Sean Beckwith: Gazing at the NBA crystal ball
October 17, 2017
Now that Rocktober is over, the temporary renewed shine of Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian has worn off and Colorado sports fans are having Come to Elway talks, it's time to focus on the other professional sport in the Centennial State.
No, not the Avalanche. I'm talking about the NBA. It has the international appeal of soccer but with more scoring, athletes participating without the risk of long-term brain damage and tremendous star power.
I'm going to try something different today because I can't (and don't want to) write 800-plus words on the Nuggets. Aspen Times production manager and fellow NBA enthusiast Ben Welch (editor's note: and third-handsomest guy in the office) and I are going to bounce NBA-related questions off each other starting off with the Nuggets and then touching on some broader season themes/questions after that.
SB: The Nuggets, aka Colorado's fourth(?) favorite team, won 40 games last year. Nikola Jokic broke out as a new-age Arvydas Sabonis, dishing assists out of the high post and infecting the team with his passing gene. They added Paul Milsap, an all-star and the best player from a once above average Atlanta Hawks team, and signed non-point guard Gary Harris. Las Vegas has them around 45 to 46 wins in the West. The question is at point guard where the option is Emmanuel Mudiay, a point guard who can't shoot, or Jamal Murray, a shooting guard.
I have the Nuggets making the playoffs but wonder if they would be better off playing through Jokic and starting Jamal Murray. First, will the Nuggets make the playoffs? Second, what should they do at point guard?
BW: I believe the Nuggets will return to the playoffs in a late seed to be the sacrificial lamb for the Monstars, Rockets or Spurs. Their two skilled big men will leave plenty of shooters open.
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As for point guards, see if Allen Iverson wants to come out of retirement. He would be only the second person to play in an opponent's arena that has already retired his number. If that doesn't work, call Gilbert Arenas, who could've been the second person to play in an opponent's arena that already had retired his number if he hadn't brought guns into the locker room. (And yes, that's two hidden Wizards references in one question, because Sean said, "No, we aren't going to mention the Wizards at all!" Check.)
After a busy offseason, will any big trades happen this year? Which will recede more, LeBron's hairline or the Clippers' record?
SB: Unlike Ben, references to my team, the Portland Trail Blazers, aren't so heavy handed. No one wants to go in depth about the Markieff Morris-Jason Smith rotation. We're trying to get people interested in the NBA, not distance them.
As far as the veiled insult that was a question about the Clippers, I actually like them this year. They're deeper and aren't handcuffed to Chris Paul's domineering style of play. They might be better than last year so unless LeBron grows hair, I'm going with the Clippers.
Teams have to have trade pieces to pull off moves and there aren't many teams that fit that distinction. The Nuggets have plenty of assets and Eric Bledsoe has been on the block since joining Phoenix, but as far as big trades, I don't see many happening. Also, does it even matter? The Warriors didn't see a game 6 in the playoffs last year. Will they play in a game 6 this year?
BW: The success of Silicon Valley is assured unless all of the Big Four go down. They were good even without Durant last year, who injured his leg in a game against the Wizards, going on an 11-game winning streak while he was out. What do you make of the new change to the All-Star Game where a captain will draft players from either conference?
SB: I want to like it, but I'm not sure the players will be candid with their picks. You know LeBron is ahead of the public opinion and instead of sandbagging Kyrie Irving, he will pick him relatively quick. At least the NBA is trying to liven up the Warrirors' season-long parade to the title. Also, the question was does a team push the Warriors to six, not do they win a title. Take off the red, white and blue-colored glasses and focus. Since you're can't let go of the Wizards, here's a question for you: What Eastern conference team will beat the Wizards on the way to the Finals?
BW: I'm very careful about dreaming of a Finals featuring any D.C. sports team, but I think the growth of the young Bucks core will make Milwaukee a contender in the East after the Great All-Star Exodus of 2017. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a three-point shot away from being the best player in the league. So, people, let's give the man some respect and learn to say his name: "Auwn-te-te-koom-poe." Anyway, who are this season's MVP contenders? Any wild cards?
SB: Inferring the Wizards were making the Eastern Conference finals from my question was almost as outlandish as putting Milwaukee in the NBA Finals. The MVP race depends on how much LeBron has — and is willing — to do in Cleveland. If he's on a revenge tour against the Warriors and Kyrie, I can see voters giving him a fifth MVP.
Let's end on this because we're in the newspaper and not online: Who wins rookie of the year? And you can't say a Wizard because they haven't had a draft pick since 2015.
BW: I just want the Ball family to go away, and ROY favorite Lonzo hasn't even played a game yet. The Joe Jackson of the family, Lavar Ball, has even managed to land a Kardashian-esque reality-TV show about him and his three basketballer sons — a little distracting for an NBA rookie and high schoolers with aspirations of playing in the league. My pick for this year is Philadelphia's explosive forward Ben Simmons, who was drafted first last year but had to sit due to injury. If Simmons did take the award, it wouldn't be the first time a former No. 1 pick won the year after being drafted: The Clippers' Blake Griffin edged John Wall of the Wizards in 2010-11.
SB: Liangelo Ball is at UCLA, so only one Ball child is in high school. The series you're talking about is broadcast on Facebook, so it's a pandering streaming show, not a TV show. And lastly, no ones cares about career bridesmaid John Wall. Thanks to you who are still reading. Enjoy the season.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
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