Posts Tagged ‘Lang Whitaker’

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

Blogtable: Slipping (already) in the East

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


> Which Eastern Conference team (discounting Cleveland) is not nearly as good as you thought it might be at this point of the season?

Charlotte's Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford (Kent Smith/NBAE)

Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford
(Kent Smith/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI expected more out of Charlotte than a 4-7 start and, especially, its porous defense so far (106.2 defensive rating, 21st in opponents’ field-goal percentage). Coach Steve Clifford‘s team has to clamp down better than that. Lance Stephenson has been underwhelming and Michael Kidd Gilchrist hasn’t been healthy, but a 3-3 start fizzled when the Hornets headed West. Losing to the Lakers? That’s so 2009-10. The schedule softens up a bit for the next three, then rematches at home loom with Portland and Golden State. The Hornets’ big boss would make sure to clean those up if he still were playing, so let’s see if he can inspire his crew.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Maybe they should have kept that Bobcats name in Charlotte. Except for that one wild game-winning shot, Lance Stephenson has not provided an upgrade and the defense has fallen off badly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Everyone is pretty much where I thought they’d be. If I had to make picks, I’d say the Knicks and Hornets are slightly under, but not enough to qualify as “not nearly as good” as I figured. I had both around .500 (Charlotte) or a few games under and making the playoffs (New York). The danger sign for the Hornets now is they’re starting to have a lot of blowout losses. That’s a very bad look.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I realize they’re on their fourth coach in three years and just returned from a trip out West but is this really what the Nets have become, a hum-drum team — in the East, no less? They’ve been called out by Joe Johnson, who hasn’t whined since he was spanked to life at birth, and also Lionel Hollins. The coach questioned their toughness which could’ve been a swipe at Brook Lopez (who at this stage of his career isn’t going to morph into a young Kevin Garnett) and their identity, or lack of one. All told, the Nets aren’t dropping any hints of being a contender, now that Deron Williams is no longer a top-5 point guard, and what you have is the increased likelihood of this being the Same Old Nets.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCharlotte’s had a disappointing start. The former Bobcats have two new starters and have played one of the East’s tougher schedules thus far, but they’ve been just average defensively and much worse offensively, with losses to both the Knicks and Lakers. Brooklyn has also had some bad results, but also has two new starters and doesn’t have the system continuity that the Hornets do. This team had a better start last year, in Steve Clifford’s first season as a head coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based strictly on potential, I expected the Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards to sit at the head of the class in the Eastern Conference this season. And for the most part, they have played their respective roles this season. The wild card team in that top group was supposed to be Charlotte. But they’ve struggled with the adjustment to new expectations this season. They have not looked like the team I thought they would with Lance Stephenson playing alongside Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Steve Clifford is an excellent coach, so I’m sure they’ll figure the chemistry out as the season goes on. But I expected them to get off to a much better start than what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t know what to make of Lance Stephenson’s impact on the Hornets. He’s their leader in rebounds and assists, which is impressive; and he’s been scoring more efficiently in recent games. But between his addition and the subtraction of injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte looks less cohesive and more fragile.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCharlotte. Sure, we knew there would be some growing pains incorporating Lance Stephenson into the offense, but they’re 4-7 (and one of those wins came on a miracle buzzer-beater from Stephenson). What’s more surprising to me is that after being so good defensively last season, this year the Hornets are in the bottom half of the League in defensive rating. The rebranding campaign has been great, but if they keep playing like the Bobcats of old, I’m not sure that it’s going to matter all that much.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I was hoping Brooklyn would have a more positive/winning record in the first month.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I had high expectation on the Charlotte Hornets. I thought Lance Stephenson would be the missing puzzle piece to be top 5 in the East. But they still have to figure out how everything works out together. Marvin Williams is not the Marvin Williams we knew from Utah and the departure of Josh McRoberts has hurt. But it’s still early in the season and I’m sure the Hornets will get the turnaround soon. Lance is not the offensive weapon I’ve expected, but he helps with his all-around game. So, give them some time. The Hornets will buzz!

