Posts Tagged ‘Ian Thomsen’

Blogtable: Build with offense or defense?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEOGameTime’s crew breaks down the Sacramento Kings’ coaching situation

> Sacramento GM Pete D’Alessandro says he wants to see his team play at a faster pace. What’s a better foundation for a championship team — a high-scoring offense, or a stout defense?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGive me a stout defense. So much of a team’s and an individual’s success in this league (anywhere, really) hinges on the honing of habits. Come playoff time, possessions become more precious, pace throttles down and defense becomes more important, and I don’t see a Paul Westhead approach suddenly downshifting to out-stingy teams that have been playing that way all year. You want to make the highlight reels and fill a new building? High-octane offense is great. You want to win titles? Defense is king (even if it’s not Kings).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe truth, of course, is balance, but defense carries more weight. Say a top 10-ranked offense, but a defense in the top five. By the way, the past two years, the Spurs have been 7th and 3rd, respectively.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: High-scoring works, as the Spurs reminded last season, but defense has to be the foundation, as pretty much everyone reminds every season. A good defense leads to offense, as in easy transition baskets. Offenses will have bad nights, whether because of self-induced problems or the opponent, but a potent defense rarely breaks down.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The obvious answer is that it takes some of both to have any shot at a title, but of course, a defensive team will always have a slight edge in the postseason, when the court shrinks and rotations tighten. Going back to what D’Alessandro said for a minute: Your offensive system must always cater to the talent on hand. In theory, everyone wants to run. In reality, not everyone is equipped to run. The Grizzlies, for example, don’t push the ball often because they lack the Ferraris. But last I looked, they’re sitting pretty in the West, looking down on Sacramento.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: More teams have reached The Finals with a top-10 defense than with a top-10 offense. You have to be great on both ends of the floor to win a title, but last season’s Heat and Spurs each showed us the importance of defense. Still, as the only team that has been below average on both ends of the floor for each of the last eight years, the Kings have to take what they can get. Find something that works and build on it. Fortunately for them, DeMarcus Cousins has developed into an anchor on both ends of the floor. But they need to surround him with a better supporting cast, the right coach, and some stability.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comA stout defense has to be the bedrock for a championship team. For teams that want to be exciting, draw eyeballs and get fans in the seats, a high-scoring offense is fine. The Phoenix Suns of the Mike D’Antoni era come to mind when I think of a team that could fill it up and had the appearance of a championship team, that is until they ran back to the other end of the court and couldn’t slow anyone down. I think a team that has to work overtime on offense to be legitimate can be a championship team with an elite defense. I have yet to see a team that can do the same on the flip side (an offensive juggernaut with defensive deficiencies). Ideally, it’s best to have the sort of balance the Texas teams (Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs) that have won championships recently possessed. As for the Kings, all the pace and points in the world won’t help you if you can’t lock down and get stops when you need them.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You need both, and for a team like the Kings — who haven’t been in the playoffs since 2006 — it doesn’t matter whether the offense or defense is established first. Just be good at something. Establish a winning identity, and then fill in at the weak spots. The Mavericks did it that way: They learned how to win and then added the defensive mindset. The Kings have no business thinking about championships right now; their first job is to win more games than they lose, and to establish a defining strength — somewhere, anywhere.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWhy does it have to be one or the other? A high-scoring attack is great — it’s fun to watch, it’s attractive to casual fans. But unless you have an above-average defense to go along with it, you don’t have much to fall back on when the offense inevitably slows. And for all the talk about wanting a more uptempo offense, the thing is the Kings weren’t a very good defensive team last season (they finished with a 109.5 defensive rating), and they haven’t been much better this year. (108.2). Bottom line, the Kings have a long way to go on both ends of the court before we start talking championships.

Blogtable: Your All-Star starters

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEO: The Starters reveal their early All-Star starter picks

> You’ll get a chance to you change your mind in about three weeks, but give me your starting five (East and West) for February’s All-Star Game, based ONLY on performance this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The guys I think earned it in the West are names who might actually get enough votes in the real balloting: Stephen Curry and James Harden in the backcourt, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Out East, I’m not sure my five all would prevail in the popularity contest but on merit, they should go: John Wall and Kyle Lowry at guard, with LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kyle Korver up front. Korver, you ask? He’s having a season to make analytics fans swoon, someone from Atlanta deserves a spot and I like the idea of two Kyles in a five-man lineup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comEast: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol. West: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol. Durability counts, that’s why Dwyane Wade loses out to Irving and DeMarcus Cousins to Marc Gasol.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comEast: LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh (forwards), Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry (guards). West: Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins (forwards), Stephen Curry and James Harden (guards). The option to change my mind in three weeks comes in especially handy with Cousins. If he returns strong from the viral meningitis, he holds the spot. If he struggles physically for long, his place becomes more precarious. It gets even worse if the Kings continue to drop in the standings — which dooms Carmelo Anthony on the East front line –or Cousins has a choppy adjustment to the Kings’ coaching change increased emphasis on playing up-tempo. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are waiting.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWest: James Harden, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol. Pretty clear-cut there. They’ve been healthy and productive. East: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony. Yeah, folks will hold their nose about ‘Melo, but that’s more because of the Knicks. He’s No. 6 in scoring and the East is lacking in star power on the front line.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Going by the positions on the ballot (veiled shot at my colleagues who included Lowry, Wall and Butler) … East guards: Kyle Lowry and John Wall.  East frontcourt: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. West guards: Stephen Curry and James Harden. West frontcourt: Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Tim Duncan. Duncan gets my final spot in the crowded West frontcourt (for now), because he’s more of a two-way player than LaMarcus Aldridge and his minutes are over 30 per game this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based only on performance, in the East it has to be Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and Pau Gasol. In the Western Conference, where a preposterous surplus of candidates for five spots, I’m going with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol. I don’t think I’ll need that mulligan in three weeks either, even with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coming on the way they are for Oklahoma City and Kobe Bryant playing the way he has all season. I want to reserve my injury replacement spot for Klay Thompson, too. He’s been that good this season and the Warriors are rocking. He belongs in New York for the festivities.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In the East, I’ve got LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh in the frontcourt, with Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt. In the West, it’s Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis up front, with James Harden and Stephen Curry in the backcourt.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogEast: John Wall, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Chris Bosh. If I could put Kobe at the 3, I would, because I think he deserves to make the starting five. But there are literally only two players in the West that I’d rate ahead of him, and they are both guards. Sorry, Mamba. West: Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: A looming trade?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEOShould the Warriors think about dealing David Lee?

> Give me a name or two, guys who you think almost certainly will be traded between now and the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLance Stephenson back to Indiana as a do-over of sorts would be interesting, because it’s not something we’ve seen often (ever?). David Lee done got “Wally Pipped” in Golden State – the team didn’t miss him and might be better without him – so he’d be a likely suspect to move, if someone were willing to swallow his contract. I would have said Ersan Ilyasova for sure until Jabari Parker went down, thinning the Bucks’ frontcourt.  If LeBron James wants Corey Brewer, then I’d imagine Brewer will be headed to Cleveland for something or other. Then there’s Greg Monroe, though any trade would hinge on his determination to leave Detroit (no more Bird rights) and the Pistons’ asking price for a half-season of his services.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLance Stephenson and Dion Waiters. It seems there wasn’t a bigger mistake made during the offseason than the Hornets trying to add Stephenson as a pinch of spice. He’s been a bad fit since Day One and team owner Michael Jordan would most likely enjoy a shot at a do-over. The bad blood between Waiters and point guard Kyrie Irving might be in the past, but Waiters is still most often like a fifth wheel on the Cavs’ machine and is likely never going to stop being frustrating.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s tough not to think Lance Stephenson right away. The contract is very moveable — $27 million over three seasons, but the final campaign as a team option — and Stephenson can be a productive player, certainly more productive than he has shown so far in Charlotte. It’s early in the relationship, but the Hornets can’t wait much longer before deciding it’s a bad fit. Separately, the Pistons are a candidate to trade. Offloading Josh Smith would be an ideal scenario, but he won’t bring much in return. Greg Monroe is a possibility, before he becomes a free agent, but not at a fire-sale discount. He’ll still cost.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: There are dozens of players that teams want to dump, but for various reasons might be unable to do so. Case in point: Josh Smith, Pistons. Anyway, my candidates: Gerald Green, because the Suns may not want to pay him; Arron Afflalo, because his return to Denver has been largely a bust; Corey Brewer, because the Wolves will be crummy with or without him; and finally Lance Stephenson, just because.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are a lot of guys who teams don’t want anymore, and there are a lot of guys that other teams desire. But Draft pick compensation and the heftiness of certain contracts (hello, Joe Johnson) often get in the way of potential deal. Dion Waiters, in my opinion, should fall into the first category and is still on an easily-tradeable rookie contract. So I see him as the most likely to move. The Cavs need defense and have plenty of guards — Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Harris, James Jones and Mike Miller — who can absorb Waiters’ minutes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comJosh Smith and Lance Stephenson serve as the easy picks and for good reason. I think one or both of them will certainly be on the move. There is no doubt they’re both being shopped by their respective teams. They are both talents with skills that will be coveted by teams convinced that they’ll be able to clean up whatever messes they’ve made in the past. Neither one of them is a great (or even good) fit in their current situations. The Pistons aren’t going anywhere this season, so they might as well start the rebuilding process at the deadline. The Hornets had high hopes and had them dashed early. They need to free themselves of Stephenson and allow him to start fresh elsewhere as well. My wild card at the deadline is the Phoenix Suns. They had a glut of point guards and should take a hard look at which one of them is expendable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m going to say Josh Smith and any other number of Pistons. The coach has the authority to make trades in Detroit, and after complaining steadily about the effort of his players, Stan Van Gundy isn’t going to allow the trade deadline to pass him by.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI wouldn’t be surprised to see the Knicks move Amar’e Stoudemire. He’s playing better basketball than he’s played in years, and could lend a hand on a contending team in need of frontcourt depth. Plus, with a $19 million expiring contract, maybe the Knicks can get something of value for him that will help with their rebuild going forward.

Blogtable: Charlotte vs. New York

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The best 2s | Charlotte vs. New York | A sweet 16



VIDEO: Brent Barry breaks down what is going wrong with the Charlotte Hornets

> Charlotte or New York: Which is better equipped to actually make a run at the playoffs? Do you see that team making it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Charlotte still is in better shape, in my view. I’m more surprised by their miserable start, which means I considered them a better team going in. Nothing has changed there, though the Lance Stephenson funk is different from what I expected (I thought he’d stats-hunt and neglect teamwork while posting big numbers. Uh, not so much…) Generally, I like the Hornets’ roster better and their ability to defend, and I do think they’ll snag a low seed. The Knicks, not so much – on all fronts.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Hornets have the better 1-2 combination of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. If they can figure out a way to harness Lance Stephenson and rookie Noah Vonleh gets his legs, they’ve simply got a deeper lineup than the Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. And living in the Eastern Conference, you’re never out of it in December.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Charlotte. I still think the Hornets make it, but the bad start confirms a lot of the preseason worries they would take a step back this season. Losing Josh McRoberts to the Heat in free agency was bigger than most people realize. That’s still a better team than the Knicks, though. Getting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back will help the defense. The healthy guards need to heal as well — Kemba Walker and/or Lance Stephenson have to start hitting shots.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Knicks are about tapped out in terms of a ceiling. Most of their core players are either at their peak or on the downside, unlike the Hornets, mostly loaded with young players who still have growth potential. Anything is possible in the East, including both teams reaching the playoffs, but for now I’ll go with the Hornets in a fight for the seventh or eighth spot.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Charlotte has the better chance. Though the Hornets need shooting, they have the tools to be at least somewhat successful on both ends of the floor. With the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and maybe a timely trade, they can definitely be in the mix for one of the last couple of playoff spots. The Knicks have too many bad defenders and their offense has been hindered by the Triangle, or at least their ability to run it smoothly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Playoffs? Did you really say “playoffs” … I’ll have two slices of that pie in the sky you were nibbling on when you cooked this question up. Neither one of these teams is currently on a playoff track, and barring a Christmas miracle I don’t see either one of them making that push. The Knicks have systemic issues that have been well documented. As to what went wrong in Charlotte, it’s a bit more complicated. The Hornets’ chemistry from a year ago is gone. It went up in smoke sometime between them presenting an offer sheet to Gordon Hayward and them adding Lance Stephenson instead. You don’t come back from this sort of chemistry hiccup without tinkering with the chemistry again (via a trade), which is another gamble for a team flat on its back after the first month of the season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hornets spent last year successfully developing Steve Clifford’s system. They have a better chance of resolving their chemistry problems because they’re committed to making this group work. The Knicks have no such commitment to this team: They have a new system and new leadership and can’t wait to start tearing up their roster.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Charlotte. The Knicks are a project, and they have a distance to travel both on the court and in regard tot heir roster. I know the Hornets are brutal right now on both sides of the ball, but they have a system that works, a coach who got his team to the playoffs a season ago, and most importantly, a deep group of talented players. Maybe there are some chemistry issues and fundamental things to figure out, but the Hornets should be able to shake through their issues and get on the winning track. And in the Eastern Conference, you’re never really out of the puzzle.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: I don’t have much faith in either of these two teams’ postseason hopes. But if I had to, I’d pick the Hornets over the Knicks to make a run at the playoffs. New York is a lost cause right know: learning a new system with a bunch of players who either don’t believe in it or are not fit for it it’s almost impossible. Even if you have two legends like Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher trying to convince you it’s the right thing to do. The Hornets were supposed to fight for a top 4 spot in the East: they have a playoff roster, they just need to find out a way to convince Lance Stephenson to fit into their system. Steve Clifford, with some help from His Airness, Michael Jordan, could make it.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: Definitely the Hornets. They’ve started terribly but their schedule has been incredibly tough. Steve Clifford built an elite defense last season that revolved around stopping easy transition baskets, they’ve gone away from that this season but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury hasn’t helped. They’ll improve defensively, it’s on the offensive end that I’m concerned. If they can bring in a little more shooting they may be able to turn things around here. I wasn’t one to get excited about this team in the offseason, Lance Stephenson wasn’t going to suddenly remedy their problems and losing Josh McRoberts was big. Right now, neither team will probably make the playoffs, but clearly if you have to choose one, I’m not banking on the Knicks!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Make the playoffs? No I don’t think so. Charlotte has a better roster, despite the fact that they lack a star with Melo’s caliber. They have a solid core (Gary Neal, Al Jefferson, Stephenson, Walker), but still are missing important parts to become an playoff team. Perhaps what they are missing is a Lance Stephenson’s Indiana days. He is not shooting well and the team needs him to step up.

