We got a few of our writers together to share a few of the debates we have had in the offseason. We reflect on some of the great moments of last year, and also look forward to all the excitement of the upcoming season. Joining us this week is Bulls aficionado Jake Weiner of (D)Roses and Thorns! Enjoy:
1. Who is the most underrated player in the league?
Spencer Suk: Kyle Lowry. He led the Raptors to the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference, was 8th in win shares (finishing ahead of Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah, and Dirk Nowitzki), and finally managed to stay healthy. He may not have been the best point guard in the league last year, but he most certainly deserved to make the All-Star Game over Kyrie Irving, Joe Johnson, and teammate DeMar DeRozan. It’s time to start giving Lowry the respect he deserves!
Jake Weiner: Dwight Howard. I know that sounds like a weird answer, but it’s true. Dwight is the third or fourth most valuable player in the NBA (Anthony Davis is really good). People love to hate on him, but the man has 18.3 PPG-12.9 RPG-2.2 BPG career averages, and he’s finally looking healthy again. Dwight’s a force on offense and the best defensive center in the Western Conference. I think most of the backlash against Howard stems from his seemingly terrible personality and theunfortunate set of decisions that took him from Orlando to Houston via LA. Considering the fact that most fans don’t even consider Dwight the best player on his own team, he’s my pick for most underrated.
Jordan Lee: Draymond Green. Watching this kid play, you can tell he spent four years under defensive guru Tom Izzo. His game will never be exciting to watch, unless you enjoy watching a dude who loves the grind. Every team in the league can use a player who doesn’t demand the ball on offense (yet remains serviceable) and makes his biggest impact on defense—a.k.a. the greatest fucking role player ever. His impact was as clear as day in the Clippers-Warriors first round playoff series. With Bogut being hurt, Draymond Green saved the Warriors (namely, David Lee) as the only player willing to step up and guard Blake Griffin. But his true greatness showed in Game 7 when he proved he is willing to take big shots, scoring 24 points connecting on 5 of 8 from deep. With Klay struggling all game, the Warriors leaned on Draymond to help Steph try and pull off the upset.
Sebastian Li: For me, the most underrated player in the league has got to be Jose Calderon. The crafty Spaniard can make an offense run, as he showed in his first 8 years in the NBA, averaging 8.2 assists per game up in Toronto. Absolutely an underrated shooter, he complemented Monta, Dirk, Vince and the rest of their friends incredibly well this year. Over his career, his shooting splits have been .479/.411/.874, and his career assist to turnover ratio is 4:1. For some reference, the Point God Chris Paul's is 4.1:1. With Calderon running point next year in New York, it could be time for Melo to shine.
Jon Lee: It depends. I might say Joakim Noah is still somewhat underrated... Even more so Al Jefferson, due to his injuries throughout the regular season and playoffs. But when healthy, the man simply couldnt be stopped. I'd say Klay Thompson's defense is underrated. I also think Anthony Bennett's going to be a pleasant surprise after a disappointing rookie season. And, I hope y’all didn't forget about Al Horford and his legendary little brother (Horford's underrated status is probably due to the fact he hasn't really played in two years after tearing his pectoral muscle twice in two years). I also think people slept on Kenneth Faried for a moment last season. Critics and fans were lowering Faried's ceiling considerably after the first half of the season, but much of this was due to a time-share between Faried and J.J. Hickson. Post All-Star break, Faried's role was revamped and he saw more playing time. I think what was most impressive about Faried in the second half of last season was his scoring ability as an undersized power forward and his improving defensive rotations and activity. Recently, Faried has garnered attention and respect, especially after making Team USA as a starter over players like Paul Millsap. To be honest, I think I just wanted to tell Kenneth to "stop shaving your armpits."
Terrence Ross will be my official selection. Entering the league, Terrence Ross was mostly known for his high-flying ability. But last year, he surprised everyone with his streaky-yet-sharp shooting from downtown. He's no one trick pony and has all the tools under his belt to take that next step (both offensively and defensively). The dude scored 51 points against the Clippers in his second year in the league, tying a Raptors' franchise record and joining Vince Carter in the history books. Yeah, I'm going with Ross.
2. Most likely to be the pleasant surprise team of 2014-15?
Suk: I’m going to have to go with the Denver Nuggets. After finishing 11th in the West last year with a 36-46 record, the Nuggets have slipped under the radar in a frighteningly deep conference. However, they will be welcoming back Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee from injuries; Arron Afflalo will reunite with Ty Lawson to form one of the better backcourts in the NBA; and Kenneth Faried is really starting to look like the Manimal, averaging 18.8 points, 10.1 rebounds after the All-Star Break.
Weiner: I think a lot of people are overlooking the Atlanta Hawks. They really struggled after losing Al Horford last year, but rookie coach Mike Budenholzer did a lot of interesting things that kept the Hawks competitive. Their first round series against Indiana was sneakily entertaining when they ran their lineups with all three-point shooters. I’m excited to see what Coach Budenholzer (a Popovich coaching school graduate) can do with a healthy Horford and another year of development with his young team. It’s entirely possible for this team to finish as high as third in the conference.
