October 31, 2016

Besides a Finals threepeat, what's on tap in the NBA?


Kevin Durant: Will he help Warriors
take the title back from the Cavaliers?
It's time for another season of the National Basketball Association to start.

We're guaranteed — or almost so — a threepeat of Golden State-Cleveland Finals showdowns, right?

So?

Is there something wrong with that?

Obviously, the biggest offseason news was surely Kevin Durant using free agency to bolt the Oklahoma City Thunder and go to the Golden State Warriors, winners of the 2015 title and Finals losers to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer.

Of course, the move brought out a variety of naysayers.

These were usually of two types.

One was deploring the rise of “superteams.”

Well, we had superteams in the past. Lakers-Celtics in the 1980s. The Bulls, period, in the 1990s. Lakers again at the start of the previous decade. Then the Miami Heat when LeBron made The Decision to leave Cleveland for South Beach before coming back home.

Yes, any team with LeBron seems like a superteam, and he's been to the Finals six years in a row. But, he's lost three of those. So, success is not guaranteed, although there's often a good chance of at least near-success. That said, per my post about this year's World Series, it's more bullshit than truth that America loves an underdog.

At the same time, especially with Lakers-Celtics, fans often love rivalries. That's true, at least to some degree, even if their team isn't one of the two in the series.

So, I don't loathe the idea of superteams myself. Besides, superteams can be built through drafting, scouting and trading just as much as free agency. Look at the San Antonio Spurs.

The second objection is that a team with that much talent will never find the way to mesh, will never find the way to be unselfish and so will be less than the sum of its parts.

Well, “your mileage may vary,” or “past performance does not guarantee the future,” but in the preseason, the Warriors seemed to have very little problem meshing. When they briefly had this year's version of their “Lineup of Death” on court, they played at an efficiency, skill and productivity level that will break all NBA records if they carry it out during the regular season. Add in that this additional depth in the starting lineup will let them give their starters more rest in games during the season, especially on nights when they play back-to-back games.
 
The one potential liability is that Durant has never been known as a great defensive player, and, as LeBron and his Cavaliers showed in rallying to win it all last year, playoff defense is a big deal. Durant's not horrible, but he's not good. And, with Andrew Bogut departing the Dubs for Dallas, the Warriors have no interior shot-blockers.

But, it will still, barring major injury to LeBron, or to one or more Warriors, be a threepeat of the Finals foes. And, the Cavs won last year with several players, including Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, playing less than stellar D themselves. And, while Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala lock down, Iggy's getting older. Steph Curry isn't known for his D, and Draymond Green is hit and miss to a degree greater than his potential eikon (sic), Dennis Rodman.

Elsewhere? A few basic prognostications here.

Speaking of  Bogut, and the Mavericks, I predict they miss the playoffs this year. Whether Mark Cuban and his front office can do a real rebuild of the team remains to be seen. Frankly, I'm betting against Cuban for a few years. I suspect that, after 2017, the post-Dirk Nowitzki era could be a dry time indeed.

I predict the Lakers will be as bad as last year — just a different bad without Kobe Bryant jacking up 40 shots a game.

In the West, I also expect Utah and Minnesota to both make the playoffs ahead of the Mavs. In the East, I don't see any serious challengers to Cleveland. But, I do expect Joel Embiid to be for real, and to help the Sixers move from 10 to at least 15 wins. In the West, the San Antonio Spurs will give the Warriors another run, while the L.A. Clippers will probably threaten to do that before becoming dysfunctional again.

Blake Griffin will probably have some part in that dysfunction. In Alamo City, speaking of the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard may step into team leadership. Will Tony Parker step aside? Will Lamarcus Aldridge follow him, or per rumors, will he go on the trading block?

Yes, they looked very good in the opener against the Warriors, but I'll stand by the Dubs to win the West.

Anyway, beyond defense, what both the Cavaliers (and any LeBron team before that) and the Warriors have shown in the last two years is that teamwork is key in the NBA. The Spurs show it before that. Make the extra pass on offense. Make the extra rotation on defense. Communicate.
Buckle up for another great year!

No comments: