7 musings on what I’ve seen!
Alright gang, this is straight off the top. Just wanted to share some musings on what I’ve seen so far from the Big Bad Bub.
Oh sweet Slovenian Jesus. (Actually speaking of, is Luka already the most famous Slovenian? I guess Melania Trump gives him a run for the money. But honestly, fuck Melania Trump.) I’m really not sure what I can say, other than if an “NBA Playoff Update” didn’t start with Mr. Doncic it would be a chasm sized oversight. So I’m paying my blog dues, I’ll just throw out two thoughts and move on:
1.) On the day of the 2018 NBA Draft I was driving with my wife—who’s a Kings fan from Sacramento—to a gig in Dallas. We somehow found the Draft on a blurry radio station heading North on I-35. To my credit, I was #TeamLuka from day 1. So I knew the stakes of the moment. So the radio is cutting in and out and I’m saying to Courtney, alright this is it. You’re either going to turn your franchise around or make yet another in a series of catastrophic blunders. Through the static we hear Adam Silver’s voice, “With the 2nd pick in the 2018 Draft, the Sacramento Kings select… Marvin Bagley III.”
“Oh Babe, I’m so sorry.”
2.) Okay so Luka is 21 guys. What were you doing when you were 21…? Yeah, right. He just had arguably the best sophomore season in NBA history and now in the FIRST playoff series of his life he is averaging a scorching: 30-10-8. For a little context, in MJ’s first playoff series in 1985 he put up 30-6-8. In games 2 and 3 I watched him literally pick up his dribble and push Kawhi—like Bane ramming Batman into a wall—to the cup. Kawhi I say! KAWHI!!!
So let’s jump ahead to like 2035. Likely the world is underwater, but if somehow the earth is stilling spinning and basketball is still being played and Luka is putting up 20-5-5 in 20 minutes off the bench, how are we going to talk about this guy? What will he have achieved? Make me a list of players that are a LOCK to have a better career than him? Michael Jordan, check. After that… yeah…I’m waiting?
2.) The Sixers Future
Oh sweet Philly cheesesteak. What a disaster. Before trying to make heads or tails of this quagmire, let’s open the book on a not-too-distant reality that could have been. They never make the Harris trade. So you don’t spend all that money and they still have Shamet. You put all that money into giving Jimmy Buckets the Godfather offer. Instead of signing Horford AND Richardson you just keep JJ… Remember JJ Redick, that white guy from Duke, that perfect compliment to Embiid and Simmons who was already on your team? Right, him.
And you roll out a modern, dynamic, gritty, loaded starting line up of: Shamet and JJ (two deadly shooters), Jimmy Butler (your closer and leader), and Simmons and Embiid. It’s such a good team! And this was so doable! You’ve still saved WAY more money than you did in reality and then you put all of it into getting shooting and playmaking off the bench. Could have been so cool… Sigh.
Sadly we have to sober up and address the reality in front of us. As for coach, I’m hearing a lot of Ty Lue talk. As I said in a tweet, I like Ty Lue, but I think he has a ceiling. I’d rather take a big swing on a forward thinking, modern college coach like Jay Wright or Tony Bennett.
As for the roster…not sure you’re getting off Horford or Harris. Woof. (On balance, both players I have loved in the past!) But as I read recently, Markelle Fultz hit more 3s in the playoffs than the two of them combined… Not good.
Do I think Simmons and Embiid can work together long term? I think so? I don’t know! I am deep in the Bill Simmons camp that when you make a trade be sure to get the best player, and I don’t know how that happens if you trade either of them. If you’re going to trade one—I can’t believe I am saying this—but I say trade Embiid. I think he has more raw talent, but I think Simmons is more competitive, in better shape, has the most growth ahead of him, and will be healthier and play for longer. I don’t know, if you can trade Embiid for Brad Beal and Rui Hachimura and role out a fivesome of Simmons, Beal, Thybulle, Hachimura, and Horford. That’s something! Not sure what though.
3.) Bron and the Lake Show
So with Dame Dolla sidelined tonight, I think we can all agree the Lakers are moving on. And hey, they’re starting to look like the real McCoy again. With each game, Bron is like Christian Bale transforming his body for different roles. He either has an absurd triple-double, or shoots 10/12, or plays 20 minutes. It’s nuts! KCP found his shot. ‘Bubble Kuz’ is back. Even Dwight’s frontin’ like it’s 2013! Alright fine, 2017, but still!
In Zev and I’s Playoff Preview, I lamented that the Lakers road to the Finals was absolutely murderous—Blazers, Rockets, Clips. Well, it’s looking a leetle less blood soaked today. They’re going to vanquish the Bubble darling Blazers. Who knows if they’ll even play the Rockets in the 2nd round? Or at this point, which team they’d rather play! (Bill Simmons made a great point on his pod about how the longer Russ stays out the more concerning it is. He’s been a NBA ironman. In 2013, coming off knee surgery where he was supposed to miss two-three weeks, he missed two games…) And for the Clippers… Well they thew the hammer down last night! But I don’t know, if Zinger comes back? Are we sure they’re moving on?
I wanted to throw this out there, I think there’s playoff peakers and playoff tweakers. An all-time playoff peaker is my #1 man, The Truth, #34, 2008 Finals MVP, the great Paul Pierce. When the lights get brightest that dude was at his finest. He was stabbed 9 times for god sake, a little pressure ain’t getting to The Truth. And then there’s playoff tweakers, which unfortunately, (despite his onslaught last night) I am still saying Paul “Playoff P” George might be the poster boy for. Sorry Paul! I love your game. Come through when you’re team is tied late in the 4th!
