The Big Three: An Introduction

NBA Debate and Discussion

“The Big Three” is a discussion thread for Beyond the Arc Contributors. Join in the discussion with Trent Arnold, Minh Dao and Michael Battle as they debate their way around the league.

In the first instalment, the guys introduce themselves and talk big picture NBA.


Trent:
Good evening ladies, gentleman and Minh Dao!

My name is Trent Arnold – I’m joined by Minh Dao and Michael Battle – and welcome to Beyond the Arc!
Where to start? Well, we are launching Beyond the Arc as a platform for some of our NBA content. Articles, podcasts, video breakdowns, you name it. So to introduce ourselves, we thought we’d start with a bit of back and forth around the NBA. Let’s start with a topic near and dear to your heart, Minh. How are the Blazers looking for the eighth seed in the West? If not them, then who?

Minh:
Blazers are DEFINITELY going to make the the playoffs. Of our last 11 games, we’ve got 8 at home. Denver have 10 games left, 7 on the road including a 5 games road trip soon. We’ve been one of the hottest teams since the all-star break and Lillard has been going nuts. Averaging over 31.1 points per page, he’s willing Portland (who’s also experiencing Nurkic fever) to the playoffs. Put that down with a sharpie. Oh, is that a wild Michael Battle I hear?

Michael:
They only make it because Stotts sold his soul to Lucifer in return for offensive wizardry…..pity he didn’t ask for some defence for Lillard in the deal! I always wonder about teams that are lights out in the middle of seasons. Are they as collective peaking because other are focussing on the next stage of the season? Anyway Portland shmort-land…..let’s not spend too much time on the also rans!

Minh:

Trent:
Michael has made a point that should definitely be discussed here. Are Portland peaking because other squads are focused on the next stage of the season? The Cleveland Cavaliers are a prime example of a disengaged team that’s looking ahead. They’ve had the 29th ranked defense since the all-star break and they’re feeling pressure from the Celtics and Wizards behind them. Are the Cavs going to turn it on to grab the #1 seed or will someone else come out on top of the East? And on that note, are the Cavs defensive issues going to play a factor in them making it out of the Eastern Conference playoffs? We know you’ve got to be able to play both sides, so can they flick the switch?

Michael:
I just don’t get why we care about the 8th seeds…..I mean if they get there and win a series then great but there is a multitude of reasons for them being mediocre teams over the season even if they are playing better right now. Just win a first round match-up and I’ll shower them with praise but until then……I just don’t really care!
The Cavs are a definitely worry in terms of defence. They have added new guys and maybe don’t have the practice time (or healthy bodies) to really bed down the defensive strategy. Relying on flicking the switch is a little risky to me. At this point they must be better situationally on defence and start to work out who is doing what and when with an eye on the playoffs. I don’t think they fear anyone in the East so even if they drop a spot in the standings to come in fresh, they will back themselves in to take care of business on the road if required.

Minh:
I agree. I do not think they are afraid of any other teams in the East. They can beat any other East team 4 out of 7, and LeBron flicking on the switch is the other thing. He seems to be in second gear all year long, coasting on the defensive side of the ball and he knows at this stage of his career, saving himself for the bright lights is what matters.

Speaking of the Cavs as a whole, the defensive ratings for them are worrying. As I email right now, they are sitting 23rd with a def-rating of 108.1. They are 30TH in the month of March with a rating of 115.0. They are .429 in this span. That is ghastly!

Cavs were 10th in rating (102.3) for last season, and 11th in March 2016 (104.4). But during their playoff run, they ranked 9th of 16 with a rating of 103.5. That says a lot. They are considerably worse than they were last season to the point where it may be a concern.

I agree with Michael in the sense that they have had moving pieces such as Love, Smith, Korver, etc during the past month or so and can be hard to integrate again on the fly. There is little practice time during the season, and for guys to adjust and take on new scheme-tweaks is tough to ask. I believe there were only 2 teams since 2000 (‘01 Lakers and ‘06 Heat) that won the title with a defensive efficiency outside of the top 10.

