Pressing questions, hot topics, and collaboration amongst your favorite basketball minds—welcome back to Around the Rim.
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The roundtable runs every Tuesday, with new questions and new voices each week. If you have a question you’d like answered by the panel, tweet @JoshEberley or @HOOPmag and check back each week to see who hopped in for the current edition. Last week’s edition can be found here!
This week we are fortunate to have five dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:
Alykhan Bijani: The Athletic Houston, writer
Ben Dowsett: Basketball Insiders, deputy editor
David Nash: Seven Seconds or Less Podcast, host
Ben Stinar: HoopsHabit, contributor
Allana Tachauer: All U Can Heat, site expert
DeMarcus Cousins going to the Warriors (for the mid-level exception, no less) set the NBA world on fire. A lot of debate has raged on just how much he changes things for the Warriors who were already the heavy favorites. On a scale of 1-10, assuming Cousins comes back healthy by January, how much more formidable does he make the Warriors?
Bijani: DeMarcus Cousins is a BIG TIME addition for the Golden State Warriors. Obvious reasons will be having a consistent option at center when he is healthy, but I would like to think of this answer from a threat perspective. The Rockets should still be considered the biggest threat to the Warriors, even after a blockbuster offseason for the Western Conference. The strategy they implemented was switch everything, taking away Warriors staples like split action and split cuts, forcing more Durant one-on-one and mitigating weakside movement due to cross switches. Adding a center, the Warriors now have another option when teams switch. The Rockets are comfortable with putting small guards like Gordon and Paul on Durant, but now having the ability to play Cousins and dump the ball into a efficient post player will further diversity an already historic offense. Defensively, Cousins has struggled against Harden pick-and-rolls since his days with the Sacramento Kings. The Rockets will continue to get him into space and attack him with Paul or Harden through one-on-one isolations.
Dowsett: Hate to be a downer here, but my answer is a 1. Can I answer with a zero? Here’s the thing: A fully healthy version of Cousins (which I doubt we’ll see anyway given the history of this injury, especially in big men) who buys into the team scheme definitely does improve the Warriors in a vacuum. First of all, that’s a lot of ifs. Secondly, though, and more importantly, I just don’t think it matters. The Warriors were already so far ahead of the rest of the field that I think this is all unnecessary icing on a cake. If Cousins can contribute, great. If he can’t, the Warriors will still win the title fairly easily. Their best competition in Houston got slightly weaker this summer (possibly a lot weaker in the unlikely possibility that they lose Clint Capela), it looks like the Lakers are going to wait a year before going completely all-in on LeBron’s superteam attempt, and I just don’t see a team like Philly or Boston truly able to challenge the Warriors in the Finals.
Nash: Is it boring to go right in the middle at 5? He lifts the overall talent base significantly, there’s no doubt about that. Assuming health, there is unlikely to be any better player in the NBA for the $5 million he will be earning and he will almost certainly be an upgrade in the minutes he is playing instead of Zaza, Javale or Looney. But there’s still two major reasons why I just can’t see it being even close to a 10. Firstly, the Warriors best lineup is still going to be with Dray at the 5 and no Boogie. The Death Lineup/Hamptons 5/Whatever you want to call it (I prefer The GOATee lineup personally) will continue to be their crunch time go-to. Secondly, Boogie isn’t exactly a plug-and-play type guy. So depending on when he can get back on the court for GSW, it is going to require them altering the way they play and getting comfortable enough with it as a group. Does it have the potential to make them even more formidable if they can work it out? Sure. But it also has a similar chance to get too late in the year and to a point where they just abandon the experiment altogether. Don’t forget, the fact that Boogie basically can’t return the following season means the Warriors also have no reason to stick with something that just isn’t working. Hence, the 5.
Stinar: I would say a strong 8. Come on, this is an All-NBA talent in DeMarcus Cousins who’s joining the greatest team ever assembled. The Warriors are the best passing team in the NBA and Cousins is the best passing center in basketball. He averaged 5.4 assists last season, that’s more than Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, and Goran Dragic averaged last season. He’ll fit right in at Oracle. The only reason this isn’t a 10 is his notorious attitude, and high turnover rate.
