The Chicago Bulls’ New Point Guard Is… Cam Reddish?

Similar to what happened with Zion Williamson, I had too much to say about Duke’s Cam Reddish, who may or may not have been my favorite and No.1 prospect coming into this college basketball season.  Expect one more separate column before Thursday’s full mock draft goes up.

No.9, Chicago Bulls: Cam Reddish, Duke

No matter how you view Cam Reddish, he’s a fit for the Bulls at No.9 overall in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Reddish was my favorite player in this class going into the college basketball season.  The guy was 6’8, shot the ball incredibly well and played point guard in high school.  What was there not to like?

Despite a weird, confusing and at times bad season at Duke, there still may not be much to not like.

Reddish wasn’t phased out of the system at Duke because he was a bad player.  It’s because Zion was a generational talent and because Barrett couldn’t make an impact without being phased in.

Reddish got the short end of the stick.

But at times, Reddish showed his potential.  He hit deep threes and showed off an almost flawless shooting stroke.  He got to the rim with tantalizing moves and handles; showing off some of that point guard/ball-handling skill.  He played his role on both ends of the court and didn’t complain.

It was certainly an adjustment for Reddish, and it hurt him most of the time.  It took him forever to get going in games; he’d be inactive for whole halves at a time, acting as a complete non-factor offensively.  He’d struggle to get in a rhythm with hitting shots, hence his low field goal and three point percentages.  That’d then translate to the defensive side of the ball, where laziness would set in.

Duke had to force the ball into Reddish’s hands.  It was an “Okay, your turn!” game with Reddish on the court.  That’s how good Zion was.

Reddish didn’t display the selfishness like teammate Tre Jones did (Jones’ takeovers were not effective though).  Reddish hardly tried to do things himself and get himself some possessions.  He didn’t try to get involved.

Reddish was like the outsider in your group of friends who could secretly be a genius.

That might be a little bit too high of praise for Reddish.  The timidness reminds me of Jayson Tatum this past season; Tatum’s someone who we had (and still have) high expectations for, but has yet to hit them due to situation and drive issues.

Reddish’s ceiling might be higher, especially if the Bulls let him takeover a bit.  Chicago’s outlook at point guard is bleak.  Kris Dunn has completely flopped at the position despite being an impactful defender; he’s practically unplayable offensively.  They don’t really have anyone else; Ryan Archidianco is a backup at best.  The Bulls putting Reddish in the spotlight of the offense might unlock him a bit and allow him to showcase everything he has to offer: Passing, scoring, shooting.  His isolating scoring and how well he projects as a dominant scorer is questionable because dribbling proved to be a struggle at Duke, but that could again be tied back to the low usage and minimal attempts he was given to do those things.  If you do something less, the worse you’re going to be at it.  Still, Reddish’s feel and projected efficiency makes him a possible diamond in the rough of this class.

If turning things over to Reddish doesn’t work out, then using him in a role similar to the one he was in at Duke could be another option.  The Bulls need more wings, and Reddish has shown potential to be effective in that role despite the inconsistency.  Despite ball-hog Zach Lavine running the show in Chicago, a system with more ball movement and more touches for everyone involved gets Reddish more involved.  The biggest difference between the NBA and college is, no matter how inefficient the system, is the efficiency.  The most inefficient team in the NBA is more efficient than the most efficient team in college.  That can only help Reddish.

Enter Zion

Like my NFL Mock Draft, I just had too much to say about the No.1 overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft.  Throw in the Anthony Davis trade that occurred Saturday night and we’ve got a separate column.

No.1, New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, Duke

When my friends were showing me Twitter and Instagram highlights of Zion Williamson’s dunks in the spring of 2018, I was like “Cool.”

“What does he do on the court?”, I would ask.  “Can I see him do something else rather than dunk?”

Crickets.  No one said anything.  No one talked about anything but the dunks.  I wasn’t going to buy in like everyone else.  Yet.

Well, that check has been cashed.

From the very first Duke game, the answer to my question was clear.  “OH, SO THAT’S WHAT HE DOES ON THE BASKETBALL COURT” was the first note in my 15 page scouting document.

Zion could literally do everything.  He did everything this season.  He could isolate anyone and go to the rim on them.  Pull-up in the mid-range on them.  Occasionally hit a three on them.  He could come off screens and hit shots.  He set vicious screens.  He was prominent in the pick-and-roll, as a ball-handler AND a screener.  He was a lead ball-handler, legitimately playing point guard for long stretches of time.  He tried defensively.  He guarded anyone 1-5 and hardly struggled.  He switched effectively because of the athleticism.  He protected the rim.  Blocked shots.  Ran the offense and conducted the defense.