Nacho Albarrán, NBA.com/Espana: New York, but the road to the playoffs will be tough, and we not sure if they will make it.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: Because of their balance, depth, familiarity with the system, and defensive strengths, I think Charlotte is more likely to be a playoff team this season than New York. They have had a tough start to the season for sure, but the season is long and the East is weak: the Hornets have enough talent between Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, MKG, and Lance Stephenson to sharpen their rough edges in time for making a successful playoff run.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA.com/Mexico: New York. They have the talent: Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and one Jose Calderon; Structure: Derek Fisher on the bench running the show and Phil Jackson as director. If they can come together and demonstrate their quality, they will make it to the playoffs over Charlotte. The fundamental points are that the team succeeds in implementing the triangle offense that led Jackson to win 11 titles in the NBA and that ‘Melo doesn’t run out of patience and decide he wants a ‘change of air’ by midseason.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: I think Charlotte will get it going at some point, the Lance Stephenson experiment is not working right now but he is due to break out of his slump soon. Big Al Jefferson is consistent and a monster on the block while Kemba Walker is a top flight point guard in the league. New York is in a deeper hole, they don’t have the right players for their system and worse, Fisher can’t seem to make them play defense, their better off rebuilding full time than hope for a miracle with this group although it wouldn’t surprise me if Jose Calderon can somehow resuscitate their offense.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I think the Knicks have the longer way to go. There are too many things they have to adjust. Coach Fisher still needs time to get to know his players. Who fits for the triangle offense and who not? It’s a transition year for them. Anyway they have the quality to claim a playoff-spot, it’s only 3,5 games to the last spot. But at the moment, I think the problems the Hornets have are a bit smaller. They have to figure out, how Stephenson and Walker fit together. Both needs the ball in their hands, without it they’re ineffective. In addition Charlotte has to find their defensive mindset again. Their team-defense is awful at the moment. But they will solve their problems. The quality in the team is high enough to be a good team in the East. I believe the Hornets will make it to the playoffs.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Taking the best 16

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The best 2s | Charlotte vs. New York | A sweet 16


> Lately we’ve had some talk on conference imbalance and what can be done about it. One question: Do you like the idea of seeding the top 16 teams in the playoffs, regardless of conference? Any drawbacks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI like this plan. Some East teams still would have an edge anyway, right, because their records get fattened against the lousiest clubs in their conference? Even so, it would help to squelch the six months of bellyaching we get from some in the media on this topic. I mostly consider this a pendulum problem that will swing the other way in time. But some seem hung up on fixing instantly anything they perceive isn’t “faaaair.” If instituted, their next freak-out would be over the travel demands of a Portland-Atlanta series.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Looking forward to that Miami-Portland first round playoff series. Boston-LA? Memphis-Sacramento? You think the media whining is loud now? Team complaints about travel fatigue? Wait til those happen. So Mark Cuban wants to go to the Eastern Conference because its so hard for his team in the West. For a guy who lives in the “Shark Tank,” he should know life sometimes bites. This is a solution in search of a problem.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The only drawback is that one conference will face a much easier schedule in the regular season and throw off the records that will determine the seedings. Beyond that, rank away. Just make sure to build in enough time. There could be coast-to-coast travel in the first round. If teams are going back and forth in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, and maybe on more than one occasion in that postseason, play will suffer.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The screaming you hear about conference imbalance is based on recent events, or lack thereof, in the East. As you know, these things are cyclical and who’s to say the East won’t be the better conference in another few years? There’s no need to push the red button and force change. Stick with the status quo and keep the conferences balanced in the postseason.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not crazy about the idea, but I think it has to be done at this point. This is now 15 of the last 16 years in which the West has been the better conference. Some good teams are missing the playoffs and some bad teams are making them. But if you do it, you have to look at balancing the schedule, which will be tougher to do.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I feel like such a grumpy old man here, but I do not. I don’t think everyone should get a trophy for participation either. Seriously. Enough of this fairness doctrine being spread around the league. I’m reminded of the cyclical nature of sports and the fact that what appears one way now can change dramatically before you know it, rendering a hasty reaction foolish if we’re not careful. The divisional and conference format of the league has to mean something. There has to be some method to this madness. I understand we’re trying to reward teams in the tougher conference and a top-16 would make it “fair” to some. But I don’t believe that solves the problem when, say in a year or two, the Eastern Conference sees the balance of power shift in its direction.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It would be good if everyone played to a similar schedule. The hard problem to solve here is the scheduling: To fix it without losing a sense of regional rivalry and without adding to travel for the teams.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I do not like the idea. I understand the arguments in favor of the change, specifically that it should ostensibly make for more competitive matchups in the playoffs, which would make the entire league must-see TV and raise ratings (and revenues). But I’m also something of a new-school traditionalist, and I like the conferences and divisions, gerrymandered though they may be. Conferences will have ups and downs and at some point in the future the East will once again have the power while the West will struggle. Until then, that’s just the way it is. (Word to Bruce Hornsby.)

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: Why not? I’m a fan of this approach. The best 16 teams should battle for the title. The question is, do we still need the divisions and conferences? Traveling in our time is so comfortable that this isn’t an argument anymore. And it would be unfair if you change the system but keep the conferences. The teams in the East would have an advantage, because of the easier schedule. You have to change the schedule system. Every team would have to play three times against every team in the league. That would mean 87 regular season games. Too much? I don’t know. But changing things isn’t as easy as you’d expect.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: For sure! It’s very similar to the European point of view, where the winning record is the only criteria. We will miss some rivalries, but I think that this way the playoffs will be even better.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: I am leaning towards the top 16 teams in the playoffs, because a lot of talented and exciting teams from the West will be left off again come post-season. Teams like the Pelicans, Suns and Kings all have great young talent. The Western and Eastern Conference format always builds up rivalries, but a great example is the NCAA tournament, no one bothers from what conference or state the schools belong to, it’s just the top teams in the country, period.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I do like the seeding of the top 16 teams for the playoffs as the first step towards fixing the playoffs imbalance. Too many good teams and superstar players are standing out the playoff picture in the West every year; and meanwhile out East, teams that start 4-13 are still optimistic of finishing in the top six. The drawback obviously is that it will eliminate some of the historical rivalries a little as teams that face each other regularly in the playoffs will now be playing more inter-conference matchups earlier in the playoffs. To be honest, I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing: with new alignments and rules, there will be new traditions. The top 16 seeding shouldn’t be the final solution either, because teams in the East will still continue to have an easier schedule during the regular season as they play teams in their weaker conference more often. In the ideal NBA world, I will be hoping that all teams play each other equal number of times through the season for a truly fair idea of where they should stand before the postseason begins.

