Well, folks, it’s that time of year again. With the first batch of NBA Training Camps already begun and more to come throughout the week, fans around the country (and Toronto) can finally take a deep breath and attempt to assess where their team stands in the league’s pecking order. The offseason was surely one for fans to remember, with a slew of stars changing uniforms and an unusually fascinating rookie class. I say this every year, but the NBA seems to be approaching its saturation point.
For even the most tepid NBA fan, there’s got to be at least 100 players that truly matter — by which I mean superstars, emerging young players, lottery picks, etc. The Kings, for instance, a traditional league laughing stock, have about 8 players that I will hope to keep a tab on throughout the season: DeAaron Fox (#5 Pick, Calipari kid, Embarrassed Lonzo in NCAA tournament), Frank Mason (NCAA Player of the Year), Justin Jackson (mid-1st rounder, NCAA Champion with UNC), Harry Giles (Former #1 ranked High School Player who sucked at Duke)… you see what I mean. This will be a season that will test even the most fervent NBA fan’s ability to keep up with the league.
And I think that’s a great thing… that perhaps watching a Denver-Sacramento game is more exciting than a Cleveland-Toronto game. More people who eschew choosing a team and instead “just like the NBA” means a more diverse knowledge base, one in which a “serious fan” ought to have an opinion on DeAaron Fox, Skal Labissiere, and Gary Harris just as well as they ride their “Lebron is a pussy” take.
Now, with the Carmelo trade chip off the table, the league will mostly stand pat until the deadline, outside of a couple coaches being fired. Now is the time when we look back at the offseason and forward to the regular season, decide who will be good and who will be bad, and project who will make the leap and who will thrust back into a rebuild. Ridiculous hype has run amok again, and I’m here to help remind you not to believe everything you hear.
Without further ado, on the eve of the preseason, here are 3 NBA storylines that I am NOT buying (and neither should you). I will post more of these in the coming weeks, but here’s a start.
1. The Sixers will NOT be around .500 and make the playoffs.
If you were to go ahead and slide over to mybookie.ag, you’d find that the Sixers are currently -240 to earn a playoff berth this year, which would be their first since 2012. Though I am quite bullish on the Sixers’ young core going forward, this year’s team is in a perfect fade spot for me.
NBA seasons are high in variance. By that, and quite obviously, I mean that the Sixers’ season could go in a pretty much any direction. My confidence in fading them, however, is a result of the fact that their absolute maximum performance would be around .500 with a playoff berth. Such a season would probably go something like this: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both play 65+ games, they drastically improve offensively, and all of their young stars are able to seamlessly figure out an on-court AND an off-court hierarchy. I’m dubious on all three accounts.
In one of the most hyped draft classes in recent NBA history, it’s quite curious that the #1 pick has immediately become an afterthought. For every Lonzo, Dennis Smith Jr., or Donovan Mitchell dick-riding story that has come out after the draft, it’s hard to remember that Fultz was a consensus #1 guy. Additionally, Fultz, as a #1 pick, will not be getting the glorified “keys to the car,” as rookie point guards often do. He is, instead, being asked to come in and play the 2 next to the often search-dribbling Ben Simmons, another former #1 overall pick who doubly needs the ball in his hands and, with his lack of a jumper, fails to create space for others.
I worry about how the relationship between Fultz, Simmons, and Embiid will play out. Of course, during the offseason, it’s easy to be buddy-buddy and talk about how it’s all about the team, you’re willing to make sacrifices, etc. But I’m skeptical of their ability to adjust in a single season, however. Embiid, in his rookie year with the Sixers, used a whopping 36% of possessions when he was on the floor. Similarly, Fultz and Simmons posted Usage Rates around 30% in their lone college seasons. With only one ball to go around and 41 wins to chase, Brett Brown better figure out that ball movement situation rather quickly.
Embiid’s injury history is, of course, well-documented. Though looking back at strictly the number of games a guy missed can tend to overrate how “injury-prone” that player is, it is precisely the types of injuries Embiid has sustained that scare me off. Since 2014, Embiid has had a stress fracture in his back, a broken bone in his foot (which required 2 rounds of surgery), and is currently still barred from 5-on-5 action due to a stress fracture in his knee. Embiid’s game is so tantalizing, and his upbeat personality throughout “the process” has probably prevented many in the city of brotherly love from some light Seppuku action. But backs, feet, and knees are not to messed with for 7-foot giants. It’s just bad news bears. It pains me to say it, but I don’t see Embiid playing more than 40 games this season.
Lastly, this team could not fucking score the basketball last season, and a lot of that had to do with turnovers. While the team improved offensively this offseason with the additions of Redick, Simmons, and Fultz, I worry that putting the ball in the hands of rookies will not do much to help with the turnover problem. The Sixers turned the ball over on 14.9% of their possessions last season, fitting in nicely as the worst rate in the league. Not surprisingly, this translated to the worst Offensive Rating in the league, posting just 103.2 points per 100 possessions. Simmons can’t be much worse than T.J. McConnell (22% Turnover Percentage), but I’m not sure he’ll be any better.
