The Saturday Starting Five: Your Season Assured

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Hey, so, you’re stuck with me on the weekends, so I thought we’d put together something you can count on. Every weekend here at PBT we’ll have the Saturday Starting Five. Five elements, chosen thematically (so I’m not just basically vomiting words onto a screen for you) and brought for discussion about the NBA. Our opening topic?

Five things you can count on in the NBA this and every year (except next year when we’re locked out because that’s totally going to happen.).

#1: At least two teams are going to completely exceed all expectations.

Startling, I know, but in a league as dead-set predictable as the NBA, this is actually worth mentioning. Last season the Bobcats were considered by many to be one of, if not the worst teams in the league. This despite Larry Brown’s penchant for overachieving with lesser parts. Granted, pundits couldn’t see the addition of Stephen Jackson coming down the pipeline, but the fact is that last year, just like this year, the Bobcatss were slated to be terrible. Now the Cats might actually be terrible, but it’s still good when you’re rolling down those teams and dismissing them to stop and ask “Are they actually that terrible?” Because when spring rolls around and that team’s in a playoff race, it’s going to seem so obvious that they’d be good.

Oh, and a side note, every columnist, pundit, and blogger is praying that the team they think is terrible won’t be the one to exceed expectations. I personally am dreading if Darko Milicic is actually a viable center, Kurt Rambis actually plays Kevin Love and Wesley Johnson is any good. I’m going to look dumb. Like, really dumb. Exceptionally stupid. Worlds O’ Dumb.

#2: One team’s going to bottom into nothingness.

Perhaps you don’t remember this, but the Nets weren’t supposed to be that bad last season. No kidding. They weren’t going to be title contenders, or anything, but a nice reasonable near-.500 record was expected. Instead, they just lost and lost and lost. I watched several of those games early on, including the Miami buzzer beater loss. And you could just feel that cloud descend over them. It would follow them for almost the entire season.

Think last season was an outlier? Chicago went from an Eastern Conference favorite to giving Scott Skiles a pink slip on Christmas. This happens. Consistently. And there’s almost no way to see it coming.

It’s going to happen to a team we don’t suspect. Minnesota should have been the worst team in the league last year. It took an extraordinary plummet by the Nets for them to be second worst. And that may happen again this year. There’s no real way you can see it coming, either. Heck, it could be the Heat. That’s how tentative this league is. (It will not be the Heat.) So keep that in mind while you’re talking up how your team could make the playoffs.

#3 A mid-teen drafted rookie will blow us away.

10. Paul George
11. Cole Aldrich
12. Xavier Henry
13. Ed Davis
14. Patrick Patterson
15. Larry Sanders
16. Luke Babbitt
17. Kevin Seraphin
18. Eric Bledsoe
19. Avery Bradley
20. James Anderson

One of those guys is going to be much better than we expect. It may be one of the guys 20-plus, like Darren Collison last year, though Ty Lawson qualifies. One of these guys will be better than we expect, much better. It’s only natural. There are so many misses in the top 10 usually, that someone’s going to slip, and when you slip, you can slip by handfuls. Of those options, it’s hard to identify the easy one. But then, each year it’s hard to identify. My money’s on either Patrick Patterson or Larry Sanders, but wouldn’t it be ridiculous if the Celtics landed themselves another great point guard? Or if Cole Aldrich was, actually, you know, good?

Just be prepared for one of these guys to make a huge jump.

#4 At least one coach is cashing one of his final paychecks.

My favorite fired coach story of the past few years was Scott Skiles. The Bulls fired him on Christmas Eve. Think about that. Oh, hey, it’s the holiday season. A season of love and peace. Hey, Scott, we got you a present! It’s the curb! It’s all yours! And we got you this boot to get you there! I mean, seriously. Who does that? The answer is “probably the same people who get into a shoving match with a coach who they later lame duck for about six months after they shouldn’t have hired him in the first place anyway.”

The point is, before the calendar hits 2011, we’re going to see a coach released back into the wild. Sometimes it’s a long time coming, sometimes it’s a reactionary move that speaks to the front office’s short leash. Jay Triano is one that comes to mind, if the team once again comes out with a terrible defensive rating. Whoever suffers element #2 above is also a strong candidate.

It’s sad that we know someone’s going to lose their job this far in advance, but we do. This is the NBA. It has benchmarks like every other league. And Christmas is the time for coaches to exit, stage right.

#5 An MVP candidate will come out of nowhere.

Carmelo Anthony really did have a strong case for the first two months of the year last year. Then Amar’e Stoudemire made a really strong case towards the end of last year. Those are two more predictable candidates, but they’re still outside of the Big 4 (LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Dwight). With two candidates (sorry Chris) on the same team, there are more spots open (with one already awarded to Kevin Durant automatically).

It’s one of the best parts of the season, a player making a huge leap that suddenly makes you wonder if he’s the best. For all the disappointing injuries, suspensions, team turmoil, and this season, CBA talks, there are bright spots, and watching players make leaps to elite status is one of them. I for one, am ready for it. 24 Days, kiddos.