Nacho Albarrán, NBA.com/Espana: Yes, and we don’t see any drawbacks, because that system could improve the overall competition.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: I really like the idea of seeding the top 16 teams in the playoffs regardless of conference. Traveling isn’t an issue anymore, so why don’t have a postseason with the 16 best teams out of the regular season? It would be really interesting, and I’m pretty sure most teams would like it. Especially Western Conference teams …

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: I do! Let’s get the best teams in the playoffs! It was a complete injustice that the 48-win Suns missed the playoffs last season. Not only did they win 48 games, they won them in the West! No offense to Atlanta, but how does a team that won 38 games make the playoffs? The Hornets really struggled to start the season, but given they’re in the East there’s a chance that they get themselves together and win enough games to qualify. Obviously, the entire system would have to change so that’s probably a drawback, but if you get the best teams in the playoffs then it’s worth it.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: The league’s best 2 guards

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The best 2s | Charlotte vs. New York | A sweet 16



VIDEO: Isiah Thomas has high praise for Chicago’s Jimmy Butler

> Rank the top three shooting guards in the league … under 35. What’s your reasoning?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: 1. Klay Thompson, 2. James Harden, 3. Jimmy Butler. This is pretty straight-forward for me. Thompson has the reputation and the paycheck as the best two-way shooting guard, with Team USA credibility behind him. Harden is the most dangerous offensively, and the position is called “shooting guard” for a reason. And I’ve seen Butler enough to know that, while his offensive game isn’t as developed as Thompson’s, his brand of defense and toughness can win you a bunch of games. Just missing my cut: Bradley Beal. Scoring chops, mature, guy who does little things, but oh those injuries.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: James Harden, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal. Harden is the most unstoppable backcourt scoring force in the league right now, ranks second in league in points per game. He’s the best at getting to the hoop and drawing fouls and can fill it up on 3s. Also gets a half dozen rebounds and assists per game and this season is also making a solid defensive effort. Thompson’s improved post-up game has him closing the gap, but Harden’s free throws make the difference. Beal just needs a long run of good health to stake his claim with the top two.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There’s a change at the top of the leader board. While I would have gone with James Harden in the past, I give Klay Thompson the edge now because of defense. Thompson has size, the shooting range, the ability to check multiple positions. And he’s only getting better. I’ll go DeMar DeRozan third.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Harden, Thompson, DeRozan. I just realized how watered-down this position actually is, especially compared to the golden age with Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, etc. None of my candidates are perfect, but Harden is extremely good at the skill that the position demands. So he’s my choice despite his defense. Funny thing, just a few years ago folks were wondering if the Raptors jumped the gun by giving DeRozan that extension.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: 1. James Harden. 2. Klay Thompson. 3. Dwyane Wade. Harden’s efficiency at such a high volume (Kyle Korver is the only shooting guard who’s a more efficient scorer) makes up for his defensive issues. Thompson is a pretty complete player, though he hasn’t had to be the lead guy like the other two. And Wade still gets it done when he’s healthy and when he decides to care on defense. This isn’t an easy question to answer because there are a lot of solid guys and nobody that’s not without his faults. I came close to squeezing Korver, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Joe Johnson, or Wesley Matthews on the list. And give 37-year-old Manu Ginobili any time.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Once a position of extreme depth and power, the move to “hyrbid” point guards who could be classified at either backcourt position clouds these rankings a bit for me. That said, James Harden tops my list. He’s an elite scorer who cannot be contained most nights because he can beat you from deep or by attacking and finishing at the rim and free throw line. Klay Thompson is No. 2 on my list. He plays both ends at an elite level and, in my opinion, is just now coming into his own as a true All-Star caliber player. I know he’s older and a bit broken down at this stage of his career, but on his best night Dwyane Wade still makes my top 3 at shooting guard. He can still do things, albeit on a far more infrequent basis, that only a select few at the position can. Wade’s ability to post up on offense and play both ends at the highest level keeps him holding on, so to speak.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: So far Jimmy Butler is having the best year, just in front of James Harden and Klay Thompson. Butler impacts the game at both ends, and his offensive versatility has been tremendous. Harden and Thompson (another strong two-way player) have been crucial to their teams’ hot starts. Dwyane Wade and DeMar DeRozan would be challenging (in addition to Monta Ellis) if not for injuries.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: So, what, anyone but Kobe Bryant? Because Kobe is the only 35+ two guard I can think of to whom this question would apply. So with KB out of the picture — and he would probably be in my picture otherwise — I’m looking for players who do more than just score. I want guys who give a hoot on defense and provide leadership, as well, and also have some room to grow. So I’ll go Klay Thompson first, James Harden second, and DeMar DeRozan third, with Bradley Beal right on their heels. But if you want, you can have any of those guys and I’ll still take Kobe, regardless of age.

Nacho Albarrán, NBA.com/Espana: Dwyane Wade, because is a very versatile player, a good shooter, rebounder and passer, a leader at last. And already he’s won three championship rings in six Finals. James Harden is the future on this position, because his strength, his shooting abilities and in going powerfully to the rim. He only needs to play better in the clutch games. Monta Ellis has grown as a more complete player in Dallas and is just pure show.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: James Harden, Klay Thompson and Monta Ellis. Harden is my top shooting guard at the moment, he may get some flak because of his defense but the way he controls the game is almost effortless — he can score easily and when he puts his mind into it he can guard positions 1-4. Klay just keeps on improving and he is with the right system, with great teammates that look for him on offense. While on defense he is tasked to defend the best guard in the opposing them on a nightly basis. Monta is the most underrated shooting guard in the league. if you watch the Mavs you will see that he is their primary option on offense and he also has underrated defense.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: Number 1’s gotta be James Harden – knock him for his defensive inability or over-reliance on the free-throw line all you want, but Harden’s ability to create offense for himself and his teammates is currently above far and beyond all other comers at his position. I’d give Klay Thompson second place in the list for scoring nearly 21 points per game and also developing into an elite perimeter defender on the opposite end. Number 3 is a tricky choice – if we were in the playoffs, I would’ve probably chosen Dwyane Wade, but the Heat SG’s inconsistencies knock him down a spot for me. I’d say the third-best shooting guard in the league is DeMar DeRozan. Although he’s currently hurt, DeRozan is the Raptors’ leading scorer and has helped them to early success this season.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA.com/Mexico: 1. Stephen Curry is averaging 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game, plus an impressive 41.3 percent on three-pointers, so in my opinion, he’s the best in the league. Let’s not forget that he’s also a great defender and he’s undoubtedly the Warriors’ leader.  It’s a delight to watch him play – spectacular passes, dribbles and stunning high-level layups. 2. Russell Westbrook with 24 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6 assists per game plus a percentage of 57.1 in three-pointers is an awesome weapon for the Thunder. What leaves me with doubts, even though his return was “wild,” was his aggressiveness when attacking the rim and defensively, the questions that we’d asked about him during his first seasons in the league. 3. James Harden‘s simply an offensive show, just look at his stats: 25.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game – a confirmation of a great offensive talent that has the most famous “Beard” in the NBA.  However, his lack of commitment to become a better defender and his occasional lapses in the clutch forces me to put him in third place.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: How old is Kobe, after he fell into the fountain of youth? 28? I’m joking, but I’m really impressed by his performance so far at his age. I’ve expected a good comeback from him, but so good? Okay, let’s talk about the young fellas. I’m not a big fan of James Harden because of his defense, but his season is offensively so dominant, that you can’t choose someone else as the best shooting guard in the league so far. Behind Harden I have to pick Jimmy Butler. His improvement in the offense this season is so huge. Maybe he’s the upcoming franchise player of the Bulls. For third, I choose Klay Thompson. His game is not as variable as the ones of Butler and Harden, but if he catches fire no one can stop him.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: James Harden, Klay Thompson, Dwyane Wade. From No. 1 to No. 3. I think that there is no need to argue about Harden. His 25.2 points per game speak for themselves. Thompson is one the best pure shooters in the NBA and the best under 30 years-old. Wade,  on the other hand, still has got game. He scores 20.5 per game, dishes 5.6 assist and makes a trick or two to finish at the rim despite the nickname “Flash” starts to fade out as he slowly creeps toward 35 years old.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: Right now it’s James Harden, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler for me. Harden is an MVP-caliber player, a guy who can win games by himself. Devastating from distance, his Euro-steps are a trademark; he’s also trying to play more with his teammates. Thompson is more than just Steph Curry’s sidekick: he’s a star in the making, great on defense, awesome on offense. Butler is the new face of this season, an early candidate for the Most Improved Player award. He’s one of the best 2-way players in the league after he transformed himself into a reliable offensive weapon during the offseason.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: Klay Thompson, Wesley Matthews and James Harden. My reasoning for Thompson and Matthews is pretty simple: they’re two of the best two-way guards we have in the league. Both guys can lock down opponents and influence things on defense and have become so important to their team’s overall success. From an offensive standpoint, these guys can hurt you in a number of different ways, but mainly due to their elite 3-point shooting which has become so important in today’s NBA. As for Harden, I’m probably contradicting myself due to his defensive limitations but he is the most explosive scorer at the position so it’s hard to keep a guy out like that. He sets up teammates, gets to the line at an abnormal rate and can hurt you in a number of different ways. If it was two years ago, Dwyane Wade finds himself in this list.

