The NBA playoffs are a basketball fan’s dream; there are anywhere between two and four competitive basketball games on every night, each with their own allure, their own stars, and their own evolving narrative. There’s so much to enjoy and so much to learn, and unfortunately — due to wide, national broadcasting and the influx of casual sports fans — so much to misunderstand.
Case in point: Trevor Ariza, Chris Paul’s uncharacteristically efficient sidekick. Those joining the NBA season already in progress have seen Ariza at his finest against the Lakers, performing at a high level on both ends of the court. On-ball perimeter defense has always been among Ariza’s strengths; he has the length and athleticism to bother even the league’s finest scorers, and has done solid work against Kobe Bryant in this particular series. Yet offensively, Ariza has been oddly successful. He’s posted three games with 19 or more points on decent shooting percentages, and even grabbed 12 rebounds (to go along with 12 points) in another contest. For five games, Ariza has been everything that his reputation once suggested he could be, granting unsuspecting sports fans all the fodder they need to trumpet his success.
Ariza has held up well under the bright lights, but he hasn’t evolved from the player we’ve seen in an 146-game sample over the last two years. Basketball players are prone to periodic ups and downs, and Ariza happens to be experiencing a favorable swing at the best possible moment. He’s posted a 16.6 PER in the playoffs thus far — a far cry from his 11.3 regular season mark — and given his team a huge lift in their attempt to upset the Lakers in the first round.
That’s why he’ll be a water cooler talking point and a sports bar spectacle. Those merely stopping by to catch a playoff game can watch Ariza’s effective play and eat up his story (An unassuming non-star and a “wronged” player returning to face the team who wronged him!), but League Pass junkies know better than to be fooled by this kind of mirage. There’s nothing in the film or in the numbers that suggests Ariza’s new-found efficiency is indicative of legitimate improvement. It’s fun nonetheless to see him working on a more efficient level, but all of the good will and media attention in the world won’t make Ariza anything but himself. This is still the player who shot under 40 percent from the field and just over 30 percent from the three-point line during the regular season. This is still the player who dribbles away possessions while obliging his own delusions. He’s merely experiencing a very natural — and temporary — upward trend in his production, and as the sample size continues to increase, his numbers will trend back to their regular season anchor.
The Lakers will probably win the series, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever have that opportunity. Still, these exceptional shooting performances (5-of-8 from beyond the arc?!) are just that.
Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)
However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.
Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.
If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.
If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.
Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.
What else is he going to say?
And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.
From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.
However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.
Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?
The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.
President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.
Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:
Was LaVar Ball around the team much?
“Zero,” Alford said.
Was he ever at practice?
“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”
Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?
“Never,” Alford said.
LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.
Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.
Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.
John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.
Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?
Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic”
“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”
It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.
I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.
It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.
Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.
Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.
Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.
Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:
The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.
What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.
They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:
- Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
- Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
- Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
- Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.
Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.