24 days.

LaVar Ball on Luke Walton: “They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son.”

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Luke Walton is trying to create a professional environment around his young Lakers’ core. One where they expect the players to put in extra work without being told they have to, one where the coaches guide the development, but it’s ultimately the player in charge of his own course. Basically, Walton is treating his young players like adults and is asking them to respond to it like professional adults. It’s what he’s seen Steve Kerr do in Golden State and it works. It’s how Gregg Popovich has created a dynasty in San Antonio.

LaVar Ball sees the world very differently. He’s old school, from the “do as I say” mold.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that after the Lakers’ ugly loss last Friday to the Suns, the Lakers media spoke to LaVar Ball about his son’s play and Ball took a shot at the Lakers’ coach. Here are the quotes, via Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report.

“They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son. I know how to coach him,” LaVar Ball said. “I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around.”

Does he have a problem with coach Luke Walton?

“No, I have a problem with losing,” Ball responded.

I have multiple thoughts here, which means bullet points.

• I am breaking my own rule with this post, which is “don’t cover LaVar Ball, he’s just meaningless click bait.” I debated the point, but I think there is a legitimate basketball reason to cover this post (keep reading).

• Things Luke Walton cares more about than what LaVar Ball thinks of his coaching style: How much extra guacamole costs at Chipotle; if Netflix has “Golden Girls” to stream; what shoes Lakers’ sideline reporter Mike Trudell is wearing during postgame interviews; which Van Halen album “Dance the Night Away” is on; which show won the 1974 Tony for Best Musical.

Lonzo Ball‘s struggles with his shot this season — 31.3 percent overall, and he is struggling from three and around the rim — are well documented. It’s clear he is in his own head about it at this point. What can keep him there longer is conflicting advice from his father and his coach. So far, Lonzo seems to be siding with the coaching staff, for example, he credited assistant coach Brian Shaw for telling him to rebound more aggressively, then push the ball himself. LaVar will want to take credit for that, too. Lonzo needs to listen to his coaches, take his father’s advice for what it’s worth, and find his path.

• LaVar is lucky that the level-headed, mature-for-his-age, hard-working Lonzo was his oldest son. Just from what I see on the outside, not sure either of the other two Ball children could have handled this scrutiny nearly as well.

• Luke Walton is working to create something sustainable with the Lakers, they are not going to let anything (or anyone) bump them off that path.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down rookie class’s start to NBA season

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Markelle Fultz has barely seen the court. Lonzo Ball has had a couple of triple-doubles but his shot is way off, and he’s drawing extra scrutiny thanks to his father. Right now, Danny Ainge looks like the smartest guy in the room trading down and walking away with Jayson Tatum. Some of the best players out of this draft early — Kyle Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell — were drafted well down the board.

It’s been a draft class with real highs, some ugly lows, some polarizing figures — and Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it down.

They go through all the guys taken in the lottery and discuss what they have seen, then talk about some of the guys outside the draft who have had strong seasons so far.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Interviewer: LeBron James wasn’t dissing Kyrie Irving

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LeBron James on Isaiah Thomas, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

“It’s been a while since I’ve had that clear-cut guy who can get guys involved but also score at the same time,” James told B/R Mag.

That looked like a shot at Kyrie Irving. But with more context, it clearly wasn’t.

Beck:

It seems LeBron was saying it’s been a while that he’s had “that clear-cut guy who can get guys involved but also score at the same time.” If he was slighting Kyrie Irving, LeBron was also slighting Dwyane Wade – and I doubt LeBron would do that.

LeBron and Kyrie probably aren’t above taking subtle shots at each other. But this seems like a case of Beck, after hearing LeBron’s words aloud and in context, not realizing how a trimmed version would read as text. It’s unfortunate that people initially got the wrong impression, but good on Beck for clearing it up.

Missouri: Potential No. 1 pick Michael Porter Jr. likely out for rest of season

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Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. – maybe the top contender to supplant European guard Luka Doncic as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft – had his campaign undercut after it barely began.

Missouri Basketball:

Michael Porter, Jr. will undergo surgery on Tuesday, Nov. 21, in Dallas, Texas. The procedure, a microdiscectomy of the L3 and L4 spinal discs, has a projected recovery time of three-four months and will likely cause him to miss the remainder of the season. Michael is expected to make a complete recovery

With that timeline, it’s possible Porter returns late in Missouri’s NBA season. But as an elite draft prospect stuck in a cartel system that caps his compensation well below market value, he should probably be cautious.

Porter will likely still go high in the draft – if his medicals check out. This is is a serious injury, and teams will be wary off long-term effects.

But he’s a top talent, and the forward shouldn’t slip far. In fact, in a strange way, this injury could even help him. There were questions about Porter’s ability to handle physicality and tight spaces when the game slows down, challenges he would have met frequently in college basketball. Now, scouts can’t pick apart those aspects of his game. Logically or not, NBA teams tend to favor the unknown in the draft, and Porter is on his way to being one of the biggest mysteries near the top of the 2018 draft.