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Bill Bohl: “Everything Makes More Sense When [Jimmy Butler’s] on the Court”

Under coach Tom Thibodeau again, Jimmy Butler is leading the league in minutes per game in his first season with the Timberwolves (Catherine Salaun/Creative Commons).

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A little more than six months after our latest Timberwolves-themed episode, things are looking pretty good for the team currently fourth in the West. Aaron checked in with Billy Bohl, writer for ESPN True Hoop’s A Wolf Among Wolves to discuss a slew of topics, including but not limited to coach Tom Thibodeau’s minutes allocation, 22-year-old phenoms Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler’s multifaceted impact on the organization’s success. Feel free to wolf down some highlighted sections below:

10:00-10:51: “I think it [the third seed] is preferable [to the fourth seed]. But again, you don’t want to look too far ahead…I wouldn’t want to face Russell Westbrook in a playoff series. Right now if they were the third seed, the Thunder would be the sixth seed. No disrespect to them obviously [but] I would much rather face Portland in the first round. It’s hard to decipher just which route you’d want to take. To be perfectly frank, I don’t think they’d have a chance against Houston either. I think they’d be in big trouble in the second round no matter which of those two teams [Houston or Golden State] they faced.”

15:05-15:56: “The Wolves aren’t terribly deep, especially on the wing, and they need Karl-Anthony Towns to be on court when Jimmy Butler is sitting. So they have to stagger those minutes, and that ends up driving up Karl’s minutes a bunch. I don’t worry about it too much as far as Wiggins or Towns is concerned. The part that troubles me a little: I try to be as optimistic as I can, but Jimmy Butler has already had a couple little tweaks to his knee this season. Continue reading

Salman Ali: Rockets “Not Mincing Words, Want to Go at Warriors”

James Harden is leading the Houston Rockets with another MVP-caliber season (Keith Allison/Flickr).

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After a disappointing second-round exit in the 2017 playoffs, the Rockets were busy during the offseason, trading for star point guard Chris Paul and adding defensive specialists Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker. Those moves have been bearing fruit thus far, as last week they became only the third team since 2015 to win the season series over the Golden State Warriors. To help us assess how much of a threat these Rockets pose to the defending champions, we brought back Salman Ali, managing editor of Red Nation Hoops, for his second appearance on the show. He takes us through how Rockets GM Daryl Morey was able to engineer this roster in the offseason, the new dynamic of the Chris Paul-James Harden pairing and the rumors that Houston might be at the top of LeBron James’ free agency list in the coming off-season. Blast off with these clutch excerpts below:

4:22-4:42: “The Rockets are probably more health-dependent than any other team outside of maybe Cleveland. They’re so dependent on health. If any of their main guys gets hurt, there’s a significant drop-off. Even when Luc Mbah a Moute went down, their defense went down the toilet for a good stretch there.”

10:14-10:58: “He [Chris Paul] is so different at running an offense than James Harden…Chris Paul is like that kid who studies all week, gets the 92 on a test, and James Harden is that dude who just walks in and gets a 98 after not studying. The offense clearly runs a lot smoother with James Harden, and it feels a lot more effortless…With Chris Paul, it’s different. It’s effective; it’s damn effective. But it’s just more calculated, and I guess maniacal in the way that Chris Paul targets defenses’ weaknesses. James Harden thinks the game, obviously, but he thinks the game at a different level. He plays the game more fluidly.”

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Jordan Maly: Markkanen’s “Confidence is Oozing” for the Bulls

After turning heads in Eurobasket this summer in his native Finland, rookie Lauri Markkanen is silencing doubters with his play for the Bulls this season (Tuomas Vitikainen/Wikimedia Commons).