Now, the reason I am bringing this up is because I think the Lakers are chock full of playoff tweakers. KCP is a prototypical tweaker. Dwight’s got tweaker DNA. (Bron I love you, but) Bron’s free throw’s are tweakers. Alex Caruso, Kuz, too soon to tell, but ya know… AD, I know you’ve played huge in some playoff games! But if we get to the Finals… my tricorder is picking up tweaker vibes.
Anyway, the point is I think the Bubble helps this team! I think down 5 on the road in Game 3 of the Conference Finals, this team makes me nervous as hell! Bubble Conference Finals, less so.
4.) Heat v Bucks
I’m so damn pumped for this series. Maybe two of the remaining teams I’m the least invested in, but Oooeeeee do we have something here! If you went to a lab and built a basketball playing robot to guard Giannis that person would look a whole lot like Bam Adebayo. Meanwhile, the Bucks are a historically bad at defending the three and the Heat have shooters coming out of the walls. I think this series is going to be competitive and crazy as hell.
Giannis is on the doorstep of being the MVP and DPY in the same year. He’s a superhero. I think I’d close my eyes, put my money on the Bucks, and pray. But man, if Bam can even slow him down a little and Middleton and Bledsoe come up small—feels totally possible!—we are going to be a high alert for an Eastern power upset.
5.) Donovan Mitchell v Jamal Murray
Spida Mitchell and Murray are BALLIN. Donovan Mitchell became the first player EVER to average 30ppg with 50-50-90 splits in a playoff series and the fifth player ever (joining oh you know, MJ, Jerry West, AI, and Wilt) to have two 50 point games in the same playoff series. And Jamal Murray has impossibly matched him by becoming the ONLY player in NBA history with back-to-back playoff games with 40+ points and 0 turnovers… Jeez guys!
After showing only marginal statistical improvement in his first three seasons, something has come over D Mitch this postseason. He’s seeing the court better, making great decisions with the ball, and he’s hitting his pull up three at a frankly unsustainable rate. I am a card carrying Dwyane Wade truther—I’m old enough to have watched the 2006 Finals and I will never forget what I saw!—and as a result, I have always dismissed the Mitchell’s D Wade comp. But holy hell, if he keeps this up… I will eventually have to reevaluate.
Meanwhile I don’t know what has happened to Jamal Murray. Ryen Russillo aptly called him a “13-30” guy, which means somedays he scores 30, somedays 13. Do I believe that in game 6 he could return to his game two 12 points on 5-16 shooting ways? Yeah I think it’s possible! Do I want to bet on it right now? No, I do not.
So here’s my question for everyone: Who would you rather have? Both players are 23. Somewhat surprisingly, Murray is actually a couple inches taller, but they’re similar heights. Their career percentages are almost identical. Mitchell is .44 FG% / .36 3P% / .882 FT% for his career and Murray is .44 FG% / .36 3P% / .88 FT%. Donovan (22ppg) has averaged 6 points/game more than Murray (16ppg), but he’s also been Utah’s whole offense, so I’m not sure how much stock to put into that. Mitchell clearly has the “it” factor. He hasn’t been scared of nobody since he first erupted onto the scene as a rookie. But man, Murray kinda does too! Did you see him close last night?
In theory Murray should be a better playmaker, but as Zach Lowe pointed out on a recent podcast, he’s not an great passer. Even worse than I expected before I looked it up, he’s at 3.7 assists/game for his career…
Man I don’t know! I think I’m going Mitchell by a hair. But it’s becoming an interesting question!
Alright guys, it’s happening I’m starting to miss fans. On balance, some of the courtside camera angles are amazing! So that’s most definitely a silver lining. But man, imagine if there had been fans for Luka’s game winner… would have been bedlam! I think Mark Cuban would have ripped off his clothes and streaked through the arena.
On the other end, I think a bunch of guys are benefiting from no nerves. Look no further than the guy I just wrote about; Mitchell is .512% from three this year in the playoffs, last year against Houston, .26%… Meanwhile Murray’s pick-and-roll partner Nikola Jokic is up .80% from three compared to last year. And you find similar improvement in guys like Fred VanVleet, Seth Curry, and even Chris Paul. I think the Bubble environment is helping the rim feel a little more like an ocean and less like an anxiety ridden soup can.
I think when I started writing this segment it was a complaint, and now that I’m here I’m wondering what I’m upset about…? More shots going in, better offense, more fun basketball… Yeah, okay Sasha.
7.) No Asterisk
I’m making it official, I don’t want to hear any asterisk talk when it comes to the 2020 NBA Champion! I’m out. It’s done. I don’t want to hear about how the Lakers didn’t have Avery Bradley or how the Bucks didn’t get home court. This shit is hard! Paul George literally came out today and said the Bubble put him “in a dark place.” This year is a mindfuck. These guys are living a Groundhog Day life in this Bubble—wake up, get tested, practice, hangout, go to bed, repeat. They’re away from their families.
In fact in some ways it looks more mentally challenging without fans. No energy to feed off, nothing to hide behind. Just skill vs. skill. It’s like if halfway through the World Series of Poker they made all the chip counts equal.
I don’t know who is going to win this year. I want the Celtics, I want the Lakers (which is a weird conflict of interest). The Bucks, Raptors, and Heat are all right there in the East. The Clippers made a thunderous statement last night… I don’t know what’s going to happen! But whoever wins man, we gotta respect it. That’s all I’m saying.