Thursday, 23 May 2024

NBA Mailbag: Exploring Underrated Players and Early In-Season Tournament Takeaways

Welcome to the NBA Mailbag, where I’ll be answering your burning questions throughout the 2023-24 season! Whether you’re curious about the most underrated player in the NBA or want to know my take on the In-Season Tournament, I’ve got you covered. So let’s dive in and tackle some of the most intriguing topics from the world of basketball!

Which Player Is the Most Underrated in the NBA?

Aaron in Bergamo, Italy asks, “Which player is the most underrated in the NBA right now?”

Kevin Durant is having an outstanding season that seems to fly under the radar. Despite not receiving as much attention as some of his peers, Durant is averaging nearly 30 points per game while displaying exceptional shooting efficiency. His performance is even more impressive considering the recent return of Bradley Beal and Devin Booker’s absence.

Is the Eastern Conference Better Than the West This Year?

Laurent in Quebec, Canada wonders, “Do you think the Eastern Conference is better than the West this year?”

While the Eastern Conference has been performing well, I wouldn’t go as far as saying it surpasses the West just yet. Until a team manages to dethrone the dominant Nuggets, the Western Conference will likely hold its reign.

Who Will Top the Western Conference Standings by the End of December?

Aiden in Jamaica asks, “Who do you think will be on top of the West standings by the end of December?”

I predict that the Nuggets will maintain their position as the frontrunners in the West standings by the end of December. Their consistency and strong performances make them a formidable force in the conference.

Explaining Inconsistent Numbers in the First Month of the Season

Rilo in Virginia wonders, “What makes NBA players have inconsistent numbers in the first month of the season?”

In the early stages of the season, players often take time to find their rhythm and adjust to the demands of competitive play. Each player has their own approach, gradually building up their aggression and improving as the season progresses. As the season unfolds, we can expect players to hone their skills and deliver more consistent performances.

Assessing the In-Season Tournament

Zach in Brecksville, Ohio asks, “What do you think of the In-Season Tournament so far?”

I must say, I am genuinely enjoying the In-Season Tournament. The unique court design and the elevated atmosphere in the arena create an exciting playoff-like experience for both players and fans. The involvement of the fans as active game drivers adds to the excitement and makes the In-Season Tournament a truly captivating event.

Anthony Edwards’ Potential and Minnesota’s Playoff Prospects

Adem in Istanbul, Turkey wonders, “Can Anthony Edwards carry Minnesota to the West semifinals or beyond in the playoffs this season?”

Without a doubt, Anthony Edwards has the potential to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves deep into the playoffs. His competitiveness, fearlessness, and leadership qualities are remarkable for someone of his age. With Edwards at the helm, Minnesota’s playoff aspirations are certainly within reach.

Addressing the Clippers’ Team Dynamics for Success

Drew in New Zealand asks, “What can the Clippers do to get the team on the same page and secure wins?”

From my perspective, it seems that the Clippers have an excess of perimeter players, which has compromised the impact of Kawhi Leonard. To bring balance to the team, I believe one of these players should be moved to the bench, allowing Kawhi to take center stage. Paul George’s ability to catch and shoot off the ball, Russell Westbrook’s chemistry with Kawhi, and James Harden’s dominance with the ball in his hands should be considerations in determining the best fit for the team.

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Deciding Between Rookie LeBron James and Rookie Victor Wembanyama

Kristian in Sydney, Australia wonders, “If you could start your own franchise right now and had the option to draft a rookie LeBron James or rookie Victor Wembanyama, which would you choose and why?”

While I regard Victor Wembanyama highly and recognize his potential for greatness, I would select rookie LeBron James without hesitation. LeBron has already solidified his status as an all-time great, making him an invaluable asset to any team.

Comparing Chet Holmgren and Wembanyama’s Talents

Doc in Los Angeles asks, “Who do you think is the most talented between Chet Holmgren and Wembanyama? They seem to both have the same skill set, but Wembanyama is more highly regarded in this regard.”

Choosing between Chet Holmgren and Wembanyama is akin to picking between apples and oranges; you can’t go wrong with either option. Both players possess immense talent and an exceptional skill set, making them exceptional assets to any team.

