Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: Play-In Tournament

Last season marked the debut of the NBA’s Play-In Tournament, where the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference compete for the No. 7 playoff spot, and the ninth and tenth seeds compete to play the loser of the seven/eight match up, with the winner earning the No. 8 spot.

In other words: seven vs. eight — winner advances to playoffs as seventh seed, loser plays the winner of the nine vs. ten matchup. Nine/ten winner vs. seven/eight loser — winner advances to playoffs as eighth seed. So the ninth and tenth seeds need to win two consecutive games in order to advance.

In the West last season, the Lakers defeated the Warriors in the No. 7/8 matchup, advancing as the seventh seed, while the Grizzlies defeated the Spurs in the No. 9/10 matchup and then beat the Warriors to advance as the eighth seed.

In the East last season, the Celtics defeated the Wizards to advance as the seventh seed, while the Pacers defeated the Hornets in the No. 9/10 matchup but then lost to the Wizards, so Washington was the eighth seed. Ultimately, all of the seventh and eighth seeds fell in the first round of the playoffs last season.

This season, the current Nos. 7-10 seeds in the West are the Lakers (23-23), Timberwolves (22-23), Clippers (23-25) and Trail Blazers (19-26). Only two games (four losses) separate the No. 9 Clippers from the No. 6 Nuggets (23-21). The No. 5 Mavericks (26-20) are also within reach, but the top four seeds have separated from the pack.

At the bottom-end of Western play-in contention, less than three games separate the No. 10 Blazers from the No. 11-13 seeds, the Pelicans (17-28), Kings (18-30) and Spurs (17-29).

The East is extremely competitive this season, as the No. 7 seed Hornets (26-20) are only three-and-a-half games out of first place, so the top end of the standings are very much in flux. The Nos. 1-6 seeds all have between 26 and 30 wins and 16 and 19 losses, a separation of just three games.

There’s another distinct cluster in the standings, with the current Nos. 8-12 seeds all within three games of each other. Those teams are the Raptors (22-21), Wizards (23-23), Celtics (23-24), Knicks (23-24) and Hawks (20-25). (The Celtics lead the Wizards 91-69 on Sunday at the time of this release.)

We want to know what you think. Who will make the Play-In Tournament this season in both conferences? Are there any clear-cut favorites? Who will advance as the seventh and eighth seeds? Will any teams currently in the top six in either conference drop down?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: MVP Race

Now that the season is more than halfway through, it’s time to do another check-in on the MVP race. After a terrific start to the season, it seemed like Warriors star Stephen Curry might be a lock for his third trophy if he maintained his production — unfortunately, he’s been in one of the worst slumps of his career the past couple of months.

Through his first 20 games of the season, running through the end of November, Curry was averaging 27.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 6.6 APG, and 1.9 SPG on .452/.412/.943 shooting. From the start of December until now, a span of 21 games, those numbers have fallen to 25.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 5.6 APG, and 1.1 SPG on .395/.359/.900 shooting. Curry recently had a stretch of nine straight games of shooting below 50% from the field, unheard of for the greatest shooter ever.

After starting the season 24-5, the Warriors have gone 8-8 over their last 16 games, so the team has cooled off recently as well. However, at 32-13, Golden State still holds the second-best record in the league, only trailing the 35-9 Suns. There’s still time for Curry to turn things around, but other players have certainly performed better lately.

The NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant, looked like a top contender for the award prior to suffering a sprained MCL in his left knee on January 16, which is expected to sideline him for four-to-six weeks. Through 36 games, he’s averaged 29.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 5.8 APG on .520/.372/.894 shooting. The injury and missed games could ruin his MVP chances, but he’s been excellent for the Nets, who hold a 29-16 record in the East.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, the reigning MVP, has been carrying his team in the absence of several injured players, including the teams second- and third-leading scorers from last season, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Although Denver is just 23-21 (1-4 without Jokic), he has been completely dominant, averaging 25.9 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 7.4 APG, and 1.4 SPG on .569/.367/.789 shooting. Jokic leads the league in several advanced stats, including win shares, box plus/minus, and value over replacement player, per Basketball-Reference.