So that begs the question, does that switch exist? And can they fight the odds of history?

Trent:
Personally, a lot of my concerns lie with Tristan Thompson. From the eye test, the Cavs seem to struggle to defend the pick’n’roll and in my opinion, Thompson is a huge part of that. Of course some of their guards (Kyrie, Deron) aren’t brilliant at fighting through screens, but a lot of their previous success defensively was predicated on TT getting out and hanging with guards. From what I’ve seen of late, he just can’t do that any more. He’s getting toasted off the dribble and he’s not a strong enough rim protector to hang back. These factors are going to hurt them in the playoffs, because guys like Wall and Thomas are going to have success attacking the paint and if the Cavs send help it’s going to create a barrage of opportunities from the perimeter. That’s where it’s not just as simple as flipping the proverbial switch, getting scheme and rotations down do matter.

That being said, they’re still the favorites to make it out of the East. Do we see any serious challengers to the Warriors out West, or should we be on trilogy watch?

Michael:
I guess that’s why you sign an athlete and rim protector like Sanders so late in the year. I think the Bogut thing would have been interesting because of his passing and defence. Now that they are waiting for Larry to shake of the rust, I’m not sure they’ll have enough time to get everyone sorted. As far as the West is concerned, I’ll be interested to see how teams attack Durant and Draymond. Green is only shooting 3s at 31.5%….I think he will be taking a lot of shot in the playoffs. The Warriors have the highest upside by a mile considering their flexibility and skill sets but they also are potentially fragile. I’m wondering who will want to test them physically in a series. Draymond is a hot head and they don’t have Bogut there as an enforcer.

Minh:
It has got to the point where what you guys have said, the pieces are a little creaky, the pieces are not quite fitting and maybe it’s not just something that can be changed with a click. But, I will say if anyone can lead their team through this kind of adversity, LeBron can. One of the all-time greats and top 5 in the history books. Two teams that I think could challenge the Warriors are the Spurs and the Rockets.

Spurs have made it work all year behind the consistency of Kawhi Leonard, but are the Spurs a bit of smoke and mirrors? The metrics behind their success are valid. They share the rock, look after the rock and defend the rock. All signs of a good possession management team. Ones that value possession go a long way. It’s the same narrative every year. But there’s something missing with this team. Questions do still remain in terms of being a legitimate title contender. Who do the Spurs close games with? How do they stop the guard play of the Warriors and Rockets? How creaky are some of those old guys? They’ll likely have to play both if they want to make the finals.

And then there’s Trent’s beloved Houston Rockets… Harden is most likely going to win MVP and in my opinion, rightly so. He’s carried this team with very solid role players, but no clear second star. THey’ve been an offensive juggernaut all season and can likely match the Warriors with firepower. They’ve met twice in the regular season. Season series being 1-1 and both games involved both teams scoring over 105 points.

But my only issue with the Rockets tracks back to the mid 2000s with the (Nash-led) D’Antoni Suns where they could match you in a track meet, but when the game slowed down, teams are scouted heavily, refs swallowed their whistles and it was more defensive; could they grind out wins?

That I am not sure about. I believe for a team to win a minimum of 3 rounds in the playoffs, there can be very few cracks in the defensive scheme and personnel. And if there are, you better hope they don’t grow big and shatter completely. Their defence has been middle for most of the season (in March too), so I am unsure if that sustainability come playoff time will last.