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: The Hornets have played below expectations so far given what they were able to create last season. I must admit, I wasn’t on board with Lance Stephenson being the answer to their offensive problems, I still think his game lacks consistency and he has a propensity to do inefficient things (shooting too many long 2s and whacky contested shots off the dribble). Still, this team won 43 games last season, owned a top-5 defense, committed the fewest turnovers, and on paper, improved in the offseason. Plus we were expecting the overall upward curve of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It might sound simple but I can’t see this team creating an efficient offense given the way the roster stands currently. A whopping six players are shooting below 40 percent and they’re all guards who were supposed to propel them. They need shooters!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: The Pistons! I expected more of them. They have a great front-line (Monroe, Drummond, Smith) and all the pieces of the puzzle to find their way to the postseason. But they are playing terrible on the road and have won only 3 out of 11 games. Not the best start for a team that regrouped this summer and tried to turn a brand new page.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: To be honest, beyond the Bulls and the Cavs, there are no Eastern Conference teams that I had expected to be elite anyways, just ‘good’ in relative to other Eastern squads. With that said, I was expecting better things from Charlotte. The Hornets have started 5-7 – bottom of their division — and if you take away a couple of game-winning shots, they’d be 3-7 right now. I was expecting that the core of Kemba, Lance, MKG, Big Al would be able to help this team take a small step forwards, but some early teething troubles have them taking a step back. It will take some ironing out in the backcourt power-struggle between Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson to get the wheels rolling.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Brooklyn Nets, no doubt about it.They hired a new coach, and the comeback of Brook Lopez is a big help, but they need some time to come together. Obviously, what made them lose in past games is the poor defense (107.5 at DRtg). When Brook steps into the paint, opponents just shoot a sky high percentage in the field (52.6% when he’s on the court). However, their roster is still loaded, and I think coach Hollins,who is good at coaching big man, will figure out how to play defense when their most dominating big man is on the floor. Maybe they could make a run after the All-Star weekend.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The obvious answer would be the Knicks, but I thought they were not a playoff team, so I’m going to say the Hornets. I thought they could be up there with the Raptors and the Wizards, battling for the third spot in the Conference behind Cleveland and Chicago. But Lance Stephenson is not even near to the All-Star player he was last year with the Pacers. And the Hornets are struggling, with a 4-7 record, a defense that allows more than 100 ppg and a team still looking for its identity.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA

Blogtable: Revisiting the Sixers’ plan

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


Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams and coach Brett Brown. (Glenn James/NBAE)

Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams and coach Brett Brown. (Glenn James/NBAE)

> You knew they would be bad, but this? Are you still on board with the Sixers’ grand rebuilding plan? What would you do as GM?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: On board? ON BOARD? I’ve felt this sink-and-stay-on-the-bottom strategy was an abomination from the get-go. And if I were the Sixers’ GM, I’d plead temporary insanity and throw myself on the mercy of the court, i.e, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Allen Iverson and all the other Philadelphia greats. This has to be aggravating to those guys, to see the once-great Sixers brand dragged through the NBA mud, all to chase teen-aged help. I didn’t want to see the league’s owners change the lottery system – the worst teams should get the best help in the draft – but in Philadelphia’s case I was ready to make an exception. And frankly, I expected better, as far as an outraged reaction, from the allegedly brassy Philly fans. If they’ve gone soft, all sports hope is lost.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Of course, we knew they would be this bad. They simply don’t have many NBA players. If you were on board last year — and I was — you have to be on board this year. It would be like trying to change your mind after you leapt off the diving board. All Sam Hinkie can do is keep his seat belt fastened and hope that next season he’s putting out a lineup that includes a healthy Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. One area of concern is Michael Carter-Williams. He’s putting out signs that another full season of beat-downs could break him.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI was not on board in the first place. Looking long term is one thing, but the 76ers are doing a disservice to their fans and anyone else paying to see the product. It’s not just the lack of warm bodies. The Sixers who are healthy and in the United States too often look lost on the court, making them a mess beyond the obvious mess. What would I do as GM? I dangle Dario Saric. If the offers are not good, fine. But that’s the kind of move that could land a decent package, and I’d still have Joel Embiid coming next season plus someone else from high in the lottery.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comSorry to all the traditionalists out there, but I support what Sam Hinkie is doing. He’s trying to sift through as many players as possible to see who stays and who goes. Yes, the downside is the potential for embarrassing nights when the Sixers are barely competitive, and a few wasted seasons. But remember, next summer they’ll have a more experienced Nerlens Noel, a healthy Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, a high pick from the next draft and gobs of cap space. Basically, he’ll have assets to keep or trade and I suspect the turnaround for the Sixers will be steady if not drastic (how could it not be?).