Over the past five-plus weeks, Sixers center Joel Embiid has arguably been the best player in the league, putting up 33.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.5 BPG on .550/.380/.837 shooting in just 32.3 MPG (15 games) — more than a point per minute, and nearly 12 free throw attempts per game. His season averages are quite impressive too, but he’s played just 33 games to this point, which is always a concern with the injury-plagued big man. There’s no denying his impact when active, as Philadelphia holds a 23-11 record when he plays, and is just 3-8 in games he’s missed.

Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is another top contender, stuffing the staff sheet with 28.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.5 BPG while playing strong defense for the defending champion Bucks, who hold a 29-19 record.

Lakers superstar LeBron James continues to impress in season 19 at 37 years of age, putting up stellar numbers yet again, but Los Angeles has struggled and sit at 23-23 through 46 games. Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan is having an outstanding season and should at least be in the conversation — Chicago is 28-16, second-best in the East.

Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker deserve recognition as the two best players on the league’s best team, although they figure to take votes away from each other and don’t have the same type of numbers as other candidates. Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant is having fantastic third season and could garner some votes. Memphis is 32-16 after defeating Denver Friday night.

We want to know what you think. Who’s been the MVP so far? Who do you think will end up winning the award? Are there any dark-horse candidates you like? What would your five-man ballot look like at this point?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Jerami Grant

Jerami Grant hasn’t played in over a month, but he’s one of the hottest names on the trade market.

The Pistons forward is recovering from thumb surgery and he’s not expected to return until next month at the earliest.

Grant’s ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor intrigues many teams bound for the playoffs or trying to reach the postseason. Grant signed a three-year free agent contract with the Pistons prior to last season, spurning a chance to remain with the contending Nuggets, mainly due to his desire to have an expanded offensive role.

Grant averaged 22.8 PPG as the No. 1 option for one of the league’s worst teams in 2021/22. He was averaging 20.1 PPG this season prior to the injury.

He’ll have to accept a lesser offensive role again if he’s dealt but his ability to guard multiple positions will ensure that he’ll get plenty of playing time wherever he may wind up.

The Pistons don’t need to deal him – he’ll have plenty of value in the offseason as well, particularly since his contract expires after next season – but they should get a solid return for a combo forward in his prime if they move him by the Feb. 10 deadline. They’ll likely want at least one first-round pick along with a rotation piece for Grant.

Some of the teams who have been mentioned as potential suitors include the Wizards, Knicks, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Hawks, Bulls, Pacers and Grizzlies. The Knicks just added a young forward in Cam Reddish and the Blazers might go into rebuild mode with Damian Lillard sidelined by an injury during an already disappointing season. Supposedly, the Bulls are unwilling to part with Patrick Williams, which would dramatically reduce the chances of them acquiring Grant.

The surprising Grizzlies could enhance their chances of a deep postseason run by adding Grant to an already potent lineup. The Lakers could naturally use Grant’s versatility, though it might be harder for them to put together a suitable package. The floundering Hawks are in desperate need of a defensive boost, and the Wizards want to do everything they can to keep Bradley Beal happy. The Pacers are reportedly willing to deal some of their top players, including Myles Turner, Caris LeVert and perhaps Domantas Sabonis.

That leads us to our question of the day: Which playoff contender would benefit the most by trading for Jerami Grant and where do you think the versatile Pistons forward will wind up?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: Western Conference All-Star Voting

In the sequel to this weekend’s consideration of potential Eastern Conference All-Star starters following the first results of fan voting for the 2022 NBA All-Star Game, we’ll take a look today at the players who are in the mix (and deserving to be in the mix) for Western Conference All-Star starting gigs.

During the voting process, players are separated by conference. Three frontcourt players will be selected and two guards will be chosen. Fan votes are weighted as 50% of the total vote. The remaining 50% will be split evenly between players and media members. The league’s head coaches will then pick the All-Star benches after starters are announced.

The All-Star Game is set for February 20 at the Cavaliers’ home arena, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Online fan voting began on Christmas Day 2021, and will conclude at 11:59 p.m. ET on January 22. The fan voting results so far were announced by the NBA on January 6.

