In this conversation, we decide to get away from the arts for a minute and go back to sports while they’re still hot. We draft new teams for every franchise in the NBA, chat about which teams interest us most, take you through the playoffs, and of course decide where LeBron is going. (Here’s the spreadsheet where we did our draft.) What follows is a lightly edited conversation.
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Tim: If you thought to yourself reading some of our other conversations, “I don’t know that I care for all these baseless hypotheticals—I would prefer a more grounded talk,” then this is either the perfect conversation for you or it’s absolutely the wrong one for you.
Matt: Amazing how this one is totally grounded and utter hypothetical. It also goes out to all of the readers wondering “whither the sports?”
Tim: This conversation is all about the NBA, now that the boring part of the NBA season is over and the good part is starting. It also makes the third summer out of four that Matt and I have done a fantasy draft of sorts—we podcasted 1.0 in the summer of 2015 and I strongly suggest you don’t look that up because we said a lot of stupid things that I am ashamed of, we did 2.0 in the spring of 2017, we did 2.1 as a fantasy expansion with new teams for the East and West, and I guess we’ll call this 3.0.
Matt: We’re like operating software now.
Tim: Bleep blorp humanity. So the way we do these drafts is fairly simple. I put all the team names into my handy Randomizer, the lord of all Internet sites. He has been my friend through many dangers. That gives us a baseline for which team will pick where. I also alternate conferences based on who gets the first pick…Golden State got the first pick, which means that even though Orlando got the third in this iteration, Orlando picked second. We also clear the slate for GM-things like salary cap, owed picks, etc. What am I missing?
Matt: Also cleared out the coaches, who we then drafted onto teams at the end. So basically clean slates logistically and stylistically for each team.
Tim: Right right right. We also draft straight up, which is kind of covered like I said before, but it’s also important to note that in this case, Milwaukee had the #1 pick after picking 30th. We also do a snake draft, and we cap rosters at eight vets and a rookie.
Matt: After which we made starting rosters of 1 ballhandler, 3 wings, and 1 big.
Tim: It’s very Brad Stevens of us.
Matt: So some basic parameters in mind for drafting but nothing so rigid as PG, SG, SF, PF, and C.
Tim: A quick look-see at some past fantasy drafts suggests this is the first time we’ve caught up with the modern NBA. It’s kind of a relief, honestly. Anything else we need to mention about the process before we start? Compared to some of the byzantine stuff we’ve done in the past this is blissfully straightforward.
Matt: And yet way more involved than most people would want to do. Nah, I think that about covers the rules and regulations. Theoretically it all leads to parity, which, it kind of did…?
Tim: It does an awful lot! As you’ll see as we talk through some teams in a minute, we’ve discovered that you have to either pick in the top four or five or pick in the early-mid 20s. NBA roster construction means you either need a god at the top (Cleveland) or you can get pretty far with two very good players and a decent bench (Toronto).
Matt: For sure. The key for those early and mid-20s picks, I think, is that you can be a bit more deliberate with fit and style in the second round. Late-20s and 30, there are still a few big names on the board and you sort of take them, which can lead to some interesting pairings. But our sweet spots were definitely there. And, it’s fun to see just how far we think a god-level player can take a team.
Tim: Remember when you picked Steven Adams for Oklahoma City and I said I didn’t know who to pick after that?
Matt: I do. We had quite a few moments like that.
Tim: Any guesses which pick number he was, just offhand?
Tim: 50, exactly. Isn’t that interesting? And it’s not that there weren’t a bunch of good players taken after 50, but on a kind of anecdotal level I really do think that there are those cutoffs of the six or so championship level players, the ten or so people behind them, and then the rest of the people who make a top 50.
What we’ve done in the past is to highlight a few teams that we think are interesting for some reason, either because they have a fun roster construction or they’re going to be absolutely terrible or because they have some kind of promise. I’m going to suggest that we don’t spend too much time on teams who are going to make our playoffs (yes, we did the playoffs), so we should focus on maybe three from each conference who we think are worth giving a shoutout to. You take West, I take East?
Matt: As is tradition. Did we mention I drafted for the West and you did the East? Well that’s what happened if you’re wondering how that worked.
Tim: I never remember to say that part. But yes, that’s the other tradition. Do you want to start or should I?
Matt: I can start with a team that we had a smidgen of discussion about and that I can’t decide if I like or dislike. New Orleans, who ended up with their real-life superstar Anthony Davis, and would finish in about the same place as real life.
Tim: New Orleans picked fifth, which makes them the highest-picking team that we decided probably wouldn’t make the playoffs. I had them in as a fairly low seed, and Matt didn’t have them on his shortlist.
Matt: They’d probably finish 9th or 10th for me. I could see them sneaking into the 7 or 8 after injuries and/or the general weirdness of the season, but I basically managed to build another team where Davis would go nuts every night and there’s some interesting pieces but I’m not sure they fit well enough. Gary Harris and Montrezl Harrell are solid role players, and I’m sort of high on Tony Snell.
Tim: While Matt is chatting about the roster, I do want to note that we don’t actively consider injuries unless the guy already has them (like Kristaps Porzingis does at the moment), but we also have a mental list of guys who miss 15-30 games a year because they’re hurt…Davis and Harris definitely fit the bill. Anyway.
Matt: Yes, good clarification. That was conjecture from me, not a variable in our playoff determinations. So a hypothetical to the hypothetical, if you like (I doubt anyone does).
Eric Bledsoe is here too and I went out on him after watching the Bucks in the playoffs, but he’s definitely good when he’s focused. I’m worried about the shooting holding up on this team. Harris is good, but Bledsoe and Snell can come and go. I don’t know, I think I’m mostly interested in the fact that I sort of built the Pelicans team from 2014-15 when they lost to the Warriors in the first round.
Tim: The Anthony Davis question is really interesting to me, because my contrarian self likes to say that Davis is the ultimate good-stats, bad-team guy. I think a second-round playoff appearance probably nixes even that troll, but it’s a real question. Why’d you pick Gary Harris second?
Matt: I don’t think that of Davis, but if he never gets out of the first round it’s a question he can’t avoid. My basic thought was get Davis a guard who can shoot and handle well enough but doesn’t need to be the focal point. Harris has steadily gotten better every year, and that’s with a guard logjam in Denver, so I’m sort of wondering what he could do away from that.
Tim: He’s a good player, and I have been a big fan of him for a while. I would have thought you might have wanted a more obvious creator, though at that point the point guards were pretty thin. I think the best pure 1s taken after that point were like, Shaun Livingston, George Hill and Darren Collison, with Lou Williams as the combo scorer type.
Matt: I was trying to avoid the “spark plug” type guys, like Williams for that pick. Livingston or Hill would have been an interesting choice there, Collison is a bit too high there I think.
Tim: Collison was probably too high where I took him too, though at that point I was desperate.
Matt: About halfway through the second round I realized guards were getting hard to come by, so a young, improving one seemed like a risk worth taking. Livingston is not Rondo, but drafting him there would have been kind of like Davis having Rondo again.
Tim: Other New Orleans thoughts? I think that’s probably a playoff team with some health and injury luck, but its best two players are not known for that. And it also speaks to how surprisingly difficult it is to build a team around even one of the league’s most talented bigs.
Matt: It’s a decently young team. If a few players keep trending upward, and especially if the old Eric Bledsoe makes an appearance, they could make a bit of noise. Davis is incredible when he’s healthy, I’m mostly sorry I didn’t get him a better team. Or at least one I was sure was good.
Tim: You did get him Jerome Robinson in the draft, who I think might actually turn into a decent backup point guard. That would be very welcome on this squad.
Matt: I like him quite a bit. We do a little bit of future projection with these, I think this New Orleans team is a good team a few years down the road, once Robinson gets his sea-legs and Harris can shift to the 2 spot regularly (I have him there now, but he and Bledsoe would be shifting around I suspect).
Tim: Bledsoe just has to not take possessions away from Davis the way he takes possessions away from Giannis in the real world.
Matt: That’s the key. This team needs the Bledsoe from his late-Clippers, early-Suns run. Who are you interested in out East?
