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March Madness, Playoffs, and the Warriors–Fastbreaks 3/26 Edition

Every week a group of writers from the Bad Man Bureau will discuss several topics regarding both the NBA and basketball at large with quick, paragraph-long responses. This week, we’re discussing the madness that went on in the “Big Dance” and how this might impact draft prospects and Wichita State’s legacy.  We’ll also be discussing the recent results of the elite teams in the NBA and whether or not the Warriors’ exclusion from that group might impact Mark Jackson‘s job security The panel for this edition of the Fastbreaks column are Andrew, international correspondent Callum, Ishmael, and Aaron, who is making his debut with the Bureau .

 

Andrew Wiggins was just one of the many highly touted prospects who crashed out of the tournament early. (Photo Credit to USATSI)

Question 1: Does this upset-filled March Madness affect the draft stock of any top prospects?

Andrew G: Four points for Andrew Wiggins.  Jabari Parker going 4-of-14 from the field.  Joel Embiid being out with injury.  Sometimes it isn’t a surprise that so many of the top prospects go down early in the tournament; Kevin Durant lost his only tournament game, for example.  But what is surprising is just how poorly many of the top prospects have played.  It seems to be capping off a season in which many scouts went from extolling this draft class as a potential “greatest of all time” group to one where there’s no league-altering player.  Whereas we started the year saying it would be difficult to miss in this year’s draft, we’re starting to find question marks in every player’s game that are becoming concerns.  I don’t think all of the poor performances hurt any one player more than the others, but I think it does hurt the class as a whole.

Callum: It shouldn’t. Teams are smart enough to realize that one game is not indicative of their entire season or how their skill sets would translate to the NBA. We knew that these players had flaws that would need to be worked out for them to reach their ceiling at the next level. A poor performance from Wiggins and Parker (and the Kansas and Duke teams as a whole, to be fair) certainly was disappointing to see, but as teams begin the draft process of combine workouts, interviews and watching tape, these games will barely be a blip on the radar.

Ishmael: I don’t think so. Parker, Wiggins, McDermott and Smart all had their seasons speak for themselves. It’s no coincidence that the prospects that are left are on the best overall teams. Duke and Creighton were too small; Kansas was missing their anchor, etc. Aaron Gordon is a part of a more complete team top to bottom at Arizona and same with Randle at Kentucky. You’ll see their games get picked apart based solely off of their tournament losses, but one game won’t hurt their stock.  Their games have been defined, and one game where the entire opposing game plan is geared around stopping their production doesn’t change that.

The only player whose stock is seriously in jeopardy of dropping is Joel Embiid, and that’s because of injury as opposed to performance.

Aaron: That would be highly unlikely. Scouts know not to put too much value into the games played during the tournament, as it is more of a reflection of the team as a unit rather than a showcase of individual talent. Could an impressive and deep run by the likes of Arizona, Kentucky, MSU, or Michigan improve the stock of a few lesser talented players? No doubt, but the draft stock and position of the top prospects seems almost locked in at this point. No need to be alarmed; if your team gets a top pick they won’t reach for Nik Stauskas over the likes of the super talented Parker or Wiggins.

Question 2: Which of the five teams with the worst record (Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz) has the brightest future?

Andrew G: I think the easy answer is the Orlando Magic, who already pretty much has a solid roster of youth.  However, depending on where the picks fall, the Philadelphia 76ers could find themselves with a starting lineup for the foreseeable future.  They’ve already got potential rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams, the sad veteran Thaddeus Young, and the rehabbing Nerlens Noel with Tony Wroten coming off the bench.  With a pick that’s currently slated to be no worse than fifth and another from the Pelicans this year, they could end up with some combination of, say, Julius Randle and Marcus Smart.  Fill in a couple spots with cheap veterans, and while Philadelphia isn’t well on their way to a playoff race, they’ll be good enough so that we don’t know for certain they’re tanking and flush with a promising future.

Callum: I’m going to say the Jazz with one caveat: they need a better coach than Ty Corbin to develop all this young talent they’ve acquired recently. Choosing whether or not to retain Gordon Hayward this offseason will be an important decision for the franchise, but even if they feel that his price in free agency is too steep, an adequate replacement could be found with their first pick. A core of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Hayward, Enes Kanter and a potential top 4 pick has the ability to grow together and really be something special. Of course the Lakers have the ability to lure a star free agent to pair with Kobe and a top pick, but I feel like that’s a bit of a long shot as it stands.

