Posted December 05, 2013

Give And Go: Buy or sell the Blazers as contenders, Paul George’s MVP candidacy, more

Ben Golliver, Give-and-Go, Minnesota Timberwolves, Paul George, Portland Trail Blazers, Rob Mahoney, San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards
Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan and the Spurs own a better point differential than last season. (McClatchy-Tribune/Getty Images)

3. The Spurs are better than they were last season.

Golliver: Selling. My palette isn’t quite as sophisticated as the one belonging to Gregg Popovich, wine connoisseur. I’m not sure I can distinguish between the 2012-13 Spurs vintage and the 2013-14 Spurs vintage in any dramatic way. Both teams were/are exceptional, both teams were/are capable of winning an NBA title, both teams were/are leaps and bounds more sophisticated than a vast majority of the other teams in the NBA, and both teams were/are built and run in such a way that health-related adversity can be managed effectively.

Right now, the Spurs’ point differential is better than last season’s, their offense boasts the same ranking (No. 7) and their defense is up slightly (from No. 3 to No. 2). They’ve achieved that high standing, and a 15-3 record, despite a slow shooting start from Tim Duncan (44.4 percent), a very slow outside-shooting start from Kawhi Leonard (22.7 percent from three-point range), a somewhat quiet first month from Danny Green and ongoing age-related consistency concerns with Manu Ginobili.

POINT FORWARD: Smoke postpones Spurs-Wolves in Mexico City

The most impressive thing about this year’s Spurs team is that they have racked up such a great record with only one player (Tony Parker) playing more than 30 minutes per night and no players playing more than 32 minutes. Compare that to last year’s Spurs, who had three players above 30 minutes. Or, to this year’s Thunder, who have three above 33 minutes. Or, to this year’s Pacers, who have five above 30 minutes and three above 33 minutes. Or, to this year’s Blazers, who have five players above 30 minutes and four players above 35 minutes. I’m not sure if that extra rest — relative to the (younger) competition — means that this year’s Spurs team is better than last year’s, but the wide minutes disbursement is surely going to prove helpful in April, May and possibly June.

Mahoney: Buying. I wouldn’t say I’m worried about Duncan, per se, but his career-worst scoring and field-goal percentage coupled with a dwindling rebounding rate aren’t exactly positive indicators. Something has been off with Duncan, and that alone makes me hesitate in declaring this Spurs team better than the near-champion squad from a season ago.

Still, the fact that San Antonio has been this good with Duncan in lesser form is reason enough to think that even better things could lie ahead. That this is even a question at all is a testament to what the Spurs have been able to accomplish. As Ben noted above, the Spurs have had to grapple with a flurry of other complicating factors atop Duncan’s struggles, and yet they’ve generally been no worse for wear. The mitigating positives? Tiago Splitter has been outstanding defensively and even more productive on a per-minute basis than we’d come to expect. Boris Diaw has been a more assertive scorer than ever and managed to improve his shooting (from 54 to 57 percent) while doubling his scoring average. Marco Belinelli plays as if he has always been a Spur, or at least always meant to be one; he’s Gary Neal and then some, better equipped to create off the dribble, white-hot from three-point range and more engaged defensively.

GALLERY: Why your team won’t win the NBA title

In all, San Antonio has orchestrated the most balanced offense in the league while managing the regular-season toll on players such as Duncan and Ginobili. There’s still plenty for Popovich to scream about on a nightly basis, though only because San Antonio’s offense very much runs by its own standard. Plus, I think there’s more to the Spurs’ defensive success than merely going from No. 3 in defensive efficiency to No. 2; within that jump is a five-point spread, as San Antonio went from allowing 99.2 points per 100 possessions a season ago to 94 this season. The Spurs’ current defensive mark would have led the league in any of the past nine NBA seasons, making their improvement on that end of far greater consequence than moving up a single rung in the rankings.

John Wall

John Wall is averaging 19 points, 9.2 assists and 2.3 steals for the Wizards. (Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images)

4. The Wizards are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference.

Mahoney: Selling. There’s only a third-best team in the East because there has to be, but I’d just as soon melt down the bronze medal to make a set of cufflinks or something. If we’re really going to anoint a team for being the least bad, however, I wouldn’t take the Wizards. The Hawks are just too mediocre to concede the spot just yet — too competent defensively and too hardworking offensively. While Atlanta and Washington register nearly identical records and pace-adjusted point differentials, the Hawks seem to be a touch more stable.The Wizards, on the other hand, are hamstrung by the fact that they have only six usable players, one of whom (Bradley Beal) is out with a worrisome stress injury.

