With the NBA season on hold (but in talks to resume), basketball fans, players and commentators are filling the time by reflecting, debating and speculating.
The Los Angeles Lakers were 49-14 when the season ended, atop the Western Conference and well-positioned to win a championship. The team's chemistry and talent were a topic of discussion for Lakers forward Jared Dudley, who invited Danny Green on to his Instagram live this week. Green said the Lakers were more similar to his former San Antonio Spurs teams than his championship-winning Toronto Raptors, per Silver Screen and Roll's Christian Rivas (video link here, comments begin at 6:02 mark):
"I feel like this Lakers team is more similar to our Spurs team than the Toronto team. In Toronto, we had a lot more younger guys. San Antonio, we had a lot more vets, older guys, but we had a mix. Me and Kawhi were a little younger, but in our primes, and then we had some of the older guys ... For us, the similarities I see is that we have a lot of experience, and we have the depth—we definitely have the depth. And obviously the most healthy team always wins, and that's usually a little part of the luck, but a team that's clicking at the right time."
Green won one championship with the Spurs in 2014, a team that also featured Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, a young Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills, among others.
In the same Instagram conversation, Green also speculated about how the Lakers might do in the playoffs, noting the team had several X-factors that could step up (7:57 mark): "For us, our key factors are, outside of myself, AB and Kuz. Me, AB and Kuz, one of us has a good game, you know for sure we're going to get a 'W.'"
Green lumped himself in with Avery Bradley and Kyle Kuzma, who are both capable of scoring in bunches (Bradley also makes a big contribution on defense). Green later mentioned Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo as players who can step up, make an impact and help support the consistently great work of the team's two superstars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
At one point Green mentions the team's stellar record when Rondo scores 10 or more points. Dudley says the team is 18-1 when that happens, but a quick check of the game logs shows the Lakers are 14-1 when Rondo scores in double figures. On that note, the Lakers are 22-1 when center Dwight Howard scores 10 or more points.
The Lakers were indeed in a sublime groove when the season was abruptly put on hold. Lakers fans can only hope that they can pick up where they left off if given the opportunity.
Paul Pierce Leaves LeBron off his GOAT List
Another common topic of discussion to fill the hardball void—likely spurred on by ESPN's 10-hour Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance—has been comparing the best players of different eras and trying to rank them. Its a wellspring of debate that anyone can wade into, but not all takes are welcome.
Paul Pierce recently took a stab at ranking the greatest players of all-time, and to the surprise of many, he left James off his list.
Pierce's friend and former teammate, Kendrick Perkins, couldn't let this take slide:
ESPN's Trey Wingo used a popular Jordan meme to illustrate his thoughts on Pierce's ranking:
Pierce summarized his reasoning on Twitter (you can find more on his explanation on ESPN's YouTube page at this link), and then indicated James might not even make his top-seven:
Every list is, of course, subjective, but it's hard to argue against James' resume. Pierce downgrades James because he was never part of a true dynasty, but the kid from Akron, Ohio, has three championships on his resume. Leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship in 2016, the first title for the city in any sport in over 50 years, is hard to top in terms of sports narratives, which is really what dynasties are all about anyway, the extended narrative, because no two iterations of a team are exactly alike.
If you look strictly at the numbers, its hard to find fault James' career ledger. You can pick any major category and find spots where James' tops the players in Pierce's top five. A simple comparison on Basketball-Reference.com shows you James averages more points per game than Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell. He tops Bryant, Johnson and Jordan in rebounds per game, and trails only Johnson in assists per game. The margins in steals per game are thinner, but James still beats out Bryant and Johnson (Russell's numbers aren't included in that category).
For those who prefer advanced stats, James is second only to Jordan in player efficiency rating and win shares per 48 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Again, Pierce is entitled to his ranking, and the players he named would be at or near the top of most fans' lists anyway, but leaving James out of the top-five feels like something of an anomaly in this eternal, unsolvable debate.