Lakers small forward LeBron James received 2,018,725 fan votes to lead all frontcourt players in the West, followed by the reigning MVP, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, with 1,649,809 votes. Clippers small forward Paul George, out with a long-term shoulder injury, is currently in third place with 1,072,591 votes. Surprisingly, Warriors small forward Andrew Wiggins is outpacing his more decorated — and, let’s face it, just plain better — All-Star teammate, power forward Draymond Green.

The 933,355 fan votes for Wiggins are significantly more than the 691,423 fan votes Green received. Wiggins has made far more of a scoring impact than Green has, to be fair, though Green’s passing and versatile, league-best defense make him the more crucial contributor to the Warriors’ 30-10 record.

Lakers big man Anthony Davis (592,281 votes), Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (474,794 votes), Lakers reserve forward Carmelo Anthony (319,128 votes), Jazz center Rudy Gobert (218,819 votes) and Suns center Deandre Ayton (177,115 votes) round out the top 10.

Among this top 10, only Anthony is truly unworthy of consideration, though the notion of the barely-available Davis meriting a look for his contributions as the second-best player on a .500-level club seems shaky. At present, George has played just one fewer game than Davis has, though that is subject to change. Gobert, who along with Green looks to be a favorite to win another Defensive Player of the Year award this season in one of the West’s elite teams, deserves the third starting frontcourt nod over George.

Warriors point guard Stephen Curry leads the West’s guards (and also every other player in the NBA) in fan voting with 2,584,623 votes. Far behind Curry are fourth-year Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic, already a two-time All-Star, with 787,690 votes and third-year Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant with 669,033 votes. Tonight, Morant led the fourth-seeded Grizzlies to a 116-108 statement win over Curry’s Warriors. The victory marked 10 straight for Memphis. The 29-14 Grizzlies occupy the West’s fourth seed, far ahead of Doncic’s fifth-seeded Mavericks at 22-18.

Curry’s Golden State teammate Klay Thompson, who has played a grand total of two games this season, received a nonsensical 367,743 fan votes last week, the fourth-most for any West guard. Thompson far outpaced the more worthy Suns backcourt tandem of Devin Booker (338,526 votes) and Chris Paul (315,912 votes), who in turn are just ahead of Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (217,546). Among this group, Mitchell, Paul and Booker all could make a case to start. The same cannot be said for Thompson.

As of this writing, this fan voter would start Jokic, James, and Gobert for the Western Conference’s frontcourt trio, with Curry and Morant occupying the two starting guard spots.

We want to know what you think! Who deserves to be a Western Conference All-Star starter? Are there any borderline starters you think could be determined based on their play during this last month of voting? Head to the comment section below to weigh in!

Community Shootaround: Eastern Conference All-Star Voting

The 2022 NBA All-Star Game will take place on February 20 at the Cavaliers’ home arena, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Will a Cavalier or two make the cut for the first time since LeBron James headed West in 2018? Time will tell, but the odds look good. The chances of a Cav earning an Eastern Conference starting spot, however, look slim.

Online fan voting started on Christmas Day, and is set to wrap up on January 22 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The first results of fan voting were announced by the NBA on January 6.

Players are separated by conference in the voting process (though not in the games), and divvied up across the frontcourt and backcourt. Fan votes will be weighed at 50% of the total vote, with 25% allocated to player voting results and an additional 25% given to journalists. Head coaches will vote for the All-Star benches after starters are announced.

Today, we’ll take a look at the leaders in the clubhouse to earn an All-Star start in the Eastern Conference, in addition to making the case for a few other notable players deserving of a shot.

Nets forward Kevin Durant led all Eastern Conference players with 2,360,435 results in his favor after the initial tally. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was nipping at his heels with a robust 2,145,835 fan votes of his own. Sixers center Joel Embiid received 1,236,060 fan votes. The top three frontcourt vote-getters (again, as determined by a split of fan, player, and media votes) will earn starter honors.

The selections of Durant, Antetkounmpo, and Embiid (all in the early running for MVP consideration) were largely expected. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Heat forward Jimmy Butler were the only other frontcourt players to earn 500K or more fan votes.

