Mike’s Five is a segment implemented by RCR in which, given a certain topic, will discuss five key factors, considerations, and/or predictions. The second installment of Mike’s Five will analyze five key NBA free agent acquisitions and/or trades already made during the NBA’s short-lived off-season and free agency period.
1. Houston: 2 PGs are better than one, right?
When this trade was first announced, I’m pretty sure the earth stood still for a minute. I mean, what a way to kick off the NBA off-season, right? One of the top ten players in the league is sent to join another, who just so happened to be the MVP runner-up and basically averaged a triple-double for an 82-game season. The guard combination of James Harden and Chris Paul should absolutely terrorize ANY back court in the league, even you Golden State. Or should it? Let’s break this down. Coach Mike D’Antoni is one of the most brilliant offensive minds the game has ever seen. From touches, to spacing, to minutes, if there’s a way to make it work, he’ll find it. Over his two decades in the league, D’Antoni has implemented, relatively successfully mind you, a type of “run and gun” offense. This system bodes well for a team with two primary ball handlers. Also keep in mind that the pick and roll now dominates the NBA. No team can go one offensive set without at least running one. And who are the two best in the league at executing said play? The two guards in Houston. On the defensive side of the ball, very little changes. Obviously depending on the opponent, but in most cases Patrick Beverley would default to matching up against the opposition’s point guard as James Harden would defend the typically less explosive 2-guard. Chris Paul is league-renowned for his formidable defense. Hell, he’s been selected to 7 All-NBA first teams! He’ll slide right in to that role immediately in Houston with nothing really changing defensively for Mr. Harden. But statistically speaking over the last several seasons, teams in the Western Conference have been much stronger defensively than their peers in the Eastern Conference. Combine that with the unavoidable hiccups of ironing out the kinks with a new big dog in town and it will take Houston some getting used to.
Prediction: Houston’s win column will be in the mid-50s, just around the 55 games they won last year. While absolutely a roster improvement, still not enough to get them past Golden State. Sorry Chris Paul, that sought-after championship will elude you for at least one more season.
2. OKC: Lightening doesn’t strike twice in the same place, but Thunder does.
Who needs Kevin Durant?? Ok, that’s a little extreme, but after losing KD, other than signing Lebron or Kawhi, Paul George is the next best thing. An absolute perfect compliment to Russell Westbrook. Often times when superstars band forces in the NBA, they have similar games and skill sets. But that is not the case when you look at this move. Not only will Russel Westbrook’s game, which is like Magic Johnson reincarnate, not be affected, but it will actually improve from last year. All the double teams and lane clogging tactics that OKC’s opponents used to try to slow down Westbrook last year are no longer an option with PG13 team. Not to even mention the recently acquired Patrick Patterson who is an excellent three point shooter. Teams will have to petition to have an extra player on the court to slow down this offense. Last year, Westbrook won 47 games virtually by himself, while claiming the NBA’s highest honors by winning MVP. Add the fact that you now have arguably the best SF in the conference and the added hunger of seeing your friend turned enemy (lookin’ at you KD) hoist that championship trophy, and big things are coming in OKC.
Prediction: OKC will overwhelm 75% of their opposition with star power alone. PG13 and Russell Westbrook will win plenty of those games in the last 25%, likely placing them as the 2 seed in the west and over 60 games won. What a Western Conference Finals it would be to see GS-OKC. I know Westbrook’s foaming at the mouth given just the thought of it.
3. Boston: Congrats Gordon, but where do we go from here?
Don’t get me wrong, Gordon Hayward is an excellent player. He would improve the roster of any team he went to. But the small forward position is one of the few things they did not really need to improve. Adding a star player is always good, but it doesn’t really address the Celtics most pressing issues. Remember, those same issues that got them swept in the Eastern Conference Finals despite having home court advantage. No perimeter defense and a razor thin front court. I, like most, thought Boston was absolutely going to make a play for Jahlil Okafor to help address these issues. Keep in mind they used the number three overall draft pick in this year’s draft to select Jayson Tatum, the exact same position Gordon Hayward will now play. If you bench the number three player in the draft, that’s almost admitting you made a mistake. If you play him, you now have to move him to the four spot. A 19-year old rookie who will give up 20-30lbs against any opponent is not quite the front court presence Boston needed.
Prediction: Gordon will flourish in Boston and land them either the 1 or 2 seed in the East, especially considering how poor the conference is. But the Celtics are a lot more than just one player away from contending with Cleveland (reference ECF 2017 for proof). He won’t be enough to get them over the top.
4. Golden State: In the Bay and here to stay!
Golden State are the champs for a reason. They’ve done everything the right way. A new model template for how a franchise can do things right. And nothing changed from last year. They lost nobody! They locked on Steph Curry, retained Andre Iguodala, resigned Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, and David West, and most importantly, extended Kevin Durant’s time in the Bay Area. In fact, they even strengthened certain areas. I use those terms because I can’t really call them weaknesses. They have virtually the exact same roster that has obliterated the league the last three seasons and added a quality player in Omri Casspi, adding further depth to their front court. Factor in the addition of Nick Young to the SF position and it’s almost unfair.
Prediction: There is still not another team in the world that has the star firepower or depth to compete with these guys for an entire series, no matter who the coach may be. They’re in the middle of a dynasty and barring any major set backs or injuries, they’re legends are going to continue to grow.
5. Los Angeles: Contending or Rebuilding…You be the judge.
Alright LA, we lost Chris Paul. I guess that means now we go back to being the city’s second best team, right? Not necessarily. They bring back the uber-talented, yet injury plagued, all-star, PF Blake Griffin who needs to stay healthy now more than ever. They’ve still got arguably the most dominant (albeit not the most offensively gifted) Center in the league. Let us not forget the acquisition of Danillo Gallinari, who can easily score 25 on any given night. Why can’t Doc use this guy exactly like he used Paul Pierce back when Doc was actually winning? He’s got the talent to be the go-to scorer on that team and augment Blake Griffin extremely well. But those are all front court guys. Their guard play is where it becomes a little murky. Obviously lost Paul, probably the best all-around, true point guard in the NBA. They also lost J.J. Redick who opted out for the money. As it stands right now, they will be replaced by the coach’s son (Austin Rivers) and Patrick Beverley (recently acquired from Houston), who has yet to prove himself as more than just a really good defender. Not exactly an upgrade. In today’s NBA where it’s all about running up and down and who can shoot more three pointers, their roster is not really built to compete with the current pace, especially while playing in the far superior Western Conference. The big guys are going to do their part and keep it competitive, but this team will go as far as their guards will take them. The ball is in their court, the question is who is going to be the one bringing it up?
Prediction: As always, the Clips will be hampered by the injury bug. Other than that one Boston team, Doc Rivers has never been able to win consistently, let alone in the postseason and that will not change this year. His son is not prepared mentally or physically to bear the burden left behind without Chris Paul. Lack of a solid back-court will result in a slight decrease in the win column for next year. They’ll be just over .500.