the last few years
As great as it is seeing two former MVPs in James Harden and Russell Westbrook reunited, there are still some glaring doubts about whether the Rockets have enough to compete with the best of the West.
The Rockets rank in the top three of the league in offensive efficiency for the fourth straight season while Harden (nearly 36 PPG over last two years) is an offensive superhero that can’t be contained defensively. I don’t know if it’s fair to say this team will go as far as he takes them though.
Reason being is that he shouldn’t be at fault for making this team one-dimensional at times. General Manager Daryl Morey is always looking for ways to enrich the foundation he started building early last decade but he also tries to win with a different methodology, as we can see with Clint Capela recently being dealt.