Zion did everything.  That’s why he is the best player to enter the NBA since LeBron James.  This is the best prospect since the King.  I’m not even sure it’s close.  Some scouts and outlets have Anthony Davis ranked ahead of him; that’s fair but a bit of a reach in my mind.  He’s far and away better than Luka Doncic or Kevin Durant.  He’s the clear No.2 behind LeBron.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some concerns.  None are major, though.

Despite that his first shot ever made at Duke was a three pointer, the three-pointer was not something he excelled at.  It went in 33.8% of the time, an okay clip especially for college.  But that’s borderline effective in the NBA; no one’s treating you real seriously out there at that percentage.  Still, Zion’s three-point percentage felt higher than that 33.8% mark.  Every time he shot one you expected it to go in, and when it did, it literally felt like you were watching one of the greatest players ever.

I believe Zion can fix it and get the percentage up.  Again, 33% is not horrific; it’s actually a pretty good start.  He gets little lift on his jump-shot, and his left elbow sticks out funny in his shooting motion.  With some quirks, Zion can easily manifest into a very good three point shooter, and fast.

Another slight concern is some of his defensive habits.  Though an excellent all-around defender as I mentioned above, Zion showed moments of trying to go for the big play on the defensive end.  He would purposely let guys go by him, and chase them down just to block their shot.  Guys are too athletic in the NBA to get packed like that every time.  With his size, you also wonder about the switchability onto quicker players.  That doesn’t at all negate the fact that someone of Zion’s size is able to stay on the court and guard 3-5 with ease.  It’s insane he’s as switchable as he is given his size.

And then there was the injury against North Carolina, which triggered a bizarre conversation about whether Zion’s size made him too susceptible to injuries when the injury itself was caused by nothing Zion did but what his Nike shoe did.  Most of the injury concern with Zion is I believe due to the fact that we’ve seen no one at this size do the things he does, and that leads people to wonder whether it’s actually possible or sustainable for him to do that at a NBA level.  You can’t project injuries, so let’s just not do it.

As for Zion’s fit, New Orleans just happened to be the team that landed him.  He doesn’t not fit anywhere; every team would love to have Zion and would be able to use him no matter what their roster construction is.

Roster construction is an interesting topic post-AD trade.  The Pelicans landed three solid young players in addition to the bevy of draft picks from the Lakers.  Whether they keep all of those assets remains to be seen.

The situation in New Orleans isn’t as good as I thought it’d be.  The Pelicans got back 110 cents on the dollar like they should have for one of the league’s ten best players and perhaps one of the 50 best players of all-time.  As I wrote in February, you have to overpay for guys like that, and you don’t take a discount if you’re New Orleans.  You play the hardest ball you can.

They did that in terms of value and got it, but I question whether it was the right value.  With Zion, it’s go-time.  There’s no building.  There’s no “We need to develop this young core.”  Zion is ready and developed.  He’s the type of guy where he’ll likely be one of the 30 best players in the league immediately, and could have a team in the playoffs as early as his rookie year.  We’re looking at a LeBron-level impact here, so why did New Orleans trade for other young players?

One, the Lakers didn’t have anything else to offer.  There was no way they were giving up more draft picks than they already did, and LeBron obviously wasn’t going to be shipped straight up for Davis.  Two, and there’s been reports of this, they can easily flip the young guys acquired into something else.  Whether that’d be Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram or the No.4 overall pick (I keep Josh Hart out the three players; he’s at least a solid wing/defender and shooter.  I still don’t know exactly what Ball and Ingram bring), the Pelicans can use those assets to bring in win-now, veterans players to help make this roster a title contender next season.  There’s no sense in having Jrue Holiday play with all of these guys; by the time you’re ready to contend (and IF you’re ever going to with an Ingram/Ball core), he might be past his prime and less effective.

The Pelicans need to treat Zion like a veteran, even though he’s 13 days older than me (Yup, you read that correctly.  I’m a little freaked out too); like someone who can be the best player on a championship team.  Because that’s what he is.  Right now.  Already.  He’s the best player on a championship team.  Despite winning the trade, the Pelicans don’t have that team around him right now.  You have a window with him and you have to let the light in.

