Human nature drives us to dump on new concepts and the IST has inspired a whole host of reasons for the NBA Cup to receive hate. There’s a lot not to like including the scoring differentials playing a role in who advances, sneakers sliding around on the NBA’s personalized ice rinks, the 30-team field being whittled down to eight that don’t include the last two NBA champs and the sudden-death round beginning nearly a month into the tournament. Here’s the latest guide to Knicks, Bucks, Suns and Lakers slander.
New York Bricks
In an era of lively offense’s and off-ball movement, Tom Thibodeau’s inert, ball-stopping offense has been extra fat around the Knicks’ waist, weighing them down. The Knicks have the third-worst shooting percentage in the league, operate at a sluggish pace, move the ball less than any team in the league and struggle to develop and keep young talent. Thibodeau lives in the present and has no patience for a vision beyond the upcoming opponent.
Their two cornerstone players, Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson are night and day. Brunson is an uplifting force beloved by Knicks fans and being underpaid. Conversely, Randle’s face is a bellwether for how the Knicks season is trending on a nightly basis. Whereas Brunson is the high tide that has lifted the Knicks boat, Randle will mollify at the worst time.
Brunson turns it up a notch in the postseason, Randle’s production and efficiency take the elevator down. He can astral project out his physical body around tipoff and return after halftime shooting 25 percent from the field while pouting and or projecting his anger out onto any teammate or ref in his vicinity. The pressure will be dialed up a notch and I wouldn’t put it past him to play like the gravity on Earth is too much for him. Randle has rebounded from an atrocious start in his last 10 games, but it would be nice if he weren’t taking five triples a game and missing almost 80 percent of them.
The Knicks are stacked with nice talent, and RJ Barrett epitomizes the niceness. His low ceiling keeps them from reaching contention heights. He’s not a natural playmaker, lacks shot-creation ability, is devoid of grit defensively and is maxing out as a Dukie version of Harrison Barnes. He won’t sink your team, but he’s hit aplataeu as a league average starting wing..
New York is starving for a title and they’ll take slop, then pass it off as 5-star cuisine. Worst of all, CAA and the media market based here would aid in that enterprise. Just imagine how obnoxious all those mini-Stephen A’s will be if they spend the next year bragging about how the Knickerbockers finally won the very first In-Season Title. The Pacers and the Knicks are probably in the same boat, but at least Indiana won’t leave you scratching at your eyeballs half the time.
Phoenix Suns are Kevin Durant’s latest get-rich-quick scheme
Durant is that old head with the get-rich-quick schemes who never seems to stick with one business plan for too long. His latest attempt to form a superteam inorganically hasn’t imploded yet, but it has the potential to. Are the Suns title contenders or pretenders? If you’re looking for a 3-on-3 Olympic basketball championship contender, this isn’t that either because their third wheel has also missed much of the season.
Bradley Beal has spent most of this year rehabbing a disc injury in his back that is creating nerve irritation, according to Shams Charania. Conventently, they’ll clash with LeBron James and the Lakers. James and Durant are due to meet for only the second time in five years. This is the ideal matchup for anyone who hasn’t come to the realization that all the guys whose primes were in the 2010s aren’t winning another title as the main guy, if at all.
We saw that Devon Booker-Durant version of the Suns last spring get yeeted out of the postseason. The only difference is that they’ve sacrificed more of their depth so that they could corral Beal and pay him over $200 million to be the most expensive third wheel in league history.
Lakers resemble a Blockbuster stock
Durant is the grouchy wiseacre who tweets out every thought, occasionally gets high and drops a chill gem. Meanwhile, 98 percent of the league refers to LeBron James as the more formal, “Mr. James.”
James has been in the NBA long enough to own a Blockbuster card his rookie year. These Lakers thrive playing VHS basketball. They score in the paint, get to the line and three years later, Rob Pelinka hasn’t figured out modern roster construction around James. Every year they tie one hand behind their own backs and try to prove that they can compete for a title with subpar shooters. The Lakers corner shooters are perennially hitting the side of the rim and Pelinka is making the same mistake that Blockbuster made by not buying Netflix. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis is a threat to either get 30 points and six blocks or sulk on the bench in garbage time after a 15-point, seven rebound night.
They deploy James, a classic two-way big in Anthony Davis and surround them with the most vanilla collection of wing defenders and traditional guards imaginable. These are James’ hammock years and the Lakers aren’t winning a title no matter how much they convince themselves that AD can turn on the switch against Denver or any contenders in the West. The NBA schedule isn’t even through its first full quarter and James is already talking about taking nights off.
This tournament only adds to the illusion of Los Angeles as title contenders amid the 50 percent odds the NBA created a cup-style tournament to help supplement James’ GOAT argument. The scoring champ doesn’t have it in him anymore to play MVP-caliber basketball for a lengthy postseason run, but he can show up for a three-game sprint. If he does, an IST championship will be the last chance to close in on Michael Jordan. At least that’s where the discourse will inevitably go on the stan accounts. If the Lakers win the NBA Cup, it’ll further embolden Pelinkas to assemble ill-fitting rosters around Mr. James.
Do the Wolves have that dog in ‘em?
There’s really no reason to hate watching Anthony Edwards yet. His supporting cast is a magnet for derision though. When you think of a top defense in the league, most people imagine a lineup of snarling, overaggressive KATs and toy dogs. Not Minnesota, though.
This year, they’re defending their yards with the ferocity of Rottweilers, despite leading the league in bigs who have the scoring profile of guards Naz Reid and Karl Anthony Towns, the league’s only players with 50/40/90 splits. Meanwhile, Rudy Gobert has forced us all to take the Timberwolves seriously.
A team renowned for having one of the softest superstars in the league now ranks number one in defensive efficiency thanks in large part to a Frenchman, who is routinely disrespected throughout the league despite being a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and was just pulled out of chokehold by Draymond Green while trying to play peacemaker. Green knew who he could target Gobert, though just like Jimmy Butler knew who he could punk.
The Milwaukee Bucks still need edits
An NBA Cup in December may be the best way to maximize Milwaukee’s interest in hoops during a Packers renaissance season. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard have been as transcendent as advertised on one end of the floor. But Lillard is demonstrating why his peak is knockoff Steph Curry. He’s still streaky from deep and his defensive lapses are obscene. Meanwhile, Khris Middleton is beginning to rot. He’s still ramping up to play more than 25 minutes a night and everyone ignores the elephant in the room that he may never retain his All-Star form.
Then, there’s the glaring questions about the competence of their new head coach that need answering. Say what you want about Mike Bundenholzer’s shortcomings as an in-game adjustor, but he’d already proven he could shift just enough to win a title when they were healthy. The whole point of firing Bud was to install an upgrade.
Instead, they lost out on Nick Nurse, Monty Williams and Ime Udoka, then upped the ante by appointing a rookie head coach to helm a title-ready roster. In training camp, Adrian Griffin’s temper and ego drove away Terry Stotts, the most experienced coach on his roster and a state-certified Dame whisperer. Not only is he still learning the ropes, but we’re still learning how he responds in critical moments. Griffin needs this playoff simulator as much as anyone.
We aren’t seeing this team in its final form yet. Watching the Bucks right now is akin to catching the script-table read. They still need to add makeup, 60 more rehearsals, some trade deadline edits and special effects. They’re great on paper, but until Jon Horst patches over their backcourt weak link, they’re an incomplete picture. Outside of Antetokounmpo, everyone has something to prove.