Assessing Adrian Griffin’s Coaching in Milwaukee

Harvey in Minneapolis wonders, “Is Adrian Griffin in over his head in Milwaukee, or is it the players not adapting to new schemes and designs?”

No, Adrian Griffin is not in over his head in Milwaukee. As a coach, he exudes preparedness and possesses an in-depth understanding of his team. While the Bucks may have faced challenges due to a significant roster change just before the season commenced, time will ultimately allow them to overcome these obstacles and showcase their true potential.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s MVP Candidacy

Zerrick in Oklahoma City asks, “Do you think Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be considered a top 5 MVP candidate, even though it’s still the beginning of the season?”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s MVP candidacy hinges on the Thunder’s success in securing victories. While his individual numbers remain impressive, his impact on winning will be the determining factor in his status among the top 5 MVP contenders.

Perfecting the Regular Season Rotation

Simeon in Bulgaria asks, “What’s the perfect number of players for a regular season rotation, and what are your thoughts on Thibodeau’s 9-man rotation? What are the pros and cons, and do you think the players will be fatigued come playoff time?”

In my experience coaching kids, I have found that a rotation of 12 or 11 players is excessive, while a rotation of nine players strikes the perfect balance between allowing players to find their rhythm and avoiding excessive fatigue. Thibodeau’s decision to implement a 9-man rotation showcases his coaching philosophy and maintains a delicate equilibrium within the team. Although some players may receive fewer minutes, it’s essential to trust Thibodeau’s expertise and support his decisions as a player.

Jayson Tatum’s MVP Aspirations and the Boston Celtics’ Championship Hopes

John in Poland wonders, “Do you think Jayson Tatum can win MVP this year, and can the Boston Celtics clinch the championship?”

Both scenarios are highly plausible. Among the players who have yet to secure an MVP title, Tatum is undoubtedly at the forefront. If the Celtics accumulate enough wins and Tatum maintains his exceptional form, he will undoubtedly be a key contender for the MVP award. As for the Celtics’ championship aspirations, success will depend on various factors, including team chemistry and consistent performances from key players.

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Identifying the Best Defender in the League

Jaren in France asks, “Who do you think is the best defender in the league right now?”

Jaden McDaniels has consistently impressed me with his defensive prowess. He possesses the ability to guard multiple positions at a high level, disrupting even some of the league’s best players. His contributions have played a crucial role in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ strong start.

Scouting the Sneaky Coach of the Year Candidates

Steven in Ellensburg, Wash., wonders, “What coach has a sneaky Coach of the Year case this year?”

Ime Udoka stands out as a sneaky Coach of the Year candidate. The culture he has cultivated in Houston has transformed the team’s level of play and accountability. The stark improvement from the previous season is a testament to Udoka’s coaching prowess.

Early Favorite for Most Improved Player

Brandent in North Carolina asks, “Who is your early favorite to win Most Improved Player?”

My early favorite for the Most Improved Player award is Tyrese Maxey. He has positioned himself for his first All-Star selection, showcasing remarkable growth and development on the court.

Veteran Free Agents That Deserve Mid-Season Contracts

Sami in California ponders, “As the season progresses, many veteran free agents could be worth a shot. For example, the Hornets could look into unlocking LaMelo’s scoring game with the help of someone like Isaiah Thomas. Who are some vets you think should get mid-season contracts?”

Isaiah Thomas is undoubtedly at the top of my list. TJ Warren, Austin Rivers, and Blake Griffin also stand out as proven veterans and incredible character assets in any locker room. The fact that they have not yet received offers is surprising, but I remain hopeful that they will find opportunities to contribute this season.

Identifying Hidden Gems among Rookies and Sophomores

Agilan in Canada asks, “How can you know a rookie or sophomore will be excellent if they don’t get many minutes? Have there been players on your teams who stood out despite their teams not recognizing their potential?”

Yes, there have been numerous instances where players on my team or across the league exhibited exceptional skills during practice and scrimmages, even if their coaches didn’t fully recognize their capabilities. Sometimes, the fit within a specific team or coaching scheme can hinder a player’s opportunities. However, with the right team and coach, these overlooked players can truly shine. Situations and fit play a significant role in a player’s success.