For the Lakers, the Davis trade was a dream-come-true even with the price they paid.  In what was starting to become inevitable for weeks, the Lakers got the guy they oh-so-desperatly tried to get in February, and decided to stop being cheap and pay up.  That’s essentially what this came down too.  New management on the Pelicans side of things, less incompetence (That’s not to say Rob Pelinka is competent, but I think I trust just him more than I trust him and Magic together or Magic by himself) and a renounced sense of urgency (Due to some free agent rumors) on the Lakers side of things got this deal done.  The Lakers traded the right players away (Except Hart; would have been nice if they kept him around) but had to pay a massive price to make up for it.  With that, they get LeBron and AD together, with Kyle Kuzma as an underrated scorer from the wing and now have something that can attract free agents.  They need a point guard and some more wings who play well off of LeBron, but the Lakers could manifest into a title contender quite quickly.

The giving up of the picks had to be done.  It will be terrible when the picks start actually getting sent off and used by the Pelicans, but the Lakers are making the bet that those tough years will follow success and glory.  They’re making the bet that it will be worth it.  LeBron and AD with a solid point guard and decent wings is a dang good team.  LeBron, AD and a big free agent signing is probably the best team in the league.  That’s a bet that should pay off.

How Toronto Beat The Warriors To Win The NBA Finals

Game 4 was a reality check.

The Warriors were down 3-1 after that Friday night loss.  It didn’t feel like that was possible.  Sure, once it was announced that Kevin Durant was going to miss Game 4 and not play, the narrative for Toronto was that they couldn’t lose.  We had to prepare ourselves that the Warriors, whether it be in Game 5,6, or 7 were not going to win the series.  There was just no way they could survive four games without Durant.

Eventually, the Warriors lost.  They made it through 4.5 games without Durant, giving it their all in Game 5 after he went down with a devastating achilles injury that turned the series on its head.  And in Game 6, it was another devastating injury that helped Toronto survive, as Klay Thompson sustained a torn ACL after putting up 30 points in almost three quarters.

But injuries weren’t the only thing that won Toronto this series.  As I wrote in my preview, I was high on the Raptors practically all year.  I thought they could present some issues to Golden State.

Toronto went out and made smart trades, got their No. 1 guy and played an efficient, modern brand of basketball with its own tinge of old-school that made Golden State combust.  It worked.  Here’s a breakdown of why.

In a small-ball league, Toronto went and played big, and made it efficient

This would not have been a series for Jonas Valancuinas or Jakob Poeltl.

Despite what the Raptors did with their big men in this series, the two former Raptors would have never survived in this series.  Golden State would have destroyed Valancuinas and Poeltl in the pick-and-roll, or stretched them out to the perimeter defensively and made them unplayable that way.  Plus, neither of them do stuff like this.

Give me ALL of that.

This is where the Raptors got creative.  They had two dudes on the court at all times that Golden State could do nothing with.  Marc Gasol?  Who’s there to defend him posting up, or stopping this?

Notice how these Gasol are all quick and efficient.  If you’re going to play big guys, the production they give you has to be of this kind.

What about Pascal Siakam?  The dude had 32 points in Game 1 on 17 shots.  He made 14 of them.  He did it with plays like this.

But he also shot threes, posted up, and hung around the rim for put-backs.  His length and athleticism was too much for a Golden State team that was without KD (a perfect matchup) and had Kevon Looney (Someone who could at least minimize Siakam’s impact) battling through a painful injury.

And then put one of those two with Serge Ibaka, who turned into a shot-blocking machine in Game 5 and destroyed the Warriors on three straight possessions in Game 6 by simply hanging around the rim looking for second chance points and lobs?  Draymond Green couldn’t do it by himself on the defensive end.  The Warriors were just overmatched by the Raptors’ smarts and size.

Fred VanVleet did not miss

Though it felt like he shot 70%, Fred VanVleet shot 37.9% from three against the Warriors, and 44.9% from the field.

The reason it felt like 70% was because the shots mattered.  When Toronto needed a big shot, VanVleet was there.  The options were legitimately Kawhi Leonard and him.  That’s the level VanVleet ascended to this postseason.  It’s one of the most improbable hot streaks I can remember.  It’s a like a pitcher in baseball or a whole team in football.  They heat up and never cool down, and it leads to a championship most of the time.

That wasn’t the only way VanVleet made his impact known though.