While Butler is clearly enjoying an All-Star-level season, which would be his sixth overall, he has only appeared in 23 of a possible 40 games for the 25-15 Heat. Currently sidelined with an ankle injury, Butler is expected to return to the court soon, and, provided that he does, should be a lock to make the coaches’ picks for East reserves.

Tatum and Boston wing Jaylen Brown have each had productive individual seasons, but it has not translated to team success for the 19-21 Celtics, currently the tenth seed in the Eastern Conference. A team in danger of missing the play-in tournament seems unlikely to earn two All-Stars. Brown is listed in the backcourt for fan voting, while Tatum is in the frontcourt.

Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen, who was a big part of the trade that netted Brooklyn superstar guard James Harden, has blossomed into an All-Star caliber talent with Cleveland this season. Allen and guard Darius Garland are the Cavaliers’ two All-Star candidates this season, though neither looks to have the votes to claw their way into the starter conversation. Allen was sixth in the first fan voting results for Eastern Conference frontcourt players with 168,019 votes. Garland ranked ninth among East guards (behind two much less-worthy candidates, whom we will discuss in a bit) with 119,399 votes. Rookie Cleveland power forward Evan Mobley, an early leader for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, will most likely not make the cut, though he has been a crucial part of the team’s incredible turnaround this season.

Other frontcourt players who have put up solid numbers on good teams in the conference include young Hornets forward Miles Bridges, enjoying a Most Improved Player-level season with an upstart Charlotte club. Hawks power forward John Collins also has a case, though the team’s middling record could limit Atlanta from getting more than one All-Star this year. Other candidates for All-Star consideration (though probably not worthy of starting) include a cadre of recent All-Stars, among them Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis, Raptors power forward Pascal Siakam (though he has missed 14 games so far), Knicks power forward Julius Randle, and Bulls center Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic has stabilized after a rough shooting start, and has improved on defense this season.

In the backcourt, the two current frontrunners to start are Bulls wing DeMar DeRozan (1,487,598 fan votes), enjoying a comeback season in Chicago at age 32, and Nets guard Harden (892,065 votes), who – despite having one of his worst seasons in years – remains one of the better guards in the NBA.

The selection of DeRozan here has stirred up a bit of controversy — not because of his merit, but because of his positional listing. The 6’6″ DeRozan is the Bulls’ starting small forward, and moonlights plenty as a small-ball power forward. When he last made an All-Star team, with the Raptors in 2018, DeRozan was a shooting guard, but he was unlocked in subsequent seasons at the three and four while with the Spurs. Regardless, DeRozan looks to be a lock, provided he stays relatively healthy for the rest of the voting window.

Hawks point guard Trae Young is right behind Harden with 862,878 fan votes, while Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine (776,043) and second-year Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball (422,247) round out the top five vote-getters among backcourt players. LaVine may not boast the late-game heroics or ball-handling ingenuity of his fellow Chicago swingman DeRozan, but he has put up terrific numbers as one of the undisputed two best players for the East’s best club as of this writing. Chicago boasts a 26-10 record.

Young, fresh off leading his Atlanta team to a surprising Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2021, is enjoying a great statistical season individually, but it has not translated to team success, in part because Young’s defense has been… apathetic at best. The Hawks are currently the No. 12 seed in the East with a 17-22 record. Ball has led Charlotte to a 21-19 record and the East’s eighth seed. Young, LaVine and Ball are all more deserving starters than Harden this season, though Harden remains worthy of a (bench) All-Star slot.

Insanely, Nets point guard Kyrie Irving, who has played in all of one game this season, is right behind Ball with 267,929 fan votes, while Knicks reserve point guard Derrick Rose, out for months following an ankle surgery and having put up fairly pedestrian numbers on a non-playoff team, has gotten 232,501 votes of his own. Neither player will get a shred of votes from players or journalists, and neither player has a chance of making the All-Star team, as a starter or reserve, this season.

Veteran Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet, who finished tenth during this initial window of fan voting, has emerged as perhaps the representative best player for a frisky Toronto club. Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday and Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal also seem worthy of All-Star berths, though they both finished outside the top 10 this year in fan voting and appear doomed to join the ranks of the reserves.

