Sean Beckwith: NBA copy desk correspondence: Another season of NBA action
It’s back. The NBA season is here. The defending champs added another All-NBA player, Jimmy Butler is doing his best disgruntled Carmelo Anthony impression, Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton look like frontrunners for Rookie of the Year and the Denver Nuggets added two potential stars looking to overcome injury woes.
Let’s dive right into the Nuggets because I can’t think of anything worse than talking about LeBron James on the Lakers. Michael Porter Jr. probably won’t play an awful lot because Denver’s staff see monster potential and are going to handle him like the 76ers handle Joel Embiid. The other player is Isaiah Thomas. Will he be able to give Denver the added depth needed to move into the second tier teams — underneath the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets — in the West?
Ben Welch: In case you thought Beckwith was talking to a ghost, I’ll provide my own introduction. It is not a specter but I, the Gaped Crusader, the Loaf of Bread Shredder, the Conan O’Brien to Sean’s Andy Richter: Benjamin Welch! Are you ready for another season of sporadic three-page columns about Aspen’s least favorite sport? I know I am! Read ’em and weep.
The Nuggets have the strongest lineup in years and, even in a difficult Western Conference, should still be making plans for a run in the playoffs. The fact that the second-best Isaiah Thomas to play in the league is coming off the bench is absurd to me and a trend that likely won’t last too deep into the season. The diminutive point guard was in the MVP conversation not even two years ago, and if he’s able to play at the level he was at before LeBron banished him to the Lakers (ironic), he’s a real offensive weapon to pair with center Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets struck gold (heh) with Michael Porter Jr., and I wish he would have slipped one more spot in the draft to my Washington Wizards. A potential franchise player is well worth the 14th pick, and it appears he’s going to see decent playing time assuming there’s no re-injury of his back. While nobody’s coming out of the West, or the NBA Finals period, other than the Golden State Monstars, the Nuggets have put themselves in position to be a perennial playoff team for years to come.
What do you think are some other under-the-radar teams that could make a big showing in the regular season or surge in the playoffs?
SB: People know the gig, Ben. I try to get in as much basketball talk as possible, you steer the conversation to Washington basketball with the brevity of a guy without a column. Speaking of dark horses and Wizards, they’re not it.
I think you’ll see the Pacers make another leap with some useful veteran additions and rookie Aaron Holiday, the younger brother of Jrue Holiday. Eastern conference finals potential with the ever-evolving Victor Oladipo.
From a level of “John Wall hitting a go-ahead 3 in Game 6” to “We just acquired the corpse of Dwight Howard,” what’s your tier of excitement for a team without LeBron to make the finals from the East this year?
BW: The Pacers as a team are more overrated than Jayson Tatum as a player. Oladipo finally puts together one season and all of the sudden he’s Jesus Robot Paul George 2.0. I’m not convinced Bojan Bogdanovic and the kid brother of a one-time All Star are going to overthrow the likes of the Boston Celtics, who would have the greatest starting lineup ever if not for Steve Kerr’s mind-control powers. Thankfully, with James switching conferences this offseason, it clears the way for a more competitive Finals featuring the Celtics’ brand of team basketball rather than the Lilliputians of the Cavaliers riding on Gulliver’s back. Speaking of slow Europeans and little brothers, does Portland stand a chance in what’s likely going to be a shaken-up Western standings? Are the San Antonio Spurs the best Vegas bet in the NBA with a line of 45.5 wins?*
SB: So many things to digest. I’ll just answer these in bullet points:
No one ever said Pacers in the Finals, like you did last year. Oladipo took LeBron to seven games a season ago. He’s now a Laker. Pacers will be a top four seed.
Why you picking on Bojan? Oh yeah, the Wiz traded a first-round pick for him.
Jayson Tatum was the player most responsible for Boston’s playoff run last year.
Celtics “greatest starting lineup ever” claim isn’t even the best in team history. (1986, 2008 Celtics both better)
Lilliputians? Thanks Dennis Miller.
Trail Blazers over/under is 41.5. They won 49 games a season ago. That’s the best bet.
Are we sure Oklahoma City and Minnesota are better than last year? Them plus Utah, Denver and Portland make for a frighteningly competitive division.
Before I ask for playoff picks, let me get your MVP and rookie of the year selections.
BW: I’m glad to see you’re so dedicated to arduously fact-checking the content of this newspaper. The hot takes can’t be the exact same year after year. Not even Stephen A. Smith gets that luxury. I don’t think the Thunder and Timberwolves are any better; the Wolves were one win away from missing the postseason last year and they’re about to lose their second-best player in Butler.
If the Lakers perform well, LeBron is going to win his fifth MVP and match Michael Jordan’s total. The Warriors are too stacked for the voting committee to justify giving the award to Durant or anyone from that squad. But if I had to choose a spoiler I’m going with … hmm … Victor Oladipo.
For ROY, I’m picking Luka Doncic from the Mavericks. He has knowledge beyond his years thanks to playing professional ball overseas since he was 16. Trae Young is going to average 20 points a game for the Hawks and will be a front-runner, as well.
What does your crystal ball predict? We should make a wager of some kind this year. Also, which NBA player is closest to your doppelganger?
SB: The MVP often doesn’t go to the best player because, if it did, LeBron would have 10 of them. James Harden won it last season because the Rockets had the best record in the NBA. I could see something similar in the East this year. If Kawhi Leonard returns to form and the Raptors win 60-plus games en route to a No. 1 overall seed, he’ll win it because the media will eat up that storyline. Kyrie Irving has an inside track if he can reach the numbers necessary but that will be difficult with the Celtics all-inclusive style of play. That said, it’s going to the Brow, Anthony Davis. He’s the best player who hasn’t won it and a full season of New Orleans’ ultra-fast pace will lead to video game numbers.
Rookie of the Year is Doncic’s to lose. He has the trust of the organization and they’ll not only get him the ball but will ramp up the hype machine for the award and their fans.
Here are my picks.
Eastern Conference Finals: Boston Celtics over Philadelphia 76ers (4-2)
Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors over New Orleans Pelicans (4-1)
NBA Finals: Warriors over Celtics (4-3)
Doppelganger: There are no male models in the NBA.
Alright, enjoy the Association season, people. We’ll leave you with Ben’s picks because we already know his doppelganger is Zaza Pachulia.
BW: Eastern Conference Finals: Boston Celtics over Toronto Raptors (4-2)
Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors over Houston Rockets (4-2)
NBA Finals: Warriors over Celtics (4-2)
I look nothing like Zaza. Clearly I’m the twin of Gordon Hayward, who is the closest thing to a male model now that he doesn’t have a 5-year-old’s bowl cut. You look like the dark-haired lovechild of Chris Mullin and Brian Scalabrine.**
And with that, we have named 25 basketball players sure to confuse even the most dedicated Aspenite NBA enthusiasts, whose overall fandom could still be categorized as “casual-lite.” Keep this guide near the television at all times and, uhh, if anyone wants in on League Pass, let me know.
*This was written prior to Spurs’ point guard Dejounte Murray tearing his ACL, but Ben is not concerned.
**Chandler Parsons and JJ Reddck.
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