In today's edition of Around The League, Alex Golden asked 5-questions regarding the latest topics in the NBA. Today's guest: Matt Schoch (Locked on Pistons), Robert Flom (Blazers Edge, Clips Nation & BBall Index) and Adam Aaronson (Liberty Ballers). (answers were submitted Friday at 12:00 PM)
Adam's Twitter: https://twitter.com/SixersAdam
Matt's Twitter: https://twitter.com/Matt_Schoch_
Robert's Twitter: https://twitter.com/RichHomieFlom
1). The Detroit Pistons have been one of the hottest teams after the All-Star Break. What has been the key to their success and how high is their ceiling for the playoffs?
Adam Aarronson: While they’ve had a recent two-game slump in which they’ve failed to exceed 75 points in either contest, the Pistons were on fire coming out of the break, winning eight of their first nine games. And the biggest reason may be Andre Drummond, who despite his frustrating inconsistencies can greatly elevate a team when he is at his best. In that 8-1 stretch, Drummond put up averages of 18.8 points, 16.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.7 blocks per game, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. Blake Griffin is Detroit’s best player, but there’s a case to be made that their ultimate fate in the playoffs will be decided by how effective Drummond can be.
As for Detroit’s ceiling in the playoffs, I don’t think it’s high. I would be shocked if they did any better than losing competitively in the first round. But to be fair to the Pistons, who are a decent team, this has much more to do with the top of the Eastern Conference, which is tremendous (more on this later). I just struggle to see ant scenario in which they take four out of seven from any of the East’s powers.
Matt Schoch: The biggest key has been the improved health of Reggie Jackson, although Andre Drummond's mostly consistent focus and Luke Kennard's breakout have also been crucial. If all three continue, the Pistons should earn the sixth seed. The ceiling for the playoffs is being a tough out in the first round, unless Indiana gets the third seed, in which case there's a coin flip chance for a series win. That's all though.
Robert Flom: While I think you may have jinxed the poor Pistons with this question (they were absolutely massacred in their last two games), I think the answer to their post-ASB success has been simple. Their second and third most important players have stepped up their games significantly. Reggie Jackson is scoring 16.9 points per game after the break compared to 14.9 before, has upped his usage by nearly 5%, and has done all this while increasing his efficiency substantially as well (TS leap 54.4 to 59.3). Andre Drummond’s numbers aren’t as drastically different, but his efficiency has improved as well, and, importantly, he’s actually playing smart defense of late.
Whether the mercurial duo continue their play is up for debate, but even with “activated” Reggie and Drummond, I don’t think they beat any of the top three seeds in the East. They just don’t have the talent or depth to match up with the Bucks, Raps, Sixers, or Celtics, though if they somehow drew the Pacers they would have a shot at beating them. I think their realistic ceiling is a competitive 1st round playoff series.
2). UNFORTUNATELY WE SAW AN UNCOMFORTABLE SCENE IN UTAH MONDAY EVENING BETWEEN WESTBROOK AND A JAZZ FAN. HOW CAN THE NBA GO ABOUT PREVENTING FANS FROM INTERACTING WITH PLAYERS LIKE THIS?
Adam Aarronson: Nothing can amplify a big game like a great crowd. And being a great crowd is not just about cheering for your own players -- every fanbase in sports will boo their favorite team’s opponents, and that’s okay. But what happened with Westbrook in Utah was obviously across the line. I was glad to see that the Jazz permanently banned the fan, and this should serve as an example for the rest of the league and its fans. Boo and heckle as much as you please, but any sort of rhetoric similar to the one used by this Utah fan should be grounds for a ban from the arena.
Matt Schoch: There's not much the league can do. Westbrook has a reputation as a player who will engage with unruly fans and they're playing into that in Utah, so there's no winners there. Glad to see the Jazz banned the fan, but there's always going to be the chance these things happen again with players and fans in such close proximity. Being right on top of the action makes those seats so valuable, but it comes with some risk.
Robert Flom: It’s tough, as the NBA obviously can’t police each individual fan at stadiums that seat 15,000+ people. However, the punishments should be stringent (the Jazz banned the fan for life, which is good), and the NBA should support its players in these matters quickly and strongly. Even something like an announcement before every game to treat players with respect and keep trash-talking civilized could help a bit.
3). THE LAKERS SEASON WENT THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE OF HOW THEY HAD HOPED. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE LAKERS THIS OFF-SEASON IN HOW THEY RETOOL THIS ROSTER?