New Heat point guard Kyle Lowry has had a down scoring year but has been the steady hand guiding the ship for a terrific Miami club missing its best players, Butler and big man Bam Adebayo, for a significant portion of its season. Yes, sixth man Tyler Herro is averaging significantly more points than Lowry (20.6 PPG to 13.7 PPG), but their overall shooting percentages are fairly similar. Herro is connecting on 42.7% of his field goal looks to Lowry’s 42.2% shooting from the floor. Lowry, a six-time All-Star with the Raptors, has proven to be the better set-up man and defender by a long shot.

As of right now, this fan voter would slot Durant, Antetokounmpo and Embiid among his three starting frontcourt players, and put the two Bulls, DeRozan and LaVine, into the two starting backcourt spots.

We want to know what you think! Which players comprise your Eastern Conference All-Star starters? Are there any borderline starters you think could be determined based on their level of play over the ensuing month?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in!

Community Shootaround: Early Check-In On MVP Race

With the lone exception of the Spurs, all of the NBA’s teams have played between 18 and 20 games so far this season (San Antonio is at 17), meaning we’re just about at the one-quarter mark of the season. With that in mind, we’re taking stock today of the top performances of 2021/22 to date.

The NBA’s top scorer so far is the same player who finished atop the leaderboard last season: Stephen Curry. Curry’s 28.2 PPG is nearly four full points below his 2020/21 average, but it looks like he’ll have a much stronger case for Most Valuable Player consideration this time around based on his team’s performance.

The Warriors, who finished just a few games above .500 and didn’t make the playoffs last season, have a league-best 16-2 record this season — and they’re still waiting to add Klay Thompson and James Wiseman to their rotation. Curry has led the charge, knocking down 41.8% of an eye-popping 12.9 three-point attempts per game, while chipping in 6.8 APG and 5.8 RPG. Golden State plays like an average team when Curry sits (-0.3 net rating) and an all-time juggernaut when he’s on the court (+20.4).

As the top scorer on the NBA’s best team, Curry would almost certainly win the MVP award if the season ended today, but if he or the Warriors slow down, there are plenty of other contenders to consider, starting with last year’s winner.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has matched last season’s scoring average (26.4 PPG) while establishing new career-highs in RPG (13.6), FG% (.593), and 3PT% (.410) in the early going. He also leads Denver in APG (6.4), and the gap between the team’s net rating when he’s on the court (+12.6) and off it (-14.6) is even bigger than Curry’s.

Unfortunately, that net rating with Jokic off the court may be the thing that ultimately sinks his chances. The injury-plagued Nuggets have been brutal whenever the reigning MVP sits and it’s led to a middle-of-the-pack 10-10 record so far. Like Curry a year ago, Jokic isn’t going to win another MVP award if his team finishes in play-in range.

How about another star on a No. 1 seed then? The 14-5 Nets, who have a two-game cushion in the Eastern Conference, have been led by a version of Kevin Durant playing at the height of his powers. He’s right behind Curry for the scoring lead (28.1 PPG) and has posted a career-best .556 FG% to go along with 7.6 RPG and 5.3 APG. Brooklyn has a +6.0 net rating when he plays, compared to +0.3 when he sits.

Durant’s case will be hurt a little by the fact that he has another former MVP – James Harden – helping him out, but if the Nets finish atop the East without Kyrie Irving playing at all, that’ll be a point in Durant’s favor.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Clippers forward Paul George, Heat swingman Jimmy ButlerMavericks guard Luka Doncic, Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker, and Bulls wings Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are some of the other stars who would be in the conversation if the season ended today. Sixers center Joel Embiid and Lakers forwards LeBron James and Anthony Davis are among the others who could force their way into the conversation if they stay healthy and their teams move up the standings.

We want to know what you think. Is Curry the MVP so far? Who is the biggest threat to take the award from him if everyone stays healthy? Are there any dark-horse candidates you like? What would your five-man ballot look like at this point?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Coaches On The Hot Seat

Luke Walton became the first head coach to be let go during the 2021/22 NBA season earlier this week, but he may not be the last.

