With the 2016-17 NBA regular season about to reach the halfway mark for the Golden State Warriors, the Golden State of Mind staff took time to answer a few questions about the season thus far. For the third installment of our roundtable, we discussed whether anyone in the Eastern Conference can stop the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James
Do you think anyone in the Eastern Conference is capable of dethroning the Cavaliers?
Apricot: No. I desperately want the East to get a decent challenger for the Cavs. Maybe if the Bucks added a piece (like a reborn Khris MIddleton?) and matured quickly...
Duby Dub Dubs: Not without key Cavs injuries or some sort of crazy trades. The talent gap is just too wide for any other Eastern team to knock them out in a seven game series. I’ll give the Raptors a puncher’s chance, but wouldn’t put any money on them.
Basketball Jonez: Not while the Cavs still have Kiki Vandeweghe on the payroll. You need multiple MVPs if you want to beat LeBron AND the league’s front office. On a serious note, I don’t think the other Eastern teams can beat the Cavs yet.
The Raptors are really good, but I’m in some sort of denial about their success. I just can’t bet on a team built around midrange shooting. Boston is still a piece or two away, though that Brooklyn lottery pick this summer could be the coup de grace for a well constructed, well coached roster. Jae Crowder and Al Horford are both excellent two way players, though they both missed a lot of time so far this season. Best case scenario has them competing for a #1 seed as soon as next season. Milwaukee can get there; Giannis Antetokounmpo might be the only player in the league that can improve to Lebron’s level, rather than waiting for him to decline. Still, I have to think that they are at least another year or two away from truly contending. This year, like most years, the East belongs to Lebron.
Hugo Kitano: The only hope we have is if Paul Millsap is traded to the Raptors. He was just recently put on the trading block, and the Raptors immediately emerged among pundits as a legitimate option. They have picks, young players, and veterans to exchange, and would be able to keep Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas. Millsap is a top-30 player who would fill the worrisome hole at power forward for one of the greatest Raptors teams of all time.
Kim Stubbe: Sigh. Nope. I think it is very likely that this is year is going to be another Warriors vs Cavaliers Finals.
Bram Kincheloe: I think the Raptors are much improved since last year — plus DeMar DeRozan has taken yet another leap — but I agree with all above. If the Warriors make it out of the West, I’ve got a feeling it’ll be three times in a row meeting the LeBrons in the Finals.
Who do you think has been the league MVP so far this season?
Apricot: I reluctantly think LeBron.
DDD: Equally reluctantly, I’ll have to go with James Harden. The Rockets were pretty disappointing last year and Harden’s lackadaisical attitude seemed to be at the center of it all. The organization doubled down on him, moving personal and coaching staff around to maximize his potential and he has responded. He put up a real impressive 53 points to go with 17 assists and 16 rebounds for one of the hugest triple doubles of all time recently. But beyond that, he is leading the resurgent 26-9 Rockets with an absurd 33.6% usage rate. That team would be utter garbage without him.
Jonez: It has to be Harden. He and Russell Westbrook are both putting up ridiculous numbers (starting with their USG%), but Harden is managing to parlay those numbers into winning efforts. Kawhi Leonard would be my second choice.
Mike B: I agree with Jonez and Duby. The MVP so far has definitely been Harden. I also have Kawhi, KD and LeBron over Westbrook but I'm probably in the minority there.
Andrew Flohr: James Harden. He is a phenomenal playmaker who can get anywhere he wants to on the court and is also a great passer. It’s hard to imagine that OKC had Harden, Westbrook and Durant all on the same team.
Kim Stubbe: Sigh. Okay, James Harden. But anything can happen in the next few months.
Bram Kincheloe: Dammit all. [sighs, holds nose] Harden.
Nate P.: To back up Apricot’s bid for James, I just want to note that he exists among that rare set of athletes that are essentially competing against the ridiculously high standard that they have set in previous years — you could argue that he should be MVP every single year, which makes it really hard to distinguish one year as distinctly more deserving than another in which he didn’t win it.
Nevertheless, Harden is certainly deserving and I think Houston deserves credit for setting up a roster designed to maximize his talent after ridding themselves of Dwight Howard. I think how the Rockets finish the season will go a long way to determining whether we still see Harden as the top candidate.
Who would you like to see in the slam dunk and three point contest at this years All Star weekend?
Apricot: Slam dunk contest would be greatly improved by allowing random celebrities to try to block the contestants. Three pt contest does nothing for me, except I hope W’s win it.
