SANDY DOVER:The starting five is the jam, so you’re dead on, but the bench still needs some work. With the exception of power forward, every other position has players who are unrefined (Hamed Haddadi), lacking size (Wayne Ellington), or short another man behind him (Quincy Pondexter).
KEVIN COTTRELL: The Grizzles have the most skilled center in the NBA, a walking double-double at power forward, and a clutch shot maker at the 3, surrounded by a team full of Beale Street bruisers. Although their weakness may be bench play, they have been battled tested. Many may say this team isn’t built to win a title, but they said the same thing about the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons.
MAURICE BOBB: I agree with Sandy, the Grizz’ only weakness is its bench mob. The starting quintet is hard hittin’ like a blow from Clubber Lang. With Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Z-Bo holdin’ it down, this team is so Memphis. Gritty. Workmanlike. Tenacious. Very reminiscent of the '04 Pistons. Plus, they have already won a few very telling statement games in the early going.
VINNIE GOODWILL: They’re beyond solid, but in the playoffs, you win with two things: perimeter shot makers and defensive bigs. Memphis has it in reverse, with Tony Allen at the 2 and the shot makers being up front. Rudy and Z-Bo haven’t played much together, so that’s a slight concern. And, of all the fake tough guys in the league, Z-Bo ain’t one.
GLENN MINNIS: Honestly, I’m still not completely, completely sold on Mike Conley being able to man up against, say, a playoff contingent of Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook. I know chances he faces all three are rather remote, but he’s probably looking at having to stare down at least two of them. That’s asking a lot.
QUESTION 2: Jrue Holiday shut Kyrie Irving down over the weekend. Held dude to 4-14 shooting. Is Holiday the best defensive point guard in the league?
SANDY: I don’t know if Jrue is the best defensive PG in the league, but I know that Kyrie was hurt that game, and shutting down a man with one hand is sort of like a grown man dunking on a child — yeah, he dunked, but the kid couldn’t really contest the shot.
KEVIN: Injury or not, every player has an off night and that 4-14 was Kyrie’s. The best defensive PG is Chris Paul followed by Mike Conley. Not just because of their steal totals, but their aggressive style on the perimeter. CP3 will mix it up with anyone and don’t forget Irving is the same cat to challenge Kobe in a one-on-one. Jrue is solid but far from the best.
MAURICE: Jrue is mad underrated as a PG in the L. He’s been quietly killin’ ‘em softly up in Illadelph. But he’s not the best on ball defender at the point, by far. That has to be my man Rajon Rondimes. He’s got crazy passes, but he’s ridiculously good on D. CP3 got first-team All Defense last year because of steals, which I don’t really trust as an indicator of defensive prowess. Give me Rondo when it comes to lockin’ down the perimeter.
VINNIE: I wouldn’t necessarily call Jrue one of the best defensive PG’s in the league, since I saw a struggling Brandon Knight have his best game of the year vs Holiday. But he’s in the argument for best all-around PG, only one of three to average 18 points and 8 dimes (D-Will and Russ). If he keeps it up, he’ll be this generation’s Rod Strickland, a great PG who didn’t get enough love.
MINNIS: Given combination of his physical abilities and Doug Collins' unrelenting marching orders, Jrue’s surname doesn’t do justice to how hard he actually makes most nights for opposing PGs. Kevin and Maurice are right, Paul and Rondo better at playing lanes. But as far as locking up the man in front of you, I give edge to Holiday.
QUESTION 3: What’s more unfortunate: Andrew Bynum’s health or his hair?
KEVIN: Without a doubt it’s Bynum’s health. He is a walking injury report waiting to be released, yet all his hair needs is some attention from a barber and he’s fresher than a rookie. We’ve seen Bynum’s impact on a championship team and some wacky hairstyles win a ring. Find Bynum a team to offer him a max deal and Don King will even be shaking his hair in disbelief.
MAURICE: They should've never gave social media trolls photoshop because they had a field day with Bynum's mane. The best one I saw tagged him Andrew Bynum Douglas. But as bad as his hair is, his health is the real tragedy. Injuring your knee by bowling? Who is he, the Big Lebowski? Come on, son. It's a shame that Bynum is the YOLO-est player in the NBA.