Toronto beat up Stephen Curry when it mattered

Curry’s 49 point game in Game 3 was undeniably incredible.  With literally every solid offensive option out but him, and the defensive issues we examined above fully on display, Curry knew he had to take things into his own hands in the grandest way possible and he did.  It just wasn’t enough, and against this Toronto team, that was understandable.

And in other games, Toronto did just enough.  Curry wasn’t enough to make up for the loss for Durant and Thompson.  Despite putting up 30.5 points, six assists, 5.2 rebounds, the Raptors held Curry to 41.4% shooting and 34.3% shooting from three.  They did it by beating him up.  Whether it was VanVleet or Lowry smothering him at the top of the key, or fantastic rim protection, the Raptors kept the Warriors’ engine in check.

If there has been any defense against Curry the past five years, it’s been this kind.  Get physical and break him down.

The workload Curry had, in Game 3 and in Game 6, was just unbearable, and though Curry missed the shot at end of the game Thursday, it was justified.  It was one shot and had a 34.3% chance to go down.


Injuries are commonly labeled as excuses for teams winning or losing the title.  But injuries play a key part in every series.  The Warriors know this; Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were both out for the 2015 NBA Finals, leaving LeBron James on an island by himself for six (!!!) games.  If Irving and Love play, that series goes at least seven, or the Cavaliers likely end up winning it in a more compact series.  But we don’t count that in the history books, or put an asterisk next to it.  The Warriors won the Finals that year.  That is what happened.  Yes, they had injury luck, but they won the Finals.

The Raptors won the Finals this year, and they got injury luck as well.  Had Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson been healthy, this is a Warriors in five or six series.  Had Durant alone been healthy the whole time, it’s probably the same.  If Durant comes back in Game 5 and doesn’t blow out his achilles, we’re probably playing Game 7 Sunday night.  The same goes for Klay Thompson last night; if his ACL isn’t torn coming down from that layup, and his shot-making continues, then we probably have a Game 7 Sunday night.  The Raptors caught a break in this series.  The Warriors did in 2015 as well.  What happens, happens.

There is a difference though with this loss for Golden State.  It’s not making an excuse, it’s more just a general observation about what these injuries mean.  In 2015, we had a pretty good idea of what the Cavaliers were going to be the next season.  This time around, that’s not the case at all.  It feels like the way this season ended for Golden State is a sign of things to come.  This same team absolutely won’t be back next season no matter who leaves in free agency or not; Klay Thompson won’t be ready till the playoffs, and Kevin Durant not until the 2020-2021 season.  He may be on a different team by then (Though I think the achilles tear makes him more likely to stay).  No matter what, this time around the injuries leave a greater impact than just a Finals loss.  It could be the end of one of the greatest runs in basketball history.  Even if the Warriors do get everyone from the past three years back for the 2020-21 season, it would create this funky, one year gap in the middle.  It’d almost feel like a lockout year or something.  It will be a strange feeling.  Then again, the only team close to putting up a run like this Golden State team has had double the amount of time in between.

How Toronto Wins (A Must Win) Game 3

One of the biggest keys in this series for Toronto was to get lucky.

That’s one the biggest keys for any team that faces Golden State in a series.

Toronto has gotten lucky.  Despite the series being tied 1-1, the Raptors haven’t had to deal with Kevin Durant (And won’t in Game 3), got Kevon Looney hurt enough to keep him out for the series, and banged up Klay Thompson and Andre Igoudala.

All of that is the case for Toronto in Game 3.  They can’t lose.

Here’s how they avoid a brutal loss.

Make the Warriors feel the loss of Looney

Here’s a list of healthy, good defensive players the Warriors have tonight:

  • Draymond Green
  • Jordan Bell (?)
  • Andrew Bogut(?)
  • Alfonzo McKinnie

Can Bell play in a big game like this?  Is Bogut playable at all?

That’s a lot of ground to cover for Draymond Green, who, despite turning back into the absolute monster we knew him to be, will be tasked with switching on and off Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam throughout Game 3.

DeMarcus Cousins and Green will have to replicate their defensive performance from the second half of Game 2 to keep the Raptors in check.  Cousins was all over the place at the rim Sunday; a stunning turn from his usual habits on that end of the floor.

The Raptors have to minimize Cousins’ defensive impact, overwhelm Green and make Thompson and Iguodala work.  Playing Gasol and Siakam at the same time could be effective (A two man combo I did not envision in this series); Toronto has had massive success rim-running bigs (Siakam in Game 1 and Ibaka in Game 2).  Plowing Gasol and spacing Siakam out wastes Green and forces Cousins to contest at the rim.  Looney’s switchable at both roles.  Now that presence is gone.

