Keep/Swap

Swap: Magic Johnson boxing in King James

Johnson thought he was on to something by placing multiple creators around LeBron James in a hope to push him off-ball. He wasn’t.

Johnson recently told Justin Termine and Eddie Johnson of SiriusXM radio the following: “We are trying to make sure that we watch his minutes but also that we don’t run everything through him because now it is Cleveland all over again and we don’t want that.”

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Again, Johnson is missing the point. He’s allowing his own grand vision to distract him from a mountain of prior evidence pointing in the other direction. James doesn’t need secondary and tertiary creators pushing him away from the ball; he needs players able and willing to slide into the clichéd 3&D role. The Lakers aren’t going to reach their ceiling, whatever it is, until they accept that James is who he is. In an era where galaxy-brain thinking has never been more applauded; I can see the allure to deviating from the prior James script. However, despite the spin, I remain confident that, “do less,” is not a winning strategy with the league’s best player.

Finally, on not wanting to repeat Cleveland’s game plan. The Cavaliers went to four straight Finals and had they not been up against arguably the greatest team of all-time, they’d have two to three more rings on each and every hand in the Land. The Cavaliers biggest failing stems from playing in a period where an MVP felt motivated to join a record setting team. They got to the big stage and they showed up with a team that was capable of winning a lot of different years. Mistakes were made but in the grand scheme, management’s vision was not the issue.

 

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Keep: Kawhi Leonard isolation buckets

There’s been some worry that Leonard’s sync within the Raptors team, specifically the offense hasn’t been fluid enough. Similar conversations existed early in Kevin Durant’s tenure with the Warriors and while stressing about the small details is what fans do, incorporating a top five talent onto a 59-win team is a luxurious worry.

Blake Murphy of the Athletic did an absolutely tremendous breakdown on Leonard’s fit thus far and the speed bumps that have been hit despite the Raptors attaining a league best 21-5 record. Via synergy, Leonard is in the 62nd percentile as an isolation scorer and the play type has accounted for 20 percent of his usage. While it’s definitely frustrating to watch at times, especially, when there’s so much talent surrounding Leonard, they brought him in for this reason. Leonard is here to create when all else fails, to be a light when all other lights go out. Leonard’s defense was assumed but his ability to score the tough buckets in May and June where prior Toronto stars failed to do so is the franchise destination changer. It’s also important to remember, a heavily focused isolation team (Houston) just took the defending champs to seven.

Leonard is still working his way back from a year off from basketball and him fine tuning his isolation scoring is nothing to worry about.

 

Keep: Return of the offensive minded big man

You’ve been told that if a big can’t defend the rim at an above average rate or switch in space that they are of minimal or no-value in today’s NBA. Things are changing and they are changing fast. The days of the lumbering oaf grabbing rebounds and surviving on brute force are gone but a craftier big has risen in their place.

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The NBA has 12 centers averaging over two three-point attempts a night, 10 averaging at least two assists a contest. Compare that to 1999? Only two centers averaged more than two assists a game: Vlade Divac and Arvydas Sabonis. And not a single big-man attempted even one shot from deep a game back then. Perhaps, like Gregg Popovich, you lament the changes in play and pace but they are here to stay.

Nikola Vucevic, Jaren Jackson Jr., Domantas Sabonis, Nikola Jokic and Brook Lopez highlight a group of difference makers who are helping their teams win games with tact and skill and it’s a beautiful thing to observe. Forget the postgame, giants who facilitate and space the floor are the future.

 

Swap: Washington Wizards

Collectively, the basketball watching audience has been ready for a Wizards shakeup two-plus years. John Wall, one of the League’s premier talents and entertainers has become a wholly miserable viewing experience as his burst or bust style of play has failed to ignite his comrades nor reinforce his frequent boasts.

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Bradley Beal, who many saw as an upcoming superstar looks stuck between the player he could be and the teammate he should be. Beal is capable of more responsibility on the ball and he’s just not going to find that opening every bout next to Wall.

Finally, Otto Porter, who got paid third star money has failed to show an increase in effort or production. He’s also too talented to be overlooked for both credit and criticism when things have gone well or poorly.

On a whole, the Wizards big three might all be far more fun wearing different colors. The Wizards are currently paying for a top five team and receiving a bottom eight result. Something’s got to give.

 

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Keep: Luka Doncic stock

There’s no doubt that a number of fans, critics, and pundits had a vested interest in the play of Luka Doncic this season. His success at a young age overseas led to extreme projections and intense cynicism, but he’s been nothing short of superb to date.

His stat line of 19.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 4.2 APG as a rookie is only matched by the likes of Grant Hill, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan and the indomitable Sidney Wicks. A small feather in what will soon need to be a very grand hat.

All of those numbers be damned, the Wonder Boy has the Dallas Mavericks above .500 in the Western Conference with Dirk Nowitzki yet to take the court. His basketball IQ is off the charts, he’s shooting 40 percent from deep and the Dallas Mavericks might have reset the deck after fumbling the final act of Nowitzki’s career.