The NBA season tipped off on Tuesday night, with the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons picking up victories. Wednesday marks the first full slate of games, highlighted by Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder taking on the San Antonio Spurs.
Durant and the Thunder have a huge season ahead of them in advance of his impending free agency. Today’s Fastbreak Managing Editor Jason Patt and Assistant Editor Kelly Scaletta got together to talk KD, as well as LaMarcus Aldridge and Kobe Bryant.
Jason: What are your expectations for Kevin Durant, not only for this season, but next summer as well?
Kelly: I expect Kevin Durant to be Kevin Durant. I expect this because, in my heart, I refuse to consider anything else. I hate seeing great players wrecked by injury. Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Derrick Rose…UGH!!! I can’t take any more. Let Durant be healthy, PLEASE!!!
As far as next summer goes, I don’t think he leaves OKC. I think he genuinely likes playing with Russ and wants to continue what they have going there. I do find it funny that the same press that crucified LeBron for leaving Cleveland is seemingly trying to push Durant out of OKC, though.
But what he does, no one knows. He’s pretty clearly keeping things very close to the vest, and I’m not paying any attention to rumors until he makes his announcement AND signs a contract. You can ask Mark Cuban why that’s necessary.
Jason: Pours one out for Emoji Wars. Anyway, if you missed my season predictions, I have KD winning MVP. I almost feel silly for making that pick considering all those surgeries last year, but I think the guy is going to be out for blood this year (he looked great in preseason). Everybody is jumping on the Stephen Curry/Anthony Davis hype train (I mean, I’m doing this as well), but KD will be out to prove he’s still one of the top two (or even THE best) players in the league.
Am I crazy for thinking this? Please tell me if I am.
I also picked the Thunder to win the Finals (again, feel free to call me crazy), and considering that, I certainly don’t see KD going anywhere next summer. I don’t know if he’s going to sign a full blown max, though. If he has an MVP season, going the LeBron route and signing the 1+1 contract makes a lot of sense. This aligns him with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka when they become free agents in 2017.
Kelly: I don’t think he wins the MVP just because Russell Westbrook is there. Only twice since the ABA/NBA merger has a winner and a teammate finished in the top eight. That was the Bulls in ’96 with MJ and Scottie and before that, the Sixers with Moses Malone and Dr. J in ’83. Considering those were two of the greatest teams in history, that’s a HIGH standard to reach.
That said, I don’t think it’s at all crazy to think that Durant comes out with a vendetta and shreds the league. We’ve seen what he can do, and I think he was just about to hit his peak when he got hurt. There could be another level to him, which is scary.
There are two reasons to do a 1+1. First, the cap is going to spike again in the summer of 2017. Second, 2016-17 will be his 10th year. That means in 2017 he could sign for 35 percent of the cap instead of 30 percent.
I did the math on if he does the 1+1, and the six-year total comes out to $242 million. That’s nearly a quarter of a BILLION, with a B.
As far as the Thunder winning the title, I just don’t think it happens. I think they’ll be around in the second round, along with Houston, the Warriors and the Spurs. But I don’t see them getting past Golden State or San Antonio.
The West is just depressingly tough.
Jason: Yeah, the Thunder title love is just me buying in on their overall talent level. I certainly don’t feel THAT confident in the pick, but I’m sticking to my guns, dammit.
Speaking of San Antonio, the Thunder’s opponent tonight, they made the biggest splash of the offseason by signing LaMarcus Aldridge. Obviously Aldridge is a great player, but do you have any concerns about his “ball-stopping” ways and isos that result in long twos? Will he change his style to fit better in the Spurs’ system? I’m assuming he does, and since I know you picked him to be your MVP, you clearly think he will. What kind of numbers do you think he’ll put up?
Kelly: I think around 24 and 10, but much more efficient. One thing I think people lose sight of is how much team influences field goal percentage. The offense you’re in, the teammates around you, the system it runs, usage etc., all have big impact on field goal percentage.
I did a study on this for BBallBreakdown, and it turns out that on average when players have been traded midseason, their FG% changes by 3 percent, and 80 percent of the time that fluctuation was to the new team. That’s probably because the team trading for a guy sees something they can use and end up being right.
While this isn’t a midseason trade, the logic holds. LMA is switching to a new offense which will better utilize him. Ergo, a bump back to 50 percent shooting isn’t at all unlikely. When you look at his shot chart from last year and how many mid-range shots he was taking, that was a product of the offense. Pop will use him smarter and better.
I see him getting the MVP without being the best player. I think the Spurs are going to be insanely good this year. He’ll be the best scorer and the best player on the best team. The whole change of venue will get him narrative votes. And there are SO many contenders. Not having to split votes and being best player on the best team should be enough to get it for him.
That said, I’m about as confident on that pick as I am of a Derrick Rose three going in.
Jason: 24 and 10, huh? That 24 PPG would be a career high, and I’m not sure if he can be quite THAT efficient to get to 24 PPG. Or it might just be a function of me not being sure if he’ll get the shots and/or minutes necessary to score that much. Pop infamously plays guys low minutes (Kawhi led the team at under 32 MPG last year), so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles LMA.
All that being said, there’s little reason to think LMA and the Spurs won’t be anything but awesome. The one major concern I have is Tony Parker, who looked washed at Eurobasket and wasn’t all that good in preseason. Parker doesn’t have to be his peak self thanks to LMA coming on board and the continued growth of Kawhi Leonard, but he can’t be terrible either.
Kelly: Yeah. I guess the one thing I’ve learned with the Spurs is that Pop will adapt.
You might have a point on the 24 being a career high. And Stephen Curry might have won the MVP in Game No. 1.
Jason: 24 PPG for LMA? Curry’s out here dropping 24 points in the first quarter. Because he does that. Anthony Davis on the other hand…let’s say he’s had better days.
Keeping on the No. 24 theme and having better days, we have one Kobe Bean Bryant, who begins his 20th season tonight. There are plenty of rumblings that this is going to be his final season, and while I definitely think it SHOULD be his last year, there’s a small part of me who thinks he’s going to keep on trucking past this year. Is this the last we see of Kobe?
Kelly: God, I hope so. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I just don’t want to see him being pathetic. I mean, let’s just say he’s not quite the guy who poured in 81 anymore. I kind of like the gracious grandfather Kobe who’s helping usher in the new age for the Lakers. If it’s a final year with a farewell tour where the NBA gets to say goodbye to one of the greatest ever, I’m happy.
It’s sort of odd, but Tim Duncan doesn’t get the same kind of questions/pressure. Maybe that’s because he’s still playing consistently.
Jason: Yeah, Duncan is still killing it and isn’t falling apart at the seams. Mr. Fundamental lit it up against the Clippers in the playoffs last year! It’s still amazing to me that he pulled that off against that front line.
As for Kobe, I really, really, really hope he embraces the facilitator and spot-up shooting role this season. Kobe gets so much flak (and much of it deserved) for poor shot selection, but he really is an exceptional passer when he wants to be. Hell, even last year he handed out over five assists a game! With the talented youngsters on board, Kobe can distribute to them and also take advantage of the open spot-up looks he can get playing off the likes of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.
The Lakers won’t be very good this year, but they could be very entertaining of Kobe doesn’t hijack possessions and the kids can do their thing.