There’s another way the Raptors can exploit Cousins and make the Warriors miss Looeny, and that’s by…

Letting Kawhi cook in the isolation and pick and roll

Leonard had a quiet 34 points in Game 2.  His -14 and Toronto’s loss late told the story.  Leonard was good, but he was never great.  He never went to the level Toronto needed, the level we saw against Philadelphia and Milwaukee.  He never really took over.

And that’s okay.  It happens.  But Leonard is going to have to step up in Game 3.  The Raptors can’t lose this game, and they need their best player to win it for them.

With Igoudala, Thompson and Durant hurt, the Warriors best options for Leonard are out or limited.

This has all the makings of a big Leonard game, or a takeover late.

Toronto can get Thompson or Igoudala switched one-on-one with Leonard, a favorable matchup given Kawhi’s ability to breakdown defenders and athleticism to get by them.  They can also put Cousins in the pick and roll, and throw multiple guys at him to defend on the roll.  A Fred VanVleet-Leonard PNR makes Cousins unplayable, and forces a hard closeout from VanVleet’s defender (A hurt Thompson or a healthy Steph?  Favorable) as the shots have just kept going down for the Wichita State product.  Running Kawhi as the ball-handler and a body like Gasol, Ibaka or Siakam puts another big man in good position toward the rim, and once again exploits Cousins.

Kawhi is Toronto’s best player, and with the state of the Warriors, he’s also their most lethal weapon.  Him getting going and dominating should not be an issue.

2019 NBA Finals Preview

For four weeks this NBA season, I was wrong about Toronto.

That was the first two weeks before the season tipped off and the two weeks after it did.

Boston was my Finals pick out of the East.  It was completely defensible, even though it only took those first two weeks of the season to figure out that probably wasn’t going to happen.

Toronto was the next team in line, prior to the season and as soon as our realization about Boston came to fruition.  They had the talent.  They eventually had the look.  And they had what Milwaukee didn’t: Experience, and a player that mattered.  Like, really really mattered.

That player and that experience is going to matter in this series.  It may keep it a little closer than we think.

NBA Finals: Golden State Warriors vs. Toronto Raptors

Despite what we have seen from the Warriors in their five-and-a-half games without Kevin Durant, they are more likely to win their fourth title in four years and their third in a row if he is playing (Good players = better basketball teams?  Does that formula make sense?), but it’s not because of how he affects the Warriors on the offensive side of the court.

Simply, Durant is the Warriors best option to defend Kawhi Leonard, who is having an early-postseason Durant-like run right now.  Kawhi’s slow yet methodical and conducted offensive performances have torched teams.  How do you defend someone at that size, with that length, with that game?  You put Kevin Durant on him, who by the way was the biggest reason why Golden State beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the 2017 Finals due to his defensive performance on one of the two best players of all-time.  LeBron was still ridiculous that series, but Durant forced him a level below the standard we had held him to.  Durant made him less unstoppable.  Durant made him not the God-mode LeBron we saw in 2016.

That’s why the Warriors got Durant.  It’s also why the Raptors got Kawhi.  They’re both players who can be the guy on offense and shut the guy down on defense.

Which is why if KD misses a substantial amount of games, the Raptors could be in pretty good shape.

Klay Thompson is an excellent defender, but probably won’t have the answers for this Kawhi.  And when Golden State successfully blitzed and trapped Damian Lillard in the Western Conference Finals against Portland leaving CJ McCollum to takeover, he did exactly that.  Guarding Kawhi is a whole other beast than someone like McCollum.

Tasking old man Andre Iguodala with that assignment for the games KD is out for is plain mean, and Draymond Green, despite flipping the switch and playing like the best defensive player in the league lately, doesn’t have the speed to contest Kawhi drives.