BlogTableBestSg2Amended
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: LeBron teams, then and now

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Miami 2010 vs. Cleveland 2014 | POR, TOR or WAS? | Tick, tick, tick in OKC


LeBron James (left) has played in 158 playoff games. Kevin Love, zero. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

LeBron James (left) has played in 158 playoff games. Kevin Love, zero. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

> Think back … what’s the difference, talent-wise, between LeBron’s first team in Miami and this Cleveland team? Can this Cleveland team be as good as that Miami one? As constituted, can it be better?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Looking back at the 2010-11 Heat, there was a lot of ordinariness on that roster with LeBron James. But – and this is a Rick Mahorn-sized “but” – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were more advanced as teammates, having played in 72 postseason games to Kyrie Irving‘s and Kevin Love‘s none. Erik Spoelstra already had coached 160 NBA games with two playoff appearances. And Mike Miller and James Jones, same as James, Wade and Bosh, were four years younger. Also, Udonis Haslem brought toughness that these Cavaliers could use. My sense is that Dion Waiters is a more talented but more headstrong “little brother” than Mario Chalmers was. And a final thought: The rest of the league might be past the shock and awe with which it regarded that earlier Super Friends edition – it was an unnerving assemblage of talent, shown to be fallible and beatable over time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Talent, schmalent.  If it were just about raw talent, Tracy McGrady would be walking about with more rings than a Beatles drummer with tinnitus.  LeBron arrived literally on stage in Miami with two other guys who had talent plus the veteran game smarts and battle scars to be championship contenders.  I’ll drop another Sixties reference and ask the Jimi Hendrix question: Are you experienced?  Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love do not have a single playoff game on their resumes and have never before had to get in sync with another All-Star caliber teammate. When you ask if these Cavs in their first year together can be better than that Heat team, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have every right to say, hey, you, get off my cloud.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: LeBron’s first team in Miami had Dwyane Wade, a great advantage in experience: Wade had already won a title. He knew exactly what it took. But the core of this roster in Cleveland can get there. It can be as good as Miami. While this is a wobbly start amid great scrutiny, it’s no more unsteady or under brighter lights than the Heat of James’ previous lifetime. “Spoelstra should be fired that first season because the Heat will never win with him,” … remember? In fact, the pressure was greater then as LeBron was being condemned almost everywhere outside South Florida. The Cavaliers can absolutely find their way. Maybe it will be a repeat of Miami and it will take a season. But, yes, it can be as good.

Kyrie Irving (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Kyrie Irving (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: That Miami team had Dwyane Wade, already a certified NBA champion. If anything, Wade had to teach LeBron how to win, and now here is LeBron trying to distribute wisdom in Cleveland. Also, keep in mind Erik Spoelstra had taken the Heat to the playoffs without LeBron, while David Blatt is new to this NBA thing. All of that was/is in Miami’s favor in any comparison talk. That said … there’s plenty of time for the Cavs to prove themselves, in the end, as good as the 2011 Heat, although nobody seems to be saying that too loudly right now.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest difference is that the Heat’s three stars were all two-way players. Dwyane Wade isn’t the most disciplined defender, but he’s an impact player on that end of the floor and much better than Kyrie Irving. And Chris Bosh is a much, much, much, much, much better defender than Kevin Love. His importance to the Heat’s pick-and-roll defense can’t be understated. At the point that the 2010-11 Heat were 9-8, they ranked sixth in defensive efficiency. The Cavs will get better defensively (they rank 19th through Tuesday), but given their current personnel, they won’t be as good as the Heat were on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The difference between the two is simple. The Miami Big 3 all had playoff experience and, in Dwyane Wade’s case, championship experience. The Cleveland Big 3 has no playoff or even winning regular-season experience outside of LeBron. And the fact that people overlooked that when they put the Cleveland crew together mystifies me. I don’t think this Cleveland group can be better. I think Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, at this stage of their careers, are as talented individually for their positions as you could want. But I don’t think they are better players than Wade and Bosh were in 2010.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: That Miami team operated as an established program committed to the values of defense and teamwork as set forth by Pat Riley. This Cleveland team has none of that. The Cavaliers spent the last four years without LeBron flailing for the kinds of answers that were taken for granted in Miami. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving know nothing about what it takes to win in the playoffs. I don’t see how LeBron can do better now than his first team did in Miami, because this organization in Cleveland has so much more to learn from top to bottom.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the most glaring difference is that the 2010-11 Heat played Mike Bibby at the point some. Mostly stationary by that point and not a great defender (who was eventually benched during the Finals), Bibby could still run a team and had loads of veteran savvy. Kyrie Irving is all guts and speed and quickness, but he lacks a certain steadiness this Cleveland team could use at the top. Not saying he can’t uncover that by the time the postseason rolls around, but for now he has work to do.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: The main difference between LeBron’s first team in Miami compared to Cleveland is their overall NBA experience. Dwyane Wade was already a Finals MVP, Chris Bosh has led the Raptors to the playoffs in several seasons and they signed veteran players to complement the team. While in Cleveland LeBron will have to do the heavy lifting in terms of leadership chores. They have the personnel and talent to be as good as that team but it’s up to LeBron to nurture this young group into a mature squad.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The 2010-11 Heat were way more deep than these Cavs. LeBron, Wade and Bosh were obviously the most talented players on that roster, but coach Spoelstra had a lot of options for the supporting cast. These Cavs have three phenomenal players in LeBron, Irving and Love, a good center in Varejao, a veteran in Marion, an interesting youngster in Thompson and … that’s pretty much it, at least for now with Miller, Jones and Dellavedova dealing with injuries. Once they’re back, coach Blatt will still need a rim protector and a wing defender. These Cavs need way more depth to be as good as the 2010-11 Heat.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: On the paper, this Cleveland team could be great, and I do think LeBron and Kevin Love were a natural fit.The only difference is Kyrie, who just stepped into his fourth year in the league. Maybe he’s not explosive as Wade in 2010, but he can also go to the basket at will, not to mention he’s a much better 3-point shooter than Wade. As LeBron said, guys need some time to figure out how to play winning basketball. But the only question is, can Kyrie figure out how to sacrifice his ego before LBJ is past his prime? Per NBA.com/Stats, in the seven losing game of the Cavs, Kyrie’s got a higher USG (24.7%), and the team played a slower pace (93.22). Kyrie’s isolation is a good show down the stretch, but that’s not the type of winning basketball. They definitely could be better, only after Kyrie, who doesn’t have that kind of blood connection with the city of Cleveland, realizes that truth of the game.