Tim: For me it’s another team that we split on for our playoff projections: the Indiana Pacers. They picked 24th…they start Damian Lillard, Will Barton, Jayson Tatum, John Collins, and Jakob Poeltl, with a bench of Patty Mills, Reggie Bullock, Greg Monroe, and draftee Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Maybe it’s my playoff recency bias (otherwise known as “NBA fandom), but I really think there’s a lot going on with the Lillard-Tatum connection. I think you could also shift Reggie Bullock into the starting lineup and use Will Barton as a microwave scorer off the bench with Greg Monroe in all-offense, no-defense lineups. I’ll grant that this team is definitely weaker on the wing than a modern NBA team should be, but I just think they’re really solid all the way through, and I believe in the projections for Tatum and Gilgeous-Alexander.
Matt: I’m amused that you picked Dame and Tatum. In general, not just for the same team.
Tim: At 25 I feel like Lillard is a really good value. And Tatum…I dunno. Maybe I overrate him because he’s a young Celtics wing and they seem unstoppable and I hate them. You know I picked Tatum before he played any NBA minutes for our expansion team draft?
Matt: I had forgotten. I never thought he would become the scorer he is so quickly.
Tim: The scouting report for years was “midrange, decent athlete” and then he turns out to be a much better athlete and he extended his range immediately. Anyway, that’s why I’m high on this Indiana team. Two end of the shot clock scorers and some secondary playmaker depth.
Matt: Which is sort of what Portland has in real life. Which I guess does mean playoffs but then, well…
Tim: Maybe that’s why I can’t help but like this Indiana…it really does have the similarities to the Blazers.
Matt: I looked at this Indiana team and basically went “it’s fine.” I’m wondering how high I am on Collins, which seems important. And I love Poeltl (god I miss that Utah team) but I’m not pretending he’s a world beater. You mentioned the defense problem, that’s really what I can’t get past.
Tim: There’s not a lot of it, no. I think this team really would have to lean on Tatum and Poeltl to do most of it, and that’s a problem. If you project Gilgeous-Alexander as a switchable guy, which I think he can be, then that’s something, but he’s also a rookie. Yeah, they’d definitely have to win a lot of shootouts, but I think they could probably do that 40-45 times a year.
Matt: They will score, that’s for sure. It’s a team that either wins, like, low-30s or mid-40s, depending on how and when those shoot-outs go. Monroe is going to hit all the midwestern teams at this rate.
Tim: And be unplayable for most of them. Who’s next for you?
Matt: I think Dallas, who is relying on several leaps of faith to be good.
Tim: There’s a shootout team.
Matt: Starting Jamal Murray, Dante Exum, Kelly Oubre Jr., Danilo Gallinari, and Karl Anthony-Towns. Bench of Jerian Grant, Trey Lyles, and Frank Mason…
Tim: Insert all “I’m Frank Mason, bitch” videos here.
Matt: I thought about putting that in parentheses, so absolutely do so.
And with Troy Brown as the rookie pick. So leap of faith #1: Gallinari stays healthy. Which, lol. Leap of faith #2: Murray takes another leap in year 3, which I honestly think could happen. And leap of faith #3: Exum still has something to unlock. I keep thinking he does, but it’s been hard. This is a long team, so we’ll call it my Bucks-lite.
Tim: I rank those, in order of likeliness, #2, #3, the emoluments thing playing out the way libs want it to, Gallo stays healthy.
Matt: Which is the correct order. I think this team would fun to watch, and for the, like, 5 games where they’re all actually healthy surprisingly good with Exum and Gallo as playmakers, K.A.T. doing his thing, and Murray being a good scoring guard. If everything goes right, I think this is a good team. It sort of became a fantasy booking, though. I guess we could even add leap of faith #4: People like Lyles as much as I do. To me he’s a more than solid shooting big to bring off the bench.
Tim: Sorry I left you on hold for a second. I just put a pound cake into the oven.
Matt: Tim getting in touch with his inner Mary Berry.
Tim: I cannot tell you how much my wife would like that if I genuinely got into baking. I like the idea of Lyles becoming a valuable bench big. I am just a little down on it happening. How good a team is this at its ceiling? Is it a 50-win team? Or, maybe a better question, what’s the percentage likelihood that this team becomes a 50-win team in five years? Or hits a ceiling? Or makes three consecutive playoff appearances?
Matt: I like how you said “a” better question and then listed 3.
Tim: Years of an English degree.
Matt: Preach. The likelihood is the problem. At a ceiling, I think it clears 50. At a ceiling and healthy, it does that for years in row (really young team). But I can’t say the chances of all that coming together are high. I like to think that in year two of this fantasy NBA world it magically comes together for them and they drop in the conference finals, or something like that. There’s a good amount of shooting and playmaking on this team. The defense will be the question, and what stops them short most likely, but they could be an average team defense.
Tim: The Karl-Anthony Towns defensive conundrum is so fascinating to me, because that’s the difference between us picking him in the early teens as a project who can score and him being, truly, a top-two option on a championship team. But he’s still such a bad defender, and I am out on 5s who can’t play top-shelf defense.
Matt: I still genuinely believe if he’s in a good team-defense system he can hold up like he needs to. He should absolutely be a top individual defender and just isn’t.
Tim: Not to be Mr. Body Language Reader here, but I think part of it has to be a lack of interest, right? After what, three years in the league?
Matt: Yeah, he clearly cares about the offensive end more. Maybe something clicks as he gets older (still only 22), but one can’t be sure of that. He’s as athletic as nearly anybody, if he can get into the right headspace on defense he could dominate once he hits his peak years….that’s the other thing, he’s still young enough to get better. So we’ll call that leap of faith #5. So yeah, Dallas is my big “what if” team.
Tim: Something about him that I like for your team of all potential is that he is improving year-by-year in his passing, I think. His turnover numbers and assist numbers are both going in the right percentage, and if he becomes a solid playmaker out of the post that’s nice for the number of people you’re projecting to be shooters off a kickout.
Matt: I might be most excited about the playmaking potential of this team, between him, Gallo, and Exum. And Murray will do fine in that regard. All of that with new head coach Steve Nash.
Tim: He’s the only person we picked for a head coaching gig this time out who has not coached in the NBA, and one of two without any NBA head coaching experience. He’s the fun choice for this squad. Want to talk about Cleveland?
Matt: Really interesting collection of personalities, Cleveland. I don’t want to steal any player reveal thunder, but there’s an alternate world where two of these players wreck everyone defensively.
Tim: So this team starts Fred VanVleet, Kent Bazemore, Kawhi Leonard, Aaron Gordon, and Taj Gibson. Austin Rivers, Salah Mejri, and Rudy Gay come off the bench. They also drafted Mitchell Robinson. There is a lot of good on defense for this team. They can absolutely start switching, though that’s probably a waste of everyone but VanVleet. If last season showed us something about Taj Gibson, it’s that the dude still has the mean streak that makes him such a good defender, and so I’ve got him at the 5 just out of pure malice. There are also good lineups that put Gordon at the 5 and take advantage of his athleticism. I worry about a few things with them, though. First of all, I am in the camp of people who is really scared about the fact that Kawhi Leonard played nine games last year, because there is very little precedent for a player just not playing when his own team’s medical staff has cleared him. He may not be the same player again, and he also was only a truly elite option for two years. That’s why he fell to the tenth pick, I assume. After that, there is really not a lot of shooting on this team. I think they could play like the Nets did this year and shoot a whole bunch of threes, but they would also play like the Nets in terms of how many they would clank. Outside of VanVleet and Leonard, there’s no one on this team I trust to consistently shoot from 3. I have them just outside the playoffs in the East for those two reasons. You makin’ cookies?
Matt: I must be the Paul Hollywood to your Mary Berry.
Tim: I thought about this just now and I really don’t know who’s who in this metaphor.
Matt: In my mind Leonard did drop because of the injury. I hope he’ll be fine and the same player, but it’s a bit tough to believe. He missed basically a full season for a quad. I want the lineups where Gordon is at the 5 and Kawhi at the 4. I don’t fully know why I want that, but I do. My biggest worry here besides shooting (and a general confusion about Bazemore) is the bench. A lineup with Rivers and Gay seems exciting for the wrong reasons.
Tim: I made a team here that has four guys who I think probably belong at power forward most of the time, and that’s an issue. There are some smaller lineups (VanVleet-Rivers-Bazemore-Gay-Gordon) that I like the sound of, but there’s just not enough offense on a night-to-night basis, and any game without Kawhi is a loss. Have you heard the stat about how he’s played fewer games than Anthony Davis yet?
Matt: Suddenly New Orleans is in good shape! No, I hadn’t heard that yet.
Tim: The kicker, of course, is that Davis got drafted the year after Leonard. So yeah. There’s a high ceiling for this team (I also got Lloyd Pierce for them because of his defensive coaching bona fides) but they could bottom out real fast.