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The Chicago Bulls ended the year last season by surprisingly stealing two games in Boston in their first-round playoff series against the Celtics and then subsequently losing the next four games. Since then, they let go of veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, traded away franchise superstar Jimmy Butler, and brought back a new young core of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Lauri Markkanen. In our first episode of 2018, we’ve brought on Jordan Maly, host of the Locked on Bulls podcast, to help decipher this enigmatic Chicago team. He takes us through a mid-season assessment of that Jimmy Butler trade, the slew of developing young talent the Bulls have fostered and the awkwardness of covering the team after the fight between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Charge forward into the show with these excerpts:

4:30 – 7:44: “When Butler was dealt, the immediate overwhelming reaction was that the Bulls got screwed, that the Bulls didn’t get enough back for him, that the Timberwolves basically snaked Jimmy Butler and that No. 16 pick in the draft… For a lot of Bulls fans, we didn’t have trust in the front office, didn’t have trust in what they were saying or what they were trying to build. But now, slowly, over this season, Lauri Markkanen has turned into a viable piece and somebody that looks like one of the best rookies out of this class… Kris Dunn, I think, has been the most phenomenal part of this three-piece trade. He’s gotten his confidence back from when he played at Providence… and is turning into something that could be a budding superstar. And then you add the most important piece that everybody thought would be the No. 1 piece of this deal in Zach LaVine… I think he can be a definite impact player, and he can be a definite impact person for a Chicago Bulls team that’s looking for their sort of superstar.”

11:35 – 12:58: “When [Lauri Markkanen’s] asked about his player comps, about players that he watched to develop his game, he always says he ‘doesn’t want to be the next Dirk. There will never be the next Dirk, because Dirk is far and above anybody else out there.’ He said he wants to create his own path. He wants to be his own player. He wants to make his mark as Lauri Markkanen… Everybody said that Lauri Markannen’s not going to be able to play defense, especially down low, and he’s proven people wrong so far this season. The way he moves his feet, which are so quick for a big man of his size and his length, and his ability to not give up against guys… His confidence is oozing right now.”
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Ian Levy: Oladipo Spearheads Pacers’ Newfound “Kinetic Explosiveness”

Victor Oladipo’s first season with the Pacers has been a smashing success. If he can sustain his superb shooting, guest Ian Levy believes he should be an All-Star (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Wikimedia Commons).


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The Indiana Pacers have bounced back from a subpar start to stand 18-14. In an Eastern Conference crowded with many solid, second-tier teams looking to separate themselves from the pack, Indiana is more than holding its own thanks to an elite offense led by Victor Oladipo. Ian Levy, NBA editor and columnist for FanSided and Editor-in-Chief of The Step Back, helps us break down the team he knows best. We’ll cover Indiana’s captivating comeback ability, the sudden emergence of Oladipo and so much more…Who’s your (Hoosier?) favorite podcast for interview excerpts?

6:42-7:28: “If he [Victor Oladipo] can sustain what he’s doing shooting the basketball, especially on those pull-ups, that sort of locks him into this tier where he’s, I’d say, a clear-cut All-Star [and] one of the best shooting guards in the league. So I think that’s probably the hope for the Pacers rather than him somehow getting better than he is now. He’s given them everything they could ask for. And that aggression and passion is such a different aesthetic than the Pacers have had the past couple years. Even when they were good, back in the Hibbert-David West-George Hill-Paul George-Lance Stephenson [days], back in those days, they didn’t have the same sort of kinetic explosiveness.” Continue reading

Max Rappaport: “Now 76ers Care About Wins & Losses Too”

76ers head coach Brett Brown is displaying much more trust in his players this season, argues Max Rappaport (TastyPoutine/Creative Commons).


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With redshirt rookie Ben Simmons garnering heavy praise around the league and Joel Embiid looking healthy and better than ever, the long-tanking 76ers are finally winning games, beginning to reap the benefits of their ambitious Process, which Sam Hinkie launched nearly four and a half years ago. As Simmons comfortably leads the Rookie of the Year chase, filling virtually every corner of the stat sheet, he’s surrounded by improved shooter Robert Covington, veteran free-agent acquisition J.J. Redick and, more broadly, a considerably bolstered roster compared to a season ago. Philadelphia’s Defensive Efficiency has cracked the league’s top 10, and Brett Brown’s squad is playing with confidence and even some semblance of consistency. Max Rappaport, co-host of the 76ers-themed Stepover Podcast and contributor to Complex Sports and Bleacher Report, helps us delve deeply into this up-and-coming Eastern Conference team. To close the show, Joe Borelli of the SuperFlight Podcast makes a special appearance to rave about Simmons, whom he affectionately refers to as an “anomaly” and a “physical freak.” The (numerical) time stamps below are only approximate, but the quotes contained inside are the real deal:

6:42-7:25 (MR): “I think the hardcore Process fans, maybe their enthusiasm level hasn’t really changed or it’s been shifted in a different way. They’re no longer cult followers of lovable losers. Now they care about wins and losses too, and that makes it, in some ways, more fun, because the team’s better and Embiid’s playing and Simmons has been awesome. But at the same time, it was kind of a win-win before…Now, it’s like half the time you’re kind of pissed after a game.” Continue reading

Duncan Smith: Drummond’s Game Sees “Complete & Total Shift”

Pistons center Andre Drummond dramatically improved his free-throw shooting in advance of the 2017-18 season, and that’s not all, according to guest Duncan Smith.


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The Detroit Pistons have bounced back from an incredibly disappointing 2016-17 campaign to begin this season 14-8. In the process, Detroit is securing come-from-behind victories with great frequency – half of its wins have occurred in games it trailed by double-digits – the second unit is dominating opposing benches and Andre Drummond is showcasing a vastly expanded offensive repertoire. Duncan Smith, contributor to The Athletic Detroit and Bball Breakdown, operates as our tour guide on this exhilarating exploration of the Motor City’s NBA club. We’ll discover how good the Pistons are and where they can still improve. Duncan’s game was clicking on all cylinders. Some highlights are excerpted below:

6:09-7:03: “I think it’s concerning when your starting lineup can’t get you out to good starts, and you need your bench reserves, led by Ish Smith – everybody loves Ish Smith but he is one of the worst shooters in NBA history. When that’s what you’re relying on for stability, it’s a bit problematic, at the very least…When together, they just aren’t effective…I think that’s it’s going to have to be understood and dealt with before long.”

13:32-14:11: “It’s a complete and total shift. Basically everything that we thought we knew about Andre Drummond has kind of gone out the window. And I think that it really calls into question everything we thought about his ceiling. We don’t really know how good he can be anymore, and that’s really exciting too, because I think we kind of had an idea that maybe he would just be one of the best rebounders ever who also isn’t a huge drag on offense. Continue reading

Eric Nehm: “Giannis Is a Kobe-Level Lunatic”

Giannis Antetokounmpo, 22, ranks second in the NBA in points per game (29.7), notching nearly two-thirds of those from inside the paint (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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Since the Milwaukee Bucks took Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, he’s shown tremendous growth as a basketball player, both literally and figuratively. This season, he has planted his name firmly within the MVP conversation, even if casual fans still have trouble pronouncing it. To guide us through this episode wholly devoted to the Grecian phenom, we’ve brought on Eric Nehm, Bucks beat writer for ESPN Milwaukee and cohost of the Locked on Bucks podcast. Eric explains how Giannis’ humble upbringing, laser-like focus and basketball obsession have all contributed to his nearly unprecedented development from a lanky, unknown draftee into the all but unstoppable force he is today. Get a sneak peek of our conversation about the Greek Freak this week with these excerpts (time stamps approximate because of tailored advertisements):

10:10-11:20: “There was a part of me that kind of didn’t love it [Giannis’ nickname] at the start, just because I think ‘freak,’ the connotation of freak, there’s something wrong with you, there’s something to be ashamed about. Because I guess at some point I thought he was going to fit into a prototypical kind of archetype of an NBA player. That hasn’t happened. He is a total anomaly, so calling him something not normal? Yeah, that works out…There’s not anyone else really out there like him, so I think ‘Greek Freak’ works and it fits, and it’s ended up being kind of perfect.”