Draymond and Kevon Looney, yes Kevon Looney, are the keys to Golden State defensively in this series.  How the Warriors match them up and switch them determines everything for the Raptors.  No one, even a lockdown defensive team like Toronto, can match the Warriors offense when its firing.  It’s not a defensive issue at all.  When the Warriors are at their peak, the best defense ever can’t do anything.  It’s that unstoppable.  You have to counter it with the same shot-making and have the numbers go in your favor (Which means that Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and even DeMarcus Cousins are all almost unplayable in this series.  Boogie getting torched and Ibaka+Gasol getting ran off the court are not things either team is going to get away with).  If the Warriors defend the Raptors by switching Looney and Draymond between Pascal Siakam and Kawhi, you can kiss a seven game series and/or a NBA Championship away for the Raptors.  Looney’s insane, mind-boggling athleticism and switchability defensively makes him an underrated candidate to guard Kawhi.  He has the foot speed and the size.  A Kawhi shake and bake or crossover may mean trouble, but having Draymond’s rim protection and blocking ability on Siakam, who’ll be floating around the rim for tip-ins and put-backs and spacing out for threes, is probably worth it.

Draymond on Kawhi in games that KD is out for is a risky bet for the Warriors.  Kawhi’s game this postseason has reached a level where at its peak it is totally unguardable.  Allowing that to occur in the first two games of the series, which Durant is almost certainly out for, could put Golden State shockingly down 2-0 if everything goes right.  The Raptors have home court, meaning that while Golden State probably won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere, it could give the Raptors a boost and sense of confidence.  That crowd has been a ruckus all postseason, and now their team is in the NBA Finals for the first time ever.  They certainly won’t be helping Golden State out.

But it seems incredibly unfeasible that the back-to-back champs would be down 2-0 in a Finals without LeBron James in it.  Their effort won’t fluctuate this time.  The Cavaliers were a team the Warriors had seen time and time again in big games and series.  They knew how far they could stretch their lack of effort.  But in a series against a new opponent in Toronto, and in a series without Kevin Durant, who is the difference-maker no matter how great they look and play without him, testing the effort waters is a dangerous proposition.  Toronto is really good; way better than any team Golden State has seen in the last two years.  And without Durant on the court in a Warriors uniform, Toronto is even scarier.

Still, there is no conceivable way for me to pick them.  Not even in seven.  The Warriors just have that extra gear offensively, and they can shift to it at any time.  You’re up five and then down 15.  It can happen that fast.  There is no stopping, countering, or picking against that.

Kawhi is going to have a game or two, and if the Raptors get lucky, maybe Durant is out three-to-four games.  Four makes things interesting for the Raptors; Toronto probably loses at least one game that KD is out for thanks to a cold shooting night or a hot Golden State shooting night.  But the general consensus on Durant is a two game absence currently.  If that’s the case, the Warriors will be fine.  Remember when Stephen Curry was a bad postseason player?  Me neither.

Prediction: Warriors in 6

Raptors-Bucks Preview

Due to some crazy seeding and hot streaks, we didn’t totally get the Conference Finals we expected in the West.  In the East though, we got exactly what we expected.

No.2 Toronto Raptors vs. No.1 Milwaukee Bucks 

Most teams in the league don’t have anybody to stop or even slightly contain Giannis Antetokounmpo.  That’s why he’s at the heart of one of the more contested and fantastic MVP debates in awhile.  He’s unstoppable.

But there’s a couple teams that do have options for him.  These options aren’t going to stop him, but they could him work a bit more.  These teams are Golden State, Philadelphia, and the Raptors.  That’s it.

But the difference with the Raptors is that there’s a case they have two guys: Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam.  Siakam has maybe the closest skill set to Giannis in the league, with insane length and athleticism that translates both ways incredibly effectively.  And Kawhi is the best perimeter defender of all-time, who went head-to-head with LeBron in a Finals and won at 21-years-old.

Toronto is the team most well built to make Giannis not matter as much in a series. If they plant Kawhi or Siakiam on him, that’s a pretty good bet from Toronto’s side. If they switch everything against him, that’s a good bet too.  Throwing mixed coverages and involving Danny Green makes Giannis have to work and defer even more.  The Raptors could also imitate what Boston did in Game 1 of the second round, and build a wall anchored by Kawhi or Siakam, with the other shadowing on the wing and Marc Gasol staying home yet coming up to the elbow, creating a brunt force Giannis would have to penetrate.

Milwaukee’s drive and kick offense is the counter to Giannis being off.  But Toronto’s length and recovering ability limit its effectiveness as well; the Raptors have been the third best defenders of the three this postseason (by opponent three point percentage) and were eighth in the league for the season overall (The Bucks finished 22nd).