Matt: To that point, I think this is a team that starts the season strong and then runs out of gas. Especially without another go-to scorer.
Tim: That’s definitely a good expectation. I don’t see a lot of different outcomes for this team…either they’re a mid-seed playoff team who can snuff other teams out, or they miss the playoffs entirely and then draft Cam Reddish or someone. Who’s your third non-playoff team?
Matt: Denver, which is where Tim wanted to move after two rounds.
Tim: You know, I think I could get into hiking and skiing. And it’s just beautiful. And they have Embiid in this scenario.
Matt: I got so excited when I put Embiid and Rubio together from sheer cult of personality, but here’s another team that requires a lot of projection. We know what Embiid can do, and he seems healthy finally!
Tim: I joked when Matt picked him that putting a guy with Embiid’s conditioning in Denver is probably team suicide, but then I sort of figured that making Embiid train and live in Denver is probably the only thing that will get him into game shape, so that’s something.
Matt: Other than him, they’re starting Rubio, Patrick Beverly, Josh Hart, and Al-Farouq Aminu. Bench of Domantas Sabonis, Sterling Brown, Andre Ingram, and rookie Khyri Thomas. There’s a really fun defensive team here. Also a lot of young tweeners. Brown and Ingram are still raw, but could be solid role players. Sabonis and Embiid together makes where this team’s shooting comes from interesting.
Tim: I’m looking at that lineup and there are going to be nights where I think this team struggles to get 85 points.
Matt: Initially yes. I see this team as a grower, one that’s better down the road. It needs better offensive guards, which hopefully Thomas is going to be.
Tim: I don’t know that he projects as much of a playmaker though, does he?
Matt: He’s a good shooter, which is more what I’m interested in here. There’s solid playmaking elsewhere on the team, it needs people to fill the basket. It’s a big ask, for sure, but if this team gets a good scoring guard I think it becomes a playoff team. And Aminu is an unheralded but really solid player to have in a lineup. Does a bit of everything well as a complement.
Tim: Aminu probably went a little early, but he’s a good Swiss army knife guy for this lineup. You know, neither of us drafted Emmanuel Mudiay. He’s on the market!
Matt: I didn’t draft him? I thought I had!
Tim: Dude is still a free agent. (A short list of other undrafted notables: Alex Abrines, Cristiano Felicio, Nene, Joe Johnson, Ron Baker, Jose Calderon, Cedi Osman, Raymond Felton, Trevor Booker, Swaggy P…)
Matt: I thought about Ron Baker for a second, not so much the rest.
Not like Mudiay moves the needle too much, but he’d be good for this team.
Tim: Would definitely net them a higher draft pick. Anything else for Denver?
Matt: I don’t think so. It has a lot of players I like that build a fun team but not a particularly good one just yet. Just realized I highlighted three really young teams, though.
Tim: That’s how I feel about Charlotte, too. Though before I get into this, I think we’ve gotten better at the drafting bit. We have fewer really bad teams than we used to have…they’ve kind of been replaced by young promising teams instead of hopeless ones.
Matt: No Kangz this time around. Our worst teams are ones that could be good in 2 or 3 years. No team is truly hopeless, I don’t think.
Tim: But this Charlotte team is going to lose Giannis. They picked sixth and they’re in the “no true PG” world that we saw a few times earlier. They’re starting Lou Williams, Josh Richardson, TJ Warren, Giannis, and Marcus Morris. The bench is Jonas Valunciunas, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, plus draft pick Josh Okogie. I have managed to add two of the better heat-check scorers to this team where Giannis is going to draw a whole lot of attention. But he is the team’s best offensive and best defensive player, and there’s a reason that Williams and Warren don’t get all the minutes in the world. I just think they’re probably about as good as the Bucks now but without the promise that the team’s younger guys have. I am a big Josh Richardson fan, and Marcus Morris is proving his value within a system, but that is a low-ceiling team that I wasn’t even sure how to draft for after I picked Giannis, Richardson, and Lou Will. What do you think? I know they weren’t on your playoff shortlist either.
Matt: Real life Bucks feels like a good comp. Though this team doesn’t necessarily have a Middleton.
Tim: The best version of Josh Richardson has a lot of Middleton in him, but he’s not there yet.
Matt: I’m not sure he gets there, but that’s the hope. Warren/Giannis is an interesting defensive 1-2. Valunciunas went pretty late, which I’m sort of surprised by.
Tim: I do think Warren’s game is more or less set. I’m not surprised by Valunciunas, because he is unplayable in the playoffs. I actually think on this team he gets a fair bit of regular season minutes. There’s something to be said for Giannis-Richardson-Warren-Morris-Valunciunas, which may actually be a better lineup than the starting bit. Maybe throw in Ellington for Warren and the lineup has enough shooting to hang.
Matt: It’s another team I could see sneaking to the 7 or 8, but not really any higher just yet.
Tim: Which is a shame, and why I doubt very much that Giannis is going to stay in Charlotte. The more things change. Playoffs?
Matt: Oui. Now that we’ve covered several fringe(ish) teams.
Tim: So I figure the best way to do this is to do like, a playoff matchup preview and try to be fairly succinct (which is a relative term for us). Doing that means we’d lead off with Houston (#3 pick), the one-seed in the West, against Utah (#17) in the eight. Houston’s starting five is James Harden, Andre Roberson, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, and Andre Drummond. Cory Joseph, JJ Barea, and Thabo Sefolosha are in reserve, with Aaron Holiday from the draft.
Matt: Utah leads with Elie Okobo (rookie), Victor Oladipo, Danny Green, Patrick Patterson, and DeAndre Jordan. Lucas Noguiera, Tyus Jones, Trey Burke, and Frank Nitilikina on the bench.
Tim: So first off, how many games does it take Houston to win this? Five? Six?
Matt: Five, probably. Oladipo goes nuts one game and Jordan manages to make free throws.
Tim: In my head, Utah has the second- and third-best players, so on second glance I almost want to say Houston in 6 or 7. What I like about Houston in this scenario is that it’s basically the exact same thing as they have now, but nobody shoots quite as well. Still, that’s a switchable lineup and Andre Drummond is a not a bad replacement for Clint Capela.
Matt: Given Drummond’s obsession with rebounding, he might average 20. Though probably not because Jordan will have something to say about that.
Tim: That’s old school. Almost hilariously old school. But Harden-Drummond is probably more desirable than Oladipo-Jordan, right?
Matt: By virtue of one of them being James Harden, I think yes. I really like Oladipo, but Drummond and Jordan aren’t dissimilar enough to really shake that up. Roberson will probably fare better on Oladipo than Green will on Harden (or Oladipo on Harden, but that’s asking him to do a lot on both ends).
Tim: That’s a very good point. Danny Green is dangerously close to washed, just from the eye test.
Matt: There’s still something there, but he’s not on the correct side of the curve. Covington and Grant will outlast Nogueira and Patterson.
Tim: Roberson, Covington, and Grant is an unfair set of wings from a defensive point of view. But the fact that Cov is the best shooter of the bunch is also a problem. There’s a lot of time I’d want to give to a Harden-Joseph-Roberson-Covington-Grant lineup, even if that means I were hemorrhaging boards. Jordan wouldn’t be able to keep up Grant if he’s the 5.
Matt: He wouldn’t. I’m trying to figure out the best time to use that lineup, especially if it’s a cold shooting night. Utah is a tough, fairly veteran team, but Harden got a heck of a defensive team and still a good rim-runner/rebounder. Not as tough to hide Harden on defense with this team.
Tim: The team construction is fairly similar for these, down to your addiction to undersized bench guards. I like the idea of Frankie Smokes playing minutes in this, though my ears ring with the number of clanging off the rim. Cold shooting nights matter for this series. More to say?
Matt: I like smaller guards when they don’t have to play 35 or 40 a night. Great change of pace and habits, usually. Not really. If the shooting is cold most of the series Utah will be a real problem, but I still think Houston takes it.
Tim: Phoenix is the 4-seed in the West (#27). They start a guard-heavy lineup featuring Kemba Walker, JJ Redick, Tomas Satoransky, Paul Millsap, and draft pick Mo Bamba. They sub in Derrick Favors, Jonathan Isaac, Corey Brewer and Yogi Ferrell. They play against a team that is doing surprisingly well in this mock/fantasy draft: Sacramento! It’s nuts! They picked fifteenth for the second time in one of our drafts! And they’re still here!
