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Theory of Basketball: Surpises, Westbrook, Harden, Pacers and more!

New Orleans Pelicans v New York Knicks Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images

We decided that we needed to get some hoops talk being a little more prevalent on the site once again. So welcome to our first weekly installment of our Hoops Roundtable. This week we have the pleasure of having Phil Naessens join us for the hoop talk.

Join the discussion down in the comments.

  1. What team below a four seed needs to really think about tanking?

Phil Naessens: Just for the record, I don’t like this tanking business. Unfortunately, there’s really no other way for small market teams to hit the jackpot so I suppose the team with the most to gain from this would be the New Orleans Pelicans as that team isn’t going anywhere but a maximum eighth seed and a first-round playoff loss. They first need to figure which of the twin towers they want to keep because you can’t tank with both Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis in the lineup for a full season. I suppose the best way to decide is which one will fetch more picks which is probably Davis. So you trade Davis and convince Cousins that he will be the King of New Orleans. Then you dangle Jrue Holiday and see how many first round picks you can get for him. If the Pelicans are able to do this they should be in decent shape in a couple of seasons.

Kevin Nesgoda: I want to say Oklahoma City, but they don’t have a first-round pick this coming draft, so I’ll go with Phil on this one. The Pelicans need to move one or both DeMarcus Cousins or Anthony Davis. The Twin Towers (no matter how talented) will not work in the modern game. You have assets that rebuilding teams want and a playoff team need. Could you imagine the Nets pick cake this team back to 1995 and they are going to hang with Jordan’s Bulls in the finals? Could you also imagine either ending up in Cleveland or Boston for the stretch run?

Chris Meirose: Crazy as it may sound, but the Lakers. They still are a superstar or two from having any sort of identity in the west. While L.A. is a desirable destination for players for numerous reasons, having valuable assets - high picks - enables them to smooth the way for teams to work deals with them.

Taylor Bartle: The Charlotte Hornets. They seem to be heading in the wrong direction, despite having so much talent on paper. Kemba Walker is a perennial All-Star candidate, Frank Kaminsky was supposed to be the next big thing, and Dwight Howard is an upgrade over Al Jefferson. The problem with them tanking is that they haven’t had much success in the draft. Cody Zeller was a number four pick. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was a number two! Neither has lived up to their draft position.

2. Will Russell Westbrook ever win a title?

Phil Naessens: Enormous talent and exciting to watch but if padding his stats is what he wants to do then he’s in the right place to do his thing. The only way I see Westbrook winning a championship is if he gets a coach that can actually reign him in. I don’t ever see that happening in OKC and it’s probably why he stayed in OKC in the first place. In OKC he gets to do whatever he likes and that doesn’t bode well for him winning a championship in OKC or for that matter anywhere else.

Kevin Nesgoda: No, and I don’t think he cares. Russ is going to do Russ no matter the situation. He’s going to pad his stats, he’s going to hold a few individual records by the time he retires, but he’s never going to win a ring unless he takes the minimum and becomes the sixth man in Golden State.

Chris Meirose: No, and I don’t think it is his priority. Why? Because if it was, there’s no explaining why he stayed in OKC. He had the opportunity to leave OKC, and I suppose at some point down the road he can still potentially leverage himself against the team, but with his contract, it seems unlikely. Beyond that, his game just doesn’t show me that he’s ready to do what it takes - self-sacrifice - to make it happen. He can’t do it himself. And frankly, I don’t feel bad about that. At all.

Taylor Bartle: I think he could, but he has to learn to defer. Paul George should be the man in OKC right now but Westbrook wants to recapture that MVP season he had last year. He wants to get triple-doubles and make all the highlight reels and that seems to be his priority right now. He wants to single-handedly will his team to victories, which is great and all, but more victories will come from a team game and I don’t believe a team can win a championship with Russell as its number one option.

3. Who is your MVP right now?

Phil Naessens: I’m going with James Harden. Partly because he should have won last year and partly with the way the Rockets have played in his absence. But mostly because he’s 1st in points, 2nd in assists, top 100 in shooting percentage PLUS his team wins!

Kevin Nesgoda: It’s very hard to argue against Harden. He should have won it last year. Team performance and doing things within the game do matter. People should not be rewarded for padding stats. I could also make a case for Giannis Antetokounmpo too. The kid is going for 29-10 every night and plays some of the best defense in the league. Giannis could officially be one of the three best players in the league now.