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Andrew Schlecht: Thunder Have No Offensive Identity Yet

With the addition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook is “really trying to adjust his game,” according to our guest, Andrew Schlecht (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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The Oklahoma City Thunder turned heads around the NBA this offseason when they added stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. So far, though, integrating them into the team hasn’t been a smooth process. Before back-to-back wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, they had been riding a four-game losing streak and were winless against the Western Conference. Andrew Schlecht, host of the Down to Dunk and OKC Dream Team podcasts and contributor to Daily Thunder, joined us to try to diagnose what exactly has gone wrong and whether or not the Thunder should be worried. See what we’re rumbling about in these electric excerpts below (all time stamps approximate):

5:00-5:40: “Overall, there doesn’t seem to be any worry or panic within the team at all. They’re still pretty casual about everything. And then as a fan and somebody who’s watching them, you just have to wait. Even a team with some continuity will evolve over a season. So, there’s not a lot of worry. The team has a ton of talent, they’ve got talent on both sides of the ball, so you’d think they’re going to put it together. Luckily, really besides the Warriors and Rockets, there’s nobody that’s so far ahead of them in the Western Conference that the four or three seed are out of reach. So, they have that on their side.”

9:00-9:40: “They’ve relied heavily on isolation in all of their losses. I think that they can look at all those and say, ‘Wow, that did not work.’ The ball did not move. Basically, if you could not create your own shot, or if your name wasn’t Steven Adams, you weren’t going to touch the ball for any meaningful time. Continue reading

Adam Mares: “Guys Are Figuring Out New Roles Around Millsap”

In Paul Millsap’s first season in town, Adam Mares sees clear contributions on both sides of the ball. He also believes the forward’s teammates are still adjusting to their new roles (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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The 5-5 Denver Nuggets are currently about as good as their record would suggest, according to this week’s guest, Adam Mares, host of the Locked on Nuggets podcast and site manager for SB Nation’s Denver Stiffs. He argues that despite the team’s considerable continuity, many players are still adjusting to new roles this season. In addition, the Nuggets are still incorporating Paul Millsap into their game plan, particularly on the offensive end. Adam discusses this process, Denver’s many young guards and much more in this action-packed episode. He strikes gold throughout, but here are some examples (the exact time stamps slightly vary from user to user depending on the length of one’s customized ads):

7:28-8:23: “[Nikola] Jokic really quarterbacked the offense last year from the center position – he was a point-center. And that wasn’t just a cliché. He really was the facilitator on offense…Steve Kerr was in town yesterday with the Warriors, and he said that the Nuggets’ offense last season was like a pinwheel where Jokic was the center of that and everybody’s kind of operating and cutting and spacing around him. Well, this season, they haven’t really gotten to that yet – I think they’re moving in that direction. They’re playing through Paul Millsap a lot as I think you would expect – he’s a four-time All-Star – and guys are just kind of figuring out new roles around Millsap, Millsap’s learning how to play off of Jokic and Jokic off of Millsap. And so, right now, in particular, their half-court offense has been pretty bad. Not just a little bit of a step back, but I think a huge step back.” Continue reading

Sandy Mui: “Nets Fans Have a Lot to Look Forward To”

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson visited Jeremy Lin in the hospital after the point guard’s season-ending injury on opening night (Jeremy Lin/Instagram).

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The Brooklyn Nets’ 2017-18 season, much like Boston’s, was shaken from the very start when starting point guard Jeremy Lin went down with a scary-looking knee injury. Shortly after, it was announced the veteran guard would be sidelined for the rest of the season with a ruptured patella tendon. To discuss the implications of the devastating injury and much more, Sandy Mui, host of the Brooklyn Revolution Podcast, not to mention Brook-Lin.com assignment editor and writer at The Brooklyn Game, graciously joins Loren and Aaron. Particularly, she also pays close attention to the team’s youngsters, D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, among others, and some of the veterans exceeding expectations, like DeMarre Carroll. These selections below hit nothing but net:

5:00-5:15: “I think he [D’Angelo Russell] has looked great so far, aside from the fact that he’s struggled a bit with his passing and playmaking in these last couple of games, but we’ve already seen how high his ceiling can potentially be. In the first three games he played, he averaged 21 points, 4.3 points, 7 assists and 1.7 steals.”

9:25-10:50: “I was really heartbroken for Jeremy Lin too. You could see the look on his face after he fell down. He knew that this one was going to be bad…This is terrible news for a guy who only played 36 games last season. And now, he played less than 48 minutes for the entire season…As for the impact on the team, I’d expect, of course, more playing time for the young guys. Continue reading

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