Matt: I’m just so glad Sacramento finally turned out decent. They start Mike Conley, Marcus Smart, C.J. Miles, Paul George, and Thon Maker. Dirk Nowitzki, Wade Baldwin IV, Ivica Zubac, and rookie pick Robert Williams comprise the bench.
Tim: Okay, before we do anything else, I think Rick Carlisle totally changes that Phoenix starting lineup. (Because Rick Carlisle is the coach of this team, not because he’s like, reading this.)
Matt: Maybe he is reading! What change(s) do you see?
Tim: I bench Satoransky and Bamba in favor of, I dunno, Brewer and Favors. I think Bamba’s going to be a pretty raw performer, and I like Satoransky as a distributor off the bench more than I like him at the 3.
Matt: He’d definitely start Favors over Bamba. I like Satoransky as someone to take some load off Kemba. In general I like the idea of Satoransky and Millsap together. It’s probably a starting lineup that doesn’t actually play together all that long but gets things started.
Tim: That makes more sense to me. Either way we think Sacramento, somehow, wins this series.
Matt: Kings! Finally!
Tim: It’s based entirely on my belief that Mike Conley and Paul George are a smart as heck pairing that basically does all the offense, and Marcus Smart is either a free safety or a linebacker. They just don’t have a bench that I think they can rely on very much.
Matt: Marcus Smart becomes the Tony Allen figure. You make him the bulldog. I love that I got those three together. C.J. Miles is a known quantity, and a solid one. I still think Maker has exciting potential, especially if that shot is consistent.
Tim: Oh, Miles has to be huge in this series, like, huge in his role as opposed to taking over games. The starters for the Kings need to play big to win, because Phoenix really has some good depth and they have a lot of shooting.
Matt: The Sacramento bench has a lot of hopeful reaches on it, but if one or two hits then we’re talking. Wade Baldwin hasn’t had enough time, but he’s shown some flashes. Dirk gets a limited minutes role where he basically comes in to keep the offense running (and in a change of style). Zubac and Williams are basically adding to the “which big is on tonight” game.
Tim: Number one, Dirk in Sacramento is hilarious.
Matt: Sacramento drafted Jason Williams two spots before Dirk.
Tim: Dirk “Weiße Schokolade” Nowitzki.
Number two, I like the idea that Robert Williams might be able to play soon. Maybe not a super smart player, but he does have the Clint Capela starter pack going. He’s different from Thon for sure.
Matt: That nickname needs to stick. Yeah, this team can give a bunch of different looks depending on which bigs are in the game. That doesn’t mean they steamroll, but variety can matter.
Tim: Next matchup while we wait for the riots to subside in Sacto. The Portland Trail Blazers picked twenty-third, pick up Collin Sexton in the draft and start him, and plug him in with Dwyane Wade, Gordon Hayward, Kevin Love, and Serge Ibaka. The rest are Zach LaVine, DeMarre Carroll, Matthew Dellavedova, and Spencer Dinwiddie.
Matt: Picking at #29, the Los Angeles Clippers, starting Kyle Lowry, Jeremy Lamb, Luka Doncic, Blake Griffin, and Nerlens Noel. Bench has Larry Nance Jr., Tyler Johnson, Justin Holiday, and Lance Stephenson.
So both teams starting their rookie.
Tim: And the Clippers almost certainly have the better rookie.
Matt: I like what this Clippers team has going on, but it’s not enough. They absolutely have the better rookie, but Portland won’t have to bank on theirs as much.
Tim: I think Portland has the best top to bottom roster in this draft. They have so much depth. Honestly, even though I think the Lowry-Luka-Blake combination is fascinating, there’s just not an obvious weakness. Dinwiddie would start on those point guard-starved teams we mentioned earlier on. LaVine probably would too. Carroll is more than adequate for the bench. And you put Matthew “White Privilege” Dellavedova in, and that’s good to chase Kyle Lowry around for ten minutes. (I tweeted that when he made that bonkers falling-over shot in the Finals a few years ago, and that was one of my most popular tweets.)
Matt: I strongly dislike Dellavedova, but he basically gets the same role here as he has on the Bucks which he’s pretty good at. He’ll shoot a little and be an absolute pest on defense (that’s not a metaphor, like actually a pest). I keep wondering if I can trust Lowry to hold up in the playoffs.
Tim: And if Blake can hold up for sixty games.
Matt: That too. If Lowry, Doncic, and Blake are all playing (well), there are a lot of possible combinations for that team.
Tim: They have playmaking for days from multiple positions. There are a lot of open shots to be had if all three of them are working, and they’ve got Pop coaching them, yeah?
Matt: Yes they do. I love that Pop gets Doncic.
Tim: That’s not nothin’. But we still have them getting bounced in the first round. Think that goes to seven games?
Matt: Assuming the no one on the Clippers is imploding, yes. There’s a non-zero chance they win the thing, but that Portland team is strong and savvy.
Tim: Playoffs Wade is a real thing. And Gordon Hayward has been gone long enough that I think people have forgotten how good he is to some extent…like, everyone’s very big on Brown and Tatum now, but Hayward is obviously the best wing Boston has.
Matt: I love Hayward. And all those guards can allow Wade to rest during the regular season before he locks-in for the playoffs.
Tim: My one thing about Portland is Kevin Love, who we’ve seen teams (i.e., Golden State) exploit in the playoffs to no end. I also don’t know if he’s easy to hide with Portland’s lineup, which is fine defensively but not exceptional, especially if you’re playing Sexton a lot of minutes.
Matt: If he’s shooting well, sure. But he doesn’t have to, which was deliberate. Love won’t be super easy to hide, but there’s better defense around him here than he’s had recently, I think.
Tim: Oh, undoubtedly. Last first-round series in the West?
Matt: My team did it!
Tim: So while Matt’s Lakers have made their way to the 7-seed, Golden State picked first overall, I know, I know, and they have LeBron.
Matt: So close!
Tim: I mean, like, lol. Of course Golden State got the first pick. After Bron, they start Dejounte Murray, Buddy Hield, Joe Ingles, James, and Tristan Thompson. Jordan Bell, Davis Bertans, Carmelo Anthony, and rookie Jalen Brunson round out the bench. Melo was picked in the eighth round.
Matt: After picking 19th, Lakers start Goran Dragic, Malcolm Brogdon, Miles Bridges, Nikola Mirotic, and Nikola Jokic.
Tim: Some behind the curtain stuff…Matt picked Jokic, Dragic, and Mirotic with his first three picks. When he picked Brogdon I was crushed that he didn’t like, ride the Eurotrain all the way through. Haven’t been that many itches all together since before the chickenpox vaccine.
Matt: It really should be all non-American players. Alas, the bench is very American: Nic Batum, Joe Harris, Willie Cauley-Stein, and De’Aaron Fox.
Tim: The fact that Jordan Bell lasted until the fourth round is nuts. He’s huge for Golden State in this iteration, which doesn’t have a player like him otherwise.
Matt: And I’m so excited for the minutes he and LeBron share.
Tim: I’m excited that the model for LeBron has remained the same in this model, though the shooting is probably a little more reliable this time? Dejounte Murray isn’t exactly a classic LeBron point guard, but he is a really interesting player.
Matt: He’s not, but I like him better for LeBron in theory.
Tim: WE DIDN’T DRAFT BOBAN. Sorry, I realize that’s not germane, but we didn’t draft Boban.
Matt: Boban get own team. 7 Boban clones.
Tim: Boban Seek Franchise. Boban Move Seattle. Sorry. Anyway.
Matt: In the extended universe of this fantasy draft, Boban definitely goes to the Seattle expansion team.
Tim: (Narrator voice: He did. Matt picked him for that team last summer.)
Matt: (I can’t say I was sure of that, but I thought I had.)
We just watched LeBron drag a trash team to the finals. I figure similar formula, more reliable shooters, younger legs, a point who can run the offense a bit, keep Thompson there because LeBron likes him, and let Bell become the Draymond figure he’s meant to be.
Tim: All that being said, we think the Warriors win in…five? Six?
Matt: Six for the sake of my heart, but five isn’t unlikely.
Tim: So I was going to let you pick Nikola Jokic at any point before the second round, and it’s because for as incredible as he is offensively there is no one, not even the crazy Jokic stans on Reddit, who are going to step up for his defense. You’ve definitely tried to fill in the defense with role players, yeah?