Tachauer: Personally, I don’t give the Golden State Warriors much thought, so I haven’t much analyzed how the addition of DeMarcus Cousins will change things for them. I was disappointed in the signing period, especially given he could have potentially played alongside LeBron but that’s a whole other story. I think Cousins will definitely add an elevated level of intensity (and obviously size) to the roster, but because of how stacked they already were, I’m not sure they necessarily needed to bring him on to earn another title. So, all in all, I’d say maybe a 3.
The Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies are all hoping to storm out of the basement next year. Do any of them make the playoffs? How do you rank these three headed into the season?
Tachauer: I think the Dallas Mavericks are actually going to be quite a sight to see in 2018-19, specifically due to having drafted Luka Doncic. Plus, Dennis Smith Jr. is only getting better with time. The Phoenix Suns are still a total wild card to me, despite signing Trevor Ariza (did that really happen?) and Elfird Payton, but at the very least it’s clear Devin Booker is ready to start winning some more games. As for the Memphis Grizzlies, let’s just say I’m not sure this season will go any better for them. If anyone reaches the playoffs though, it’s the Mavericks.
Bijani: All three teams are making large strides heading into another transition year. As of right now, I have the Memphis Grizzlies as the best of all three, the Dallas Mavericks as second best and Phoenix Suns as the last of the group. I believe all three vastly improved. The Suns added a center, much needed with Tyson Chandler’s contract expiring after next season, who meshes well with Devin Booker’s strengths offensively. The Mavericks added their new face of the franchise. The Grizzlies brought the potential replacement to Marc Gasol and ideal Big for the modern NBA. What sets the Grizzlies apart from the other two is the fact that they still have Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Jackson should not have to start right away with JaMychal Green already there, allowing him to settle into starting lineup. Within that starting lineup, you have three to four shooters and Kyle Anderson as another facilitator, the only team out of the three with a combination of veterans and young talent to compete for a playoff spot.
Dowsett: No, I don’t think any of those three make the playoffs next year. Memphis is the most intriguing potential case, as a fully healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol have at least proven they’re playoff-capable. I think I’d rank those teams Memphis, Dallas and then Phoenix – the Suns obviously have the highest future ceiling of those teams, but they’re still very young for now and I don’t think simply adding someone like Trevor Ariza really pushes them over that hump.
Nash: I will have to put my Phoenix fandom to one side here and try to honestly rank these teams. For me, it’s Memphis then Dallas and then the Suns. All three franchises certainly have playoff aspirations next season, with Memphis always in win now mode, Dallas keen to see Dirk off the right way and Phoenix tired of continuing to miss. But assuming health (except for Parsons, let’s not get too crazy), I think the Grizz have the overall talent advantage over the other two franchises. I am happy with Ayton as a Suns fan, but Doncic and Jackson were two of my favourite prospects in the draft and both wind up in perfect situations. Problem is, the Grizz and Mavs have extremely thin benches behind some pretty decent starting 5s. So they are going to be banking on everything going right if they are to push for a low seed come April.
Stinar: The Suns and Grizzlies have no shot at making the playoffs, while the Mavericks I give a slight chance. I like Phoenix a lot and I think they will be a force to be reckoned with in a few years, but they are young from the head coach down. Memphis is looking to regain its patented rough rider mentality at the, “Grind House” but I just don’t see it. Mike Conley has not proven he can stay healthy, Marc Gasol is another year older, and they lost Tyreke Evans-not to mention the rest of their roster is YOUNG. The Mavs I will give a small chance, because Rick Carlisle is a top 5 coach in basketball, and I’ll give everybody raving about Luka Doncic the benefit of the doubt. In addition, they added DeAndre Jordan to a team full of veterans who will try and make sure Dirk’s last hoorah is something to remember.
Mavs, Suns, Grizzlies—in that order.
Carmelo Anthony is expected to be bought out by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Where’s his best fit and can he be a positive addition for anyone at this point?
Stinar: Carmelo Anthony is going to the Houston Rockets. Although, his best fit would be in Los Angeles with LeBron. Chris Paul and James Harden dominate the ball a lot, and we saw how that worked out with Russ Westbrook in OKC this season. The Miami rumors are really silly to me, because Pat Riley is notorious for things such as body-fat checks. Yeah don’t expect Melo getting excited for that. Anthony has a home in Los Angeles, he’s buddies with LeBron and he could make a real impact out there. LeBron, Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo like to move the ball. There is no perfect place for him, but the ball movement in Los Angeles will allow him to get the touches he thinks he deserves, ultimately making him happier and more productive.