DDD: Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon and maybe Larry Nance junior should just be the entire field for the dunk contest this year. Get rid of the chaff and let the masters do their thing. For the three point contest, I’d go to the extreme Warriors version and go with KD, Klay and Steph. Pick whoever else you want, it wouldn’t matter.
Jonez: I want Jordan and ‘Nique rematch on 9 foot rims please. Or I want to see Harrison Barnes running some layup drills when it’s his turn to dunk. Honestly though, I’ve always felt that the NBA should use fan voting to select the dunk contest participants. The way things stand right now, I can barely watch All Star weekend, and it’s been that way since Harold Miner was taking home midseason awards.
Mike B: There was rumblings of Vince Carter wanting one more shot at the dunk contest, but I'm sure that had to be some sort of tongue-in-cheek remark from Vince. Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon are obvious choices. I agree with Duby; let the best go at it, and don't through out the usual cannon fodder just so the contest can be dragged out. As for the three point contest, I want to see Curry take a break from it to be honest; let the young bucks take a shot at it.
Dunk Contest: 1) Zach LaVine 2) Aaron Gordon 3) Terrance Ross 4) Andrew Wiggins with Gerald Green and Larry Nance Jr. as alternates
Three-Point Contest: 1) Steph Curry 2) Klay Thompson 3) Eric Gordon 4) James Harden 5) Ryan Anderson 6) Wes Matthews 7) Kemba Walker 8) Kyle Lowry
Kim Stubbe: As a fellow Archbishop Mitty Monarch, I’m going to go with Aaron Gordon for the Dunk Contest. The usual characters deserve to be in the three-point contest.
Bram Kincheloe: Can’t we just have a real life version of NBA Jam and play full court two on two with lowered rims and actual pyrotechnics? I would, obviously, watch the heck out of this.
Which teams have surprised you the most this season?
Apricot: Spurs just won’t die; why won’t they fall off? D’Antoni Rockets have gelled more quickly than expected.
DDD: The Trailblazers look pretty bad. Some of it is injuries, of course. My soul weeps for poor injured Festus Ezeli, who would actually solve a lot of their problems if he could just get healthy. But if they are serious about keeping their undersized backcourt together, they need a defensive anchor at the rim. Right now, I think their management should be considering a significant trade.
Jonez: I had a feeling the Rockets would be good after signing D’Antoni, Nene, and Gordon, and I thought Portland was being overrated based on a red hot month last winter. When I look at the standings, the Clippers look the furthest from my preseason expectations. I thought they’d be a top 3 seed in the West (largely due to continuity, with some improvement due to infrastructural improvements). Instead, they are free falling with Blake Griffin out of the lineup. Their GM should fire the coach, and then the owner should fire the GM.
Hugo: The Bucks! When Khris Middleton was injured before the season, I thought they would surely fall somewhere at the bottom of the East. But the rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo and strong play from their wacky set of role players has put them in playoff contention. Given the fact that they have fairly strong assets but weird fit issues on the roster, they have an outside chance of becoming a title contender in one or two years through a few strong trades and signings. They’ve become one of my top five teams in the league.
Mike B: Denver have really surprised me. They were the dark horse pick for the playoffs among some pundits but I never really saw it. Nikola Jokic has been a revelation for them; inserting him into the starting lineup and running a sort of 4-out (or technically 5-out?) system they've created so much space for their guards to attack the rim, and Jokic has been incredible playing out of the high post.
On the other side of the coin, I'm really disappointed by Minnesota. I had them pegged as the 8th seed, but Tom Thibodeau hasn't pulled the team together in the way I thought he would. Maybe I was being too presumptuous; they're a young team and there's too much young talent there for them not to figure it out eventually.
Kim Stubbe: As for a team that is doing better than I expected, I will go with the Rockets. They have great physicality and can bother teams with it (including the Warriors). And the Trail Blazers are performing below what I expected. They have some good roster members, but their game just hasn’t come together for them this year.
Nate P.: I don’t think I thought the Mavs would be this bad — like last place bad — but this is totally what I expected to happen to any team that allowed Harrison Barnes to have the most field goal attempts on the team. My assumption when they signed him was that Rick Carlisle would do a bit more to put him in a more limited offensive role and leverage the value of his defense next to Nowitzki and/or Bogut. But without that, he’s basically the same player we knew statistically just getting more shots.
Bram Kincheloe: I have to agree with Hugo. Watching the Bucks this season has been an absolute treat. Giannis is a legit MVP contender, and I enjoy their body language and team chemistry. I think, especially with the crafty Jason Kidd at the helm — we’ll be seeing a lot of this team for the next decade or so if they can keep the core together and if Jabari Parker keeps improving.