Matt: There was a second I thought about just making a team that would score 150 and see what happened, but yes I tried to get some good defenders around him. There’s no one incredible, but Brogdon and Bridges are solid (and can switch around), Fox and Cauley-Stein more or less exist for defense, and Batum is still solid.
Tim: Picking Mirotic is something I wish I’d done for a few teams, mostly because I think that Mirotic with someone holding down the post (Brow) is a really dangerous player and a great value that low.
Matt: Jokic and Mirotic together seems so interesting to me because it’d be weird to plan for defensively. Defense definitely vulnerable, but it’s a unique pairing. And Dragic is still crafty, him and Jokic together also seems fun. I think this Lakers team has a odd amount of balance but isn’t great. I’m real big on Bridges, but it’s a team that needs another good guard to make something happen.
Tim: There are a bunch of super crafty folks on that team, and I heard a comparison of Miles Bridges to Justin Anderson and now I’m terrified of him.
Matt: I don’t see that happening to Bridges at all. Maybe I’m just hopeful, but I’d never even thought of those two together.
Tim: I hadn’t either! But now I’m really scared.
Matt: Anderson wants to play differently than Bridges wants to play. I think that’ll be key even if physically they’re similar. I don’t know that Bridges hits star level, but I genuinely believe his floor is pretty high. Now that you mention Anderson, just realized two UVA guys are on the Lakers. Which is like half the ones in the NBA?
Tim: In real life?
Matt: No, in this. Brogdon and Harris.
Tim: Oh, yeah. Forgot about Harris. Another reason for me to dislike the Lakers.
Matt: Womp womp. But Brogdon is so chill!
Tim: Go Hokies. Do you want to go East or finish the West? (I think what I’m about to say is funny: this is the plot of Heaven’s Gate.)
Matt: Soon we shall graduate. (I’m riffing off the other Heaven’s Gate)
Tim: I haven’t talked about movies in a long time for me, so two things. First off, Heaven’s Gate is a magnificent movie, and second, I just rewatched The Searchers and when I redo my top 100 American movies list, I’m moving it up.
Matt: I think we need to save the Kings cliffhanger.
Tim: So the Kings get blown up by the Rockets in this iteration, and I think it takes way less time. Andre Drummond is weirdly valuable in these playoffs.
Matt: So much for saving the cliffhanger.
Tim: What’s the matchup that matters to you in this series? Is it Roberson-George for you too?
Matt: Are we sure Roberson doesn’t get Conley duty?
Tim: No, that’s probably right. I keep thinking of Covington playing down instead of up, but he should probably have George.
Matt: George is set up as the 4 on the Kings, so him vs. Covington makes sense and would be interesting.
Tim: Gimme the deflections. Gimme em.
Matt: But Roberson-Conley would be too. Maker-Drummond just sounds entertaining, but that’s not the key. It might be Roberson-Conley for me though, because if Conley gets shut down that’s bad news. George will makes some stuff happen anyway, but he can’t be alone.
Tim: I want to wish a fond farewell to the Conley-George pairing, which is a great one that will never happen.
Matt: It might be the most “me” pairing I could have made. Also, man do I want Smart-Harden.
Tim: We’re not making the wrong choice, are we? (We’re not, but I’m really second-guessing myself.) I just think it’s so hard to predict what this team full of ~30% from 3 wings will do. Like, most likely it’s gotta be Harden, but that could really doom them early even though we think they’ll get through.
Matt: I really like this Kings team. Cory Joseph might be the X-factor. Neither team has a particularly great bench, but Joseph can be good in relief.
Tim: I just think their bigs are not good enough for this. The thought of rim protection from Thon Maker and Weiße Schokolade against James Harden is just ridiculous.
Matt: My idea is that Makers plays, like, 20-25 a game. He’s a spring that can be effective defensively in bursts. If the Sacramento bigs figure it out during the regular season, they could take this. If they’re still unreliable, they probably fall.
Tim: Golden State against Portland. Who is the MVP of this series?
Matt: First, everyone right now is thinking “really, it’ll be GSW and Houston anyway?”
Tim: Hee. The dream of Arvydas Sabonis is alive in Portland!
Matt: I mean, LeBron is probably the actual MVP of the series.
Tim: This is always true. I almost want to say Wade for the lols.
Matt: I was actually thinking his play will be the key. There isn’t an obvious option to guard him which could get him going.
Tim: I am still haunted by how good he was in that series against Philadelphia this year. He just didn’t miss. And you’re right…like, you’re not going to put Hield on him. Murray has to go there, and Wade can still make life difficult. What if Dwyane Wade were the most important player in a playoff series in 2019?
Matt: Against LeBron, no less. Ingles might be assigned to Wade occasionally, but yeah, Wade could easily get cookin’ in this sucker.
Tim: The Ingles-Hayward friendship is gonna get stretched here. This is a weirdly compelling series just from a personal perspective.
Matt: Thompson-Love has to have some bad blood. And I’m guessing Ibaka hates LeBron.
Tim: LeBron doesn’t even know who Serge Ibaka is. But we think something very interesting is going to happen in this series: Portland in 7. (Seven, right? There’s no way LeBron loses to Hayward and Love in less time.)
Matt: In 7 is right. It feels like Portland can pull a death-by-guard sort of thing that GSW won’t match. Thompson might have to cede even more time to Bell here. Honestly Portland feels more versatile. LeBron is LeBron, which matters a lot, but Portland winning isn’t outrageous.
Tim: I mean, it is a little, but we have reasons to believe in it. Which means we have a Houston-Portland Western Conference final, and that’s where the sub-35% three point shooting probably bites the Rockets in the butt.
Matt: I believe in Portland as an incredibly steady, consistent team. They’re going to take those off shooting nights.
Tim: You can’t wait for Wade and Hayward to start missing shots. Love will, Ibaka will, whatever, but both of them draw Drummond out of the paint and all of a sudden it is so hard to play him at all. This one really feels like a slam dunk for Portland.
Matt: Houston will still get a night or two where they shoot well. Love can still score inside even if he’s missing outside (and his passing is a bit underrated here). I feel good about Portland here.
Tim: One of the worst things that ever happened to Kevin Love as a player was making him into purely a spot-up shooter when there are so many other skills the guy has.
Matt: He’s so talented offensively. Give him some playmaking time and he’ll oblige. My biggest question for this series is how many people Delly whacks in the nuts.
Tim: So Love may be the MVP of the Western Conference Finals and Matthew Dellavedova will be super competitive but definitely not a cheapskate or awful because he’s white. Whatever. Go Portland.
Matt: People will still find a way to yell about Draymond too. I’d like to point out that all 5 teams in the Pacific division made the playoffs. Then two from the Northwest (Portland, Utah) and one from the Southwest (Houston).
Tim: Can we chat just so briefly about how San Antonio got knocked out of the playoffs for the first time in forever?
Matt: They don’t have Pop! It’s also a really weird team.
Tim: I like most of the pieces. Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Myles Turner, the other Morris twin, Delon Wright, Jacob Evans. I am a big Jacob Evans fan. I think I’m assuming Paul goes down for twenty games and that’s enough to total their playoff hopes.
Matt: Same, really. Everyone on that team has a definite role, and Paul can conduct with the best of them. Doesn’t feel like the team has enough juice, for some reason.
Tim: The only creator on the floor most of the time is Chris Paul…to me that’s the big issue. In any event, Eastern Conference?
Matt: Eastern Conference. Where the Kings make the playoffs again!
Tim: …where did they use to play? Buffalo? Syracuse?
Matt: Rochester initially. So really close.
Tim: I don’t know why I’m so out on upstate New York right now, but I know I don’t care.
Matt: They had a cup of coffee in Cincinnati and Kansas City too (these two I had to look up).
Tim: So we lead off with the one-seed, Orlando, who bring half the Warriors to the Magic Kingdom: #2 overall pick Kevin Durant comes with Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, D’Angelo Russell, and Kelly Olynyk. The bench is Doug McDermott, Ed Davis, Cody Zeller, and the rookie Grayson Allen, who is getting mocked time after time to Golden State, so it makes a sort of cosmic sense. They meet Brooklyn, which picked sixteenth, and it’s some kind of weird, Welcome back to the playoffs series.
Matt: Nets start Ben Simmons, Terry Rozier, Wes Matthews, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle. Bench holds E’Twaun Moore, Enes Kanter, Jeff Green, and rookie Lonnie Walker.
You were drawing from my Lakers sympathies here, apparently.