Tachauer: I honestly like Carmelo Anthony on the Houston Rockets. For whatever reason, I can envision him fitting in well with Chris Paul and James Harden. Plus, head coach Mike D’Antoni would reportedly be fine coaching Anthony again. Of course, the only question is, would Anthony be willing to take more of a backseat role and come off the bench?
Bijani: To truly answer this question, let’s concentrate on the two most likely destinations: Houston Rockets and Miami Heat. The Heat would provide a fantastic coaching staff, training staff and culture that would prolong his career. The Houston Rockets would give Carmelo the opportunity to play in a system to maximize his skill set where he would complement James Harden and Chris Paul as a secondary creator. As the second, third and fourth option with Team USA, Anthony excelled playing in the slot position. For the Rockets, the slot is very important in maximizing spacing, often times having shooters set position 26-28 feet from the basket if they are playing in the slot. When Harden and Paul are probing and working one-on-one against switches, the slot defender more times than not will help one pass away. With an efficient shooter in the slot, that defender may not be able to stunt, resulting in less traffic as Paul and Harden descend downhill. With Oklahoma City, only 86 percent of Carmelo’s three-pointers above the break were assisted, compared to Ryan Anderson’s 99 percent playing in the slot. With the Rockets, Anthony’s shooting percentages may improve by playing with better passers. Where Paul and Harden excel over Westbrook is in the passing department, getting their shooters the ball in their gather step. Gather, dip and release—all happening simultaneously. If that is taken into account, no reason where Anthony should not find success offensively with the Rockets.
Dowsett: I don’t think Carmelo Anthony can be a positive addition for any true title contender or hopeful at this point. I suppose his theoretical fit in Houston makes a bit of sense, but it made sense in OKC last year as well and we saw how that turned out. Until he has a bit of a come to Jesus moment on who he is in this league today, I’m not sure he’s an on-court positive for anyone.
Nash: Can the Melo we saw last year in OKC be a positive fit anywhere in the NBA? Honestly, I think the answer is no. However, that doesn’t mean it’s over just yet. It all depends whether this whole experience can help shift his mindset. The obvious links are Houston and the Lakers. The Rockets lost Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, so could use CP3’s buddy shooting on the wing. The Lakers signed LBJ and then a bunch of average shooters, so they could use him, too. He would likely have to accept a bench role for both teams though, which is where we get back to the original conundrum. One possible alternative I will throw out there is Miami. No news on whether Wade is running it back one more time, but he took a role off the bench when he returned to South Beach and maybe he could convince Melo to do the same? Miami is desperate for talent with very few methods available to actual add it. It could just be crazy enough to make sense.
How much stock do you place in Summer League performances? Do you weigh what you see in Summer League over NCAA or international play?
Nash: Summer League is terrible basketball to watch. Performances really shouldn’t be judged too crazily either way but of course, you can still use it to help make some assessments. It’s awesome to see a first-year guy like Jaren Jackson Jr. come out and showcase his game, especially when one of his main knocks was small samples in a tiny role at Michigan. Equally, it’s worrying to see a guy like Dragan Bender struggle at his third Vegas stint and not show any more at a lower level of play than the NBA. The players are trying to run things that they’ve spent a handful of sessions trying to learn and there is little to no chemistry on the court. At the end of the day, you aren’t drawing lines through any names or throwing all your money on future All-Star appearances after SL. But if you followed the draft closely, it is a great window to further evaluate some of these guys before the real dark days of Summer begin and they are relegated to the end of NBA benches come October.
Stinar: I obviously would never value Summer League over their entire body of work, that would be silly. However, I take Summer League serious. You’re competing with a wide-ranging variety of guys who all have families they want to take care of. Summer League may not be the most talented league, but it’s for the men; not the boys. There is a reason every single player is there, and most of the NBA greats have performed at elevated levels in Vegas.