John Schuhmann, NBA.comNothing that’s happened in their first 10 games was unexpected, and I still like the long-term potential of Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid, K.J. McDaniels, Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric. That’s a lot more young talent than some other bad teams have. But I do wonder about morale in that locker room when you’ve been put in a position to fail so miserably, when there are new guys coming in almost every week, and when some of your teammates could be swapped for a second-round pick at any point.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: For a second there I thought you were asking about the Los Angeles Lakers. The Sixers are playing down to the lowly expectations I had for them this season, and then some. I knew they would play some cover-your-eyes basketball this season but they’ve gone above and beyond being awful. I’ve never been “on board” with the scorched earth plan that is underway in Philly. I don’t believe in a process that demands you tear your program down to the ground in order to build it back up. If I were the GM … I’d throw out whatever blueprint we’ve been working with and come up with something new, and fast.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI would not give up. Now is not the time for surrender. If it is possible to acquire a player for the long term then do so, of course; but you should not give up now that the reality is worse than you may have imagined it would be. So far you have an encouraging rookie-of-the-year point guard in Michael Carter-Williams, a potential dominator in Joel Embiid, and two more promising big men in a league that is starved for size. Get through this year, somehow, and then pounce.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Do they actually have a GM? I feel like this is what happens in franchise mode in NBA2K when someone gets a little too aggressive with the settings in an effort to have less competition from the CPU-controlled teams. When the Sixers traded for Marquis Teague and then waived him, I knew this kind of result was on the table. And look, we all knew the Sixers were trying to be not good, but right now they aren’t even competitive, which is a whole other thing.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: You cannot be on board with any team that has an 0-10 next to its logo. Things are not good for the Sixers. They are lousy on offense (worst in the league) and horrible on defense (third from the bottom), so nobody can be optimistic. Perhaps if Carter-Williams gets more games under his belt (has come from the bench in three matches because of injury) he will make a solid duo with Tony Wroten and help the city of brotherly love win a few. What would I do if was a GM? I would try to be patient and built around Carter-Williams, adding some veteran help next to Noel and in the guard position.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: They’ve a very tough path ahead, but I still think the Sixers are exactly what they wanna be: a disastrous team, looking to rebuild via draft. They just got Michael Carter-Williams back, they’re giving Nerlens Noel time to grow and they’re waiting for the potential star Joel Embiid. There’s no coming back from where they’re right now: their only option now is stick with the plan and hope for the best. They probably have at least a couple of tough seasons ahead, but at least they’ve a plan. And it could work.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I was never on board with the Sixers’ plans — sure, they have figured out a clear loophole in the system where losing could ultimately get them high draft picks, but in the process, they are bringing a culture of negativity around their young building blocks like Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid. Even if the team has the pieces to start winning in the future, I fear that the bad habits might stick with the franchise and its players long-term. It might be a little too late to change things now, but if I was GM, I would stop trading away important cogs for spare change/picks, fire coach Brett Brown, and rebrand the image of the team as a hard-working unit. The lottery picks might be coming their way anyways: they might as well start learning how to win games, too.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: I guess you have to stay on board because it’s not even close to being complete. It’s far too early to label the plan unsuccessful because it has only just begun. The measure of success here is clearly not wins and losses, it’s assets acquired and being able to position themselves for top picks. So far, they’ve brought in Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric and it would be premature to criticize any of those guys. They’ll no doubt bring in more top picks as the next few drafts arrive. If I was GM today I’d continue with the plan. They have the right head coach, they’re slowly building a core of young players and the way to continue building is through the draft.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: There is no alternative. They’re on their way and have to get it done till the end now. They decided to do it this way. It’s a ugly way, but the Sixers’ fans are on their side. So from their point of view everything is OK. They will get another high draft pick and will get the missing shooting guard. Then they get it on with MCW, maybe Saric, Noel and Embiid. Not so bad. But something should be done about tanking. No one should get in the temptation of being bad.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: The known rebuilding plan or the one managers claim to have is novel because no other franchise has ever contemplated rebuilding in this way. And at the same time, it’s questionable because I’m not even sure the public believes it; they’ve removed their support and their average viewership has suffered. If I were the GM, I wouldn’t have a team with an average age of 24. Youth can win games, but championships are won by veterans.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA

Blogtable: What’s up with the Clippers?