Tim: This Brooklyn team is one that I’m not sure would make the playoffs in real life. Like, we both had Brooklyn in mind, but this is a team which is so reliant on a lot of young guys continuing to get a lot better. To me this is essentially a bet on Simmons and Ingram, together again, and thinking that Julius Randle at the end of this season might be closer to the real guy instead of the other dude who was a lump of whatever.
Matt: I think Randle needs a good coach and a couple players in front of him on the pecking order, which he gets here. Late season Randle doesn’t feel like a mirage to me. This team will be real good in a couple years if Simmons and Ingram keep developing and with Rozier and Randle also being young and adding skills along the way. The fun thing is your playmakers are all at least 6’9” (Simmons, Randle, Ingram).
Tim: This is an absurd team in terms of length and size, and I like that in the playoffs you can play Rozier a little more sparingly and throw, I dunno, Jeff Green out there if you want to just get a huge lineup out there.
Matt: Jeff Green, always there. How washed is Matthews?
Tim: Probably in the same spectrum as Danny Green.
Matt: That crushes me. I’m still sad he got hurt that badly.
Tim: The fact that Wesley Matthews, of all people, can’t come all the way back from his Achilles injury means that we should all be petrified of paying Boogie Cousins anything.
Matt: If this were the Portland edition of Matthews this team would be scary (he also wouldn’t have dropped to the fourth round, but for the sake of the hypothetical).
Tim: I also think that even a sort of creaky Iguodala is a bad matchup for Ben Simmons. That’s the second reason I think Orlando comes out on top in this series, aside from the more prosaic reason that Kevin Durant is on Orlando.
Matt: Yeahhhh, Durant is going to eat in this series. Iggy will keep Simmons on the outside, which will end poorly for Brooklyn. It’s a fun Brooklyn team, but not ready yet.
Tim: I believe in Brandon Ingram to do some stuff from the wing. Unfortunately for Brooklyn I think either Kelly Olynyk is trying to break his arms or Durant has him straight up, and that’s just not a great way for Brooklyn to deal. I think Brooklyn in this iteration can win a series, but they just ran into a terrible matchup.
Matt: Could even put Livingston on Ingram a bit (they’re both slight), so he’s going to have a bunch of different dudes in his face.
Tim: Livingston was so valuable in that Houston series on defense…he just got as close as he could to Harden and breathed all of his oxygen. Next series?
Tim: So we have the 4-seed Atlanta Hawks, who picked eighth and got Russell Westbrook for their troubles. He’s joined in the starting lineup by Eric Gordon, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kyle Kuzma, and Brook Lopez. The bench is Avery Bradley, Luke Kennard, Wilson Chandler, and rookie Chandler Hutchison, who probably needs to play some valuable wing minutes for this team to succeed/
Matt: And the 5-seed Boston Celtics (boo) who, with the 12th pick, nabbed Kyrie Irving to start with rookie Kevin Huerter, Andrew Wiggins, Justise Winslow, and Clint Capela. On the bench they have Jordan Clarkson, Pat McCaw, Jusuf Nurkic, and Aron Baynes.
Tim: I was horrified, just to start with, at how good I accidentally made the Celtics. Horrified. Is this the closest series we came up with?
Matt: Of the first round you mean?
Tim: I might even say overall, though I know you’ve got another one in mind.
Matt: I do. Of the first round it probably is. Phoenix-Sacramento would be good, but not this even.
Tim: Okay, that’s definitely not the one I had in mind.
Matt: I have one in mind that’s later on. Regardless.
Tim: I want to talk about Russell Westbrook roster construction, and here’s the thing: Russell Westbrook needs people who can shoot. I decided I don’t care if the Hawks give up 149 points, because they can score 150. If Westbrook actually gets to do the thing that everyone wants him to do, which is go nuts 82 times a year and hope his teammates sink shots, I think giving him Gordon, Bogdanovic, and Kuzma is a heck of a start.
Matt: All my Lakers went out East. Lopez can shoot a bit too!
Tim: Oh, I know. I was like, “Centers who can shoot…” It was a good time! What’s your Boston take?
Matt: I hate you for getting Irving and Capela together. And that I’m real leery about Winslow and Wiggins on the same team.
Tim: It was there, and I shouldn’t have done it, but I wanted to be fair.
Matt: No, it was the right move. I still hate it.
Tim: Okay, so Andrew Wiggins went…eighth in 2015 when we did this. Eighth! He went in the third round here, mostly because I figured the talent matters and the Celtics needed a wing. Adding Justise Winslow is the problem as a non-Celtics fan, because he adds serious defensive toughness and I do think he’ll be a 35% shooter from 3.
Matt: If he and Huerter are canning threes this is a dangerous team.
Tim: I think Kevin Huerter is a fairly safe pick. I also think trusting a rookie this much is dangerous, but heck, we put Collin Sexton in the Finals. And if he doesn’t work out, Pat McCaw has some juice still. What gets me about this Boston team is that I think they have the best big man rotation of any team in the NBA now.
Matt: Thems strong words.
Tim: I like Capela. I think Nurkic is a totally different kind of big, and he is a monster in the regular season. And Aron Baynes is valuable for the playoffs, too, and he’s a mess for opposing team. And he can hit corner 3s. That’s a tough combo for other teams to deal with. And this Hawks team does not have an answer for them.
Matt: That’s true, the Hawks team doesn’t have an answer. I’m not sold on those three all seamlessly coming together. Also, Baynes is shooting like 15% from three.
Tim: Yeah, well, tell the Sixers that. Probably not seamless, but it does give Boston a way to play different styles with their bigs, which most teams have trouble with just generally.
Matt: I’m just not willing to go best collection of bigs. I agree big mismatch for this Atlanta team.
Tim: And I think that’s why I decided to say Boston should take Atlanta in this series, even without homecourt.
Matt: Blargh. It’s true, they’d win. Pour one out for Russ and his cavalcade of shooters.
Tim: And you know what, it doesn’t matter how good everyone else is at shooting, because Russ shoots at like, 32% from 3 and he’s going to shoot when he smells danger, which is always.
Matt: Maybe we should put Boban on Atlanta and just have him throw Russ at the basket.
Tim: I need that in real life. Poor pouty Russ. Moving along?
Matt: Tim’s team did it!
Tim: So our sixth-seed is the Philadelphia 76ers, so I’ll do that while Matt starts writing up the third-seed, which is for my money a bizarre team. TJ McConnell is still here, but he’s joined by nineteenth overall pick Klay Thompson, Jaylen Brown, Taurean Prince, and Jarrett Allen. Their bench friends are Seth Curry, Kevon Looney, Nikola Vucevic, and (cringe) Michael Porter, Jr.
Matt: Chicago nets Steph Curry at 4, starting him with Tobias Harris, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Dario Saric, and Dwight Howard. On the bench they have Alec Burks, Tim Hardaway Jr., Brandon Paul, and rookie Dzanan Musa.
Tim: So I really believe in the defense of my wing players, who I drafted 1-2-3, but I think Matt is a little skeptical.
Matt: Brown and Prince don’t inspire me to the same degree.
Tim: I am a huge Taurean Prince believer…I think he is going to be the real deal for the Hawks in a couple years. Good defender, shooting well from all over the floor.
Matt: I hope he is.
Tim: But that was my basic strategy for this team. I’ll take fairly young, stretchy, and long, plus, in Brown and Allen’s cases, huge athletes.
Matt: The Bucks’ strategy. Will Brown be good without Stevens? That’s a little rude, but so much of his talent feels tied to where he is.
Tim: No, that’s a very good question, and if Stevens is the reason can shoot threes now, then yes. But if he’s still able to shoot 38 or 39% and play defense, then I’ll take him. Where Stevens is the difference is probably in his playmaking, which is still nascent, but I’m okay with him being the third best creator in the starting lineup. He’s there to shoot when Klay and Prince are covered and to cover the best guy on the other team.
Matt: I’m fascinated by the benches in this series. They’re weird.
Tim: I dunno how I ended up with this many bigs, though I think Looney isn’t so bad for twelve minutes a game. Vucevic is there to be a regular season minutes-filler. The Bulls bench…man, eventually my strategy was just that they would gun all the time.
Matt: They have to with Burks and Hardaway as reserves.
Tim: I want to emphasize that was not my original strategy…it just sort of happened.
Matt: Not at all. I’m still interested in this team. The benches just stand out to me because they become important in later rounds. I like that Chicago can throw Rondae, Harris, and Saric at Philly’s team.
Tim: I think Dario probably gets eaten up a little bit by those wings, and Rondae still can’t shoot.
