The Nets enter the new year with a 17-21 record and a ninth-place spot in the Eastern Conference. Will this be the week that the Nets get back the mojo from their seven game winning streak and shrug off the 2-3 record they’ve had since?
I talked to a few NBA writers who are familiar with this week’s opponents to get some thoughts on their teams and this week’s game. For the Pelicans, we have Oleh Kosel, editor in chief of The Bird Writes; for the Grizzlies, we’ve got Brendan Smart from Off The Glass, and for the Bulls is Austin Hutchinson from The Basketball Writers.
January 2 – vs Pelicans
The Anthony Davis trade market has been a big discussion on NBA Twitter lately. If the Pelicans ever do decide to deal Davis, what’s a realistic return for him?
With Anthony Davis under contract for another year and a half, one has to assume any asking price is going to be exorbitant and it would remain as such until at least sometime before the start of the 2019-20 season. It’s really a case of simple supply and demand. The Pelicans have one of the most precious commodities in the league — a three-time All-NBA First Team 25-year-old — so there’s not one team who wouldn’t trade the farm to get him if they think there’s a chance they’ll be able to convince him to re-sign past his current deal.
For some concrete examples, an interested team better have a really good young player with upside to headline a package, say Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons or John Collins. Then you’ve got to attach another couple of good pieces — either good players or guys possessing nice potential — and, of course, throw in a few future picks.
For a 31-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, the Miami Heat traded Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a couple of draft selections. New Orleans, if they feel they must move Davis, would look to do something similar and rebuild on the fly.
Julius Randle is playing some great basketball. How good can he be based on what he’s shown so far this season?
Julius Randle is one of the best under-25 offensive talents in the league. Just a quick glance at his per 36 line this season tells you plenty (24.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists), but it’s important to note that he may soon sport a legitimate perimeter game (33.3 3PT% on 3.0 three-point attempts per game). Heck, he’s been more efficient from long range than Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday.
The downside with Randle is that he’s unlikely to ever be a franchise player because of some defensive issues. If you’re not Russell Westbrook or James Harden on the scoring side of the ball, then you better not be a liability stopping opponents. Randle has shown the wherewithal to stop his assignment, give help or adequately guard a smaller, faster opponent after a switch, but that doesn’t happen as frequently as it needs to.
The one aspect that could elevate him into the conversation of the top-25 is further developing a variety of necessary intangibles. At times, his awareness isn’t good — he’ll clog up the lane while off the ball or isn’t in proper position to give help while staying enough with his man. Or, he’ll try and shoulder the load too much — he’s not apt to kick the ball out against a double-team or will force the issue down the stretch of a close game and often pick up a charging foul.
That said, Randle is a super valuable player right now and any good team would be happy to call him one of their three best players.
Who wins — Pelicans or Nets?
With Elfrid Payton back in the fold, the nod goes to the Pelicans in Wednesday’s matchup. New Orleans is a hand full when a legitimate floor general controls the action and gets to pick apart a defense with options like Davis, Holiday, Randle, E’Twaun Moore or Nikola Mirotic.
January 4 – at Grizzlies
The Grizzlies have fallen out of the top eight in the West. Does this team have the ability to get back into the playoff hunt?
The Memphis Grizzlies fell put of playoff contention for several reasons during the month of December. Lack of knowledge about situational rotations from Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff has killed Memphis. His leash with rookie star Jaren Jackson Jr., has been head scratching. I hate to make it about Bickerstaff, but some of the losses could have been avoided, and the team morale drops after leading the game by double-digits only to get out coach in the fourth quarter.
Dillon Brooks is back! I haven’t had a chance to watch much of the Grizzlies lately, so how has he played since returning? I was a big fan of his during his rookie year, but can he be a big part of a healthier and more well-rounded Grizzlies squad now?
Another thing that hurt Memphis was their lack of depth for about five weeks while Dillon Brooks was out with an MCL Sprain. It was Brooks first injury in the NBA. Brooks played all 82 games last season. The injury worried me about how he would find his footing when returning to court, but Brooks picked up where he left off. Brooks is not a flashy guy but he fits Memphis’ system perfectly, so when Brooks went down Memphis was left with Wayne Selden and MarShon Brooks. Since Brooks return to the court, Dillon has given the offense a guy that can stretch the floor on offense which opens the paint for the Grizzlies big men, and gives them a stable defensive player.
Who wins — Grizzlies or Nets?
Whoever wins Friday night will (likely) be looking to snap a losing streak so both will be desperate. Memphis is looking to get back into the playoff hunt, and Brooklyn to keep the hot streak going after dropping two straight. The game will be a good one, but I think close games come down to how the game is coached, and Brooklyn’s Kenny Atkinson has been coaching his tail off this season. I like Brooklyn if it comes down to a final play or shot, because Bickerstaff hasn’t shown that he close out games as a head coach yet.
January 6 – at Bulls
How is the Jim Boylen era going? I know it started out rocky, but he already has as many wins as Hoiberg did this year.
The Jim Boylen era is a joke. From scheduling a grueling practice after a back-to-back, to posting up Robin Lopez every other possession, to mentioning that he worked under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, it’s been comical more than anything. His ideas of accountability involve old coaching techniques. Rather than creating camaraderie among his players, he tore them a part a week in. The Bulls have simply won more games because Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn came back from injury seemingly the minute Fred Hoiberg was fired. Boylen is steering the ship of a team that was designed for pace and space, running on the fast break. It’s almost as if he was promoted to tank.
Which young Bull has been the most encouraging this season? And who (other than Jabari Parker) has been the most disappointing?
Zach LaVine has shown the most growth coming into this season. In the first few months, he showed the ability to get to the basket and finish with touch. During his first year in Chicago he seemed a bit placid. He preferred to pull up and take contested shots instead of taking contact in the lane. His shot selection still needs improvement, as well as his defensive effort, but the ability to be a top scorer is there.
As far as disappointing goes, the lack of growth from Cameron Payne is still apparent. The roster has so much mediocre talent that the expectations for everyone except Markkanen and LaVine are so low that it’s difficult to be disappointed.
Who wins — Bulls or Nets?
The Nets have much more depth than the Bulls and can matchup with their pace and offensive style perhaps better than any other team in the league. I’d give the nod to the Nets, 104-87.