Trent:
For most of the season I didn’t want to get too excited about the Rockets playoff chances, but recently I’ve become optimistic. The style they play lends itself well to high ceiling performances and when the team is locked in I think the defense is just good enough to hold up against elite competition. They don’t have the defensive talent to coast, but Jeff Bzdelik is one of the better defensive minds in the league and guys like Ariza, Beverley, Harden, Capela and Gordon are capable of playing average-to-above average defense when they are engaged. On good nights, this team can beat anyone. To be honest, I would feel confident they could take 4 out of 7 from the Spurs in a playoff series. The Spurs are consistently great on both ends of the floor, but I question whether or not they have an extra gear the same way that the Rockets and Warriors do. The Warriors are still the favourites, but if we were to see an 80% KD or another Steph injury, or a Draymond suspension? Maybe that’s the break the Rockets need. A rockets Cavs series would be close, and extremely exciting. But I’ll leave it there, before I get my hopes up.

Minh:
Annnnnnnnddd before Trent changes his mind, let’s wrrraaaapppp it up! Before we finish, thought it would be good for us to talk through who we support, how we got into the NBA, and maybe an NBA finals and MVP pick? Some background and some predictions!

Michael:
I think the Warriors or the Rockets will win the Chip, Harden the MVP and that’s about as many predictions as I can make right now!

In terms of basketball love, my family moved to Australia when I was 8 and the first hoops I saw was the NBL (North Melbourne Giants in the gold and burgundy) and then discovered Jordan. I grew up in the rough and tumble 90s and took the Hornets as my team. Then Stupidly followed Grandmama to the Knicks and every night I stab the LJ voodoo doll I have under my bed right in the face! I think basketball is the perfect blend of the star and the team, of grace and power and just plain fun. I’m a disciple of Jordan and worship at the altar of hoops.

Minh:
It is a beautiful game isn’t it! The perfect mixture between precision, speed and power. As for my story, I fell in love with the game since I was 6 or 7 years old. Had an older brother that played. I took it on and then met the NBA through the Xbox game ‘NBA live 2005’ (which came out in 2004), and supported the Blazers due to their colour scheme and logo (I was 9 years old okay!). Little did I know they were on the tail end of the Jail Blazers era, so not bad timing! I loved Steve Nash and how he revolutionised the game, but Brandon Roy aka The Natural aka The Savior brought my Blazers back from the grave. He and Nash will forever be entrenched in my personal hall of fame. Those two made me love the game and I haven’t turned back. I’ll always live and breathe the game.

In regards to my picks, I’m going to stick with my preseason predictions and go with the Cavs for the title and Harden for MVP (and sticking with the minimum 3rd seed for MVP that’s been a trend since the 80s).

Trent:
I was introduced to the game of basketball in primary school via my mates backyard hoop and developed a love for the game playing it almost every day without a lot of exposure to the NBA itself. And then Youtube became a thing and you could watch documentaries and highlights of old school NBA players. For a short time I legitimately thought Hakeem Olajuwon was the best thing I’d ever seen, so I became a Rockets fan. It helped that my mate was also a Rockets fan and he always downloaded games for us to watch. Other than that I was primarily stuck watching the occasional game broadcasted on Foxtel, which always seemed to involve the Lakers – which is why I own a couple of Kobe jerseys and try to mimic his moves.

As I became legitimately invested in the league I purchased ballstreams and I’ve been a league pass addict ever since, building a love for James Harden and the Rockets that will never die.

*Fun fact: at one stage I preferred Jeremy Lin to James Harden as a member of the Rockets, but that obviously didn’t last long – it was over before you could say “Linsanity”.

Wrapping it up, it’s hard for me to go against Harden for MVP. I think he’s got the best and largest body of work and the wins speak for themselves. Russ has been great and his clutch stats make him deserving, but I stick with my guy. Kawhi is also the best player on a great team, so I wouldn’t be mad if any of those guys won it. But not LeBron. Fuck LeBron.

As far as the chip goes I’m backing the Dubs. In my opinion, they are the best team in the league, but I’m sure there will be more on that as we edge closer to the playoffs. We’ve got plenty of material in store here at BTA!

Stay tuned and be sure to follow us on social media. First and foremost we want to be a place for intelligent basketball discussion and we need you to help us facilitate that!

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