Matt: He can’t, but defensively he has a big role here. Saric feels like a nice odd matchup to keep things interesting.
Tim: Saric is a good fit for this team because he brings a lot of point forward skills to the game, and Steph really shouldn’t be made to create all the time. Taking him out would put way more pressure on Curry, and I genuinely think he’s got more going on there than either Burks or Hardaway.
Matt: Letting someone else handle allows Steph to find those catch-and-shoots. And those are deadly.
Tim: To me the reason the Bulls win this series is just Steph Curry, who warps defenses like no other player in NBA history. I think this SIxers team is good enough to win it, but I don’t believe in their shooting just enough to give Chicago the edge. Even though I still think they are just the weirdest team that could possibly exist. Just totally funky. The best lineup they have is probably Hollis-Jefferson at the 5, with Saric at the 4, Paul and Harris doing wing stuff, and Curry playing the Steph.
Matt: It’d be fun watching for those Steph and Thompson heat-check quarters when they’re against each other.
Tim: I’m curious to know what else Klay Thompson would do, or be forced to do, if he were the top option on a team. I know this isn’t a new idea, but I am definitely curious to see if he flashes some different chops. The gravity would carry over to another non-Warriors team, though.
Matt: He plays off-ball so well and I can’t picture him being an on-ball number 1 option. I don’t mean that as he couldn’t do it, but that I can’t actually picture it.
Tim: No, that would definitely require the kind of imagination I don’t have. I just know he catches and shoots like no one else. Next up?
Matt: Now we have two real life playoff teams in absolute stasis.
Tim: I didn’t even think about this before you said it. This just happened.
Matt: Someone has to win here. We have the 2-seed Toronto Raptors against the 7-seed Washington Wizards.
Matt: Now we’re going for the trending.
Toronto had the 22nd pick, where they, to my heart’s delight, chose Rudy Gobert. Joining the Stifle Tower are Reggie Jackson, Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes and rookie Marvin Bagley. On the bench they have Rodney Hood, Bam Adebayo, Ish Smith, and DeAndre Bembry.
Tim: And Washington picked twentieth. They grabbed Donovan Mitchell first, who starts alongside Lonzo Ball, the recently drafted Mikal Bridges, Evan Fournier, and Marc Gasol. The bench is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jonathon Simmons, Pascal Siakam, and Treveon Graham.
Matt, both these teams are probably here with significant rookie contributions, and Bridges is probably going to be more valuable to his team than Bagley, though Bagley is expected to rack up stats in a major way. Which one is more important in this series?
Matt: Probably Bridges still. Toronto can do a lot of things besides feed Bagley, whereas Bridges feels like he’d become integral to Washington.
Tim: While Matt is doing actual analysis, I just want to mention that neither one of us appears to have much faith in Bagley or Porter. I took Porter at 12 for the Sixers because I figured at that point, why not, even though he’s about as broken as Markelle Fultz’s jumper. Similarly, Bagley fell way further in our draft than he would in real life.
Matt: Porter is broken and Bagley has huge potential but is raw in terms of technique. I think Bagley could have bigger games that fetch a pithier headline or narrative, but Washington needs Bridges operating at a certain level consistently.
Tim: And we’ve basically decided that even with a strong performance from Bridges, the Wiz fall to the Drakes in the first round. See, I was not super bullish on Washington making it in, though I get the appeal of the unusual parts of the roster. I like Mitchell and think he’ll get better, and I also think that he needs a defender as good as Gasol behind him to clean up some messes like Gobert does for him in real life. I am way less sure about the contributions of Lonzo Ball and even Evan Fournier, who looks like he had that one good contract season and is now sort of a waste of space.
Matt: I struggled with what to do with Fournier, I’m glad you drafted him. Man, if Lonzo could shoot. I love the idea of Lonzo and Gasol together. Oh the passing.
Tim: I think that’s sort of the problem with this team, though, is that having Mikal Bridges means two and a half people can shoot. There’s not a single wing on this team short of Bridges I’d trust to make a three. The defense would be very good, but the shooting…eh. And Mitchell ain’t Harden yet.
Matt: Lonzo got better as the season went. He also got hurt, but he got better. Pulled the 3% up to 30ish, which isn’t good but is way better than where he started. Kidd-Gilchrist loves him some defense. Washington strikes me as a team with a bit of an odd style that won’t win this but will be annoying.
Tim: They have the issue which a lot of the teams we’ve talked about have, which is that one of their best players is a big, and that means when they play Rudy Gobert they put themselves in a hole no matter what they choose. (This is assuming that Gobert doesn’t escape to Montreal.)
Matt: When we do the Montreal expansion team…
The matchup forged in my soul is absolutely Gobert-Gasol.
Tim: Wow, it’s like talking to Zach Lowe.
Matt: That’s a hell of a compliment. But seriously, I’ve long been enamored of both these guys. Watching them square off in a playoff series sounds delightful. If only Tony Allen were around and playable.
Tim: The strength of this Toronto team is probably, and this sounds a little goofy, two guards who can handle and pass in Reggie Jackson and Bradley Beal. Gobert is a Defensive Player of the Year mainstay, as we all know, but those two ensure that the offense doesn’t have to go through him for anything more than a lob here and there. And even if the wings aren’t super inspiring, as Barnes and Hood definitely aren’t, they are definitely competent.
Matt: Heck, Barnes and Bagley would even take some offensive pressure of Gobert. Competent is a good word. This is a remarkably competent team (and then some) which matters when the stakes get high.
Tim: So the short version is: interesting series, short series. Going back to the top, Orlando would then match up with Boston.
Matt: Party like it’s 2010.
Tim: Put the Hedo back in hedonism. Remind me why we picked Boston for this one? Is it the bigs thing again?
Matt: The Randomizer.
Tim: Oh, right. But we got to that point for some reason.
Matt: We were talking about the Irving-Capela pick and roll for a bit.
Tim: Yeah, that. (Long night, kids, sorry.) The flaw with this Orlando team is that unless you want to play Durant at center most of the time, you’re going to be able to exploit them there.
Matt: Ed Davis finally getting time, y’all. Looking back I do wonder if we underestimated Orlando defensively. And then I remember Russell is there. But still, Iggy/Durant/Livingston, we know what they’re capable of.
Tim: …we might have done. The other thing that comes to mind is that Boston has the pieces to make Durant’s life difficult insofar as anyone can make that happen. I think Justise Winslow, assuming Boston wins this series, is really the most important guy on the floor for them. And if they’ve gotten this far I assume they’ve gotten Wiggins to care about something, so that may be part of the solution too.
Matt: If it’s apathetic Wiggins (or Wiggins trying to be Russ) this team is toast. Winslow is the guy to watch, how much can he slow down Durant. The less Boston needs Winslow to shoot here, the better so he can focus on defense.
Tim: We do have a battle of Spurs assistants here, which is kind of interesting. Orlando is helmed by Becky Hammon and Boston by Ettore Messina. I don’t know enough about their proclivities to make some kind of bold strategic statements about them, but I think it’s fair to say that their gameplans probably wouldn’t be too different.
Matt: Probably not. I also assume they will both be good at their work, so sort of a wash in terms of coaching?
Tim: Probably. I don’t think we’ve had a matchup so far where two coaches from the same team worked against one another, so I figured I’d throw that in there.
Matt: It’s a good factoid. I hadn’t realized. We should probably move on before I fully talk myself into Orlando here.
Tim: I think we may have screwed this up, so let’s pretend that Iguodala strains his back in Game 2 or something and that throws Orlando’s defensive scheme into a quagmire.
Matt: Poor Iggy.
Tim: The other matchup in the conference semis is Toronto against Chicago, where the organized cabinets meet the kitchen sink. I feel like Toronto-Chicago should be a more potent rivalry. They have the proximity to make this work.
Matt: Toronto-Detroit would be ideal, but Chicago is all-around more interesting than Detroit. I’m all for the Canadian team punking some large US market.
Tim: We didn’t really talk much about why Toronto would top Chicago in this series, and I guess part of it is that we think there are too many chuckers and not enough defenders, right? Either you play Dwight Howard and you keep Gobert in, or you put Rondae at center and the Raptors counter with Bam Adebayo, and even though Hollis-Jefferson is a better player that’s still a wash that doesn’t serve Chicago all that much.
Matt: Let Steph score 50. The rest of Chicago isn’t enough to win out.
