Three NBA hot takes
By Gage Smith, Sports Editor
The NBA is predictably unpredictable. That’s not stopping me from making some predictions. Let’s take a look at some opinions that are unpopular right now, but might just not be in a few months.
Ja Morant is the Most Valuable Player (MVP)
“The way I look at it within myself, why not? Why can’t I be the MVP of the league? Why can’t I be the best player in the league? I don’t see why [not]. Why can’t I do that?”
Those are the iconic words of Derrick Rose in 2010. The freakishly-athletic point guard spoke his winning of the 2010-11 MVP award into existence and made history as the youngest NBA MVP ever (22 years and 211 days). Despite his youth, he led his Chicago Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference, even past the dominant Miami Heat “big three” team that many would argue was a dynasty.
We may be seeing history repeating itself. Ja Morant, at just 22 years old at the time of writing, is also a freakishly-athletic point guard who has led his Memphis Grizzlies near the top of the Western Conference standings, right up there with the Golden State Warriors, who appear to be back in their dynastic form.
Before the season, nobody thought Memphis would be this good. But Morant has breathed new life into this organization and is the centrepiece of its exciting new culture. Nikola Jokić, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo are topping most MVP ladders at the time of writing, but I would argue that Morant is as important to his team’s success as any of them.
The Brooklyn Nets will fall short of the conference finals again
It feels like yesterday that the news broke about James Harden being traded to the Nets. The NBA world was set on fire. We hadn’t seen that combination of hype and panic since Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors. The big three of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden might be the most imposing on-paper trio the NBA has ever seen from an offensive perspective.
But there were concerns about their personalities inhibiting their raw talent. All of those stars had unceremoniously left a team in the past after failing to deliver on championship expectations (Irving had done it twice). All of them had butted heads with co-stars or coaching staff in the past.
They had their hearts broken in a last-second game seven loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the playoffs last season. And now Kyrie Irving can’t play home games because he refuses to get vaccinated, Kevin Durant has been dealing with injuries and James Harden has been struggling to adapt to the rule changes.
It’s hard to believe the Nets were the clear championship favourite less than a calendar year ago. Their star power alone should be enough to keep them in the Eastern Conference’s upper echelon and make a first round playoff victory likely. But I see them matching up with the Bucks, Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls in round two. If they can’t get their big three to take the floor together, which has been the case for virtually the whole time this “superteam” has existed, I don’t see Brooklyn surviving a playoff series against any of those teams.
The Chicago Bulls is an empty first seed
Every once in a while, a team takes hold of the top spot in the Eastern Conference’s standings that isn’t a real threat to win a championship. In 2015, it was the Atlanta Hawks. In 2017, it was the Boston Celtics. In 2018, it was the Toronto Raptors.
Those squads had a lot in common. They all had all-stars on the roster. They were all well-balanced, deep teams that moved the ball well. But they all lacked a top-five player to lead them deep into the playoffs. So when it came time for them to face off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, they all fell.
If LeBron was still in the Eastern Conference, I doubt he’d bat an eye at the current Chicago Bulls who’ve been jockeying for first in the east all year.
Don’t get me wrong, the Bulls are an exciting team with a ton of potential. Their mix of one-on-one scorers and playmakers in Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vuevi has proven to be potent and fun to watch. But so were those other teams. In fact, DeRozan was one of the best players on that Raptors team, but his playoff shortcomings were a huge reason for their yearly collapses. When they traded him away, they won it all.
Exactly zero members of Chicago’s core have proven themselves in the playoffs. Exactly zero of them are anywhere close to being a top-ten player in the league, let alone top-five.
Maybe they’ll have the synergy necessary to push them over the edge, but I’m not convinced. LeBron the Bogeyman might be far away out west now, but Antetokounmpo is fresh off of a jaw-dropping championship run and will serve as the east’s new gatekeeper. The Heat have also cut their teeth in their 2020 finals run.
My money’s on either of them in a matchup against the Bulls unless Michael Jordan comes out of retirement… he’s proven in the playoffs.