Although coaching changes happen most frequently in the spring once a team’s season has ended, some clubs decide not to wait that long, preferring to get a head-start on the transition midway through the year. Given the success Nate McMillan had in turning the Hawks’ season around when he took over for Lloyd Pierce in March, it’s possible we’ll see a couple more teams besides the Kings try to replicate that reversal of fortune with an in-season change.

With that in mind, we want to know which head coaches you believe will be most at risk during the 2021/22 season.

A report earlier today from Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report suggested that Stephen Silas of the Rockets may be the next coach to find himself on the hot seat. Houston has been the NBA’s worst team so far this season, with a 1-16 record, a 15-game losing streak, and a last-place ranking in several important offensive categories.

Still, the Rockets didn’t enter the season with postseason aspirations, and Silas has another year left on his contract after this season. Would a team on track to finish at the bottom of the NBA standings really be in a rush to make a midseason change and commit to paying two coaches for the next year-and-a-half, with a playoff berth seemingly multiple years away?

Sports betting site has Silas listed third in its odds for the next NBA head coach to be fired. Pistons head coach Dwane Casey, whose team is off to a 4-13 start, is atop that list. Like Silas, Casey wasn’t expected to lead his club to the playoffs this season, but there was an expectation that the Pistons would perhaps be a little more competitive than they have been.

On the other hand, with the exception of a blowout home loss to the Kings, the Pistons have been beaten by good teams so far, and all indications are that the organization thinks highly of Casey. In fact, he signed a contract extension just six months ago, locking him up through 2023/24. If things really go south in Detroit this season, maybe he finds himself on the hot seat, but I’m skeptical we’re at that point yet. lists Frank Vogel of the Lakers between Casey and Silas as the second-most likely candidate to be the next coach fired.

The Lakers entered the season with championship aspirations but have underachieved so far, posting a 9-10 record. LeBron James‘ absences due to injuries and a one-game suspension have contributed to Los Angeles’ struggles (the team is 4-7 without him), but even with James in the lineup, the club has looked disjointed and inconsistent.

Like Casey, Vogel received a contract extension earlier this year. However, that extension didn’t really represent a massive vote of confidence. Entering the final season of the three-year contract he signed in 2019, Vogel had just one year tacked onto his deal, despite winning a title in 2020. Since his one-year extension only covers 2022/23, it wouldn’t necessarily preclude the Lakers from making a change if their struggles continue.

What do you think? Are Silas, Casey, or Vogel in any real trouble yet? Is there another head coach whose job security looks more tenuous to you? Do you think we’ll get any more in-season coaching changes in 2021/22?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves had the NBA’s third-worst record in 2019/20 and the sixth-worst record in ’20/21. However, there was an internal belief entering the season that the team was capable of taking a step forward with all its key players finally healthy and available.

Through 15 games, five of Minnesota’s seven most-used players – including Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards – have yet to miss a game, and the other two – D’Angelo Russell and Patrick Beverley – have been sidelined for just two games apiece.

But the team’s good health luck hasn’t translated into a better start. Even after wins against Sacramento and San Antonio this week, the Wolves are just 6-9, despite playing 10 of their first 15 games at home. Their home record includes losses to New Orleans and Orlando.

It’s too early in the season to draw any sweeping conclusions about the state of the Timberwolves, but this is a big year for the team, which has playoff aspirations. If the core that Gersson Rosas spent two years building, including Towns, Edwards, Russell, and Malik Beasley, isn’t good enough to enter the playoff mix, new head of basketball operations Sachin Gupta will be under pressure to make additional roster moves.

Minnesota has been repeatedly cited as a potential suitor for Sixers star Ben Simmons, though it’s unclear if the Wolves have the assets necessary to bring Philadelphia to the table without including Towns or Edwards in their offer.

In his latest The Scoop w/Doogie podcast, Darren Wolfson of SKOR North mentioned a pair of shot-blocking big men that could be fits for the Wolves: Myles Turner and Chris Boucher.

