NBA Insider Jamieson Welsh is always a great source of knowledge when it comes to basketball. In a year where there has been more parity than ever before, experts are needed to navigate the complexity of the season as it develops. On December 23, 2019 he joined hosts Chris Winn and JD Sharp to talk hoops.
Chris Winn brings up an interesting topic:
“NBA legend Scottie Pippen wanted to weigh in regarding James Harden scoring 55 on the Cavs on Wednesday. Pippen wasn’t exactly calling it impressive. In fact, he was talking about James Harden in terms that he was just launching shots rather than playing real team basketball. Pretty interesting way to look at it right?
Jamieson Welsh responded:
“So James Harden brings a lot of interesting things out of people. Me personally, I think that what Harden is doing is amazing. To average 38/39 points in a NBA season you are doing something right. If you shoot 22 free throws a game, G-d bless you. Getting 39 points in a NBA game is very impressive. There are a lot of NBA players that are always going to hate on this newer generation. That’s just how it goes. Now one thing I do agree on with the older players is that the style of play does not work come playoff time. You’re gonna need to do something different.”
James Harden is one of the most controversial players we have ever seen in the NBA. The former MVP is averaging 38.5 points per game, 7.6 assists, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.8 steals on 45% shooting. You can’t argue that he doesn’t bring results for his franchise. The Rockets are third in the Western Conference and one spot above the Clippers as of January 9th, 2020. The problem is that he can score over 40 points with some of the most atrocious stat lines ever seen in the NBA. For example, he scored 41 points against the Atlanta Hawks on January 8th, 2019 on 9/34 shooting. On December 3rd, 2019 he scored 50 points on 11/37 shooting. Many people argue he is ruining the integrity of the game. Normally these performances do not result in consistent winning just like we saw with Westbrook is his stint with OKC. Things are different under Mike D’Antoni. They take a heavy statistical analysis to the game and also play with the third fasted pace in the league. They are seeing a lot more possessions per game than the majority of other teams meaning they are going to attempt more field goals. Despite Harden’s stat lines in some of these games, the Rockets are still 6th in the league in effective field goal percentage. Even though it can be off putting, their style of play makes them a dominant team. If Golden State wasn’t so good in the playoffs over the last 3 years, they would have made a finals appearance.
Sharp asks about the Lakers:
“So the Lakers are 24-4 now after the loss against the Nuggets last night. Lebron James sits out, doesn’t say it’s load management or injury related but they have a commanding position in the west obviously.
“Well here’s the thing. They got off to a really good start when a lot of people criticized [them]. it was what it was. You look at their schedule, they’re 8-6 against teams above .500. They are 18-0 or 16-0 against teams that are not. They’ve done what they are supposed to do and taken care of business. If you take care of business against teams that are .500 or slightly above .500 you are going to have a very good record.
It is hard to criticize the Lakers for being as dominant as they are. They have won basically all the games they are supposed and that is important to do. The Lakers four game losing streak earlier in the season warrants only a small amount of concern. Losing to the Clippers and Bucs are definitely not games you want to drop considering that Lebron and Davis were playing healthy in them. Ultimately, it’s just the regular season. We have seen what these two players can do together, and their pairing is the undisputed best duo in the league. The Clippers have shown some real weaknesses so far this season. Their lack of motor is reason to be concerned. They do have the best playoff player in the league right now with Kawhi Leonard so it’s not like there is a threat for them to lose in the first round but I would lean towards the Lakers in a 7 games series in the Western Conference Finals as of right now.
Sharp brings up an up and coming and coming team:
“So you mentioned one of the Lakers upcoming opponents the Dallas Mavericks. They’re actually having a very good season themselves. I believe they are 19-10 or 20-9 despite the fact that Doncic has been out the last four games with the ankle injury. Do you think that they are fore real and force to be reckoned with in the west?”
“They are for real because they have great coaching. Especially they have an All-Star in Luka. They will have another guy who is an All-Star when healthy in Porzingis. You have probably a top 3 coach in the league. You can make the argument for the second best coach in the league in Rick Carlisle. When you have role players that know what they are doing and are comfortable in their roles you’re going to be in great shape going forward. The thing is this. Eventually those role players are not going to be making the threes that they are making. I want to see what happens when the three ball is not going down for them.