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: Clippers soft | Forsooth, this fortnight | LeBron’s move


Is Blake Griffin relying too much on his newfound jumper? (Andrew Bernstein/NBAE)

Is Blake Griffin relying too much on his newfound jumper?
(Andrew Bernstein/NBAE)

> In the never-too-early-to-worry department: What’s up with the Clippers? Missing something? Are they really too soft, do you think?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Maybe the Clippers underestimated all that goes into being Los Angeles’ glamour team. What, they thought the Lakers just showed up, smiled and sprinted all those years, or just let Kobe be Kobe? I’ve talked with a couple of Clippers people and the fact that they still mention last year – the Donald Sterling remarks and how poorly timed that was for a playoff team – suggests they haven’t fully moved on. It’s as if the Clippers still blame Sterling for last spring and feel entitled now that they’ve gotten all their wounds balmed (Ballmer-ed?). Nope, they’re going to have to earn it with way tougher defense and a more orchestrated offense. They’re playing with one eye on the mirror.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes, it is too early to go into a full-blown panic. But I have to say that I’ve never bought into the Clippers as elite level championship contenders.  Too soft?  At times.  Too uncommitted to doing the dirty work?  At times.  Too distracted by things like fouls against Blake Griffin or chippiness from the Warriors?  At times.  All in all, they are a collection of individual talent, but less than a sum of their parts.  Sure, we’ll see them in the playoffs again, but not likely for long.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Except that it is too early to worry. Don’t confuse lurching start with overall direction. If this continues through, say, Christmas, then the Clippers have a problem. For now, they have an annoyance. The lack of intensity, showing mostly on defense, won’t last. Doc Rivers is a lot of things for this organization. Motivator is one of them. Plus, it’s a good locker room. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and others are not too soft.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I wonder if the Clippers already feel the burden of a championship-or-bust season. Yes, it is November, and true, this topic needs to be readdressed in April. Still, the reputations of Chris Paul (mainly) and Blake Griffin and to a lesser extent, Doc Rivers, are riding on this team reaching the Finals. Paul is a superstar who hasn’t won anything, Griffin is supposed to be a franchise player and Rivers makes a ton of money for one reason and one reason only. I look at the Clippers and see mental issues, not talent issues.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Even if Blake Griffin has turned himself into a good mid-range shooter, he shouldn’t turn himself into a high-volume mid-range shooter. He’s one of the best finishers in the league, and he’s hurting his team by shooting too many jumpers. The Clippers can get him out in the open floor and to the basket more often by getting more stops, but those are harder to come by when they’re playing J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford together at the wings. That lineup has played only 59 minutes so far, but their starting lineup with those two guys has been abysmal defensively. So, either Matt Barnes needs to start making shots, Reggie Bullock needs to step up as a two-way rotation wing, or they need to make a trade.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comSomething is missing. The fire. That proverbial chip that is supposed to be permanently implanted in and on the collective shoulder of this team. The air of confidence in each other that should be a part of the equation for an incumbent power with expectations, internal and external. Doc Rivers doesn’t talk the way he has this season to impress us. He’s speaking the truth about his team. Doc is right, they are a bit soft. They don’t play with the edge you’d expect of a team with this many championship components already assembled. Maybe they’ve gotten caught up in the Hollywood aspect of the situation and lost sight of the fact that they’re fighting for respect and a place in the pecking order in a rugged Western Conference that does not suffer impostors. The Clippers have plenty of time to shed this current crustiness. But they don’t have forever.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The rebounding stat is a great truth teller. It reveals discipline, toughness and effort. Anybody can rebound; it’s just about wanting to. As the Clippers improve in those areas, so will their rebounding numbers improve – and with it their chances for contention.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t think they’re soft, I think they’re just still trying to find their footing. Steve Ballmer’s Clippers 2.0 haven’t had the same defensive intensity as last season, and offensively they’ve looked confused and sputtered from time to time. While turning to Jamal Crawford for help in the starting five on the wing should kickstart their offense, I’m not sure how it makes them a better defensive team. Either Matt Barnes needs to get his groove back or Ballmer may have to ready Clippers v. 2.5.