There’s no indication that Turner is available at this point, but Wolfson says there are those in the Wolves’ front office who are fans of the Pacers center (hat tip to HoopsHype). Boucher, who is on an expiring deal with the Raptors, may be a more realistic target at this point, though he wouldn’t be the same sort of difference-maker as Turner.

With the Wolves looking to fight their way back to .500, we want to get your thoughts on the team. Do you believe in a core led by Towns and Edwards? Are Russell or Beasley long-term keepers? Does the roster need another impact player to become a legit playoff team, or is the current group capable of making it? If a trade is necessary, which players are the most desirable – and the most realistic – targets?

Head to the comment section to weigh in with your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: East Vs. West

During the 21st century, Eastern Conference teams have had a winning record in games against Western Conference teams just once in 22 seasons. That happened in the 2008/09 campaign, when the East put up a 231-219 record (.513) vs. the West.

In every other season since 1999/2000, Western teams have had a winning record against Eastern opponents, often by a wide margin. The East’s second-best result came in 2015/16, when it posted a 218-232 (.484) mark vs. the West.

These numbers are a simple way of illustrating what most NBA fans view as common knowledge: For at least the last two decades, the West has been the stronger and deeper of the two conferences.

In the early going of the 2021/22 season, however, there’s reason to believe that the tide might be shifting. Even after Western teams won all three games against Eastern opponents on Monday night, the East has a 22-19 record in inter-conference games so far this season.

It’s obviously way too early in the year to draw any conclusions, but it’s not too early to start making some predictions based on what we’ve seen so far.

Among the East’s current top eight teams, the Sixers, Heat, Knicks, and Nets were expected to be here, but the Bulls, Wizards, Cavaliers, and Raptors have exceeded expectations so far. Some of those clubs might slow down, but some of their gains could be for real, and they all at least look capable of remaining in the play-in mix.

Further down the standings, the Hornets (5-6) are about where we expected, while the Bucks (4-6), Celtics (4-6), Hawks (4-7), and Pacers (4-7) are actually underachieving so far — we can probably expect more from most or all of them.

The Magic and Pistons, at the bottom of the conference standings, will likely remain there and lose a lot of games. But even so, that leaves 13 teams in the East with realistic playoff or play-in aspirations.

The West looks pretty deep too, but it may not have as many obvious breakout teams — its top nine clubs so far are identical to last year’s, albeit in a different order. There also aren’t as many underachievers in the West that we can count on seeing improvements from. The Lakers have been a little disappointing, but they’re still above .500 at 6-5.

With all that in mind, we want to know what you think. Has the Eastern Conference finally caught up to the Western Conference this season, or is the West still the more dominant conference overall? Do you expect the East to post at least a .500 record against the West this season for just the second time this century?

Head to the comment section to weigh in with your thoughts.

Community Shootaround: Strong Starts

The BullsKnicks, Warriors, Heat and Wizards are tied for the league’s best record (5-1) entering the final night of October, having opened the season on a strong note.

Chicago is sporting a new core that includes Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic in the starting lineup — its only loss came against the Knicks on Thursday in a one-point game.

New York is looking to build on its success from last season after adding Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to a battle-tested core. Golden State has seen strong performances from Stephen Curry (28.7 points per game), plus two backcourt pieces in Damion Lee and Jordan Poole (combined 28.2 points per game).

The two Southeast Division teams on the list, Miami and Washington, are enjoying win streaks of four and three games, respectively. The clubs have played well despite dealing with various absences, including Bam Adebayo (knee) and Daniel Gafford (quad) on Friday.

The million-dollar question is simple: which of these teams are most likely to sustain a high level of success? Chicago and Washington have relatively new cores, while Miami and Golden State have veterans and coaches with valuable championship experience. New York remains a hungry wild card.

From a long-term perspective, the Heat and Warriors are still waiting for Victor Oladipo and Klay Thompson to return from their injuries. Chicago has also lost second-year forward Patrick Williams, who’s expected to miss at least the rest of the regular season with a dislocated wrist.

We want to know what you think. Which of these teams are more likely to succeed than others? Is it still too early in the season to draw any serious conclusions? Take to the comments section below!