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/India: The difference is not so much talent-wise as much as it is about experience. The biggest advantage LeBron’s Miami had was that the stars and the coach, Erik Spoelstra, had significant postseason experience. Dwyane Wade had won a ring in 2006 and LeBron had made his way to the NBA Finals in 2007. That helped them navigate the turbulent waters of the rough start and turn into winners. Here, at Cleveland, besides LeBron, neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love has ever been to the postseason. David Blatt is still learning the NBA’s ropes. So they have to come to terms with a winning mentality on the fly. Can they be better?   Sure, they can. For that to happen, Love must play the five spot a la Kevin Garnett in Boston and Brooklyn or Bosh with Miami. That would allow Cleveland to outrun their opponents, spread the floor and free up the paint for James. Also, instead of Love sacrificing his scoring averages and field-goal attempts, Irving has to sacrifice his scoring average and become more of a facilitator. Right now, Irving’s assists average (4.8) is at an all-time career low.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: The big difference is experience. In Cleveland there is no Flash, no Bosh and no Allen. Love and Irving have all the potential in the world, but none of them have proven themselves in postseason basketball. Moreover they have a rookie coach who is trying the adjust in the NBA playing style. I am sure that the Cavs will get better, because they have the most important thing: talent. Don’t forget that back in 2010 when LeBron took his talents in Florida, the Heat had a 9-8 start.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: The main difference is the experience. LeBron had Dwyane Wade on his side. A superstar, Finals MVP and NBA Champion. In addition Chris Bosh, who came to South Beach as the All-Time Leading Scorer of the Toronto Raptors. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love might be as talented as Bosh and Wade, but they haven’t the experience yet. Both haven’t played any postseason game. This is the first time in his career Irving has teammates who are better than he is. He has to adjust his game and that needs time. The same with Love. He’s now only the third option. That’s quite new for him. Give them the time they need and you will receive a big outcome.

Blogtable: Hot start, staying hot

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Miami 2010 vs. Cleveland 2014 | POR, TOR or WAS? | Tick, tick, tick in OKC



VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan steps into the studio with Ernie, Greg Anthony and Chris Webber

> Which of these teams do you believe can best maintain its hot start? Which team has the most room for improvement? Your picks: Portland, Toronto, Washington.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGimme the Trail Blazers. As much as I like the Raptors and the Wizards – and as desperately as the Eastern Conference needs them for depth and swagger – I’m not sure their ensemble approaches will hold up as well over the long season as Portland’s reliance on All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers’ depth concerns me but Nene’s sore foot is a red flag for the Wizards, in my view, and Toronto still seems to lack experience or a strong enough veteran influence to ride out the season’s rough spots. Happy to be proven wrong on all counts.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: While the Cavs try to figure out a way to play together and the Bulls try to figure out a way to keep Derrick Rose on the court, coach Dwane Casey has the Raptors playing confident and effectively at both ends and could be on their way to the No. 1 seed in the East.  The Blazers are just as solid and have added depth in Chris Kaman and a healthy C.J. McCollum.  I’d put them just slightly behind the Raptors because they play in the much tougher West.  Because Bradley Beal has just four games under his belt and the Wizards rank just 20th in offense, they’ve got the most room to improve.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Tough call because I thought all three of the teams were the real deal all along, so I don’t see hot start as much teams that will be at or near the top the entire way. (Not at the same win pace, though. The Raptors aren’t going to win 70.) But most room for improvement? The Wizards. Bradley Beal is a difference maker, and he has barely played. Otto Porter, in his second season, will continue to develop and become an important contributor. Plus, unlike the Blazers, Washington and Toronto have the benefit of being in the East.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Of the three, only the Wizards were missing a big piece (Brad Beal) for much of November and so I’ll go with them, in terms of maintaining their start and showing the most improvement. Remember, the Wiz play in the (L)East, which gives them an envious advantage over the Blazers, and their bigs are better than Toronto’s bigs.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI believe in Portland, because their improvement has come mostly on defense, which is an extension of in-season improvement last year. In the same vein, we can’t forget that Toronto was 41-21 after the Rudy Gay trade last season. And really, Washington has the most room for improvement, having just got Bradley Beal back and still waiting on Martell Webster. They have a strong defense, but desperately need the floor spacing those guys provide on offense. So, I guess I like all three of those teams.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All three of them have a great chance to sustain this early season effort, provided they stay healthy at key positions. But I think the Raptors, given their position in the Eastern Conference, have the best chance to grind all the way through this season at a high level. Their make up, from head coach Dwane Casey to catalysts Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan all the way down to crucial role players like Lou Williams, James Johnson, Amir Johnson and Greivis Vasquez, gives them the sort of sound foundation that lends itself to long-term success.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Let’s go with the Raptors as the team most likely to stay on top, because they’ll face the least resistance from their weakling division. The Wizards will show the most upside as Bradley Beal keeps working his way back in and Paul Pierce becomes more ingrained.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: One thing’s for certain: All three of those franchises have fan bases that are fired up and ready to see their team contend. I love Toronto. They’re deep, they have a nice mix of quality and different positions, and they’re playing in a depressed division with a lot of teams they can beat up on. Washington is the team of that trio which gives me a bit of pause. Getting Beal back is helpful, yes, but they’ve got several players with a history of injuries, and I still think they could use one more veteran off the bench to add depth and help stretch the floor.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I believe this time the Blazers will remain constant. Their starting five is as good as ever, Damian Lillard improved again and finally arrived in the point guard elite. And LaMarcus Aldridge is a beast of a power forward. But the most important thing is that they finally have a bench mob. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake fit perfect and they help with their experience. But I think that Toronto and Washington will easily reach the playoffs as well. Paul Pierce is a perfect addition for the Wizards. The young core will learn intangible much from him. Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. have lots of room for improvement. And if the frontcourt stays healthy it can cause big matchup problems.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: I really like all three of them. I believe that the Wizards have the complete package to because the underdog that can make a lot of noise this season. Now that Beal is back they have a great duo in the backcourt, they have a lot of bodies in the frontcourt, they have a great bench (don’t forget Paul Pierce), so they have it all.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: I bet on Toronto to keep doing what they’re doing right now. They’re deep, talented, they’ve great offense and good defense, they’re well coached. Portland has the most room for improvement: Lillard had a slow start, Batum came back few games ago from an injury, their bench is finally giving them something. And Washington? Great, interesting team: they can be dangerous

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: The Washington Wizards are the best equipped team to maintain their hot start, they did damage minus Bradley Beal, one of the top young shooting guards in the game. They are a complete team from top to bottom with the addition of veteran leader Paul Pierce they will be able to take in stride any challenges ahead because he is there to guide them. “The Truth” picked wisely in the past off-season.

