The known unknowns: Early questions and answers in the NBA

We're a month into the season, and the We Rite Goode crew want to be responsible journalists actually blog about something, so we're revisiting a number of pressing questions, but answering them in total roundabout, WRG-style. We've already wondered why Kobe had yet to be traded and the Wizards were going with a 10-man roster.

Next up: What are the known unknowns so far this season?

Dirk. Carmelo. Zach. Carlos. Yao.

Five of the best basketball players in the NBA--so great that fans don't need last names to catch the references.

But the NBA's five best players, in that order?

See for yourself. That list appeared on ESPN one year ago today, using John Hollinger's PER statistic as an arbiter of success. Granted, a great PER doesn't automatically equate to basketball greatness, but debates over the stat's effectiveness aside, PER does confirm that the five were among the most brilliant offensive performers at that early point of the 2006-2007 season.

That wasn't quite the way the final list ended up, of course. Despite the hot start, Zach Randolph slid off his pace and wasn't picked for the All-Star game, and neither he nor Carlos Boozer were All-NBA. Eighty-two games makes for a long season, full of surprises and streaks; projecting performance on Dec. 6, be it this year or last, is somewhat arbitrary in that we're not even at the quarter-pole yet. Any NBA expert would caution against reading too much into just 16 or 17 games, which naturally never stops many smart fans who think with their hearts over their heads.

Still, the season's first month can be a great bellwether for things to come. The aforementioned fab five went on to record PERs among the league's 20-best, highlighted by Dirk's 2nd place finish (behind an injured Dwyane Wade) and resulting MVP award. And we never need all year to see what's already obvious. So far in 2007, guys like Chris Kaman and Rudy Gay clearly have raised their games; meanwhile, a Kevin Garnett-less Minnesota doesn't have much game, as expected.

But most fans know that the Timberwolves stink and that Kaman doesn't (well, performance-wise; who knows if the Caveman believes in Old Spice). It's less understood, say, how the Bucks are challenging in the Central, beyond some vague sense that Yi Jianlian is actually playing like a No. 6 overall draft pick.

So we're going around the league with the help of a few of our friends, looking at some of the most intriguing teams--from the chumps to the champs--through the eyes of guys who watch more than the box scores. In this young season, we asked, what do we already know, and what should we have wondered in the first place?

No guarantee they all took us seriously, though.
* Note: Some responses written before Tuesday's and Wednesday's games.

Seth Kolloen, Enjoy the Enjoyment

What off-season question has been answered so far?

Whether Kevin Durant could carry our offense. The answer, we quickly found out, was no. He's too inconsistent (shooting a dismal 39%) and he turns the ball over too much. Optimists thought he might be able to dominate the league, but he's mostly just dominated the ball. It's a learning year, though, no biggie.

What question should we have been asking?

Whether Kevin Durant would sabotage our defense. With Durant at the two, the Sonics' perimeter defense isn't NBA speed. When players drive by Durant, the Sonics don't have a shot blocker to stop them (unless Durant catches up--he's leading the team in blocks), and so they're allowing more points per game than every team except Golden State.


Mike K.,

What off-season question has been answered so far?

"How will Zach Randolph & Eddy Curry work together?" The answer is poorly. Randolph's rebounding is up, because he gets all the rebounds that Curry misses. However his shooting percentages are down because he's playing on the perimeter more. On defense, the pair is a disaster. Randolph is as bad a defender as they come, and together with Curry they've made the Knicks the second worst defensive team in the league.

What question should we have been asking?

"Will Isiah be around to celebrate his 4th year with the team?" Isiah was hired Dec. 22nd, 2003. Will he last until Dec. 22nd, 2007? The Knicks are 5-11, and the team is in disarray. It's just a matter of time, I hope.

Ben Go, Thank You Isiah

What off-season question has been answered so far?

Will Luol Deng make the jump into the top tier of NBA players?

