The Hustle: Week Two – League Pass Disasters



Chris St. Jean:  Alright, Mitchell, the season is nearing fast, Zach Lowe has released his League Pass Rankings, and we’re all excited to watch the Wolves, Celtics, and Jazz when the real games kick off. But sometimes it’s fun to watch a new team because you expect things to go horribly wrong, or the team that was put together on paper makes no sense, or you just can’t take your eyes away (the car accident team). As the 2016-17 season approaches, what is your number one League Pass disaster team?

Paul Mitchell:  This is a great question, because we’ve already spent so much of the preseason process delving into our most interesting teams, or some of our personal favorites, that I feel like a few franchises have fallen through the gaps.

There are two different ways I’ll interpret it, based off of your use of the term “disaster.” The first is in the most literal sense, in identifying which team(s) this season implodes on the court and leads the league in either punches thrown towards teammates or – more likely in today’s NBA – passive-aggressive tweets at management.

In either example, the Sacramento Kings have to be considered the odds-on favorites, with an uneasy relationship between ownership and its star players and a proven track record of dysfunction. But that’s too easy, and I’m on record in believing in new head coach Dave Joerger’s ability to pull off a Mike Malone impersonation and get along with “Boogie” Cousins, so let’s cross the Kings off.

The New York Knicks are always an easy choice, if you can catch them on the rare season when their fans hold playoff aspirations. But between the ugly Derrick Rose trial and the weird dynamic between Phil Jackson and his role as team President, there are plenty of distractions on hand to actually affect the on-court product, before even mentioning how the pieces on the roster fit together. Rose represents a huge upgrade over last season’s point guard dumpster fire, but is his shoot-first skill set and proximity to free agency a positive for this particular Knicks roster, considering how important Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis (and his development) are for the organization?

Joakim Noah’s passing skills and offensive versatility will be integral to whatever success the Knicks have this season, and the amount of games he plays in could determine their playoff viability, especially considering their lack of depth along the frontcourt. There’s no question the New York Knicks are a better team this season than last, but expecting a mid-tier playoff seed in the East would qualify as optimistic, which could be considered a disaster to some, I suppose.

Or how about the Oklahoma City Thunder missing out on a playoff seed, while Kevin Durant blends seamlessly into an all-time Golden State offense and a likely title team? Russell Westbrook carries high expectations into the season and has been known at times to play with a bit of enthusiasm, so there’s always a chance he could LITERALLY combust on the court and pop a basketball (or whatever is the basketball-equivalent of Bo Jackson breaking a bat over his knee.) Plus, the meshing of Victor Oladipo into shared backcourts with Russ should take an adjustment period, and it’s not like general manager Sam Presti has done much to address the team’s abject lack of weak-side spacing around its playmakers. I won’t even get into the subtraction of Serge Ibaka, and the impact that giving those extra frontcourt minutes to Enes Kanter, Domantas Sabonis, or Ersan Ilyasova has on the team defense (also: losing Kevin Durant).

So if we’re going literal disasters, I’ll take the Knicks, followed by the Thunder, and then the Sacramento Kings. However, if you meant “disaster,” as in an absolute mess of a basketball team, then it’s the Brooklyn Nets. Outside of Brook Lopez, who has admirably toughed out consecutive-full seasons at a high level of play every game, there might not be another quality starter on the roster, and the #FreeBrook countdown should have began the moment Sean Marks cashed his first paycheck from Mikhail Prokhorov. The Nets might be the only NBA franchise openly rebuilding (note: remember when it was called tanking and people were pissed?), which will equate to many an on-court disaster over the course of the 2016-17 season.

How say you, St. Jean?

Sad Brook Lopez (courtesy of Getty Images)

St. Jean:  The Kings and Nets are both certainly odds-on favorites heading into the season. Love those choices. And I agree that New York will be fascinating to see how that plays out. But my number one choice right now is the team that sent Derrick Rose to New York in the first place… the Chicago Bulls.

The Bulls in years past have seemed to be stubborn in the face of a changing NBA as more and more players, small and tall, drift out to the 3-point line and teams prioritize playing with pace.  Last season, the switch from Tom Thibodeau to Fred Hoiberg was supposed to be a catalyst to help the Bulls make that change.

From 2014-15 under Thibodeau to 2015-16 under Hoiberg, the Bulls did increase from 23rd to 15th in the NBA in pace, according to Basketball Reference. An improvement for sure, but not exactly a revolutionary change for the Bulls. What really makes that lackluster is the drop the Bulls made in offensive efficiency from 11th under Thibodeau to 23rd under Hoiberg.

So naturally, this season, the Bulls front office went out and brought in dynamic offensive players that will fit well in a pace and space, ball movement-type system for Hoiberg, right? Well…

Completely disregarding the rest of this roster, trying to envision 2016 Dwyane Wade and 2016 Rajon Rondo sharing a starting backcourt is just mind-boggling.  Wade and Rondo have always been deft at dealing with the lack of spacing their particular skillsets bring to a roster, but putting both on the floor, potentially with below average outside shooters at other positions as well flies in the face of everything ‘we’ think we know about NBA basketball in 2016.

Not to mention the fact that these two spent quite some time in Boston and Miami…well, not exactly getting along:

Will the Bulls be giving serious minutes to a lineup with Rondo, Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Robin Lopez? That’s seriously in play, right? Butler is the real deal and is improving every season offensively, but that gives him very little room to operate on the floor. The alternative is mixing in Dougie McBuckets and Nikola Mirotic to provide some shooting.

To fill out the rotation, more non-shooters: Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis (has potential, but still raw), and Christiano Felicio (who had good minutes for this team last season).

Oh, and by the way, the Bulls just swung a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks to add another notorious non-shooter to pair with Rondo at the point guard position, sending out Tony Snell to receive Michael Carter-Williams.

Lack of outside shooting will be one thing, but even figuring out the front court rotation will be difficult. Should Hoiberg give big minutes to youngsters like Portis and Felicio? Where does Mirotic spend most of his time playing, considering he’s too slow to guard wings and not strong enough to guard post players? Does Taj Gibson flat out fit with this roster?

I’m a big fan of Jimmy Butler’s game and I think Dougie McBuckets is poised for a breakout season should he get the run he needs. But outside of that, I have no idea what to expect from this roster. Is there any chance Rondo has a bounce back season? Are he and Wade experienced and smart enough to make this work despite the obvious weaknesses they would seemingly exacerbate for each other?

I’m confused. And that’s really my definition for a League Pass Disaster team.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Dwight Howard/Dennis Schroder-led Atlanta Hawks.
  • The young half of the Phoenix Suns roster.
  • The ‘Can we please get Anthony Davis healthy and get him some help?’ New Orleans Pelicans.

3 thoughts on “The Hustle: Week Two – League Pass Disasters

    1. I don’t know if I could do that to Frank Vogel… I’d say the Magic are more of a mess than disaster but I might be irrationally high on an Ibaka bounce back.


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