Jordan: I think there are going to be a lot of potential surprises in the Western Conference. Almost every team that wasn't in last year's playoff hunt either got healthy (Denver, LA Lakers) or have added some solid young talent (Minnesota, New Orleans, Sacramento, Utah). But my surprise team comes from the East Coast: the New York Knicks. Since the start of the new millennium, the Knicks have literally been worse than the Clippers, only making it out of the first round once in 2012-2013 when they finished second in the East. The Knicks have continually failed to reach the expectations that come with playing at Madison Square Garden.
But these failures have not been due to a lack of talent. With Melo in his prime and playing hard on both sides of the ball, I don't see why the Knicks can't be competing for the 3rd seed. Even though they lost Chandler, I believe Calderon will more than make up for the loss. Gaining one of the most efficient point guards in the league is really a great move for a team that has relied heavily on iso-ball the last few years. They don't need more talent, they just need to play smarter and harder, and I think Phil and Fisher will steer them in the right direction.
Li: Though it might not be much of a surprise, I'm really feeling this year’s Miami Heat. I'd love to see the Heat deep in the playoffs matched up against the Cavs because they won’t just roll over. D-Wade and Bosh might figure out the whole dynamic duo thing by the time the playoffs roll around. And who knows what we could witness with Mario Chalmers. I'm thinking there may just be a bit of that Lance Stephenson mystique waiting to erupt (I mean this in a good way...). Either way, I expect Spo to cook up something pretty nice with the additions of Josh McBob, Luol Deng, and Shabazz Napier.
Jon: The Atlanta Hawks. I liked what Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks were able to accomplish last year... and that was without Al Horford, one of the premiere bigs in the league. Jeff Teague's ability to get in the lane coupled with the Hawk's floor spacing generated by players like Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic creates real problems for opposing defenses. Their role players are young and unsuspecting, but solid: Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott. I'm not the biggest fan of the newly signed Kent Bazemore. Actually that's an understatement (I don't like Kent Bazemore at all). Last year, I watched him force up way too many bad shots. But to be fair, I've only really seen him play for the Kobe-less Lakers under a reluctant Mike D'Antoni. And, it seemed like the Warriors made it known that they would miss his locker room presence when he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Regardless, I think the Hawks will be a top team in the East so long as they are able to stay healthy.
3. Favorite highlight play/moment of last year?
Suk: The endings of two of the Warriors-Thunder games. The first game, Russell Westbrook knocks down a dagger from downtown to go up 1 with 2.3 seconds. But Andre Iguodala came right back and puts in the game winner:
However, Russell Westbrook got his revenge just two weeks later..... (see right below):
Weiner: Russell Westbrook game winner in OT:
I love everything about this play: overtime game between two great teams, Westbrook making a crazy rebound, cameos from Serge Ibaka and a momentarily frustrated Kevin Durant. Then Russ pulls off a ridiculous turnaround three-point jumper at the last possible second for the OT winner. Doesn’t get any better.
Jordan: Just to not seem biased, I was tempted to say Paul George’s 360 Windmill against the Clippers; it was definitely my second favorite highlight of the year. Dude basically pulled off VC’s most exciting Slam Dunk Contest dunk midgame… (without the Biggest Windmill EVER part). Anyways, my vote goes to the ending of the Clippers-Warriors playoff series:
The game was tightly contested the whole time, partly due to some unexpected Warrior heroes including Draymond Green, Jordan Crawford and Maureese Speights. In the closing stages of the fourth quarter, DJ and Blake turned on the jets. My favorite play comes with 2 minutes left in the game (33 seconds into the video) where DJ blocks Curry’s layup, leading to a Blake alley-oop to go up 3 (thrown up by the one and only JJ!!).
Li: Vince Carter's Game 3 buzzer-beater vs. the Spurs:
First of all, VC is a stud. It's the first round of the playoffs with the series tied at a game apiece. At least for a game back in Dallas, the Mavs have got to win against the top-seeded Spurs. Down by 2 with only 1.7 on the clock, Rick Carlisle decides to go with a baseline Vince 3, using Monta as a cutting diversion. My favorite part, besides of course the fall-away knock-down trey after pump faking Ginobili into the air, is the scoreboard giving three points to the Spurs right after the shot. Because somebody was definitely too hyped to do their job right.
Jon: Before answering, let me just say, the first round of the playoffs was as ridiculous and entertaining as a Michael Bay directed movie. It was like the post season picked up right where the Heat and Spurs left off last year. And, it made me miss all the "where amazing happens" commercials. Nonetheless, any highlight announced by Ralph Lawler, the Clippers longtime play-by-play announcer, is my favorite highlight. Just look at all of Blake Griffin's Dunks of the 2013-14 NBA Season. Between the "Biiingoooo's," "Slam Dunks" and (my personal favorite) "the lob, the JAMs," it doesn't get much better than Ralph. But, my favorite moment might be Doc River's celebration after closing the first round series against the Warriors. YEAH (fist pump)! YEAH (fist pump)! YEAH (fist pump)!
