Welcome to The Layup Line!
This will be our look at the 2014-15 NBA season as it unfolds. Last week gave us Lebron’s homecoming, teams signing their young guards, and the fun of watching Kobe be Kobe. And what team impressed Aaron the most during the first week? Read and find out!
The Cavs are Going to Be Good, but How Long is it Going to Take?
Watching the Cleveland Cavaliers twice last week, in a loss to the Knicks and a win against Chicago, there is no doubt this team is going to need about a month to grow and learn how to play together, in other words, much like Miami did the first year of the Big Three. Through November of their first season together (2010-2011), the Heat was 10-8 and the scrutiny began. Then December came around and the team went an astounding 15-1 with ten of those wins coming on the road, and I see Cleveland going the same route.
Looking deeper in the stats, the shooting from the field is almost identical so far in the month of October, Miami shot 44.3% and Cleveland shooting 42%. Both numbers show two teams trying to figure out offensive spacing and where each star needs to get the ball to be effective. The Heat was better on defense, holding their opponents under 40% from the field during these initial games, while Cleveland is allowing closer to 50% to begin the season. The Heat, defensively, was better due to having two perimeter freak athletes in James and Wade that was just as dedicated to defending the perimeter as they were scoring on offense. Cleveland has already shown it will struggle defending the perimeter, allowing Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith to scorch them in the opener against the Knicks, but that duo scoring on you isn’t as concerning as letting Chicago’s Kurt Henrich and Aaron Brooks backcourt combination almost beat you. That is more than a sign that the perimeter defense needs to be tightened up and quickly. James can only guard one player, meaning Irving and Waiters are going to have step up to solidify this team on defense.
The good news is, even with the below average defending from Kevin Love, the Cavs are better defensively on the interior with Anderson Verejao in the paint and much better than the Heat then, or now, on the boards. Being able to clear a defensive stop, something Miami struggled with at times during the Big Three-era, will help give time for the perimeter defense to improve. Love, Verejao, and Thompson will give James the freedom to run out on breaks more with Irving and Waiters instead of having to crash the boards like he had to do in Miami, thus leading to quicker transition buckets. And more of those beautiful Love to James outlet passes.
It’s way to early to say how good the Cavs are going to be, but it’s going to be fun to watch this team full of talent learn how to play with each other.
Teams Locking Up Their Young Backcourts
When the Phoenix Suns locked up Eric Bledsoe for 5-years/$70 million guaranteed contract just weeks before the NBA season started, Grantland’s Zach Lowe looked at how the contract not only effected the player and team, but the rest of the league as a whole. The reason the Bledsoe deal sent ripples through the league was because of all the young guards that were set to either hit restricted or unrestricted free agency, and Bledsoe’s deal is now giving those guards an actual number to look at and negotiate from.
This past week saw the ripples turn into a full on earthquake as many of the young guards set to hit the market signed extensions with their current teams.
It started with the Golden State Warriors extending Klay Thompson for 4-years and a cool guaranteed $70 million ($17.5 million a year).
Then came Kemba Walker signing a 4-year/$48 million extension ($10 million guaranteed at $2.6 million a year) with the Team Formally Known as the Bobcats, the Charlotte Hornets.
Ricky Rubio followed all the cool kids and signed an extension with the Timberwolves for 4 years/$55 million ($15 million guaranteed).
That leaves Rajon Rondo, Brandon Knight, and Bledsoe’s teammate, Gordon Dragic the last point guards remaining that we know will be on the market. And Rondo, in my opinion, is the only player that may be moved before or on the trading deadline this season.
With the possible salary cap rising to $80 million due to a massive new TV deal for the NBA, teams are starting to lock up their young backcourts and avoiding a bidding war that may make them overpay to bring them back (Lowe did a great article on that too). And even though some may have overpaid a little now, like Charlotte and Minnesota did for Walker and Rubio respectively, they avoid any disastrous contracts by allowing other teams to drive up the price to that potential level.
And all those guys need to send Eric Bledsoe a nice fruit basket for the fat contracts they just signed.
The Lakers are Going to Be Terrible, but Kobe Bryant is Going the Be Fun to Watch
The Lakers, as a team, are going to be terrible.
Looking at the roster this is what I see: Underachieving guards (Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry); a defense that laid out the “Welcome” mat under the basket last season and added a nice bright porch light to help defenders find it even better (Looking at you Carlos Boozer); a point guard that is being asked to play without the ball, thus rendering him completely useless (Jeremy Lin); then to make things worse, their talented rookie broke his leg one game in to the 2014 season (Julius Randle).
But with all that being said, the Lakers will be a great team to watch due to Kobe Bryant. They still won’t win much with him, but the Black Mamba is going to try and carry this team to the playoffs all by himself. And that will create vintage scoring performances from Bryant all year.
Saturday night was the first of these performances, as Kobe went on a tear in the 3rd quarter on the road against the Golden State Warriors (more on these guys in a bit). He scored 19 of his 28 points in the period, and brought the Lakers within striking distance of a win heading into the 4th quarter. It was fascinating, much like every time Bryant lights up an opposing defense, to watch as Bryant shredded Golden State for bucket after bucket.
Of course, the Lakers lost by double digits and that is to be expected for much of the year. Kobe has already scored 99 points in a 4-game span which almost doubles the the points of the next leading scorer on the team.
That next guy is Jordan Hill with 59.
That sentence both tells you, the reader, why Kobe has to take 30+ shots to even give his team a chance to look respectable, and why the Lakers will still lose a lot, by a whole mess of points.
Even if Kobe can make this team respectable (right now, at 0-4, it sure doesn’t look like it), the Lakers are no where near as good as even some of the upstarts in the Western Conference, like Phoenix and Sacramento, and thus keeps them out of the playoffs. They just don’t have the parts around Kobe to do it. They have some nice pieces, like Ed Davis and Jeremy Lin, but those guys aren’t consistent and, as mentioned above with Lin, may not blend with Kobe enough to take advantage of their strengths. But who cares about this team and the playoffs? We just want to see Kobe let it rip, because this may be one of the few seasons we have left to watch him to do it. .
To wrap up The Layup Line, I want to look at one team that impressed me the most during the week. It’s only the first week, but one team stood out from the rest.
Stephen Curry and Clay Thompson have scored a combined 165 points in their first three games of the season. The duo combined for 72 points against the Lakers in one of the best performances by a backcourt I have ever witnessed. If Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala can stay healthy for defensive purposes, and guys like Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes can contribute when needed, this team is going to be very good all year. As much as they can score, they need Bogut to help anchor a front line that struggled against the top-notch front courts of the Clippers and Spurs. Bogut is going to provide the muscle that will fuel their high-scoring back court, and with Thompson and Iguodala defending the wing, they may transform into one of the better defensive teams in the league. The real test for this team starts this week starting with the Clippers at home on November 5th and the Houston Rockets on November 8th. Both teams will provide a challenge on both ends of the court, and it will be a good barometer to see how complete this Warriors team is this early in the season. Regardless, this might be the most entertaining team in the NBA.