With the acquisition of Ty Lawson yesterday for pennies on the dollar, the Rockets have now joined what I am calling the Five Giants of Westeros. * There are legitemate scenarios where I can imagine any of the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Rockets, or Thunder being the lucky team to defeat the Cavs in the finals. Think about it: As there are five teams, that means one of these title contenders will be going home in the first round like last year. It’s anyone’s guess who will finish at the top, but for now, let’s take a look at how they stack up against each other.
I’ll get this out of the way first: I firmly believe that Steph Curry can be the MVP without being the best overall point guard. It is similar to how LeBron James is undoubtedly the best player while conceding the award. To me, it’s all about consistency. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not hating on offences based on jump shooting like Charles Barkley. My point is that Chris Paul has been king of this hill for the past half decade. It takes adjustments to be able to survive at the top like that. Meanwhile, Curry just took the leap into stardom in this one Cinderella year. As much as it’s a copycat league, there are now teams building specifically to stop the Stephs and Lilliards of the world.
Paul, commonly known as the Point God, has generally been the same: Elite distribution, elite defence, and possesses the ability to take over a game scoring wise if need be. Thing is, if you look closer, these are just vague terms to describe an ever changing player. According to Noah at hoops-nation, Chris Paul this season added an elite three point shot to complete his effectiveness from anywhere on the floor. This is an essential adjustment in today’s NBA as smart defences have gotten smarter about punishing non-shooters by going under screens. In addition, instead of his ball-hawking man defence of years past, Paul has taken advantage of his newfound All-NBA defensive big by funnelling opposing guards towards DeAndre Jordan. Just look at the shooting percentages of these elite guards when Paul is on them:
Kyrie Irving: 7/23 (30.4%)
Trey Burke: 8/27 (29.6%)
Russell Westbrook: 25/65 (38.4%)
Klay Thompson: 11/31 (35.5%)
Goran Dragic: 8/22 (36.4%)
The rest of the players fall in pretty neatly. We all saw Westbrook the scheme-destroyer in action last year. With Lawson in the fold, the Rockets are now the only team to boast 2 starters at the position, and depth counts. If you don’t believe that, remember the Rockets had to start near-retirement Jason Terry last year in the playoffs. Unbelievably, rounding out the group is future hall-of-famer Tony Parker. Just two years ago, Parker had a legitimate stake for best of this group. His hamstrings have taken most of his lift for his crafty layups, but he is still the engine room for the Spurs offence. Without his agile dashes into the teeth of defences, Green gets no open 3’s, Kawhi gets no room to cut, and Timmy certainly gets less deep post position. We’ll see whether Aldridge becomes the hub of the offence this year like he was for Portland. On another note, the Spurs lost depth with Joseph going to the Raptors, but how crazy is lamenting the loss of a third string guard when for a couple years the Spurs really had nobody?
Whenever you read an article about a wing player these days, one word shows up more often than not: Versatile. The two wing positions are where teams can create and deny mismatches to their heart’s content. Often times, holes in your wing players can prove devastating. With 4 of the 5 teams possessing 1 top 15 wing player each, I found it more pertinent to rank them based on their weaknesses.
1. Warriors: At first glance, it may not seem they have a weakness. Then at second glance. Third glance, too. These Warriors were built with the word versatile tattooed on every front office member. Livingston is a point guard that can guard some 3’s, Klay 3 positions, Barnes 3 positions, Iggy 4 and sometimes 5. On offence, they can all pass, shoot, and drive. Nothing gets by these wings.
2. Spurs. You may think I’m crazy for leaving two MVP candidates to the third and fourth spots, but remember the name of the game. Together, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard complement each other perfectly. By every metric, they’re the best defensive tandem in the league, and they can both hit the three ball at elite rates. Kawhi Leonard’s game blossomed this season on both ends of the floor to the point that his weaknesses is basically not being a 25 PPG scorer. The only weakness here is Green’s lack of a dribble drive, but that is augmented when necessary by future HOFer Manu Ginobili, who is still excellent in small doses.