Adam Aarronson: The only obvious fact is that the Lakers will pursue a star to put next to LeBron James. Their first choice is likely a trade for Anthony Davis, but New Orleans has shown very little interest in the Lakers’ young core thus far. And they will explore every other route to obtaining a star. But as for the rest of the roster, I would imagine that after seeing what happened this season, they will prioritize shooting to surround LeBron with players who actually fit next to him. They openly doubted this strategy last off-season, and it came back to bite them.
Matt Schoch: The Lakers will try to land the big fish once again, but may have to settle for second tier free agents like Jimmy Butler or Boogie Cousins. I could see those two coming to LA to team with LeBron next season, becoming a playoff team but not a title contender.
Robert Flom: As long as Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are running the show, I’m not expecting the Lakers approach to change, really. I think they might have learned something from the AD trade debacle, but they’re still under pressure to try to put a competitive team around LeBron James as soon as possible. There’s also really been nothing to indicate that they will change their tack much from relying on the “legacy, history, Lakers (cue gif) brand” approach to building a team. I think they’re going for stars, and will probably get at least one. The rest of the roster is a question mark, though I do expect some of the young guys to get shipped off one way or another. Basically, I think they’re going to do what they’ve done the past couple years: hope for stars, and surround them with “big name” veterans.
4). PAUL GEORGE REPORTEDLY HAS AN ISSUE WITH HIS SHOULDER, AND HAS MISSED GAMES FROM IT. THE SERIOUSNESS OF THIS INJURY SEEMS TO BE UNKNOWN, BUT HOW DOES THIS INJURY AFFECT THE THUNDER’S PLAYOFF CHANCES?
Adam Aarronson: Forgive me if this is stating the obvious, but the Thunder need Paul George to be at 100% if they want any chance of making noise in the playoffs. They went 1-2 in his brief absence, the one win being a four-point victory at home against a much lesser Grizzlies team. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but they have struggled without their MVP candidate all season long. When George is off the floor, OKC has been outscored by eight points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass -- a strikingly bad number that needs significant improvement. So while they struggle without him in the lineup, Oklahoma City needs to do whatever necessary to ensure that George is a full go come April and May.
Matt Schoch: I've never been as bullish as everyone else on OKC's ultimate playoff chances this season anyways. I don't see them getting to the Western Conference Finals even with a healthy George. If he's limited by an injury in a major way, the Thunder will be out in the first round for the third straight season.
Robert Flom: If his injury lingers until the playoffs, and the result is that PG is “regular All Star PG” instead of “supernova MVP PG”, the Thunder’s playoff chances will be dampened by a massive margin. With MVP level George, the Thunder are a legitimate threat to make the Western Conference Finals, and possibly even challenge the Warriors. With the lesser version of George, it’s tough to see the Thunder beating the Rockets, and even teams like the Nuggets or Blazers could prove challenging as well. And without MVP George, they have no prayer against the Warriors. George has been the best player on the Thunder this year by a long shot, and if he’s limited at all, their true hopes of contention go with him.
5). WHEN IT’S ALL SAID IN DONE, WHAT TEAM IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE DO YOU SEE MAKING IT TO THE NBA FINALS?
Adam Aarronson: I have to go with the Milwaukee Bucks, who currently hold the best record and point differential in the NBA. There is a lot of hesitancy with them that I find, which I understand due to their inexperience. But whatever worries there are about experience should be easily overridden by how great they are. They’ve spent the entire season blowing teams out. It won’t be an easy road, as whoever they would play in the Conference Semifinals and Finals will give them all they can handle. The Raptors have a tremendous team with great flexibility. The Sixers have a very shaky bench, but the top of their roster might be better than that of any other team in the East. Boston’s season has been chaotic, but they can’t be ruled out as a contender. Ultimately though, I lean towards Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, whose outright dominance this season has been very impressive.
Matt Schoch: I was the idiot who predicted Boston would win the whole darn thing before the season started. Certainly Milwaukee has been the East's best team this season, but as a masochist, I'll still pick the Celtics to turn it around and win the conference. It's not going to happen, but won't I look smart if it does?
Robert Flom: The Bucks. It’s tempting to go with the Sixers’ star power, the Raptors’ playoff experience and veteran depth, and the Celtics’ latent talent, but the Bucks have been the best team in the East (and the NBA, really) all season, and all the advanced numbers point to them as being legit. Giannis Antetokounmpo would be my pick for MVP, and the Bucks probably have the best overall depth of any team in the NBA. Yes, they lack some starpower outside Giannis, but Eric Bledsoe has been a monster this season, and Khris Middleton causes matchup issues for a lot of teams. A lot of their key players lack extensive playoff experience, but it’s hard to think that will rattle a team as purely competent and well-coached as the Bucks.
Edited By: Alex Golden