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/India: I will go with Portland because they do play in the tougher conference which is the West. Also, Toronto, which has the best record of the three at the moment, has played just four games on the road. Besides that, the core of Damian Lillard, Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are as good as you will get across the league. And Lillard and Aldridge are qualified stars, who can turn a game on its head with their performances. Surprisingly, I think Toronto can still improve. As good as Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas are, they lack the same intimidating presence of Nene and Marcin Gortat in Washington or Aldridge and Lopez in Portland. The frontcourt is something Toronto can improve upon and should look to do so before the mid-season trade deadline.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Raptors finally regained their identity. With the loaded roster, they could be a really good team in the regular season, when they’re playing that Canadian team basketball. They’ve got a good chemistry, an enhanced defensive mind, and amazing rotation lineups. Each night there could be one guy step up in the Air Canada Centre. My pick on the team which could still improve more is the Wizards. When you got John Wall making plays, Bradley Beal and Pierce stick to their spot, you really should be a better offense team. They’re already  a better team than last year, even if the Wizards’s offense(104.8 on ORtg, 20th in the NBA) has not fully clicked yet.

Blogtable: Does OKC have enough time?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Miami 2010 vs. Cleveland 2014 | POR, TOR or WAS? | Tick, tick, tick in OKC



VIDEO: Do the Thunder make the playoffs? The Starters can’t agree, either.

> Russell Westbrook is coming back soon. KD may not be far behind. Gut feeling: Will their returns be in time for the Thunder to make the playoffs?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Make the playoffs? I say yes. Let’s do the math: Oklahoma City won 72 percent of its games across three seasons prior to this one (166-64). So might the Thunder be able to win at a 70 percent clip over, say, their final 60? If they did, they’d pick up 42 victories. Add the five or six they should have over their first 22 games and that gets them to 47 or 48. They’ll be dealing losses head-to-head with their rivals for the West’s 8th seed, too, so those games will count double. Of course, if OKC pulls this off, it might be gassed by the playoffs, but that wasn’t the question then, was it?

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook
(Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s getting tougher and tougher each day and every additional loss will mean the Thunder will have to expend more energy.  At this point, I still think they make it, just barely.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes. I don’t have any sound evidence to back that up, no home/road splits or back-to-back numbers. It makes sense, though. The Thunder at full strength can make up six games, the distance to catch No. 8, in five months. They won’t get to No. 1 and they may not even get home-court advantage, and then that becomes an issue for their playoff chances. But making the playoffs? As long as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook return on schedule and the first four weeks of the season don’t turn out to be the start of a season-long epidemic, yes.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: You take two of the top 10 players off a team for a month and, yeah, we can expect a drastic and perhaps sudden improvement when they finally suit up again. The West is a dangerous place to start slowly and for the most part would prove unforgiving to almost any other team … except one bringing back Westbrook and Durant. Getting a top-four spot seems next to impossible, I’ll admit. That’s a mighty steep climb in a conference with the Spurs, Warriors, Rockets, Blazers, Clippers and Grizzlies. If that’s the pecking order, that means OKC must overtake the Mavericks and Suns, and I like Durant and Westbrook in a fight for the seventh or eighth spot.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Yes, because I don’t believe the Kings can keep up a 50-win pace. The Suns and Pelicans are good, but not 50-win teams either. So there’s a playoff opening available if Durant and Westbrook stay healthy and can win 47 of their final 66 games, which is the winning percentage they had last season with Westbrook missing 36 games. It should be noted that OKC has played one of the league’s toughest schedules thus far. They’re the only team that hasn’t played an opponent that played the night before.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They are so upside down right now in the standings, I just don’t see the return of Westbrook soon and KD a little later, will be enough to get the Thunder to the 50-win plateau it will take in the Western Conference to be in the playoff mix. There’s a ton of ground to be made up right now and if they can’t get those guys back healthy and in a groove before Christmas, it’ll be a monumental effort for them to get back into the playoff race. And I’m not dismissing the power of two superstars when healthy. But we don’t know how effective either one of them will be when they return, let alone when they’ll both actually be back and leading the Thunder charge.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They absolutely will make the playoffs. And if they do, they’ll have an authentic chance to become the first bottom-half seed to win the championship since the No. 6 Rockets prevailed in 1994-95.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I was doing the math yesterday during the Hang Time Podcast, and they’d have to go something like 45-22 the rest of the way in order to make it to 48 wins, which was the threshold for making the playoffs in the West last season. But our podcast guest Greg Anthony had a great point: The better way to look at it is that the Thunder are currently six games back of the 8th place team, which as of today is the Clippers. And with 67 games remaining, I think a full-strength Thunder team could absolutely make up that difference the rest of the way. My only concern is that the complementary players, who have been asked to do so much in the meantime, will still have something to give.

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/India: The sensible reasoning on the Thunder’s chances of making the playoffs appears to be slim. But I disagree. I think OKC will make it, riding on some really sensational, turbo-charged performances by Westbrook and Durant. And it’s not only emotion that dictates gut feeling, but even the numbers don’t seem to be insurmountable. Remember, last season Dallas were the No. 8 seed with a 49-33 record. That leaves OKC requiring to win 46 of their last 67 games i.e. an expected win percentage of 0.686. In their last three regular seasons, OKC has had a win percentage of 0.710 or more (and much of 2013-14 was despite Westbrook’s absence), so 0.686 shouldn’t be that difficult for the Thunder to emulate with both their All-Stars back.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The Thunder need Westbrook and Durant now, at their best, to make the playoffs. Last season, Dallas finished 8th in the West with 49 Ws. OKC has three right now, so they probably need 46 more. In 67 games. They need to start amassing Ws right now, hopefully with Westbrook back starting Friday and KD well before Christmas. Maybe it’s already too late.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: Yes, they are too talented together to not to make a run at the playoffs. OKC will string together a couple of win streaks throughout the season. KD and Russ are two transcendent players in one team, the Thunder will not be denied an invite in the postseason party.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Before the two superstars got injured, we would include the Thunder in the contenders list. So that means that with both of them back, OKC can go out there and get a lot of wins. Their start is awful, but they can still make it to the playoffs. If — and here comes the big “if” — they stay healthy and don’t lose time trying to find their chemistry as a team.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: It will be hard. If the Thunder would play in the East – no problem! But in the loaded Western Conference it will be a very, very difficult journey. On the first view it’s only five games to the 8th seed. Westbrook and Durant might be back, but they will need time to be back on their top level. It’s the first big injury of Durant and he must learn to handle with it. Westbrook knows how long it takes to get the rust off. Besides that it’s a matter of head. Russell had three bigger injuries in a short time. That won’t leave him untouched. They should try it, but don’t force it. The team is still young and they have one more shot in the next year. And in private: To win the championship they need a better bench anyway.

