#IMHO: Title hopes, Grizz development and teams making the leap

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

 

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at 12:48 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike,

 

As I write this, the Washington Nationals are one win away from going to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. (And as a division rival of my Atlanta Braves, I may or may not be trying to jinx this from happening.) Nothing is for sure, nothing is for certain, but it sure looks like the Nats could be one series away from changing their story.

I bring this up because NBA training camps are in full swing, and it’s the time of year when every fan base is filled with hope, however justified. So which NBA team do you think would make for the best story if they could put together their first-ever championship run? We saw the Raptors do it a year ago, and it seems like it could be a season where a team we’ve never considered may pop into the discussion. And I think of how transformative it could be for a team like, say, the Hawks (who aren’t winning a title this year, to be clear), who moved to Atlanta in 1958 and haven’t even been to the NBA Finals since then.

Which team (other than our beloved Grizz) which you like to see finally get over the title hump?

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, October 16, 2019 12:24 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I’d absolutely love to see the Clippers jump ahead of the Lakers and win a championship first in the Los Angeles NBA arms race. Kawhi Leonard has already pulled off the rare feat of winning a championship for teams in two different conferences, and he’d enter even more rarified air by leading three different teams to NBA titles. The Clippers have been treated like a stepchild in L.A. for a long time. And it would be good to see Doc Rivers get back on top after nearly hitting rock bottom with that franchise a few seasons back. Owner Steve Ballmer has also been enthusiastically committed to doing whatever it takes to win a championship. And on top of everything else, I’m tight with Clipper Darrell, who looks out for me each time I’m at Staples Center.

Now, I completely understand that this isn’t exactly pulling for a huge underdog or anything. But I’d like to see how awkward it could get in La La Land for Lakers fans having to endure the sight of the Clippers throwing a parade downtown.

Lang, the Grizzlies wrap up preseason play on Friday in San Antonio as they prepare for next week’s season opener against Miami. Give me one thing you’ve been most encouraged by about this team and one thing that most concerns you heading into the regular season. For me, I’m most encouraged about the confidence and tenacity that Ja Morant plays with on nearly every possession he’s on the court. He knows one speed: Blur. And his passing is already at an elite NBA level. He’s going to take his lumps along the way, but Ja doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’ll back down to any challenge. As far as my biggest concern, it’s rebounding. I’m not sure this team has a reliable and consistent rebounding presence when Jonas Valanciunas is not on the court. And we haven’t seen Jonas on the court at all this preseason as he rests a sore foot to get ready for the regular season. There is a huge growth opportunity in that area for Jaren Jackson Jr. entering his second NBA season.

 

Ja Morant pass from under basket

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, October 16, 2019 at 11:06 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

Honestly, I’m waiting to see which member of the Grizzlies is going to make shots. If we’ve seen anything in the first few preseason games, it’s that Ja Morant is already elite at distributing the ball. During the exhibition game against the New Zealand Breakers, he had one play where he caught a lob under the rim and whipped a two-handed pass all the way out to the three-point line to an open Jae Crowder. Ja surely needs to put on some muscle (#MUSCLEWATCH) and improve on his shooting, but he’s already a gifted and willing passer.

The problem is, who is he gonna pass it to? The Grizzlies have a lot of guys with length and athleticism, but not a lot of proven shooters. Against the Hornets earlier in the week, the Grizzlies shot 9-of-32 on three-pointers. Playing with pace and space seems, in theory, like a good idea. But there’s not gonna be any space if you can’t make outside jumpers. And if there’s no space, there’s not going to be much pace. Someone needs to spread the floor, or else this might be a long season for our Grizz.

Speaking of modern basketball…

Twitter can be terrible and great, and often both at the same time. The best descriptor I’ve heard for it is that it can be a river of content, and sometimes it’s like trying to drink from a firehouse spewing information and opinion and everything else all at once. So I don’t know if you saw the moment earlier this week when my guy Matt Moore from The Action Network was on Twitter talking about midrange shots, and Kevin Durant jumped in and started debating the value of the midrange with Matt. The conversation was cool to see happening, and I thought both Matt and KD both made some good points.

My question to you, Mike, especially after watching the Grizz the last few weeks, is where do you fall on this issue? Shoot threes and layups? Or is there still some value to be found in the midrange game?

 

Kevin Durant open mid-range

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, October 16, 2019 3:04 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Of course, there’s value to be found in the mid-range game. Just ask Bernard King, Michael Jordan, Adrian Dantley, Mark Aguirre, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and so on and so on. Basketball is about creating open shots and making them on a consistent basis. To me, the step-back, contested 3-pointer is the most agonizing shot in basketball. There’s nothing wrong with a 17-footer if it’s wide open. There’s nothing wrong with floaters coming off solid screens that have been set. There’s nothing wrong with being a complete basketball player, which means taking advantage of any opening your talent and scheme can create. Bottom line is teams and players are taking more threes than ever before, but they’re also missing more than ever before.

I get the value in threes and certainly layups/dunks. But basketball doesn’t – or shouldn’t – simply boil down to that. The Hall of Fame is filled with players who maximized their games from the mid-range areas. I’m not anti-threes. I’m pro-scoring effectively and efficiently, by any means necessary.

Lang, we’ll wrap up on this: Give me one non-playoff team from last season in each conference that you expect to make the biggest jump this season. Mine are Chicago in the East and New Orleans in the West. I believe the Bulls started to turn a bit of a corner late last season and made a few key moves to bolster their depth. I like the addition of a steadying influence in Thad Young to help those talented young guys around Zach LaVine. And the Pelicans will certainly have plenty to prove after the seismic trade with the Lakers, along with the rapid development of No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. I could see both the Bulls and Pelicans making double-digit increases from last season’s win totals.

 

Zion Williamson and Thaddeus Young

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2019 at 9:08 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I could certainly see both of those teams improving, since Chicago really only has one way to go. And the Pelicans could be a great example of Bill Simmons’ Ewing Theory – they lose a bona fide superstar and somehow get better. Plus, I think Lonzo Ball might be a good candidate for Most Improved Player.

For my picks, in the East I’ll go with Atlanta. Despite my best efforts to disentangle from the team I grew up rooting for, I can’t really avoid Hawks Twitter, and everyone seems rather excited about the crew that GM Travis Schlenk has assembled. I think they’re probably realistically still a year away from being a playoff team, but they’ve clearly prioritized player development, going after young guys like Trae Young and Cam Reddish, and now as they mix in veterans like Jabari Parker, Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe, they got an intriguing group in the A. But just imagine if they had Luka Doncic.

And in the West, I’ll take Doncic’s crew in Dallas. Porzingis looks like he’s going to be able to contribute sooner rather than later, and that duo of him and Doncic is gonna be something to be reckoned with. Plus I’ll trust Rick Carlisle to guide this group to the ends of the earth.

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