3. Rockets: Spacing around James Harden. The other wings right now are Ariza, McDaniels, and Brewer. While the range of the latter two are known, it’s shocking how many still view Ariza as a stud 3 and D player. Sure, his defence is on point, but the 3 part is not in line with his reputation. He shot a respectable .350 from 3 point range this season, which is both in line with his career averages and league average. While dissappointing after a breakout season with the Wiz, this is who Ariza really is, and it’s well below the standards set by the marksmen in the conference.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: While another injury to Durant could derail a second consecutive season, that’s really taking the easy way out. The fact of the matter is, the shooting guard position offers them no versatility. It is really more of a pick your poison situation. Roberson is never guarded, Morrow can’t guard a soul, and the less said of the DJ Augustin 2 guard lineup the better.
5. Clippers. While their wings are what allows the first 4 teams to really soar, the Clippers’ might as well be flapping giant lead anchors. That may be doing JJ Redick a disservice with his elite shooting and passable defence, but the others are really that bad. The small forward position is a black hole, filled with a 4 in Pierce and a 2 in Stephenson. Crawford, if not gone by preseason, offers no defence in the backcourt. Then again, they were an elite team even while starting Matt Barnes, so their priorities really are elsewhere.
Imagine a shot blocker elite at screen setting, post ups, passing hi-lo and to the open perimetre shooter. Now envision him setting a cross screen for an agile defender who on offence can have an entire offence be built around his passing ability out of double teams in the post while being an elite safety valve for drives with shooting from any place on the floor. Add in two do-it-all power forwards, and that is the frontcourt teams will have to deal with from the San Antonio Spurs. It is one Tim Duncan injury away from being a potential weakness, but people have been saying that for at least the past 5 years if not more. In fact, Timmy will have even more rest time this year with Aldridge, a capable centre and starter-quality David West in tow. Those critiquing the Spurs’ current defence makeup need to keep in mind that against many teams, this is not an upgrade from Splitter to Aldridge, but rather from Diaw. Fact is, modern defences can punish bigs that neither have the athletic ability to drive or finish contested shots. We’ve seen it time and time again, from Splitter to Bogut this year. Add in the injury time you can pencil Tiago in for, and it turns out to be a large boon.
The argument between the Clippers and Warriors amounts to how much you value the offence of Bogut and Green. They both had legitimate claims to Defensive MVP, but the problem rests in their offensive capabilities. The Cav’s two wins can be attributed to their ability to shut down Green’s drives and Bogut’s scoring while unguarded. We’ll tackle Bogut first. If a team such as the spurs force Bogut off the court, who are you using to guard their two behemoths? Festus Ezeli? And for Draymond Green, the Cavaliers pretty much allowed him to fun 4 on 3’s to his heart’s content, and in Games 2 and 3, they showed why that’s not such a bad idea. Despite his versatility, it is hard to call Draymond even an average scorer. Can you imagine someone like Blake Griffin running those odd man plays while Curry is trapped? That would be amazing, and if I were to make a list of most dynamic and fitting duos, they would come second to only Chris Paul with Anthony Davis. The Brow marries the two traits of Paul’s best two running mates (Blake’s athleticism and David West’s mid range) to form the ultimate Chris Paul teammate. The top five dynamic duos would be:
- Chris Paul and Anthony Davis
- Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin
- Kyle Korver and Andre Drummond: imagine a Korver screen on Drummond’s man. Amidst the confusion, do you choose to contest a Korver pop for a three or bump Drummond’s alley oop? Both are equally terrifying and exciting at the same time.
- James Harden and Kevin Love. Haha, defence. But seriously, Kevin Love was built to accompany Harden, who has needed a stretch 4 to actually stretch to the three point line. You are also adding an elite offensive rebounder to Harden, whose teammates gobble up more of his shots than any other shooter in the NBA.
- LeBron James and Andrew Wiggins 😀
As for the last 2 spots, it’s your choice really. I just see Ibaka as the fulcrum to what the Thunder do on defence and the perfect complimentary player to Durant and Westbrook. You are never running him off the floor. Furthermore, I just don’t believe in the myth of Dwight Howard, best centre in the NBA. I truly believe their defence can survive without him, while also ditching his post ups on offence.
In the end, it seems as if the Warriors are still the best, but really everyone is a contender. I absoluitely cannot wait for the season to begin!