Matt Barnes ( Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Matt Barnes ( Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: First of all they miss the aggressiveness. A team that wants to make the big step forward has to be more “nasty”, using the term inserted in the NBA life by the one and only Gregg Popovich. I don’t believe that Blake Griffin facing up and shooting the ball from the perimeter is the way to go. They have the depth in the bench, they have the talent and the experience to go all the way. If they get more nasty.

Ole Frerks, NBA.com/Germany: I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re soft, I just think their roster dynamic has taken a hit with Matt Barnes in his shooting funk. He was supposed to be the guy who provides toughness on defense, but if he’s not making open 3s, defenses are able to ignore him and clog the paint against Griffin and Paul. Rivers has answered by inserting Jamal Crawford into their lineup, but he doesn’t defend anybody and makes it tough for the team to survive in that regard. He is also by far the best scorer they have to come off the bench, so inserting him into the starting 5 robs the second unit of their most lethal threat. It’s obviously early, but I think they might need to add a Three-and-D specialist to balance their roster.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I think that between Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, and new owner Steve Ballmer, the Clippers built unrealistic expectations of their capabilities without actually the body of work to prove that they are indeed capable. This team has never been past the Second Round of the playoffs, remember. But to answer the question in more tangible terms, the Clippers have a major hole in the wing position, with no small forward capable of providing them quality minutes right now. Griffin should get back on track soon but Chris Paul seems to have taken one step past his prime. And yes, I do think that the team as a whole is a bit too soft, lacking the killer instinct to take the jump up from being good to great.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: There’s a few concerns here on both ends of the floor, but I don’t think these are long-term issues. Offensively, it might sound really simple but they’re just not making shots at the moment. Prior to their win over the Blazers over the weekend, J.J. Redick couldn’t actually buy a three. The crazy thing about the misses is that generally they’ve been wide open looks that they haven’t been able to make. They were 7-for-30 from three against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 12-for-33 against the Los Angeles Lakers and 9-for-31 against the Sacramento Kings. For guys like Redick and Jamal Crawford, those shots will eventually fall but Matt Barnes’ lack of production is concerning. He’s shooting just 31 percent from three and lineups with Barnes in them are really struggling. Defensively, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin paired well last season and took their defense to a decent level. This season, their defensive rating has slipped to 104.7, good enough for 20th in the league and their rebounding rate has dropped significantly from last season, hovering around 30th in the league. Lineups with Crawford and Redick are not working and their lack of depth at the small forward position is concerning.

Orr Ziv, NBA.com/Israel: The Clippers will be fine. Obviously, they have yet to play 48 minutes of solid basketball, but the offense started clicking against the Spurs. Two of their three losses came against the champs and the red-hot Warriors, which are acceptable losses. If they will continue to take care of the ball (only New Orleans is ahead in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio), I’m sure the record will reflect it soon enough.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: A team is truly great, with the means to fight in the championship, when it concludes the process of stabilizing their game. This process will let them gain trust among each other and feel more powerful. I do not see LA Clippers in trouble now, especially this early in the season. They’re in the process. Perhaps it’s a matter of anxiety because they have a new owner who wants fast success, like he had in the business world.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

Blogtable: Didn’t see that coming

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: Clippers soft | Forsooth, this fortnight | LeBron’s move


> We’re two weeks into the new season. What didn’t you foresee in this opening fortnight that you maybe should have?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I didn’t foresee the Raptors’ fast start but should have, given their early schedule; two victories over ORL, plus PHI, BOS and banged-up OKC means they’re 2-1 in their own weight class. Their next four are at home, too, though visits from Chicago and Memphis might give us a better sense of Toronto’s legitimacy. The roster is deep, Kyle Lowry is playing as if he wants another contract on top of the one he just signed and Dwane Casey is in control of that group, having raised them from li’l lizard hatchlings.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You mean besides getting a question that includes the word “fortnight?” Well, old chap, I’ll cop to taking a nap on the LeBron-less Heat.  Chris Bosh has played like a member of the royal family and tossed his hat into the early MVP conversation.  Lord Dwyane Wade is healthy and productive. Prince Luol Deng has been a good arranged marriage into the lineup.  Sir Erik Spoelstra continues to prove that he wasn’t just a guy with a good seat on the Miami bench through those four straight trips to The Finals.  He’s had the S.S. Heat thriving and steaming ahead with an efficient offense in spite of what could have been a gaping hole in the hull.  So far, it’s tea and crumpets.

Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors (Ron Turenne/NBAE)

Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry of the Raptors
(Ron Turenne/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I won’t say the Kings, a big surprise, because anybody who claims 5-3 was realistic at the start of the season is a liar. So I should not have seen that coming. Maybe I should have seen Rajon Rondo from a distance, but did not. Eleven assists and eight rebounds a game is very nice work, whether he’s a Celtic for the long term or raising his trade value.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, I certainly didn’t expect OKC to lose Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and for Derrick Rose to pull up lame in the second week. But given the carnage of the last two years, when the league lost a number of stars for long stretches and even entire seasons, I should knock myself upside the head for not seeing this coming (and risk a possible concussion and long recovery, of course).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I certainly didn’t see the Bucks ranking as the No. 2 defense in the league. Seven of their eight opponents have been below-average offensive teams (and four rank in the bottom six), but the Bucks are supposed to be an opponent that those teams boost their numbers against, not continue to struggle against. I don’t know if anybody could have foreseen this, but Jason Kidd‘s Nets turned their season around with a strong defense last season, and his new team has similar length and versatility on defense. They’re not going to stay in the top five (or even the top 10), but this 4-4 start (and Saturday’s win over the Grizzlies) tells me that they’re going to be a better team than I thought they were. They already have a longer winning streak (two games) than they did all of last season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Memphis Grizzlies should have been on my mind heading into this season with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph healthy and ready to go and all of their offseason front office drama in the rearview. When your team is built on the bedrock of rugged defense and an adherence to playing the game the gritty and grimy way the Grizzlies play every night, a solid start should be expected, particularly in a Western Conference shaken up by significant injuries (OKC) among the elite. The Grizzlies play in what is easily the toughest division in the league, so their hot start should be kept in context. It’s early. But I should have had them on my mind.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I should have known that Miami would be off to a better start than Cleveland. The Heat have been able to survive LeBron’s absence because they have everything else going for them: They know who they are and how they’re going to play. The Cavs have yet to figure out any of that. The Cavs are going to have the last laugh, I’m sure of it, but it may not be so easy to get there.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Look, I publicly ate crow about this last week on the Hang Time Podcast, so we might as well warm it up again so I can chow some more. I didn’t expect that Klay Thompson would be this good this season. While I dismissed him as player who was a terrific shooter but subpar in other areas, he’s become one of the most well-rounded guards in the League. Not only can he stroke it from the perimeter, but he’s getting to the basket and getting to the free-throw line (averaging a career-high 6.6 FTA per game, almost triple his previous high). He’s also a strong defender who obviously puts in work on the defensive end. And his development might be enough to carry Golden State into parts unknown in the postseason.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I just wish there were fewer injuries. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or if it’s something that’s related to each team’s preseason system, but the disappearance of stars is opening up the road to teams we thought would be struggling to reach high places.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: I don’t think I expected the Raptors to be this good. They were great post the Rudy Gay trade and I had expectations that they would make the playoffs again. But their start to the season has exceeded expectations. I think we knew the capabilities of their starting group and that Terrence Ross would improve even more this season, but it’s been their new additions to the second unit that have surprised me. James Johnson has given them an edge defensively and Lou Williams has given them a nice offensive blend and he has the ability to heat up. I expected they would hover around the 4-5 range in the East, they’re a legitimate chance to finish top 2 now.

Orr Ziv, NBA.com/Israel: How well the Kings have played. It’s easy to dismiss Sacramento after years of futility, but Mike Malone has done a great job so far in making those guys believe that they can compete. And Boogie Cousins is in my mind the front-runner for Most Improved Player of the year.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: OK, we expected the Lakers to have a tough beginning, but not this tough. Kobe and Co. are in deep trouble the way they playing right now. They lost Julius Randle, but that’s not their only problem.