Chris Meirose: I want to say something brilliant here and amaze you with why Giannis or Lebron or even Kevin Durant should be MVP. But they shouldn’t. It’s Harden. You see it in his play, but even more in his current absence. I watched the Rockets two nights ago, and they were solid against the Suns without Harden. But with him in the lineup, they are an absolute delight to watch. Harden has become a must-watch player in my book, and that’s saying something because he used to drive me nuts. His usage rate, his creativity, his ability to take over a game at a moments notice. He makes everyone on that roster, including CP3, better. Sure, there’s still plays where he mails it in defensively. But I can just see his mind calculating how he’ll get those points back at the other end.

Taylor Bartle: The important thing to remember here is that this is Most “Valuable” Player. It’s not just an award for the best player in the league. It’s hard to argue that anyone on the Warriors should get it since they have so much other talent. A big part of me wants to say it’s Giannis because the Bucks would most likely be cellar dwellers without him. However, James Harden’s current injury and the Rockets’ parallel slump have shown why he should be the MVP. He is a guy who can single-handedly take over an entire game at any time. Yes, his defense is still suspect, but it’s actually improved somewhat. I think Mike D’Antoni is the ideal coach for Harden.

4. Who is the biggest surprise?

Phil Naessens: For me its been the Indiana Pacers. They trade Paul George for two underachievers in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis and turn that into a potential playoff team. Trading C.J. Miles for Cory Joseph and signing Free Agent Darren Collison turned out pretty well so far. The Pacers have picked up their pace you have a nice young team trending upward. President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard should win Executive of the Year and it will be a shame if he doesn’t. Not to mention Head Coach Nate McMillan has done an exceptional job with this team.

Kevin Nesgoda: At the beginning of the season I would have said the Orlando Magic, but then they regressed back to being the Orlando Magic, so I have to go with Phil yet again. The Pacers have been a fun surprise. I had them on the outside of the playoffs this year and having a top-five pick in the draft, but nope. Victor Oladipo is on the verge of becoming the star we all thought he would be. Kevin Pritchard won the Paul George trade when everyone (including myself) thought he was taken. When George isn’t in OKC next year and the Thunder don’t get any compensation from George leaving then we’ll know for sure. Nate McMillan is also a legit coach of the year candidate.

Chris Meirose: The Celtics, and it isn’t close. Why? Defense. When Gordon Hayward went down, I wondered about their scoring options and whether they’d be able to consistently be able to put up enough points to be elite. Rather than find ways to score more points, they’re taking them away from their opponents. Nightly. They’re currently giving up fewer points than THE SPURS. I expected them to be a middle of the pack team that nobody wanted to meet in the playoffs, and they’re simply just killing it at this point. Their point differential is lower than other teams, which shows they are winning close games and not getting blown out. The other team that is a distant 2nd in for me in the “surprise” category is Memphis. I expected a decline. But they fell off the cliff.

Taylor Bartle: I, too, have to say the Indiana Pacers. When they traded Paul George it looked like they were going into a rebuild. However, Victor Oladipo is, in my mind, worthy of an All-Star bid this season. He is averaging a career-high 24.4 points per game and has had several clutch shots to lead his team to victory. Domantas Sabonis is finally looking like the player he was at Gonzaga again. The team is also 17th in pace. That may not sound great but remember this is a Nate McMillan coached team.

5. When do you think the Sonics come back?

Phil Naessens: I would love to say next season but honestly speaking I don’t foresee the Sonics coming back unless the NBA expands the League to two more teams. I really don’t want to get a team because another city lost them. I know how that feels and it sucks.

Kevin Nesgoda: I am going to go with what Payton and Haywood have both said and say 2020-21. I really do think there will be an NBA team in the new arena when it opens. In Tim I Trust.

Chris Meirose: 2022. Looking at the timeline, I think 2021 is just too quick, though sooner is absolutely better in my book. And unlike Phil, I’ll take it however it comes. Sure, I’d prefer the Thunder to go bankrupt and be forced to return to Seattle or expansion. But I am no longer willing to be picky. Enough is enough, and Seattle needs a team. And I’m not going to feel bad about that.

Taylor Bartle: The wheels are already turning to have the NHL here in 2020. Since similar wheels are not turning for the NBA it’s hard to say that a similar timeline is possible. We’ll see if that changes once construction actually begins in the new arena, but even if so I think 2021 is the earliest. I think 2022 is more likely.