So what if Giannis is contained?  Who’s the guy?  I would certainly hope it’s not “I’m gonna show you why I deserved that contract” Eric Bledsoe, who is going to dribble too much, jack threes and take bad mid-rangers, completely messing up Milwaukee’s offensive flow.  Is it Khris Middleton?  He’s coming off of an excellent series against Boston, but he kills them every time those two teams play.  Middleton’s an underrated No.1 offensive option; he’s got a better handle than people give him credit for and is good at creating his own shot.  But is he enough against Toronto, who plays a similar style of offense and has dudes who have been in big games before?

That’s another huge advantage to Toronto in this series.  If Milwaukee’s offense faces trouble, they don’t have anyone to really guide the ship on or off the court.  They don’t have experience.  Practically no one on that roster has been in big games before.  The Raptors have seven dudes who have been in big games, and I know that can be poked… Lowry’s sucked, everyone’s had their butts handed to them by LeBron, blah, blah.  But it’s probably better to have your butts kicked by the best player in the world than to not have any experience in big games at all.

All of this is not saying that Toronto is going to slaughter Milwaukee.  Giannis might be contained a bit but he will not be stopped.  There’s going to be two games in this series where he completely dominated not because Toronto is bad but because Giannis is that good.  Some nights you’re just not going to have a chance.   Plus, the Bucks were the best defensive team in the league all year.  If the Bucks can have Giannis force Kawhi into a Game 7 against Philly-like performance (Look, the shot was incredible, but that wasn’t exactly a showcase from Kawhi.  He never takes that many shots and isn’t that type of offensive player.  He knows that and knew it after the game too.  Most of the time a lot of those shots won’t go in), then they’re letting Kyle Lowry beat them.  I will let him shoot in big games all I can.

Siakam is the x-factor for Toronto offensively.  Giannis giving Kawhi a tough time forces Lowry to go into facilitator mode, and Siakam feeds off that.  Despite being able to put up 30, Siakam isn’t a volume scorer.  He hangs around the rim and gets put-backs.  He stands in the corner and shoots threes that are swung to him.  He’s the type of guy who, when you at the box score, you say, “Wait, Siakam has 30?!?”  It makes no sense at all how he gets there.

The Bucks don’t really have a guy for him.  Malcolm Brogdon will be back at full minutes at some point in this series, but he’s a little undersized to play under the rim where Toronto usually has him.  Siakam trying to drive is probably a better matchup for Brogdon; he can use his athleticism more that way and poke at the ball.

If Siakam can put up 20 a game in this series, that’s trouble for Milwaukee, who can’t have Siakam going off and Giannis doing the opposite in the same night.  That’s a loss for the Bucks immediately.

The other thing Milwaukee has going for them is their fight.  We’ve seen Toronto slack in way too many games, regular season or postseason.  If Milwaukee is up they won’t back down.  If they’re down they won’t quit.  Toronto is going to have to stay keyed in defensively, because even though Giannis won’t bring a rain of threes to the plate, he can run up the score just as quick as someone like Stephen Curry can.

As I said above, this is no way a Toronto slaughter.  Giannis is going to have his moments.  I just think Toronto can make him have less of those, and it will keep the Raptors around a little more than most anticipate.

Prediction: Raptors in 7

Trail Blazers-Warriors Preview

Picking against the Warriors is probably one of the four dumbest things I have done in my entire life.  It wasn’t like it was a non-obvious error either.  After watching Game 1, I immediately thought, “Wow, that was really stupid.”  The Warriors were awake in the middle of the night.  And they had all of their tools ready to go.

Golden State is now in a mode where it seems like they are unstoppable on all fronts.  Kevin Durant has torched everyone this playoffs, and did the same to Houston until suffering a calf injury (WHICH WAS DEFINITELY NOT AN ACHILLES INJURY, REGGIE MILLER) in Game 5.  With KD, the Warriors are probably unbeatable.  Without KD, they might be the same.  The Splash Brothers put on a classic display in Game 6, despite Stephen Curry’s zero point first half.  Klay Thompson held down the fort until Curry found himself, and he did in the most outrageous, most Steph way ever.  Thanks to another James Harden collapse/no-show, Golden State got out of the series in six, and shut everyone, including myself, up for a decently long time.

Does all of this praise lead to an overcorrection in my prediction against Portland?  Possibly.  But the Trail Blazers have their own sense of dominance in their favor right now as well.  Despite letting Denver take them to seven games, the Trail Blazers are riding CJ McCollum, and yes Damian Lillard as well (Despite a brutal series against the Nuggets… more on that later), high right now.  Those two, along with Enes Kanter doing stuff have Portland in the West Finals.  Yeah, they’re actually out of the second round.  And they’re really scary.