Ole Frerks, NBA.com/Germany: Generally speaking, I didn’t anticipate the Team USA guys making that big of a leap this season. Davis, Cousins, Thompson, DeRozan, Curry and Harden all rank among the best players of the young season so far. Guys like Davis, Curry and Harden could also be thrown into the early MVP conversation. And speaking of Cousins: I’m surprised by the nice start the Kings have enjoyed. I anticipated him to provide his usual monster stats, but so far they’ve been competitive in every single game and could even make the playoffs. If they make it, that would be a lot earlier than I would have expected.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I knew that the Warriors would be better this season than the last, but I honestly didn’t foresee them to be the last undefeated team in the league and sit atop most NBA Power Rankings by the end of the second week. In hindsight, their improvement makes sense: They have already been blessed with the league’s most volatile offensive backcourt between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but the real difference-maker has been Andrew Bogut, whose healthy return has helped this squad secure the best defensive rating in the early season. If you’re doing everything right on both ends of the floor, you deserve to be on top.

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Blogtable: Your move, LeBron

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: Clippers soft | Forsooth, this fortnight | LeBron’s move



VIDEO: LeBron James had a near-triple double in the Cavaliers’ win over New Orleans

> Say you’re LeBron James. How do you help the Cavs figure this out? Take over at point? Take over the scoring load? Sit back and let them make mistakes?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLeBron James should huddle up with coach David Blatt and declare a second training camp. Now’s the time – the schedule is slack, with a three-day gap before Friday’s game at Boston and then eight of the next nine at home. The Cavs’ first training camp was all about introductions and excitement; now it’s time to practice hard and develop habits, especially defensively. Nothing has gone on with this team that wasn’t expected and there are a bunch of winnable games in those upcoming nine. But the Cavs cannot slip below .500 without triggering a panic and it’s on James to lead the way on the floor – sometimes playing like Magic Johnson, sometimes like MJ – until they get it right. Might want to take Dion Waiters snipe hunting, too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Really? We’re going here already? Again? How many times do we have to be reminded that the Heat were 8-9 on Nov. 27 in his first season in Miami. That was with a roster built around three veterans at the core.  This is a green lineup with virtually no playoff experience. To quote LeBron: RELAX.  How long until I flip my lid? A year from now. Vegas made the Cavs the betting favorite to win the title this season because the wise guys know better than most how many suckers there are in the world.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: What matters is whether LeBron is asserting himself in some way, even if it doesn’t come through in the stats. If he’s a large presence behind the scene, pushing teammates in the right direction, setting an example of putting the time in to learn the system of a new coach, that’s a way to help the Cavs figure this out. At some point, though, he will need to deliver the same on the court. LeBron James wasn’t signed to fit in. He should not sit back and let teammates make mistakes. He needs to score, and he will. But his passing, rebounding and defense will win games as well. It’s not just the scoring load.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The last thing LeBron needs to do is show any signs of panic or concern. If he does that, then the troops will follow his lead and this could spin out of control in a hurry. Given his status as the best player in the game and the only Cav with any championship clout, LeBron should make demands but not ultimatums, motivate, tell his teammates what the Heat went through initially in 2011, and above all, lead by example.

Kyrie Irving (David Kyle/NBAE)

Kyrie Irving (David Kyle/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI wouldn’t force anything, either on the floor or in the locker room. I wouldn’t put up with guys putting themselves ahead of the team, but I would allow Kyrie Irving to experience the joy of sharing the ball, allow David Blatt to find his NBA coaching legs, and put my trust in teammates who haven’t necessarily earned it right now. If there’s one issue early on, it’s that only eight guys are getting playing time every night. Even when Dion Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova return from injury, this team will need guys like Joe Harris and Brendan Haywood to be ready to contribute. But it’s very early and the results don’t matter right now.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I do what I’ve always done if I’m LeBron, and that’s lead by example. I take over everything, play the point forward spot I revolutionized in Miami and demand that Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and anyone else who missed my last four years in Miami recognizes that I am the difference between The Finals and oblivion. Seriously. What in the world does LeBron have to prove at this point in his career? This notion that he should defer to anyone else on that roster so they’ll be comfortable is preposterous. You either follow LeBron’s lead or get gone. That’s the only way things should work in Cleveland this season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You go to your strengths. That means setting up the other guys, directing the defense and filling in the gaps. He knows better than anyone that he cannot carry them. The other guys are going to have to figure it out for themselves and the best he can do is to help them find their way. But if he tries to do their jobs for them, that isn’t going to help anybody.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: LeBron made very clear in “the letter” this summer that the Cavs would have growing pains, and none of us believed him. Why not? Because they have LeBron, of course, along with Kyrie and Kevin Love. But now they’re on a large stage, learning a new offense, new defense, how to play with each other, and how to handle the immense pressure on that stage. But if I’m LeBron, the last thing I do is try and take over right now. If this is going to be a team, let coach Blatt do his thing, and let Kyrie and Love figure things out on their own. Basically, give this thing some time to breathe.