To summarize, I struggle to believe that this year’s 76ers team will be able to put it together.
DO NOT TOUCH SIMMONS OR FULTZ FOR ROY. Classic Cannibal Situation.
UNDER 40.5 WINS (-115)
SIXERS TO MISS PLAYOFFS (+190)
2. The Grit-n-Grind era is NOT over.
The first thing that popped out to me when scrolling through the NBA Win Totals at mybookie.ag was the blatant disrespect of the Memphis Grizzlies. 37.5 wins? I’ll take that layup over.
I guess people aren’t buying their stubbornness to adapt to the “Modern NBA”… but I couldn’t disagree more. The Grizzlies adaptation to the pace + space era has been one of the most subtle, but also the most fascinating. Sure, they still play at a crawling speed, averaging just 92.3 possessions per 48 minutes, good for 28th in the league. But, if you watched that Spurs playoff series, it’s easy to see how they leverage that slow pace to create a very specific on-court environment — one in which every possession counts, and that is where the Grizzlies are at their best. The Grizzlies won close games with a historic level of frequency last season, building a damn good record out of a marginal scoring differential. While some may see that mismatch as a classic sign of an impending regression, I see it as a product of their play-style, with winning coming from the mastery of Gasol, Conley, and Fizdale.
Gasol and Conley are just too awesome to let this team fail. I love that the front office went out and used the media to back up their superstars, pushing out the classic “these guys are untouchable” narrative. Gasol, especially, has changed his game as much as any other superstar in the league to both extend his prime far longer than it should be going and help the Grizzlies stay in contention. A career-high 23.1% (previous high was 1.6%) of Gasol’s field goal attempts came from beyond the 3-point arc, a number I expect even to jump again this year.
And he was quite good from that range, shooting 39% which, unsurprisingly, led to a career-high in scoring for Gasol. Gasol’s newly stretchy game gives the Grizzlies a previously undiscovered offensive element: the ability to play 1.5 or even 2 true bigs and still have space for Conley to operate in the Spread P&R. Jamychal Green, Dillon Brooks, and Chandler Parsons should all get a good amount of run at the 4 next to Gasol this season, giving Memphis a potent shooting attack that, unless an unforeseen drop-off happens on defense, should keep them in the playoff mix.
Call me crazy, but I really love this spot for Memphis. This team is at their best when they are slept on, and in a crowded Western Conference, I have faith that Conley and Gasol will be able to carve out a little spot for themselves in the back half of the playoff seeding. TAKE THAT FOR DATA.
OVER 37.5 WINS. (-115)
GRIZZLIES TO MAKE PLAYOFFS (EVEN MONEY)
3. Brooklyn will NOT be good enough to skew the value of the pick in the Kyrie deal.
It seems that the best way nowadays to prove to your buddies that you know a lot about the NBA is to give the argument, “hey, that Brooklyn pick in the Kyrie deal may not be as high as everyone thinks, Kenny Atkinson has those guys playing really hard.”
Until someone can show me proof (aside from Kenny Atkinson 4AM Peloton bike rides) that Brooklyn got substantially better this offseason, I really struggle to buy that this team is going to improve just because they play hard. Does no one realize that Brook Lopez was fucking awesome for these guys last year? I can’t say this enough but D’Angelo Russell is NOT better than Brook Lopez right now. I’ll even link the basketball-reference player comparison, just so you can see for yourself.
Sure, the Allen Crabbe and Demarre Carroll additions look nice on paper, but how does this team expect to find minutes for both of those guys, along with Jeremy Lin, DLoading, Caris Levert, Isaiah Whitehead, Sean Kilpatrick AND Spencer Dinwiddie. That’s really 8 guys for 3 spots, and I just don’t see the Nets going into “win-now” mode even without their pick in stow. These young guys are going to play. Likewise, the “they don’t have their pick so they definitely won’t tank” logic is dubious at best, as the Nets inexplicably rested healthy starters down the stretch of last season, arguably costing the Miami Heat a playoff spot.
I think this team is getting a lot of hype, but if you go back and look at the roster, there’s not much to show me this team added 7 more wins over last year’s group.
UNDER 26.5 WINS. (-115)
Some other quick spots that I really like:
Heat UNDER 43.5 WINS. Just because you went 30-11 down the stretch doesn’t mean we’re gonna ignore the fact that you started 11-30.
Magic UNDER 33.5 WINS. This team is absolutely horrible.
Hawks -240 TO MISS THE PLAYOFFS. This team is TANKING. Publicly admitted tanking. Tough to lay the juice obviously, but they will not be in the playoffs.
Wizards OVER 48 WINS. If healthy, I think this team is right up there with the Celtics and Cavs during the regular season. There are some shitty, shitty teams to gobble up in the East.