As promised, here is part 2 of our mid season review of the National Basketball Association (NBA) 2018 – 2019 season. We will delve a little bit more on some teams that have the potential for a deep playoff run but are having struggles thus far. We will also cover a few teams that may not necessarily be playoff caliber today but have key pieces to be teams of the future. Read on, Palawan…
The Jimmy Butler Dynamic
Early this season, the Philadelphia 76ers traded two of their regular starters in stretch 4 Dario Saric and 3 and D specialist Robert Covington for the all around skills of All Star Jimmy Butler. On paper and as of this writing, it seems like the Sixers have added more playoff “teeth”. Butler is a guaranteed presence on both sides of the court and is also a clutch player they can go to at the stretch..
There is, however, a question about whether or not Butler will fit well with his new teammates. Will his style and demeanor bode well with the coaching staff? There are earlier reports that Butler has started questioning his role in head coach Brett Brown’s system. Joel Embiid, at one point, also called out his reduced role (or touches) when Butler joined the team.
If the Sixers are serious in their NBA Finals drive this year, the onus is on the Philly coaching staff to get the best of the team’s strengths and get them to work together as a solid unit. If the playoffs were to start today, the Sixers will have a very difficult time knocking off the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors out of 1st and 2nd spot in the East. It may take a few more practices and perhaps a mid season team building activity to sort out all of their differences. The Sixers need to act quick and address these concerns because I believe that this is the year that they have a good chance to make it all the way to the Finals…. or run the risk of Butler walking away via free agency in 2019 as he does have that player option for next season.
With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back from an injury laden 2017 – 2018 season, one would expect the Boston Celtics to dominate the East. That isn’t the case so far this season. In fact, as of this writing, the Celtics are placed fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Irving is back to All Star level performance but the same could not be said of Hayward. Anyone who has seen the gruesome injury Hayward suffered on the very first Celtic game of last season would understand why he started the second half slow.
Will Hayward improve further in the second half? Are the Celtics too heavy on the wings with Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown sharing minutes? Do they need to trade to get a rim protector? These are some of the questions that need to be answered by the Celtics coaching staff and management over the next few weeks should they want to increase their chances of a Finals trip in June.
The Injured King
As of this writing, Lebron James is still working his way back to game shape after a groin injury that is keeping him away for a few games. With James active, we know that the Los Angeles Lakers are a force in the West but without him, even the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers can get the better of them. Night and day. Without James, the Lakers is, at best, an average team. The question is why? They have blue chip recruits in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and a veteran support cast in Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Lance Stephenson. We can say that the Lakers are 3 levels deep in every position.
Yours truly feels that somehow the young Lakers became over dependent on James in the first half of the season. Keeping The King rested due to this injury will allow the rest of the team to step up and prove they can win but in my opinion, it is about time that Brandon Ingram flexes his muscle a little bit more. He has the potential to be a superstar in this team. If we see Ingram dominate more, James can take his time to fully recover and more importantly, need not be as heavily utilised like the first half of the season preserving his 34 year old frame for the final stretch of the season.
I would love to see James evolve as a facilitator and more of a mentor and not have to score 30 points and log heavy minutes night in and night out. Let’s see how head coach Luke Walton fixes the Lakers win percentage, with or without the King on the floor.
The Suns and the Kings
The Phoenix Suns are struggling this year but if you take a look at their core unit of Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre, TJ Warren, Jamal Crawford, first round pick Mikal Bridges and this year’s number 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, one would agree that this team is but a couple of pieces and a season or two away from being a playoff contender.
Their win percentage may not look well today but if you see their gambit of putting Booker as a facilitator and with the upside they have in Jackson, Ayton, and Bridges, we should expect bigger things for Phoenix in the years to come. This year is but breaking in young talent into the system.
Over at Sacramento, the Kings, as of this writing is hovering at a little over .500 win percentage at mid season. This roster is also stacked with young first round talents of the last few years. A young core of Willie Cauley-Stein, Marvin Bagley III, De’Aaron Fox, and Buddy Hield guarantee height, heft, shooting and back court savvy that can potentially do well in a year or two. A couple of veteran leadership pieces in the offseason will work wonders for the Kings that will definitely rejuvenate their loyal fan base.
We still have 40 games per team on the second half of the season so a win streak here and there can still change the playoff picture, Palawan! Teams are peaking and expect tougher yet more exciting matches from hereon.
(The writer is a senior leader of the only Business Process Outsourcing Contact Center company in Puerto Princesa. He also is the current Puerto Princesa Underground River Festival Foundation President)