Tim: I dunno, man. It only takes one of (deep breath) Burks or Hardaway or Homie or even like, Dzanan Musa to put this thing over the edge. Not that I think it’s likely or anything, but Toronto isn’t overflowing with guard defenders.
Matt: Homie is the only one I have some faith in there. Might get a game out of Hardaway. I’m exaggerating with the “let him score 50,” obviously you don’t want Curry getting that much. But offensively he is the firepower and Toronto isn’t going to win a true shootout, but they’ll be consistent offensively. I can’t see Chicago being able to exploit Toronto in the way any team needs to to beat a Gobert defense.
Tim: Which I’d say transitions neatly to our conference finals matchup, where Boston’s bigs/pick and roll game finally (finally) meet their match. If I’m Boston in this series I try to get Gobert to foul out largely on the basis of “they’ll call enough if we go right at him.”
Matt: So basically tell Irving and Wiggins to drive all night? Not all night, but go into Gobert. Actually, this is where Clarkson could be useful (if he isn’t an actual ghost after the real life playoffs).
Tim: That’s got to be it, because then Toronto’s options start to thin out a little bit. Boston can continue to play bigger with Capela if the Raptors have to break out Adebayo or, heaven forbid, put Bagley at the 5, which we all know is absolutely not going to work. But I also don’t see that being viable over a seven game series. That can win maybe two games, but I don’t see the refs signing up to be the people who decide the conference finals that way. Maybe I’m naive.
Matt: Not after that Lakers-Kings series in 2002. The “drive at the big dude” strategy is also an exhausting one, eventually that would catch up with the dudes who also have to chase Jackson and Beal, which would be bad news. Boston would need to win rock-fights, but Toronto would also play well at a slow pace so it’s not quite the same as when that strategy is usually employed.
Tim: We both think Gobert is the most important player in this series, though, right? I can see someone making the case for Kyrie, but to me it all starts with the one who has a totally inexplicable name.
Matt: If Boston wins it means Kyrie went nuts. But yeah, Gobert is the difference. Flat earthers be damned.
Tim: So much distaste. This means that we’ve decided on a weird, wonderful NBA Finals matchup between Toronto and Portland, which, I mean, hipsters.
Matt: Our hearts sing with love. For anyone interested, real quick, East playoffs have 4 Atlantic division teams, 2 Southeast, and 1 Central.
Anyway, how is Toronto’s coffee scene? Will we have amazing tea/coffee at every game?
Tim: …I have no idea what Toronto’s coffee scene is like. I guess that’s sort of like asking what New York’s coffee scene is like.
Matt: Fair. The random thing I’m actually most excited about here is that the core of that wonderful Jazz team a couple years ago are the two leading these teams.
Tim: Makes you wonder how things might be different if the Celtics hadn’t hired Hayward’s college coach.
Matt: If only. So this is the series I see as being the closest overall. Which is nice considering it’s the Finals. Not sure you agree with me there.
Tim: My brain says it probably is, though my heart is still fairly sure that Russell Westbrook trying to score seventy points a game with twenty assists has sort of got the drop on this one. But yes, this series is the one that has the two deepest rosters and, for those of you keeping track, these teams picked right next to each other in our mock.
Let’s pretend that we’re game planning a little bit. If you’re Portland, you want to expose Marvin Bagley so that he can’t stay on the floor, right? That would probably be my first priority, to put Rodney Hood or Bam on the floor instead of him and still have a lot of room to run the offense through Kevin Love. Ironically I think the way to do it is to run Bagley just about everywhere…put him into screens behind motion threes for Love, which his wingspan is not likely to give him an advantage on closeouts, or alternately post Bagley up and make him call for Gobert, which then would either make Gobert switch onto Love (which puts Ibaka or worse, Hayward on Bagley, still a mismatch) or opens someone up because of a double team.
Matt: Love is big in this series. Exploiting Bagley is first priority. Second, I’m not sure this is a priority so much as a “let’s see what happens,” test Barnes’ mettle. In general, Love and Ibaka are well suited to throw a Gobert defense out of whack, and it feels like Hayward will do well in this series. I’m not sure what Toronto does with him besides hope Barnes figures it out. The key, and real second priority, for Portland is pray that some combo of guards can hold up defensively. As much as I fawn over Gobert, I think Portland has the advantage with bigs, but Toronto has interesting guards to go against Sexton, Wade, and company.
Tim: I agree. As much as I believe in playoffs Wade and could probably be convinced to trust Collin Sexton, the best guard and one of the three best players in this series is Bradley Beal. If he’s not the primary ballhandler, and I’m trusting involved Reggie Jackson to be instead of gunner Reggie Jackson, then he becomes such a dangerous piece and I don’t trust either Sexton or Wade on him. The problem is Portland’s other guards, Dinwiddie and LaVine, aren’t really known for being roadblocks on defense either. You’d have to put Dellavedova out there to really cool him off, but he’s the worst offensive guard by a lot, too.
Matt: You basically have to send out Delly when one of them gets hot without keeping him out there for too long. Portland would have to think about some Hayward-Carroll weirdness and one of them sticking on Beal (probably Hayward). Toronto could let the big guys chicanery happen and let their guards attack. Ibaka’s the only one standing in the way, and he’s not quite what he used to be, which wasn’t Gobert anyway.
Tim: I was just about to ask if we think that Ibaka might be washed enough that he isn’t really a big factor in this series. Relatively speaking.
Matt: He matters, and isn’t washed yet, but his rim protection isn’t what it was in OKC. I just checked his counting stats for fun and dude averaged 3.7 blocks a game one year.
Tim: He used to be such a monster on that end, but now I wonder if Portland has the rim protection to hold off what Toronto might be able to accomplish there. One of the reasons this Portland team is so balanced comparative to most of the other teams in our fantasy draft is because they have relatively few bigs. It really does come down to Love and Ibaka, and let’s say one of them gets in foul trouble, or Love succumbs to one of those nicks we so often see from him, and all of a sudden they’re in trouble where they do have an advantage in the series.
Matt: At that point they have to play Hayward and Carroll at the 4. I might give Carroll some run here anyway to keep Ibaka and Love fresh and to bang around on Bagley. Carroll isn’t what he used to be either, but he stabilized after a rough year two years ago.
Tim: I think the lineups probably turn into something like Jackson-Beal-Hood-Barnes-Gobert and Wade-LaVine-Hayward-Carroll-Love pretty quickly. I can definitely see this playing out where Ibaka and Bagley just can’t stay on the floor, and where Dwane Casey, coaching against his old team, decides he’d rather have Wade at the 1 and exploiting Reggie Jackson where he can. Definitely the lineups change a lot in game for a nine-man team.
Matt: The coaching decisions here would be crucial and fascinating. We said earlier Brett Brown probably has a slight advantage but they’re close. Casey is a good coach, and he has some fun pieces to work with here. I’m terrified of opening the possibility of Wade and Love being run through a Jackson-Gobert pick and roll, even if Wade could push Jackson around.
Tim: What surprises me is that neither one of these teams is exactly made of fiery shooters. Like, Beal is definitely the best one in the series, and then there’s some leveling out before you get to Hayward, Love, and Jackson. There are definitely going to be some long-range 2s and some face up game possessions that would decide this kind of series.
Matt: Beal’s the one who could get real hot. Otherwise these are two teams with consistent shooting. Not spectacular but mostly dependable. If Beal is having a great day, Toronto probably wins. If Wade is having a vintage day, then Portland. Love still feels like the player to watch to me. If he’s playmaking and taking Gobert out of his comfort zone, that’s a good omen for Portland.
Tim: Well, I guess we ought to put the people out of their suspenseful, breathless reading. Who wins?
Matt: We said Toronto in seven. A close, close seven (related, I can see every game being close).
Tim: For me it comes down primarily to the difference between the rookies’ necessity to their teams; Bagley is more replaceable than Sexton, and I don’t really trust either. I also think that Gobert at center with Love opposite him is more of a net positive for Toronto than Portland, though not by a lot.
Matt: Portland is going to have trouble on defense. Both teams are, but Portland especially. I’m slightly less worried about the Sexton factor, but I think Toronto would figure out a rotation that works and squeak by, deservedly so.
Tim: I would be thrilled for either team to take this home to their cities.
Matt: Oh yeah. And I would get behind a Finals sequel.
Tim: I don’t know about that…there are so many weird teams that have a chance in this new world that we could probably get fourteen or fifteen different Finals teams in a decade. Or maybe that’s optimistic…we didn’t replace GMs.
Matt: I was about to say the Kings will get there someday until you said that…