Today is Three Kings Day, which unofficially marks the end of the Christmas season. As a parting gift for the holidays, I present to you this New Year mailbag.
(Note: Some questions have been edited for clarity.)
I agree that Tatum is not on KD’s level but you also have to remember that KD went to the Finals at 23 because of the other guys with him on that OKC team, Westbrook and Harden. The Celtics don’t have those caliber type of players. You have also to look at the lineups of the Celtics since they handed the keys to Tatum, they have gotten worse since the Kyrie fiasco. To blame Tatum solely for the team’s regression is unfair. I don’t know if he can lead the Celtics to a title, but I would go with the analysis of some NBA experts (like the Inside guys) that maybe what the Celtics need is a pure point guard, not the scoring point guards that they have had. A point guard who can handle and distribute the ball so that Tatum and Brown won’t always have the ball in their hands and force to create for themselves and their teammates. – Emil A.
The Jayson Tatum piece generated a lot of comments, so I’ll lead off with this one. It’s certainly fair to bring up that KD went to the Finals on a team that had Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden. You’re right that the Celtics don’t have a similarly talented roster, but Brown is a pretty good #2 (or 1b, as some have pointed out). But we both agree that Tatum is not on KD’s level, which is the main point of the comparison. Some Boston faithful still believe that they’ve got the next KD and that’s just borderline delusional.
To be clear, I’m not blaming Tatum for the team’s regression. I’m just making a factual observation that there appears to be an inverse correlation between the team’s winning percentage and the amount of shots he takes. It’s certainly not his fault that the Celtics are asking him to take those shots. But the question really is, should the Celtics continue to do so? If the goal is to win a title, perhaps not.
There’s no shame in accepting that Tatum isn’t best-player-on-a-title-team material; not all All-Stars are and there are maybe only 5-7 players today worthy of that tag. Paul Pierce wasn’t and he is one of the 75 greatest players of all-time.
On the need for a pure point guard, definitely, he’d benefit from playing alongside Chris Paul, the same way Devin Booker has. But there is only one CP3 and he’s not available, so where do you look? It sounds good in theory but the reality is that pure point guards are rarer than a unicorn nowadays. It’s easier said than done. And between a defensive anchor and a pure point guard, I’d say the former is more valuable for the Celtics, particularly in today’s game.
Another Tatum-related question…
Would you rather have Tatum-Brown or Trae-Collins for the next 5 years? – Ralf S.
Can I say neither? I want to win a title and I’m not convinced I’d win one with either of those pairings. Granted, both have made the conference finals, but did so under fluky situations. Tatum and Brown did it in the bubble, while Young and Collins made it after Ben Simmons turned into John Cena.
But if I must choose, I’d say Tatum-Brown because Brown is a much, much better player than Collins. He just popped off for a career-high 50 points on 19-of-29 shooting to start the New Year! He also grabbed 11 rebounds, which made him only the fourth Celtics player to have a 50-point 10-rebound game after Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Tatum.
He’s averaging 24.5 points this season, less than a point behind Tatum, on two less field goal attempts per game. His FG/3FG split of .457/.366 are down from last year but still significantly better than Tatum’s. Are we 100% sure that the Celtics are handing over the keys to the right guy?
Buy or sell on the Bulls? They went from nice play-in team to “cute little regular season team” sitting at number one in the East. – Ray V.
Just wanted to get this one out of the way first: DeBallZach is the best trio moniker in the NBA since Run TMC!
Back to the question, depends on what exactly you’re buying. Conference Finals? Finals? Championship? I think the Bulls have a decent shot at making the Conference Finals if they avoid the Nets or Bucks in round 2. DeMar DeRozan has had an MVP-conversation caliber campaign and Zach LaVine has shown that he can co-exist with another ball-dominant wing while still putting up All-Star numbers. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso have become the Lockdown Brothers. Nikola Vucevic is a walking double-double.
But… we’ve seen this from a DeRozan team before. The 2018 Raptors finished with the best record in the East but got LeBronto-ed in the conference semis by the Cavs. We’ve seen this from the post-Jordan Bulls too. The 2011 Bulls won 62 games but lost to the Big Three-era Heat in the ECF. I get the same feeling from this year’s Bulls. They’re a good regular season team, but I’m not sure I trust them deep in the playoffs.
I guess it all boils down to who the best player is in the series. If the Bulls play the Heat, I think DeRozan (or even LaVine) can be the best player on the floor. But against the Bucks or Nets, it will be Giannis or Durant—and DeRozan might end up being closer to Middleton/Harden.
Is Desmond Bane the top candidate for MIP? And would Philly trade Ben Simmons for Dejounte Murray? – Vincent T.
It’s been incredibly fun to watch Bane—and the entire Grizzlies team for that matter—take the leap this season. They held the fort pretty well without Ja Morant and they’ve continued to win upon his return (finally quashing Ja’s Ewing Theory potential?).
Bane is averaging 17.6 points on .467/.414/.906 shooting splits. He has a better 3-point field goal percentage than Steph Curry and is averaging more 3-point makes per game than Trae Young. He has become a more potent pull-up shooter this season and has tightened his handles to give Memphis another backcourt guy who can take ballhandling duties off Morant.
Bane certainly deserves to be in the Most Improved Player conversation, but is he the favorite? Guys who made jumps to superstardom have won the award in the past—think Giannis and T-Mac—so Morant (25.1/6.7/5.7) may be the more likely Grizz to bag it. Then you’ve got Miles Bridges, Dejounte Murray, and Darius Garland who are all posting better overall numbers than Bane and even generating some faint All-Star buzz. Bane is probably behind all these guys right now, but we’re just about to enter the midpoint of the season, so the race is far from over.
On to your next question: would Philly trade Simmons for Murray? The Spurs were reportedly interested in trading Murray and Lonnie Walker IV to the Sixers in the offseason, but given Murray’s growth this season, perhaps the question should be, would the Spurs trade Murray for Simmons?
For one, the Spurs value culture, so it was weird hearing reports that they were seriously interested in Simmons in the first place. Assuming they were, you’d have to think that after everything that’s gone down the last couple of months, the Spurs would have come to their senses and realized that this has the potential to be a Kawhi situation all over again.
For another, the Spurs aren’t really known to be big spenders. Murray is making about half of Simmons’s money and I don’t think the Spurs value Simmons twice as much as Murray. One could even argue that Murray is having a better season compared to any Simmons has had in his career. Murray is averaging more points (18.0) and assists (8.9) than the three-time All-Star’s career-highs, and he’s not far off on the rebounding category (8.4)—don’t forget that he’s a guard! Plus, to make the salaries work, the Spurs would have to throw in a couple of more players to the deal.
Daryl Morey will surely be enticed if Murray is available, potential fit issues with Tyrese Maxey notwithstanding, but I just don’t see why the Spurs would do it. They might have talked themselves into the trade early on in the season, but Murray’s improvement looks real, so the most Spurs-y thing to do is to hold on to him.
Is this Jason Kidd’s last chance at an NBA head coaching job? – Andrew M.
God, I hope not.
I pray that one day he gets to coach the Lakers.