THOMSEN: Who should Cavs have taken at No. 1?

I’ll put it this way: I’d be slightly more surprised if the Wizards managed to climb above the .500 hurdle than I would if the Hawks did the same. That may not be worth much, but hey — neither is this particular bit of standing.

Golliver: Selling. This is one of those trick questions from high school where you spend 10 hours trying to deduce the solution only to have the teacher exclaim, “Just kidding! This question has no answer!” If pressed to make a pick, I will take Atlanta over Washington thanks to the Hawks’ slightly better point differential against a slightly tougher schedule. I trust their established core group (Al Horford/Paul Millsap/Jeff Teague) more and they’re just beginning to dust off Lou Williams, a true impact player when healthy. Looking ahead, Atlanta plays six of its next seven games at home, with five of those coming against opponents who are outside the playoff picture. Give it a fortnight and I think there’s a good chance Atlanta has built a cushion between itself and .500.

GOLLIVER: Blazers’ Twitter account mocks lowly East

Kevin Love

Kevin Love and the Wolves have now lost four of their last five to drop to 9-10. (Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images)

5. The Timberwolves are a playoff team barring injury.

Mahoney: Selling. Minnesota is a fine, fun team, but finds itself in a pinch with the Nuggets surging and the Blazers crashing the party. While I fully expected Dallas and Minnesota to claim the final two playoff spots in the West beyond the six projected locks (San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, the Clippers, Golden State and Memphis), the Wolves’ chances have taken an early hit from their road woes and the emergence of a few better-than-expected playoff contenders. There’s still plenty of time for Minnesota to work out the kinks, and in no way are they out of the running. I just don’t think their chances of locking up one of the few remaining spots is greater than the sum of the possible alternatives.

MANNIX: Love’s future uncertain, but present promising

Let’s rework the playoff math. Assuming the Spurs, Thunder, Rockets, Clippers and Blazers are safe bets for the postseason, that leaves three berths among eight (!) viable playoff contenders. Among them, the Warriors — who will be bolstered by Andre Iguodala’s return from a hamstring injury — seem the most likely to make the cut. With just two spots remaining, can we really say that the Wolves’ odds of making the playoffs are greater than the probability of the Nuggets, Mavs, Grizzlies (who, through struggles and all, have two fewer losses than Minnesota), Pelicans, Lakers and Suns in some combination filling those final spots?

Golliver: Buying. Barely. Not only is the West stacked but it’s also packed. Just 3½ games separate the No. 4 seed and 13th place, which is where Minnesota is stuck at the moment. I think that placement is a bit deceiving: The Wolves should wind up as either the ninth- or 10th-best team in the West, at worst, as this “perfect health” scenario should see them jump the hot-starting Suns, the disjointed Lakers and the young, Anthony Davis-less (for now) Pelicans by the time April rolls around.

The Wolves are a bit of a point differential darling, as they possess the seventh-best differential overall and fifth best in the West. That puts them above a bunch of the teams they trail in the standings — the Clippers, Warriors, Nuggets, Mavericks, Pelicans, Suns, Lakers and Grizzlies —  and they’ve played a schedule that’s well above average in terms of difficulty.

If we grant the Wolves perfect health for the whole season, their final record should be significantly better than their current 9-10 mark. The bottom half of the West is going to be a cutthroat race as always, but it bodes well that Minnesota’s starting five has a nice plus-4.7 net rating together and the team’s offense efficiency (No. 12) and defensive efficiency (No. 10) are above average.


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2 comments
JahliSuwaghaman
JahliSuwaghaman

Oh, and the Blazers are legit.  They beat my Pacers the other night.  We had no answer for Aldridge the guy is a beast.

JahliSuwaghaman
JahliSuwaghaman

I love PG24 but, I'm not ready to call him an MVP front-runner or a serious threat to win it yet.  Yes, it's LeBron's to lose but, there's always the possibility people are tired of voting for James like they were of Jordan.  


Pacers don't need PG to score 25 a game because they have a lot of guys who can get 15-20 any given night.  Another thing that will hurt his chances is that with a team that allows so few points and plays such a meat-grinder style of defense, you don't have to take as many shots or get as many points to win.  Slower paced games = lower statistics.