Dubs Dynasty Done? Zion for Real? Buying, Selling NBA Preseason's Hottest Takes

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 18, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during a pre-season game on October 14, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The NBA preseason is a perfect hot-take incubator.

It's an enthusiastic time that amplifies every promising flash while also making it easy to dismiss discouraging signs because, hey, it's only preseason. That selectivity, born of excitement ahead of a new year, makes it difficult to form solid impressions. It's the perfect environment for the half-reasoned, emotionally driven opinion.

Of course, some of those hastily formed takes wind up being accurate. As the 2019-20 season dawns, it's worth examining which prominent preseason angles have some substance—and which don't.

       

Buy: The Warriors' Dynasty is Over

First, the easy part: The Golden State Warriors will not be a championship threat this year.

Even before preseason play began, it seemed obvious the Dubs were in trouble. Boasting the worst wing rotation in the league and relying on a combination of untested youth and washed-out vets, Golden State lacked depth, secondary scoring and any semblance of perimeter defense.

The preseason exposed those weaknesses and validated every concerned fan's worst fears.

Stephen Curry will score piles of points and make his teammates better just by wearing a jersey and standing on the court. He'll feature prominently in the MVP conversation. But the Dubs won't score when he sits. And though Draymond Green can guard five positions, he can't check them all at once.

With Klay Thompson unlikely to provide any help until February, the Warriors just don't have the talent to contend for a top-four spot in the West. Their playoff chances are uncertain. Their title hopes are nonexistent.

By the end of March, Curry, Green and Thompson will all be 30 or older. Though Curry appears to be in prime form, Green's game won't age well as his athleticism diminishes. Thompson will be coming off a torn ACL. Combined, those three will make an average of around $100 million in each of the next three seasons. The Warriors will be short on roster flexibility for a long time.

As Golden State searches for ways to squeeze more from its declining stars and populate the roster with actual NBA talent, other contenders will rise. Maybe there'll be a lightning-in-a-bottle stretch somewhere down the line, and maybe Golden State can claw its way to the conference finals in a year or two. But we're way past the days of the Dubs having standing reservations in the Finals.

Defeatist as it seems, the Warriors' dynasty is done. Nothing lasts forever.

       

Sell: Ben Simmons' Jumper Matters

Ben Simmons seems more confident and capable from the perimeter, and that's encouraging in a big-picture sense. Down the road, maybe he'll become enough of a threat to alter how defenses play him, opening up opportunities for teammates by finally commanding attention off the ball.

But Simmons' theoretically improved outside shot won't impact the 2019-20 season.

That's because there's a yawning chasm between proving you can make one (one!) preseason three and inspiring the kind of fear required to warp a defense. There's just no scenario in which opponents fundamentally change they way they defend the Sixers because of Simmons' shot.

Nobody's going to chase him over screens in the pick-and-roll, and there will never be a situation in which Simmons' defender refuses to help off of him. 

Stay glued to Simmons 25 feet from the bucket, or ditch him to double Joel Embiid, who's about to shoulder-check his man through the basket stanchion? Tough call.

The Sixers' towering point guard will still overwhelm opponents in transition, and he'll punish smaller matchups in the post. Maybe he'll even hit the odd mid-range pull-up when defenders sag too deep into the lane, but we're years away from him shooting with enough accuracy and volume to change the scouting report.

Shots as broken as his take time to repair, and it's not like Simmons' new form will be showing up in instructional videos any time soon. It's still an elbow-askew, off-balance work in progress.

The Sixers are good enough to win a championship this year. But if they do, it'll be because they defend better than anyone and bludgeon opponents with size and strength. It won't be because Simmons turns into a respectable marksman.

       

Buy: Stephen Curry's Return to MVP Form

We buried the Warriors' dynasty earlier, but there's still a gleaming source of hope amid the darkness. Stephen Curry is about to switch off the safety on his flamethrower of a right arm.

Maybe it seems contradictory to buy both the demise of the Warriors' dynasty and the onset of Curry's imminent ignition, but the two takes aren't mutually exclusive.

For starters, there can be no question about Curry's impact on an offense, regardless of who's sharing the court with him. Last season, Golden State scored 114.4 points per 100 possessions when Curry played without Thompson and Kevin Durant. When those two top-line scorers played without the All-Star point guard, the Warriors managed an offensive rating of only 112.4.

Simplify the on-off parameters and it becomes even clearer that Curry singularly assures excellent offense. In 2018-19, the Warriors posted an obscene 119.5 offensive rating with him on the floor versus a 106.3 offensive rating without him.

Those immense splits will only grow this season when Durant, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and even DeMarcus Cousins aren't around to stabilize the non-Curry minutes. It's almost impossible to imagine Golden State winning the games he sits entirely; D'Angelo Russell isn't good enough to coax a league-average offensive output from a group this scoring-challenged.

Curry is going to look a lot more like the version of himself that won those back-to-back MVPs than the one who toned down his game to accommodate Kevin Durant. He'll have to.

Even amid a terrific individual preseason performance from Curry, the Warriors are barely scoring at a rate that would have graded out in the middle of the pack last year. Without him, they've been an offensive disaster.

That contrast might actually help Curry's MVP case.

       

Sell: Players Leveraging 2020 Restricted Free Agency

Buddy Hield isn't thrilled about the Sacramento Kings' four-year, $90 million extension offer, as reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports and later expounded upon by Hield himself:

He's right that the Kings, never a free-agent destination, have to pay a premium to keep the talent they've got. And it's true Hield's unsubtle threat to look elsewhere, effectively a trade demand, could spur some action. But the Kings control the bidding through next summer, when they'll have match rights on any offer sheet he receives from another team.

Hield could sit out, demand a trade in stronger terms or sulk through the season. But how does that help him? Potential suitors, who may not even view him as worthy of the $90 million the Kings are offering, might sour on a player capable of that sort of team and personal sabotage.

Anthony Davis' calculated and messy extraction from New Orleans was the exception. Hield and others, like Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, are in a different situation. Their teams have significantly more control, and it should go without saying neither player shares Davis' established level of stardom.

It's possible a thin free-agent market will lead to some bloated offer sheets this summer. But if that's Hield's best leverage, he might be headed for disappointment if the Kings don't cave on an extension.

        

Buy: Every Shred of the Zion Hype

Yes, it's just the preseason. And no, opponents haven't put together game plans designed to expose Zion Williamson's weaknesses.

But all the excitement surrounding the New Orleans Pelicans' turbocharged wrecking ball of a rookie sure feels justified.

The athleticism is jarring, even when viewed alongside the nine other world-class athletes with whom Williamson shares the floor. He stands out among standouts.

The combination of size, speed and touch conjures images of, well, no one. It's tempting to invoke the Charles Barkley and Blake Griffin comparisons, but even those aren't satisfactory. Williamson is his own class of player: stronger than anyone that fast and nimble has a right to be.

We've never seen anyone like this.

The preseason is the time to preach caution, but not here. Not with Williamson. He's going to be responsible for a dozen of the season's top 20 dunks while also impacting the game with levels of hustle and unselfishness stars of his caliber generally eschew. 

He'll create gravity in transition as entire defenses scramble to find him, knowing he can't be left alone in the open floor for a second. He'll build steam and head-down pulverize opponents who give him a cushion on the perimeter. He'll rip defenses apart as a cutter. He'll go over, around and through world-class athletes like they aren't even there.

Buy all the Zion stock there is. Guzzle all the available Kool-Aid. We get fired up over rookies every year, but this is a special case. No level of enthusiasm is too great.

       

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise specified.

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