4. Wiggins, Jabari, or Embiid?
Suk: Andrew Wiggins. Jabari Parker seems like the safest pick of the trio, as he appears to be capable of becoming an elite scorer. However, he does have work to do on the defensive side of the ball, as he seems to be too slow for small forwards and a bit undersized for power forwards. Joel Embiid is an athletic behemoth capable of dominating on both sides of the ball, but his health issues really frighten me.
But Wiggins is the most athletic of the three, appearing ready to immediately shut down wing players. If and when his offense catches up to his defense, we could be looking at a perennial MVP-caliber player.
Weiner: Since I’m a Chicago guy, I gotta roll with Jabari Parker. Even so, he still feels like the safest bet. Andrew Wiggins certainly has huge potential, but Jabari looks ready to handle the NBA game already. I do think being traded from Cleveland will motivate Wiggins like crazy, which is fun for everyone. As far as Embiid goes, you just have to worry about the injuries. There’s a real solid chance he overcomes them, but I’d rather bet on one of the two healthy wings than a center with an injury history.
Jordan: Really tough, but I’m going Embiid. While I think Jabari will win Rookie of the Year, I think his physical attributes will hold him back a lot, especially on defense. He is already noticeably overweight and lacks the lateral quickness to guard most small forwards, while being too small to guard power forwards. Wiggins and Embiid on the other hand are physical specimens. I can easily see Wiggins having a Paul George-like career path, but the problem is I can also see Embiid being the most dominant center since Shaq. Standing at over seven feet tall, Embiid is gifted with a 7’ 6” wingspan and 9’ 6” standing reach, which will allow him to dominate as a rim protector and rebounder. But Embiid’s potential on offense is what really excites me. In just one year under Calipari, he exhibited post moves reminiscent of Hakeem. Simply put, he is a center with endless potential on both ends of the court. That is why I take Embiid, even if he’s a health risk.
Li: Wiggins. The dude is an athletic freak. In the near future, Jabari is certainly going to look like the better player. Even though Wiggins' offense and focus still have a pretty long way to go, he's easily going to be an All-Star as soon as he learns to establish his presence throughout games. Thanks to the GM known as LeBron James, he'll have plenty of time to develop with the Wolves. Next to his fellow rookie freak Zach LaVine, Wiggins is bound to be churning out highlight plays at both ends for years to come.
Jon: I like all of them. If we're talking about next year, I'm probably most excited to see Jabari because of all the "NBA-ready" hype. I would really like to see Parker come into his own these next few years instead of living up to the expectations people have cast upon him. I think it’s ridiculous for anyone to say he will be better than a superstar player like Carmelo Anthony, and I'm tired of the comparison regardless of the apparent likeness between the two players. In the long run, I'm most excited to see Embiid... It would have been Wiggins if he were still a Cavalier. Seeing LeBron mentor a player like Wiggins would have been epic.
5. Chances Derrick Rose wins another MVP?
Suk: 20% chance. Rose realistically has about 4-5 more of his most elite years ahead of him if he can stay healthy, but he will have to beat out players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, and maybe even Andrew Wiggins in the next few years. He has a long road ahead of him: he will have to work himself back into basketball shape and prove himself to the media who will have their eyes all over him. That being said, the Bulls have a shot at finishing with one of the best records in the league this year, and if Rose can put together one of his finest seasons, his name will definitely be in the MVP discussion.
Weiner: The answer should be 0%. I’m a firm believer that the MVP should be awarded to the best player, regardless of who has the best story. Realistically, Rose never has or will be the number one player in the league. Still, we’ve seen time and time again that a great story matched with a great player on a top team can often beat out a more valuable player (like Rose’s 2010-11 MVP over LeBron and Dwight Howard). Recent Team USA panic aside, if D-Rose can return to All-NBA form and lead Chicago to a #1 seed, he’ll have a real shot at winning another MVP.
Jordan: 10% chance. I don’t think he’ll ever be the best player necessarily, or even the best point guard, but history has shown the award doesn’t necessarily go to the best player. Any of the top players having a good season on a championship contender will be in the running. DRose is on the perfect team to sneak one more in, as I see the Bulls being contenders for the next few years. That being said, I still do not expect another MVP, but I do expect him to finish in the top 3 a few more times barring any major injuries.
Li: I'd give it a 10-15% chance. While he has looked good in his recent Team USA stint, his recent knee troubles are a bit disconcerting for his future MVP hopes.
The award itself tends to go to players whose teams perform extremely well through the entire regular season. Although the Bulls have been patiently awaiting DRose's return, the league has only gotten better since his initial knee injury. All in all, I'm pretty doubtful he'll be in the argument for the best player in the league for the rest of his career. But I'd love to be surprised here because how can you watch DRose and not root for him?
Jon: Rose has a good chance of winning another MVP. Leading your team to the best record in the league or conference is huge when considering the league's MVP. The MVP title should read "Most Valuable Player To Your Team." The Bulls have consistently had one of the best defenses in the league and continue to add the right pieces (Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott, Nikola Miortic, etc.) to their solid core (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler). Boozer is gone, Rose is healthy, and Thibodeau's system finally has a chance of reaching its full potential. Despite the Cavaliers being the favorite to win the east, I'm putting my money on the Bulls having the best record in the East. Why? Defense.