Ishmael: Orlando has the pieces to make a quick turnaround pending they land the player they need his year. Jacque Vaughn won’t stick around, because the team should probably be better than they currently are with their young pieces in place. Pending on what they choose to do with Arron Afflalo, they still have a solid group of young players that all deserve to be contributing pieces to a rebuilding team. The same can’t be said for a team like the 76ers who are putting all bets on this next pick and Nerlens Noel becoming an instant impact defender while filling the rest of the roster with D-League talent.

Aaron: My gut really wants me to go with the Lakers on this one, because I should know better than to root or pick against them. However, with both Phil being out of the picture there and the passing of Jerry Buss, I am not too optimistic. The real answer for me has to be the Jazz, who slightly edge out the Magic for the least miserable future award. This Jazz team with one more great pick would leap them into the bottom of the stacked playoff race in the West next year with only better things to come. Jabari in Utah would be a beautiful thing and would create a great storyline for both the team and the NBA. Please make this happen, Silver.

Question 3:  Does the recent slump of Indiana and Miami combined with the recent success of the West’s top teams tell us anything about the playoffs?

Andrew G: Not at all.  If this were a prior year, we might have been able to glean some information about a potential finalist coming out of the East, but while Indiana and Miami have played some downright mediocre basketball in the last six weeks or so, it’s not like the rest of the Eastern Conference has improved to a point where we could point to them as a legitimate threat.  That being said, Brooklyn and Charlotte are coming along and could be tougher outs than expected, but it’s still Indiana-Miami in the conference finals at this point.  All that being said, I’m still not sold on either team actually winning the title this year; Indiana’s offense is too anemic, and Miami’s defense this season has been too porous.

Furthermore, the Western leaders are all playing well (for the Spurs, that’s an understatement), so we’ll have to wait to see how they perform against one another when in the midst of a seven game series.

Callum: Both Miami and Indiana look a far cry from the teams that gave us an excellent 7-game conference finals 10 months ago. While they’ve both been playing ugly basketball over the past 3 weeks, the question remains of how much this slump can be attributed to a “coasting” mentality that Miami has become known for. I have more faith in Miami fixing their defense as opposed to Indiana fixing their offense, but I would favor whoever came out of the West in any hypothetical Finals matchup. However, as we know, the Playoffs are a different kind of beast, and I think we are in for some pretty shocking results this season.

Ishmael: The East is still a two team race at the point, but the West could pose a serious threat to a Pacer title run or a Heat three-peat. Both Miami and Indiana have shown real weaknesses that a team like San Antonio and Oklahoma City could capitalize on. Miami still doesn’t have size, and despite having an elite level defense, Indiana’s offense still ranks 22nd in the league in points per game, three point percentage and 20th in offensive efficiency. The Heat have gone 5-7 since LeBron’s 61-point outing against Charlotte, and although they’ve been known to have regular season “coasting” periods, the problems look more apparent than ever. The battle in the East from now on is to capture the number one seed since neither Miami nor Indiana want the task of playing a scrappy defensive team like Charlotte followed by Chicago in in the conference semi finals and then having the heavyweight slug fest in the conference finals.

But as we’ve learned in the past, only the playoffs tell us anything about the playoffs.

Aaron: It only tells us what we already know: the West is the mightily superior conference and when Miami and Indiana are struggling in the East, there are exactly zero teams worth watching in that conference unless you enjoy bleeding out of your eye sockets as you watch team after team tank. Come playoff time, Miami and Indiana will still be the ECF matchup and the West will be a splendid array of great teams battling it out ala March Madness style, so don’t overthink the recent play of these top teams and get excited for the playoffs. (WE’RE LESS THAN A MONTH AWAY).

 

Wichita State performed admirably in defeat, but did it impress our panel?  (Photo Credit to Charlie Riedel of AP Photo)

Wichita State performed admirably in defeat, but did it impress our panel? (Photo Credit to Charlie Riedel of AP Photo)

Question 4:  How would you rate Wichita State’s performance in the tournament? Did they prove the doubters wrong?