Orr Ziv, NBA.com/Israel: LeBron shouldn’t do anything different than what he has done so far. Just let it play out. It seems that he buys into coach Blatt’s system and as time moves on, those Cavs will get lethal on offense. Remember — they only have five guys returning from last year, and it takes time for all the new pieces to jell, even if those pieces are some of the best players in the world.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: LeBron James is one of the greatest all-around basketball players, with the talent to fill in the blanks for any team he plays for. For the Cavaliers, the biggest ‘blank’ is defense; the team has struggled defensively and even if Coach Blatt irons out their offensive hiccups, the problems on D will remain all year. This is where I feel that LeBron should focus. The Cavs have enough scoring talent; James needs to evolve his game to focus on becoming an elite perimeter defender and lead the charge of the team by getting stops and inspiring his teammates to do the same. Everything else should fall into place.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: LeBron needs to find the right blend of scoring and distributing. He’s easily the best passer on this team and his court vision is exceptional. Whether it’s passing or shooting, he generally makes the right play, something that Kyrie has struggled with in the past. LeBron has played with the likes of Mo Williams and Mario Chalmers, two point guards who have the ability to play off-the-ball and spot up. With Irving and Kevin Love playing alongside James, those open catch-and-shoot opportunities will be welcomed by LeBron’s supporting cast. He also needs to work off the ball and score accordingly which is where James and Irving need to combine and find the right balance. Something they found in the win against the Pelicans. Wins are always important and they need to pick up early ones, but it’s the chemistry that they need to find on both ends of the floor that will be pivotal if this team is to execute in the playoffs.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: LeBron playing at point? LeBron scoring more? If you are the best player in the planet, the one that can do it all, there is only one thing that you have to do: play your game, like it’s the Finals. LeBron has to give the message to the league, that these are the new Cavs, that they are contenders. He has to be aggressive, he has to be a leader. And you know leading is not only about scoring, or taking the last shot. Is about giving the example to the teamates that want to cut slack in defense or make more dribbles and less passes.

Ole Frerks, NBA.com/Germany: I’d say wins aren’t that important right now, because the Cavs will make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference anyway. It is far more important for the guys to get to know each other and for David Blatt to figure out how to use his new weapons. Personally, I had figured they would struggle on defense, but their offensive problems have really surprised me, given they have so much passing talent. As for LeBron, I’d assert myself, but I wouldn’t try to take over from Kyrie or anything, because it is too important that Irving maintains his confidence. But I guess there’s nobody who knows better how to handle this situation, because he’s experienced a similar one in his first season with the Heat. That didn’t turn out too bad.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I see Cleveland as a big truck that hasn’t yet settled its load correctly. And of course this is the case – they haven’t been together long enough. Like any team who wants to succeed, defining the roles will be key.  David Blatt should look into Erik Spoelstra’s mirror – Spoelstra knew how to properly manage the egos of his players and make more than one championship team.

For more NBA Debates, go to #AmexNBA

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 177) Real or Fake?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You are what your record says you are.

That’s the way I was taught.

But in the NBA it’s just not that simple.

In San Antonio this time every year, the Spurs are whatever Gregg Popovich wants them to be. In Los Angeles, the Lakers are exactly who we thought they were while the Clippers certainly are not.

Cleveland is a work in progress.

But what about this upstart crew in Sacramento?

And Toronto?

Or Chicago, Miami, New York, Portland, Brooklyn and elsewhere?

Houston and Golden State certainly look like they are legitimate.

But doesn’t anyone really know for sure after just seven or eight games for most teams. Toss in all of the injuries in places like Oklahoma City and Indiana, and there is even more early season mystery about this NBA season.

In an effort to solve all of these mysteries we’ve embarked upon a round of real or fake(?) on Episode 177 of The Hang Time Podcast … (where we also say goodbye to a member of the HTP family) …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.