VINNIE: Both because one is related to the other. There’s a reason Orlando passed on him in the Dwight Howard trade: the background check they ran on him, with his health and “other” activities wasn’t enough to take a chance and make him your franchise player. With those knees, he’ll never play a full season, and the bowling+ the Ike Turner do lets us know he has some growing up to do, too.
MINNIS: It’s got to be the hair, man. Injuries happen and more often than not are things one holds little control over. But for a man to go public looking like Martin’s Brutha Shaquille Sunflower character seems to be a blatant, desperate cry for help. On second thought, with Andrew it is all about the health.
QUESTION 4: Mike Woodson has the Knicks playing super-solid basketball. He gets underestimated a lot, probably because does things like shave his eyebrows and institute offenses (when in Atlanta) that revolved around Joe Johnson dribbling for 20 seconds. But, with this Knicks gig, is he making a believer out of you?
SANDY: Mike Woodson seems to be a decent man, but more than anything, he’s a man with his own brand and a coach with integrity. I think he has flawed philosophies, but the record shows that he gets teams to win. He’s not the kind of coach that will take you to the top, but he will get you to the mountain.
KEVIN: Absolutely. Coach Woodson took the Hawks from 13 to 53 wins in six seasons, now he’s transformed the Knicks into the number one defensive team after being the number one doormat in the East. While star players are key to winning games, commitment to defense wins rings. They currently sit atop the league in points allowed so even in this short span I believe. Now, ask me this again when Amar’e returns!
MAURICE: I've been singing Woodson's praises for a minute now. He can flat out coach. And if there's ever a reason that substantiates Woody’s abilities with the clipboard, it’s this: He's the only coach that could drag Sheed out of retirement. That being said, I'm with Kevin, things may just fall apart when Amar’e comes back.
VINNIE: Maurice is right. Funny how some coaches can’t shake reputations while others get gigs in LA. Woody’s got a team full of old guys, anchored by Melo (“too selfish), Ray Felton (“Too Fat”) and J.R. Smith (“Too Crazy”). He’s made Melo believe in playing D, and if he goes off the rails, Roscoe and J-Kidd are there to keep him sane. No Iso-Melo, this year — some ball movement in NYC.
MINNIS: I will say this for Woodson — he gets everything he can out of what he has. Translated, that means he never seems to take a night off. His players respect that, and nowadays strive to incorporate some of it into how they approach their own biz. Given that we’re talking about the Knicks, that’s saying a lot.
QUESTION 5: Is there any player of consequence playing worst than Roy Hibbert, right now?
SANDY: I can’t think of any one player, who’s healthy, that is playing worse than Roy Hibbert, but Paul George hasn’t exactly stepped up his game, either. If we’re going on the whole, Brandon Roy has really taken a precipitous drop since the preseason. A shame, too.
KEVIN: I can see how Hibbert’s contract would warrant this tag, but the player that comes to mind is Kings G/F Tyreke Evans. Tyreke was the 2009-10 Rookie of the Year averaging 20/5/5. In his fourth season, Evans should be on pace to be named to his first all-star team, instead he’s putting up career lows in points, assists and three-point percentage. Let’s be real, Hibbert was signed to be 7-feet, Tyreke was drafted to be the King of Sacramento.
MAURICE: Right now, Hibbert is playing like he took lessons from Hasheem Thabeet over the summer. But let’s keep it 100, can you honestly say he was a bonafide All-Star, last year? I still think he benefitted from the “we must have centers in the game” rule. And I don't know what's wrong with ‘Reke. He's regressed like a turtle retreating into his own shell. Maybe he needs Liam Neeson to go get him out of Sac-Town and deliver him to a team that can and will let him do what he does best.
VINNIE: I saw Reke get buckets vs the Pistons a week ago, so his game isn’t gone. But Dr. Hibbert was someone we KNEW would make the leap to elite after putting a lid on the rim against Miami. But he’s not quick, doesn’t have a real go-to move and looks robotic on the block. Perhaps bro is too big for his body. I’m reaching because, man, his fall has been steep!
MINNIS: Right now, Hibbert may as well be double-teamed by Russell and Chamberlain each time he touches the rock. Given the franchise’s raised expectations and his maxed-out status, that’s the weight he’s placed on his shoulder. Having Danny Granger on the shelf hasn’t helped, but the bulk of this damage has been self-inflicted.