Sadly, no. Despite some hype this summer, Deng still finds it almost impossible to create his own shots and the hopes that he could possibly become the missing low-post option for the Bulls have been shot down in flames. Indeed, instead of improving on his promising 06-07 season, Deng has regressed to, or below, his 05-06 production levels in shooting percentage, rebounds, assists and FT percentage. Oh, and he's turning the ball over at the highest rate of his career. Though he's not technically in his contract year, call him the Anti-Vince Carter.

What question should we have been asking?

What the hell did John Paxson do to that voodoo priestess in the offseason?

John Hollinger can detail the Bulls' utter shititude, but he can't explain it. My own attempts to account for this dark abyss of a season left me grasping at the phantoms of Dante, Lao Tzu, and a Lacanian psychoanalyst from Slovenia. At this point, I'd be willing to sacrifice a live chicken if it would mean the pins get taken out of the Hinrich, Deng and Gordon dolls.


Tom, Indy Cornrows

What off-season question has been answered so far?

If Jamaal Tinsley would thrive under Jim O'Brien's offensive system after appearing to regress under Rick Carlisle. So far Tinsley has exceeded all expectations running the club for O'B. He's averaging 14.5 points and 8.6 assists. In addition, he's taken over several eventual wins down the stretch either scoring or setting up the game winning points. Tinsley's play is key since the off-season addition of Travis "Sarunas" Diener has been a bust so far.

What question should we have been asking?

Was Jermaine O'Neal's knee really 100% as he declared. J.O.'s had left knee issues since opening night and is just now rounding into playing shape. Any trade value he had has bottomed out, so now the Pacers have to hope he stays healthy and ups his production.

Jay Busbee, Right Down Peachtree and Sports Gone South

What off-season question has been answered so far?

Can the Hawks win if they run? Yes, absolutely yes. This team has the potential to make the playoffs...provided they run. Steve Nash actually called them a more athletic team than the Suns after Atlanta's November victory over Phoenix. When they run, they win.

What question should we have been asking?

Is it legal to jury-rig those home-detention ankle bracelets to give off shocks if the wearer stops running below a sprint? 'Cause that's when the Hawks lose, when they start slowing down. If we can't do the Speed-esque ankle bracelets, how about just one around the neck of Mike Woodson, and whenever he calls for some plodding four-corners or isolation offense, he gets a zap. Run, Hawks, run!


Jake Whitacre, Bullets Forever and Gilbertology

What off-season question has been answered so far?

Who would fill the gap at center with Etan Thomas sidelined. So far a combination of Brendan Haywood's (somewhat) improved play along with Andray Blatche's coming out party have made up for the loss of The Poet.

What question should we have been asking?

Why are we playing someone who just came off knee surgery 40 minutes a game? Why are we draining his knee so often? Why is he sitting this game out? Why is he sitting out again? What is that surgeon guy doing to Gilbert?!?


What off-season question has been answered so far?

After five straight wins and sitting pretty at 7-4, we were happily believing that Mike Redd had indeed become an all-around player, Mo Williams had learned to be a real PG, our bench was reliable, the defense was better, Yi Jianlian was the truth, and Larry Krystkowiak had stolen all of Scott Skiles' mojo. But now at 8-8...well, we've had to re-ask many of those questions. Still, seeing Yi up close every night you can't help but think that he is going to be a special player, even if we have to wait another year or two for him to get there.

What question should we have been asking?

Could Bogut develop into the team's defensive catalyst? It was kind of assumed going into the year that Bogut would continue to be a solid but entirely unspectacular defender, with most of his improvement coming offensively. But while he's struggled at times to get involved on the offensive end, his defense has been a revelation. He's improved his rebound rate ( 16.4 vs. 15.2), more than quadrupled his shot-blocking (2.3 bpg) and generally acquitted himself well against some of the league's best bigs. He's already exceeded his blocked shot total from last year (35) in just 16 games while recording six games with four or more blocks. In his first two seasons he accomplished that feat once. Yet despite a generally improved effort on that end, the Bucks continue to rank near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency. Can Bogut keep it up? And will his teammates step up as well?


Howie, NBA Basketball and Other Unrelatedness

What off-season question has been answered so far?