Tachauer: While I love watching Summer League, I don’t think it necessarily dictates how a guy is going to perform in the regular season; there are so many variables to keep in mind, from a different caliber of teammates to another coaching style and beyond. However, I feel the same about a player’s prior body of work, too (Miami Heat president Pat Riley and I see eye-to-eye on this). Just because someone was a stud in college, doesn’t mean that their game will transition well into the League.
Bijani: Summer League for me is to see which of these players excels in their assigned roles. The coaching staff lays out a system similar to the professional squad. For example, the Rockets are still employing a switch-everything scheme and running their 21-series action. I look to see how the bigs are setting screens, if they are quick in slipping and diving, are their short roll passes on target to the corners. For ballhandlers, can they lock down the dribble and cover the basketball when they attack the paint? These are signs the game is slowing down for them, ultimately leading to a better understanding of the system and more fluid performance.
Dowsett: Summer League can be tough to gauge, and I don’t think there are too many situations where we can weight it heavier than prior performance—there just isn’t a large enough sample. I have a couple general rules that seem to hold fast in nearly every case with Summer League: The first is that if you’re a second-year lottery pick, or really any second-year first-round pick with high expectations, you’d better dominate in Vegas—I’ve seen very few guys who play badly in that setting and go on to hit their ceilings. The other is that statistics matter far less in SL than during any other NBA period, especially shooting statistics. Go look up Steph Curry’s shooting numbers from his first Summer League; they certainly didn’t signal what he is today. You’ve got to really watch guys to get an idea of who is playing well, outside the few studs who are clearly too good for this level of competition and put up insane stats without even trying.
Two-part question here: With Tony Parker moving on from the San Antonio Spurs, how weird will it be seeing him in that Hornets teal jersey? Thinking back, what was the weirdest first-game look after a team switch?
Dowsett: Eh, not that weird. I’m accustomed to the new reality of the NBA. Weirdest for me as a Utah resident has to be Karl Malone in a Lakers jersey—it was just weird after 18 straight years in a Jazz uniform.
Nash: Parker in a Hornets jersey is going to be something else. I did not expect to ever see such a thing and the Spurs are certainly going through a changing of the guard. As an Australian NBA fan, Bogut in a Warriors jersey was pretty weird after seven seasons with the Bucks. These days the Aussies are flooding the NBA but I’m not sure those in the US and Canada can quite comprehend how big him going No. 1 was back in 2005. Seeing him a Milwaukee jersey just became the norm. As a Suns fan, Nash in a Lakers jersey was and always will be hard to watch. I hated seeing Nash traded and I certainly hated seeing him traded to the division rivals. As sad as it was seeing him crumble the way he did, the Suns fan in me was glad there was no success with the Lakers. Yes, Nash was a Mav for a while too but he was drafted a Sun and should have retired one too.
Stinar: The Spurs are a colossal mess, and seeing Tony Parker in a Hornets jersey is discrediting everything the organization worked towards building the last 20 years. While the Hornets have cool jerseys and I am glad he is pairing up with fellow French native Nicolas Batum, no true NBA fan wants to see this. None. This is definitely a bizarre jersey switch, but the weirdest one for me was LeBron going to back to Cleveland. Most people would find this answer silly, but I never thought it looked right. I am glad he made them a city of champions again—that’s what he was born to accomplish. However, it never felt like he bought in (signing to the Lakers proved that) and for some reason him in their modern-day uniforms always looked silly to me.
Tachauer: It will absolutely be strange seeing Tony Parker in a Charlotte Hornets jersey. Part of me still hasn’t even wrapped my head around that deal yet. Every time I see an article about it, I double-take, as if it’s a typo. For me, seeing Dwyane Wade in a Chicago Bulls jersey was probably the weirdest example I can think of though. It was almost worse seeing him in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey, but by then my brain had somewhat gotten accustomed to him in colors other than Miami’s.
Bijani: Tony Parker is a personal favorite of mine. One of the first NBA Finals I can remember was that San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons series that went to Game 7. I would practice coming off screens and releasing elbow jumpers, trying to mimic his savvy dribbling. It’s going to be weird not seeing him on the team that sparked my interest in film study and writing back in the 2013 season. As an NBA fan, the weirdest look for me…well, I have two. Kevin Garnett in a Boston Celtics jersey. To be fair, his MVP season was when I first started getting into basketball as a kid. The second would be Dwyane Wade in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey.