2018 NBA Playoffs: Parity Is Alive & Well
The main complaint in the era of super teams is the lack of competition. But competition has never been more than a veil of second, third, and sixteenth seeds waiting patiently for their turn at an upset. Parity is the balancing of the playing field in a league. Without it, you basically have the WWE. It's synonymous with competing, but competition is fueled by more than just rings. On the surface, a lack of competition today is through politicin', colluding & text messages, fueled by animosity toward ownership and a hunger for money, big markets and rings.
There's been little surface equality from a competitive perspective for seemingly a decade now. Well, the pendulum is bound to chill at one point and what that means in terms of the NBA, is that we have a lot of young, up and coming teams that were not suppose to do this well this far into the season. The part about this that's fucking nuts? A lot of this newfound parity, I.E. competiveness, comes out of violent desires. Star players wanting less bodies in their spotlights, and trade fodder that turned out to be another team's treasure. And if Shakespeare taught us anything about violent desires, it's that they'll have violent ends in the NBA playoffs. I think that's what he was trying to say, at least. RUN IT.
MIA @ 76er's
76ers took this series 4-1. I never thought Miami stood a chance. Great coach and a great system, but they were overachieving with a lack of talent. There's no better example of a shocking youth movement than Philly. I don't know if anyone really expected "The Process" to pan out. With injuries finally at bay, the 76er's have a squad that a lot of teams strive to have. You have a mismatch at the point guard position with Ben Simmons, who at this point is in a race for rookie of the year against Donovan Mitchell depending on which team now advances further into the playoffs. LeBron-lite has been used a bit considering Simmons nearly averaged a triple dub this season, but lets not get crazy. LeBron's jump shot until recently hasn't been Ray Allen level, but it was always much better than what Simmons is working with now. But this doesn't cause Philly to skip a step. Simmons has the size, ball handling, and speed to drive to the basket & kick the rock out with the best of them. Guess who he's kicking it out to? Snipers. He'll eventually want to develop a three point shot...but for now?
For now, Philly has J.J. Redick, Robert Convington, Marco Belinelli, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, T.J. McConnell, Ersan Illyasova - shit, even Joel Embid can shoot the three. Plenty of options for kick outs & knock downs. Speaking of Joel Embid though. While Simmons provides the playmaking stability for this team, Embid gives the punch to the mouth to solidify games. In an era shaking off the dust of shit big-men, Embid was a rude awakening to the Miami Heat. His defense changed the series. Not sure how many times I saw that big mu'fucka fall to the ground out of effort (both legitimately, and academy awards style). His offense was hindered by the mask he was forced to wear after a fractured orbital surgery, but if that was Embid at a diminished level...well, teams can't plan enough around the dude.
At the end of the day, it was the mentality that lifted the young talent. Philly has the right mix of proven vets and young talent. Even more, their young talent has an old school rough em' up playoff mentality. You don't see that often. Shoulders dripping in chips most likely are a result of a higher than average desire to prove themselves. These kids were drafted into a dumpster fire of a situation; representing a losing franchise, out of commission with injures and constantly dodging "bust" labels. Barring any drops in healthy, Philly will be a force in the east for a while.
OKC @ Jazz
Utah Jazz took this series 4-2. I mentioned earlier that Donovan Mitchell was the only other one, besides Ben Simmons, in the run for rookie of the year. The kid is impressive. While Simmons was constantly flirting with triple doubles, Mitchell was taking on being the focal point of an offense as an undersized guard. His athleticism, skill and NBA ready body have allowed him to do so. At 6'3 and 215 lbs, Mitchell's three point shooting and driving ability give him all the space that he needs to operate. More importantly though, Mitchell landed on a team surrounded by well structured plays and defense that allow him to focus on carrying an offensive load. An ideal situation for any rookie with high skill set to showcase his game.
Despite my hatred for the Jazz, I admire their current structure. It all starts with Rudy Gobert in the center. His elite movement and defensive instincts interrupt a lot of offense. From there, the Jazz have solid ball movement spearheaded by Ricky Rubio (who will be out for part of the second round, unfortunately). Tying it back into parity though, the Jazz were one of the many teams that weren't suppose to be good. In fact, they were really shitty for the first half of the season. Why? Because you lost your best player in Gordon Hayward in the off-season, and had an off-again, on-again, Rudy Gobert battling with injuries. Lucky enough for the Jazz, this gave plenty of opportunities for Donovan Mitchell to rapidly mature into the player he is in these playoffs. How does parity play into this? Well, they again lost their star to greener pastures. Literally. The Celtics. Their color is green. And while the Celtics will certainly be better with Hayward, I can't in good conscious say that the Jazz are worst off without him.
The flip side? OKC were suppose to be the super team that rivaled Golden State. The big three of Westbrook, Paul George, and Melo all raised concerns in the beginning. I know that I hoped that they could gel together into a one-two punch between Westbrook & George, followed by an Olympic-styled Melo that focused on rebounds and spot up shots. I think with a better coach and another year, this squad could fine tune a lot more of their game plan. They won't have that option though. Paul George is likely gone in the off season. Melo will be traded as he's now in that awkward limbo part of a career where he is on the ropes, trying to prove that he still has a lot to offer. Westbrook will remain. It'd be too devastating to that franchise to get rid of him. But, they have a lot of work to do. And I can't help but think that they're looking over at the Pacers and regretting trying to hit it out of the ball park with that Sabonis & Oladipo trade. Can't blame them for going for it. Hindsight is a bitch.
MIL @ BOS
The Boston Celtics took this series after a grueling 7 games. Gordon Hayward was not a factor after breaking his ankle less than two minutes into the season. Kyrie Irving was not a factor outside of helping them to get home court throughout a part of the regular season. A superstar and main attraction yes, but his body could not last into the post season. A couple other homies were injured; some returning later in the series like defensive specialist Marcus Smart. All that really remained was Al Horford, a few vets, and some promising rookies & sophomores. What's the point here? Well, a lack of star power was negated by intelligent coaching. Why is that a big deal? Shows that the floor of excellence is higher than many would imagine. Will Boston need a superstar to take it to the next level? Most likely. Not everyone can't be the Detroit Pistons of 2004.
If you want to cheers with glasses half-filled with promise, then this is the team to clink to. The Jaylen Brown & Jason Tatum duo have the potential to be special. Terry Rozier has now opened up the eternal debate of assets versus the now. In Kyrie's absence, Rozier has played within the system and produced. He's not better than Kyrie in any fashion other than health - but, is his impact versus Kyrie's more beneficial than what Kyrie can fetch in a trade? This shit's chess, not checkers. Loyalty doesn't live here. We're all trading chips. No one is irreplaceable.
And what about the Bucks? Giannis is learning from the pedigree of today's disgruntled stars. I see him leaving in the same way that Dwight Howard left Orlando. Salty, fake & messy. The Bucks need shooters. Reason being? Giannis can't fucking shoot, and will handle the ball more than anyone else. His height and length will allow him to play the drive & kick out game with the best of them - but he needs someone to pass to. The Bucks are in need of a point guard that plays defense, can hit the three at a decent clip, and has solid court vision. That's not Eric Bledsoe. He doesn't really do any of those anymore. On top of that, you need to maximize a lack of shooting with a plethora of quality screens. Thon Maker (while starting to hit the tres), and Henson are both too skinny to set hard screens. They'll need a Bogut (too soon?) or an Adam Steven's type of player to get their shooters open.
I had to edit this part, because I realized that I was about to give a bunch of point guard trade options when in reality, the Buck's have who they need - Malcom Brogdon. He'll provide occasional spot up shooting, drives to the bucket, and solid passing. From there, your second option is Khris Middleton. He's the real killer on that team with his shot. Giannis has shown that he can keep you in the game, but his limited offensive capabilities are reflected down the stretch. Middleton will drain a needed dagger. They're in need of a few snipers and a decent coach to become a perennial playoff team. There's no way of them bringing him in, but Nikola Jokic could be amazing on this team. You'll hear me say that with most teams, but imagine Jokic constantly passing to a cutting Giannis, or drawing a double team and kicking it out to a wide open Middleton. Giannis would be one of the ideal talents to be able to back up Jokic from the weak side to minimalize his lack of defensive impact.
IND @ CAVS
Cleveland narrowly escaped an unprecedented first round exit in LeBron's career. It was not pretty. LeBron was King James & averaged 42 points in the wins, and a stat line of 34/10/7.7 throughout the seven game series. Indiana were the better team, but LeBron happened. And...the occasional bad call. Their front court dominated with efficiency until Cleveland responded with a line up change that was more dictated by mentality versus ability. Experience looked like the deciding factor given that the team that excelled with execution lost out to defending conference champs. They'll be contenders every year should they continue to grow - and considering their young talent, that's almost a certain. The Pacers should now be on every teams radar.
The beauty of this young Pacers team is that they were expected to be hot garbage after the Paul George trade. But, Indiana traded for lightning in a bottle. Oladipo has matured into a super star under the previous tutelage of Westbrook. Sabonis is playing as a less flashy version of his all-time great father. Myles Turner continues to be solid with even more upside to crack into. Factor in quality role players like Bojan Bogdanovic, Lance Stephenson and Darren Collision who has finally re-landed himself on a team that appreciates what he brings. Consistency, up-tempo offense, tenacious defense and the occasional big isolation play. What he has to bring, is an athletic and versatile back court when paired with Oladipo. This team would not have been nearly as great, had they not traded away Paul George. Unexpected parity, guys. No one predicted this swing.
Catch me outside...shit, wrong article. I'll see you in the second round. I'm prepared for everything I just said to be negated when either of the two super teams, Houston & Golden State, take it all. Until then.