Andrew G: I’m not sure I can rate Wichita State’s performance at this point until I see how Kentucky performs in the rest of the tournament.  Was this simply a case of the woeful (but still proud) Wildcats getting up for a game against a pre-tournament contender, or is Kentucky finally clicking?  I will say, however, that I’m not sure a close loss registers as proving the doubters wrong.  Look, Wichita State deserved their 1 seed.  If you go undefeated in the regular season, it would be more absurd that you wouldn’t get it.  But I also think people started looking at them with rose-colored glasses, that they were a team of destiny and would win it all even after seeing the brutal draw handed to them.  They were a good team, but they weren’t a great team, and that appeared to get lost in the discussion.  As a result, a second round loss (which I actually predicted in my bracket! Unlike just about every other game!) will probably push them to the pages of history as a close-but-no-cigar team.

Callum: It wouldn’t be called March Madness if upsets never happened, and compared to some other first and second round results, there is no shame in losing to a very talented Kentucky team by 2 points. Even if they may not have gone as far in the tournament as people predicted, I think they can hold their head high knowing they played a great game against a college basketball blue-blood.

Ishmael: Some will say that they proved nothing by losing in the second round, but what other number one seed has had to face a team like Kentucky in the second round of the tournament? The Wildcats were loaded with first round NBA talent, and Wichita State took them to the brink. If anything Wichita State proved that they were dissed by the selection committee in being put in a region of death.

Aaron: Their performance was nothing memorable but not too unpredictable. For starters, they were put in what I believe is the toughest region in the tournament with teams like defending champ Louisville, defending runner-up Michigan, ultra talented Duke, and a second round matchup where they would either have to face in-state rival Kansas State or freshmen–laden Kentucky, who is made up of a plethora of future NBA players. The odds were stacked against them as soon as the bracket was announced, but their loss doesn’t take away from a very memorable season for the Shockers and all of their fans.

 

Question 5:  Is Mark Jackson on the hot seat?

Andrew G: I don’t know if he is, but he shouldn’t.  Jackson is doing the best he can–which is still a playoff spot and a designation as a dangerous team–with the roster he has had for the entire season.  While I’m not absolving him of all blame (the offense of the Warriors could be so much better if they’d stop relying on so many isolations), I feel the bigger share of the blame for Golden State’s “disappointing” season falls on the front office.  The Warriors clearly went all-in when they signed Andre Iguodala… but even then I didn’t quite understand the move with Harrison Barnes already on the roster.  Harrison Barnes has now taken his demotion to 6th man very badly, as he’s struggled all season long with his shot.  Plus the Andre Iguodala signing cost them most of their potency off the bench, as Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry left and were replaced by a rotating door of guards and Marressee Speights’s face on a milk carton.  The deal also has ramifications for the future, as Golden State is liable to be well over the luxury tax if they attempt to keep Klay Thompson and Barnes.  The trade for Steve Blake does help the Warriors, but he’s only a stopgap.  The Warriors have had roster turnover and injuries that have hurt their chances, and Mark Jackson can’t be culpable for all of it.

Callum: He should be, and a first round exit will probably spell the end of the Jackson era in Oakland. Although the Warriors are probably a piece or two away from contending, they should definitely be a team with championship aspirations right now, and I doubt that Jackson is the kind of coach who can take them there. While the improvement on defense has been a welcome surprise for Golden State fans, you get the feeling that a better coach could make this team something much better on the offensive side of the ball.

Ishmael: I want to say no, but with the off-season hype he has to be. He’s given them a defensive intensity that wouldn’t be there otherwise, but offensively it’s clear he doesn’t have experience in designing a game plan. Harrison Barnes stunting in development doesn’t help matters either. He got credit for changing the culture in Golden State, but some forget that the Warriors didn’t have that good of a regular season last year either. It just so happened that they caught fire against Denver and San Antonio.

The team perhaps did put too much stock into the possibility of Dwight Howard in the off-season, but nonetheless Andre Iguodala is on the books and hasn’t had the impact his contract expects him to have on offense.

Aaron: Not yet, but he should be. His success story as a rookie coach is too recent and commonly talked about for him to be getting swamp-ass just yet. If the Warriors lose in the first or second round again they’ll most likely give him at least one more year with a hopefully healthy squad before they shove him out the door.

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