Is Nene made of tofu? Yes. Yes he is. While I like to be humble and modest, I just want to take this opportunity and say "I CALLED IT" that Mr. Hilario breaks down more than my 1992 LaserDisk player.

What question should we have been asking?

Why didn't we start calling much traveled end of the bench warmer Jelani "The Real"? As in, Jelani, "The Real" McCoy? Wait. Don't answer that.


Steve Weinman, formerly of Taking it to the Rack, now Celtics Blog and The Picksix: NBA Handicapping.

What off-season question has been answered so far?

The concerns about whether or not the trio of stars could work together have thus far been assuaged completely. The talking done by KG, Pierce and Ray about forming a close knit and cohesive unit was not lip service. The three have played very well together, getting the team off to a hot 15-2 start and picking each one another up when each has an off night. Perhaps even more importantly, they have made great efforts to not separate themselves from the other 12 men on the roster, establishing early on that, for better or for worse, this is a team.

What question should we have been asking?

How much can and will Tony Allen provide for this team? For all the concerns about the Celts' bench, TA has more potential to be explosive than anyone else on the unit. Sure, Eddie House loves to throw it up, and James Posey has proved to be a valuable cog, but TA (if he is indeed fully recovered from injury, which remains to be seen) has the skills to provide the entire package. He has the athleticism (somewhat hampered now thanks to last season's leg injury) to get to the rim with power as well as the work ethic and correct combo of size and speed to be an excellent perimeter defender and a solid rebounder at his position. Thus far this season, he has had much trouble getting back from injuries and as such hasn't found his niche yet. But if he can get back into the stride he had begun to hit before the injury last year, he legitimately could be a deal-breaker for this team.

Liston Von Culbertson, Introducing Liston

What off-season question has been answered so far?

The most significant off-season question that has been answered for me thus far is: Can you get into trouble for sending naked pictures of yourself to Gregg Popovich? The answer, unfortunately, is fuckin' A you can. I mean, all I wanted to do was see if I have an NBA-ready body. When I was in middle school my coach made me get naked in his office to see if I had what it to took to make it on his team, I just assumed they did the same things in the pros.

What question should we have been asking?

Why are they so much more professional and thorough in middle school then they are in the NBA? I mean, seriously, who hasn't gotten naked for their middle school basketball coach at one point or another?

[Given Liston's total disregard for the questions, we'll assume that--as always--the defending champs' only doubts are off-the-court distractions, like desperate housewives and exhibitionists--Cruc.]

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 02:41,


At December 6, 2007 at 10:09 AM, Blogger Doctor Dribbles said...

The way Ben Gordon is playing right now...well, it begs the question--which is the worse decision: Totally overvaluing a player's worth and giving him an exorbitant contract, or totally overvaluing yourself and turning down an exorbitant contract. There's no way he's a $10M per year player.

At December 6, 2007 at 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know you think he's funny, but why include Liston in this one and the preview? kind of hard to take the whole thing seriously when he's making jokes.

At December 6, 2007 at 4:17 PM, Blogger Jarrett Carter said...

Yeah, Ben Gordon f'd up.

He f'd up bad.

At December 6, 2007 at 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. Why include that turd Liston. He knows shit about basketball. What a total douche he is.


At December 6, 2007 at 6:26 PM, Anonymous JakeTheSnake said...

For the record, I also sent nude pictures of myself to Eddie Jordan.

Sadly, he returned the favor.

At December 10, 2007 at 12:55 AM, Blogger BenGo07 said...

The way Gordon's playing right now Dr. Dribbles, I agree, but keep in mind: 1) He was in the top 12 in the NBA last year in points per minute, .1 behind Lebron and 2) he usually starts off slow. Dude's averaging almost 18 a game while shooting at a career low percentage. (Indeed, his 3Pt FG% has never been this low!) When the shots start falling--and I'm pretty confident they will, I don't think he's been forcing shots for the most part--I think you can make a decent argument that he's a $10 mil player, at least.

At December 10, 2007 at 11:14 AM, Blogger Doctor Dribbles said...

Yeah, good points...although, there's really no consensus over what a $10M per year player is. Josh Howard? Erick Dampier? Contracts are so out of whack.

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