No.3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No.1 Golden State Warriors 

Kevin Durant’s injury is the biggest headline heading into this series and it absolutely should be.  His loss affects Golden State and Portland equally.  For Golden State, his loss doesn’t guarantee a win.  For Portland, his absence makes winning possible.

The dilemma for Portland in this series is what to do with KD when he’s on the court.  Their biggest issue over the years has been getting offense out of their wings, not defense.  Al-Faruoq Aminu and Mo Harkless have been horrendous offensively in the playoffs, shooting poorly from three and from the field in general (We saw that continued Sunday).  The two have been better defensively than offensively this postseason, but were both cooked relentlessly against Denver, sinking some of their defensive stats to a non-impressive level.  That wasn’t very surprising though; we knew Portland was going to have troubles guarding Denver because, well, everybody does, and we knew that Denver wasn’t going to guard Portland effectively either.  That series was going to be offense vs. offense and Denver got a lot more of it than I thought they would.

Golden State plays differently, and more importantly has a much different type of player than anyone on Denver in KD.  A player like Durant is someone that we would assume Aminu and Harkless would be more fit to guard; a lengthy, athletic wing who can shoot and score rather than smaller guards running all over the place.  But this is Kevin Durant, who not only is named Kevin Durant probably deserves an inappropriate word as his middle name after the postseason he’s put on.  The Clippers never really had a chance at guarding him, so they’re a wash, but Houston’s Lebron/best player stopper in PJ Tucker didn’t have a chance either.  If Tucker got cooked, Aminu and Harkless are in for a long series.  Thankfully, there’s a good chance they’ll only have to deal with KD for 2-3 games, because even when he’s out, this is a tough matchup for Portland.

Shutting down the rest of Golden State down requires similar personnel and strategy as helping contain Durant does as well.  The Denver series gave us a first hand look at what happens when you have to make the Trail Blazers work on defense.  And Game 6 against Houston gave us a first hand look at what happens when KD isn’t on the court for Golden State.  The doors can open for Curry, and Klay can turn into a super-sized version of what he already is.  The ball moves.  Guys move (ALL.  THE.  TIME.).  They play fast.  And it’s impossible to guard.  It looks like what we watched in 2014-2015.  It’s completely new and unstoppable.  It’s what won the Warriors their first title.

It’s not going to be defense that Portland needs to be in games.  It’s going to be offense.  They’ve made that trade-off work all playoffs.

Golden State can’t play Portland’s guards the way Denver did.  They don’t have the personnel, or really the skill.

The Nuggets usually had Gary Harris on CJ McCollum and blitzed and trapped Dame with whoever they had.

Notice how Mason Plumlee leaves Zach Collins, a decent stretch big, wide open and follows Gary Harris for the double team on Lillard?  Denver did this all series with their variety of defenders, and it pestered Dame into bad and missed shots.

The Warriors are similar to the Nuggets, though they lack the depth.  Their backcourt is one lockdown defender (Klay Thompson as Harris) and a not-so-lockdown defender (Stephen Curry as Murray).  Golden State doesn’t have another real defensive guard to help possibly blitz Lillard with (Curry?), since Andre Iguodula is going to be tasked with stopping CJ.

The Warriors could just switch everything and take their chances with that; those odds are in their favor, especially with KD in the lineup.  But if Dame returns to the form we saw in the first round and McCollum keeps this tear up, there may be no real effective option.  Offense will be the defense.

That’s the case for both teams in this series.  Both defenses could be legitimately screwed.  For the first two games of the series, the ones in which Golden State will be without KD, Portland has to get Dame and CJ loose, because the Splash Brothers are going to be firing.  CJ has shown that his own one-man show can be enough, and if the Warriors exhibit a lower effort performance, that’s probably a Portland W.  What’s guaranteed after that?  Maybe the Blazers shoot well when Golden State doesn’t?

When Portland won Sunday, I thought this could go seven games.  Since then, it’s slowly trickled down to fewer and fewer games.  Six feels right.  It’s possible the Blazers get lucky and Golden State doesn’t try in a game in which KD plays in.  Or maybe this crazy Enes Kanter run single-handily kills Golden State in a game.  If KD is only out for two games, seven means doubting KD.  I am not about to that to him or this Warriors team again.

Prediction: Golden State in 6