Blogtable: Eye-opener out of the gate

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Give me a lesser-known player who is opening your eyes. What do you like about him?

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Jimmy Butler (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLooks like I was wrong about Chicago’s Jimmy Butler – again. I didn’t share the Chicago Bulls’ high hopes for Butler when they drafted him No. 30 in 2011; “short arms, flat shot, plays too straight-up-and-down” was my initial impression. And I didn’t agree with Butler’s decision not to nail down a contract extension by the Oct. 31 deadline (too much risk to eke out another 10 percent raise or so on the $40 million or so the Bulls offered). But Butler’s do-everything impact for Chicago, combining Luol Deng‘s and Derrick Rose‘s responsibilities on many nights, has him in line for a much bigger payday. And his offensive game has grown (21.3 ppg, 13th in true shooting percentage, 17th in PER). But I don’t mind being wrong – when Marquette University’s annual pledge drive calls next year, I can point them in yet another direction of fellow alums (Doc Rivers, Dwyane Wade, Wesley Matthews) who have all the money.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In a season when every inhale, exhale and twinge from Derrick Rose is worthy of re-tweets and headlines, Jimmy Butler has been the driving force behind the Bulls at both ends of the floor.  After the two sides couldn’t come together on a contract extension, he’s driving toward restricted free agency next summer as the No. 1 option in the Bulls’ offense while also guarding the best perimeter players on opposing teams.  That’s making your case.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There’s probably several good answers, but Courtney Lee jumps to mind for me because the Grizzlies have been terrific and he supplies a lot of what they need by hitting shots, especially 3-pointers, for a team slightly below average in scoring. On a team where everyone else gets the publicity — Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen — Lee has been invaluable to the start. Jimmy Butler and Reggie Jackson should be mentioned as well, although I think both have been improving for a while. I don’t know that either qualifies as “lesser known.”

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m sure his early numbers are partly due to being on a team that can’t score and also not having Michael Carter-Williams around much, but Tony Wroten is making the most of his opportunity. He came into this season as a guy who could reach the rim but couldn’t shoot a lick, and yet he’s making 34 percent of his threes (up from a career 26-percent) and leading the Sixers in scoring, assists and steals which, I know I know, is only worth so much. Honorable mention to Garrett Temple keeping the seat warm in DC for Bradley Beal, and Donald Sloan holding it down for George Hill in Indy.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comSolomon Hill is a guy who spent a lot of time on the inactive list as a rookie last year and who looked a little overwhelmed at the start of this season. But he’s shown a lot of improvement as the depleted Pacers have won three of their last four. I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a full-time starter in this league, and he basically “opened my eyes” in one game, looking rather comfortable running the pick-and-roll and finding good shots against the Bulls’ defense on Saturday. But he could be a solid rotation guy as the Pacers get healthy, with this experience as a starter being an important part of his development.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’ve got to give it up to Donald Sloan in Indiana. When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to pounce. And that’s exactly what Sloan has done. The chance for a journeyman to be showcased doesn’t come along very day. The injury to George Hill provided the opening Sloan needed to prove his worth and he’s run with it. He’s cooled off a bit recently. And that’s to be expected. But he started off the season like wildfire and produced one half of the best duels of the season with his career night against John Wall and the Washington Wizarsds. Sloan will likely return to the anonymity of the Pacers’ bench. Until then, however, he;d be wise to stay on the attack

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comEvan Fournier stepped in for Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (who recently returned from injury) and proved to be a versatile scorer and playmaker. Fournier is seven years younger than Arron Afflalo, for whom he was traded; and he’s providing better shooting and production than Denver is getting from Afflalo.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAtlanta’s Dennis Schröder seems to have turned some kind of corner. He didn’t play much as a rookie, but this season seems to have bumped Shelvin Mack from the rotation and has bettered his career highs several times. He has such a unique combination of athleticism and speed that he could make a real impact off the bench this season for the Hawks. If you don’t believe me, ask Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: There’s been plenty of surprising performances to start the season, with one of the most surprising being the Bucks’ 6-5 start and the performance of Brandon Knight. The fourth-year point guard came over in a trade for Brandon Jennings and now looks to be the better player. There were knocks on his ability to run an offense competently, read passing lanes and just pick up the general nuances of being a point guard. He’s slowly starting to arrest some of those fears as his stocks begin to rise. His 17.9 points, 6.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 39 percent shooting from deep has been eye catching. Maybe working with one of the best point guards in NBA history is rubbing off on him.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: Jimmy Butler. Maybe he’s well known now, but he’s a no-brainer to me. We love him because we love to see him play that kind of hustle, grind, bloody games, and we thought he could be a key 3-D guy in a championship team. On the other words, we never thought he could be that good. He just established himself into a go-to guy on a terrific team (21.3 PPG,6.2 RPG,3.9 APG). Look at his number, he’s literally a better version of Luol Deng, even if this just his third year in the league. Statistics cheat, but the ball don’t lie.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Nikola Vucevic is becoming a force in the paint. He is averaging 18.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, great numbers for a 24-years-old center. There are not many other players than have his touch around the basket and, above all, his consistency.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: Chris Copeland, who was a rookie at age 28 for the New York Knicks, has made a place for himself in the NBA after going through Spain’s second division and minor leagues in Germany and Belgium. This season, he’s taking advantage of an opportunity and his game is reflected in the stats.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: Of course, as a German I have to pick Dennis Schröder. He made a big jump this summer. The debut with the German national team gave him a big boost. He had to take a leading role in the team and he mastered it with bravery. Schröder plays with more confidence, his body language changed completely and that helps on the court. His turnover ratio is way better (still not perfect) than last year, he added the left-handed layup to his game and improved his jump-shot. With his new confidence he gained the trust of his teammates and coach Mike Budenholzer. Or have you expected that the Hawks will play ISO for Schröder? No one could do that after his difficult first year. He’s finally arrived in the league, but it’s still a long way to go.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I’m really loving the improved play from Jimmy Butler this season. While the top items of concern in Chicago seem to be Derrick Rose’s health, Joakim Noah‘s play or Pau Gasol‘s addition, I feel that Butler has emerged as the breakout star of the season. He has taken advantage of his offensive opportunities in Rose’s absence (and even his presence) and continues to be one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. I like that he’s asserting himself more aggressively on both sides of the floor this season: In a few years, I feel he has the potential of becoming one of the most-feared wing players in the league.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: Jimmy Butler is becoming a lethal 2-way player, probably one of the biggest reasons why Chicago can survive without Derrick Rose. He was a defensive specialist, he’s adding a lot of offensive moves and he’s averaging 21.3 points per game. I really like his versatility, his strength, he’s ability to defend the best opponent on the perimeter and be a factor offensively.

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