Crafting an Early 2000s Dream Team

Cade in Charlotte, N.C. wonders, “If you could build your own dream team from the early 2000s, what would your starting five be, with you as the sixth man?”

In my dream starting lineup from the early 2000s, I would slide down to the seventh man role to accommodate this exceptional roster:

  • Jason Kidd
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Tim Duncan
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Allen Iverson (Sixth Man)

The Significance of MSG and the Thrill of Playing There

Andre in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil asks, “Why is MSG the Mecca, and why is it so cool to play there?”

Madison Square Garden, or MSG, holds a special place in the basketball world because you never know who might be in the crowd. Some of the biggest stars and entertainers frequent the arena, watching as you perform on one of the grandest stages. Additionally, the unique atmosphere created by the passionate fans makes playing at MSG an unrivaled experience.

Exploiting a 1-3-1 Zone Defense

Linwood in Richmond, VA wonders, “How can you exploit a 1-3-1 zone defense?”

To exploit a 1-3-1 zone defense, it’s essential to position your perimeter players in the corners and attack from there. By doing so, you force the defense’s big man to choose between defending the guard attacking the basket or closing out on perimeter shooters in the corners.

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Best Go-To Move in Transition

Adrian in Hartford, Conn. asks, “What’s your best go-to move in transition?”

My go-to move in transition was a pro-hop. Before it was even referred to as a pro-hop, I would make use of intricate footwork to deceive defenders and create scoring opportunities. Sometimes, these moves happened instinctively, and I improvised on the spot.

Instinct vs. Pre-Meditated Moves

Edward in the USA wonders, “Before you executed a move, did you think about what you were going to do, or was it instinctive?”

The majority of my moves were instinctive, driven by my natural basketball intuition. Occasionally, I would employ specific moves to elicit reactions from defenders and then instinctively respond to their actions. This kind of improvisation allowed me to exploit openings and create scoring opportunities.

Identifying the Best Ball Handler in This Generation

Nathan in the United Kingdom inquires, “Being considered one of the best ball handlers in the history of the game, who would you consider the best ball handler of this generation?”

Rather than the obvious choices like Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, or Chris Paul, I would highlight Darius Garland as the leader of the new school when it comes to ball handling. His skills and creativity make him a standout in this generation.

Joining a Potential Seattle Franchise

Kev in Chicago asks, “If Seattle gets a franchise in the next NBA expansion, would you consider joining the coaching staff?”

While I currently enjoy coaching my son and find great satisfaction in that role, I would entertain the idea of contributing to a potential Seattle franchise in a different capacity. The possibilities are endless, and who knows what the future holds?

Mastering the Art of Reheating

Anthony in Norfolk, Va. wonders, “What’s your favorite meal to cook yourself?”

To be honest, I’m not much of a cook. However, I excel in reheating food! I can turn any leftovers into a delicious meal.

Accepting Gillie Da Kid’s 1-on-1 Challenge

H.B. in Chicago brings up Gillie Da Kid’s request for a 1-on-1 match and asks if I would consider accepting it.

I have already accepted Gillie Da Kid’s challenge! You can find my full response to his request, and I’m looking forward to what promises to be an entertaining match-up.

Maintaining Discipline and Good Habits in Shooting Practice

Ibrahim in London wonders, “How do you stay disciplined to keep making shots during practice when you are used to making everything? It’s easy to become lazy and develop bad habits in your jumper.”

To maintain discipline during shooting practice, I approach each shot as if it were unique, focusing on the quality of each attempt rather than the cumulative quantity. By aiming to take 1,000 high-quality shots, rather than merely shooting in bulk, I ensure that each practice session is purposeful and conducive to improvement.

The Most Important Skill in Basketball

Jantsen in Crawfordsville, Ind. asks, “What do you feel is the most important skill in basketball?”

Dribbling and shooting are two crucial skills that can significantly impact a player’s performance on the court. Coupled with a genuine love for the game, these skills lay the foundation for success. A passion for improvement in every aspect of the game is also essential for aspiring basketball players.

Submit Your Questions to Jamal

If you have more burning questions, don’t forget to submit them below! Check back on Tuesdays throughout the 2023-24 season for more editions of the NBA Mailbag.