ChabDog sat down with Ray LeBov, founder and creator of the Basketball Intelligence website for a discussion about the “State of the Union” of the NBA, now that we’re nearly at the All-Star break.
ChabDog: Ray, thanks for giving ChabDog some more of your time, now that we’re approaching the mid-way point in the 2014-2015 NBA season. Let’s get your thoughts on a few things that I think my readers may be interest in.
ChabDog Q1: First, do you think things are pretty much established in the East in terms of who’s on top? Atlanta seems like it can’t be stopped, Toronto has certainly been an impressive surprise and Washington is still playing great ball. What do you think? And how about those Detroit Pistons? Do you see them as moving up into the top 4 in the conference by year’s end?
BI: Of course, injuries and overall team health will play a big role as always. The Hawks are certainly impressive: Their offensive balance and outstanding defense (and excellent coaching) make them the clear favorite. Toronto has faded some and it remains to be seen whether DeRozan’s return can get them fully back on track. Top four might be a little too ambitious for the Pistons. A top six finish is a more realistic goal.
ChabDog Q2: In the West, can anyone stop Golden State? Portland still looks pretty tough, and they have arguably the best big man-guard combo in the league with Aldridge and Lillard. Are Houston and Memphis real threats, or just pretenders? And what about Dallas … do they have enough talent now that they picked up Rondo to seriously challenge. Finally, what exactly is going on with San Antonio? My sense is that they are playing “possum” until they make it into the playoffs (e.g. we don’t care where we finish, as long as we get in).
BI: Once again, injuries and health are major influences. For example, the Blazers have been missing Robin Lopez and his backup Joel Freeland for some time and yesterday LaMarcus Aldridge hurt his thumb. The Warriors are solid at both ends of the floor and barring major injuries, should win the West. Each of the teams that you mention should be taken seriously. As far as the Spurs, once again team health has an impact. Kawhi Leonard has just returned and they are already playing much better, particularly defensively. What makes the West so powerful is not just outstanding players but tremendous coaches as well, led by Popovich, Kerr and Carlisle.
ChabDog Q3: Cleveland’s been a clear disappointment. Do you think they’ll turn things around … at least in terms of making some noise in the playoffs (or even getting to the playoffs?).
BI: The “disappointment” with the Cavs is somewhat overblown. Remember that their best players are new as is the coach and injuries have taken a toll (LBJ and others have missed time and Varejao went down for the season.) They have addressed some of their problem areas with recent trades (e.g., better interior defense with Mozgov, and Shumpert should help on the perimeter.) They will be serious contenders by playoff time.
ChabDog Q4: Who has been the most improved team/biggest surprise story on the positive side this year, and what young player or players (1st, 2nd and 3rd year guys) have made the biggest impact?
BI: No real surprises. However, before the season started, there were some unknowns that have turned out to have a major effect. For example, Al Horford played only 29 games for the Hawks last season; his return to health has been huge. In the West, Warriors’ first-year leader Steve Kerr is the Coach of the Year so far. As for impactful younger players, Andrew Wiggins, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Mirotic, Elfrid Payton, Dennis Schroder, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Giorgui Dieng, Victor Oladlipo, Alex Len and Robert Covington are some who have really impressed me. I also should mention the play of Nerlins Noel (in particular, for his defense).
ChabDog Q5: Do you think certain teams have definitely mailed it in for this year, and are now trying to lose their way toward a good position in the lottery? New York? LA?
BI: It isn’t so much a matter of losing to enhance lottery position – that rarely works. Rather, some teams have chosen to avoid being stuck in the middle of the standings for years without end in favor of rebuilding, even if that means essentially starting over. And again, for some teams, injuries have played a major role (e.g., the Knicks who have been forced to play with D-League level personnel at times and the Lakers who have been without Bryant, Randle and others.)
ChabDog Q6: What do you think was the most important/impactful trade that was done so far this season, and why?
BI: The most important was Kevin Love from the Timberwolves to the Cavs for Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young and a trade exception. It is too soon to know how that is going to work out for each of those teams. Others worth noting include the 76ers sending the draft rights for the tenth pick ( Elfrid Payton) to the Magic for rights to the 12th pick (Dario Saric) and a future 1st and a future 2nd round pick.; John Salmons and a 2015 2nd round pick from the Hawks to the Raptors for Louis Williams and the rights to Lucas Noguiera. Rondo from Boston to Dallas and Mozgov from Denver to Cleveland also have potential major impact.
ChabDog: Thanks very much for your insights Ray. We look forward to staying in touch, and on your end, keep up the great work with keeping us informed about the latest things going on in the NBA. By the way, ChabDog readers should definitely check out, and subscribe to, the Basketball Intelligence website by going to: http://basketballintelligence.net. You’ll be glad you visited!