Luka Doncic is so fun to watch. He has completely overshadowed his lack of athleticism with the ability to use his larger frame of body at the point guard position to be a dominant player at age 20. He has great control of the basketball and advanced vision on the court. More than anything, he embraces being a super star. He knows that the world is beginning to take notice and is performing under the pressure. As for Kristaps Porzingis I believe the jury is still out. The injury prone Latvian has not even produced well despite being on the best roster of his career. He is shooting just 34.3% from three-point range and 40.3% overall. He is also averaging a lowly 1.5 assists per game meaning that his lack of efficiency is not being covered elsewhere. I also wouldn’t consider Rick Carlisle a top 3 coach in the league. I would much sooner take Mike Budenholzer, Gregg Popovich, Nate McMillan, Nick Nurse, and Erik Spoelstra before him. I feel as though these coaches have maintained a more consistent team culture and identity over the years. The bottom line is that the Mavericks roster is lacking. When players like Maxi Kleber, Justin Jackson, and Dorian Finney-Smith are getting consistent minutes every game you don’t have a chance to be a threat in the playoffs. Teams are hoping to face them in the first round.
When talking about the NBA Christmas games Jamieson had this to say:
“The Sixers are still trying to find themselves. They are another team that has identity flaws. Roster flaws as well but they are so damn talented you take the chances with what they have. I don’t know how well coached they are. I think they could be better coached. With that being said, they are, to me, the biggest threat to the Bucs out east. I think a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup.”
The Sixers roster makeup is perplexing. Their desire to get Al Horford in the offseason made no sense. While he is a dynamic player, he is not built to play the Power Forward position. If he is your center, you wouldn’t mind him being switched to players who play the 3 or 4 for a couple of plays but certainly not over the course of the entire game. This team had a major struggle last year from distance mainly because Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons share the court at the same time. Al Horford was never going to fix that problem. While he is a capable three-point shooter, his 34.1% from beyond the arc is not the solution. He is averaging his lowest point average since 2008. Additionally, he has seen a decrease in assists, blocks, rebounds, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage in comparison to last year. I would sooner take the Raptors in a 7-game series right now. They are better coached and have a more consistent roster from top to bottom.
The NBA trade deadline is coming up in a month. Have you heard of any potential deals that could be coming through and what do you see taking place? What teams do you see that need to make moves?
“Well every team needs to make moves. Right now, there is no Warriors like the past four years. Everyone needs to make a move to get better. The Lakers, as we talked about earlier, need a play maker. They need some more shooting. Clippers could use a better big or more bigs. They could always improve the point guard position because Patrick Beverly is who he is. The Nuggets, they have a lot of roster replication. They can always kind of figure things out for a bigger fish to get them over the hump. The one name I’m always hearing is Robert Covington. He’s a 3 and D guy. He has a really good contract. He makes like 11 million a year which is not bad for what he produces. He is always a guy I hear in rumors. The T-Wolves have been terrible. They’ve lost 12 in a row if I’m not mistaken. The Pelicans are going to trade JJ Reddick. There is no point in having him on a team that is in last place in the conference. There are teams that could use his shooting. He is terrible defensively in the playoffs but he is good at shooting so he can help space the floor. If you’re a Lakers fan don’t be surprised to see Kyle Kuzma move. He’s a guy that can get a big contract this offseason, but he has not played to those kinds of expectations, so the Lakers have an interesting situation.”
The Lakers have a lot of options to get the wing player that they need. There are players like Andre Iguodala, Marcus Morris, and the aforementioned Covington that is exactly what they need. I don’t think they have a desire to trade Kuzma as much as the media has led on. He has the capability to score 20 points a game but has allowed his off the court antics to derail his career a bit. I’m not really sure what the Nuggets would want to pursue outside of Iguodala to give them a defensive and veteran presence. That team is always going to come down to Jokic’s ability to carry them to a NBA Finals and I really don’t think that he can. The Eastern Conference is going to be the heavy favorites to land JJ Reddick including his former team the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bucs are certainly the favorites to emerge from the East but looked weak last year in the playoffs. I really think anyone could make it to the Finals if they are aggressive enough at the deadline.
“So one of the teams that has a lot of shooters like JJ Reddick already, especially on the bench, is the Milwaukee Bucs. I’ve seen them play quite a few times. They’re probably the deepest team in the NBA top to bottom right now. Do you think they are the favorite/ are they your favorite to win the NBA title?”
“Nah, no way. The reason why I say that is this, this is all regular season stuff. We saw this last year. This is nothing new. We saw them make a bunch of threes. In the playoffs it’s way different. Now Giannis has gotten better. He definitely has gotten better. However, I want to see the consistent second option. Whether it is Middleton, George Hill, whoever it’s gonna be. That’s what I need to see them step up.”
Giannis has gotten better, but I have to see make jump shots on a consistent basis in the playoffs before I give him the title of the new Lebron James of the east and expect the Bucs to make the finals most years. Teams are going to do everything they can to keep him out of the paint and the Raptors did that quite efficiently in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. While that is easier said than done, there will be a few key games in the playoffs where it will come down to whether or not he can shoot the ball well. The lack of a second option is also concerning. That could have been Malcom Brogdon, but they lost him in free agency. Khris Middleton did not play well enough for them in the playoffs last year and I have no reason to believe he will this year either.