5-on-5: Are the Bulls best in NBA?
Five ESPN.com writers debate five of the biggest talking points in the NBA today
It's time for a little 5-on-5, our new roundtable featuring five voices on five hot questions.
Today we hit the Bulls, the Nuggets, the Knicks, the best prospects in the NCAA tournament and Jimmer Fredette's NBA future.
Check it out and come back to ESPN.com on Tuesday for more 5-on-5.
1. Are the Bulls the best team in the NBA?
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: No. The Bulls have been terrific. Derrick Rose is probably going to be the MVP, and Tom Thibodeau may win Coach of the Year. But the Bulls are one year away from truly being able to win it all.
The Los Angeles Lakers have to be considered the top team (and not just out of respect for the two-time defending champs). The Lakers have an all-time great coach, an all-time great player, size and length up front, and arguably the league's top sixth man.
I also would take Miami and Boston in a seven-game series over Chicago.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: With Andrew Bynum emerging anew, I'd rate L.A. slightly ahead of Chicago today. The Bulls are one of at least six legitimate championship contenders in this wild season, but how will this peculiar team -- which relies so heavily on bench and defensive scheme-- translate to the playoffs? I'm not sure -- sticking with my preseason Heat-Lakers Finals pick for now.
Matt McHale, By The Horns: I would love to say yes. Unfortunately, I think the Lakers are the league's best team right now, by which I mean they currently have the best combination of coaching, size, superstardom, experience and depth. Other than Derek Fisher's corpse-like state, the Lakers have no critical flaws. And now that they're motivated again ...
Robert Silverman, Knickerblogger: Simply put, no (and that's not due to any lingering Knicks-Bulls animosity). They're playing as well as anyone right now, but it's way too soon to say for sure. Fortunately, the NBA has a well-tested quantitative formula for determining who the best team is. It's called "the playoffs."
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: On any given night they can be, but it takes more than winning a bunch of regular-season games to earn the title of best team in the NBA -- just ask LeBron. I do not believe the Bulls can defeat the Lakers in a best-of-seven series, although I would not bet against them versus anyone else.
2. Are the Nuggets for real?
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: The Nuggets are a great story but just a good team. They will give some team -- likely OKC -- a good fight in the first round, and they will go down in the first round. (Their best chance for an upset would be to play Dallas.)
In the playoffs, you need a superstar. In the past 30 years only one team has won a title without a true superstar, and that Detroit club in 2004 had four All-Stars. The Nuggets don't yet have a full-fledged star (they're hoping Danilo Gallinari can become that). Until they get that star, they'll be a nice story, a gutsy team, but not a real threat.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: What the Nuggets are doing is nothing short of staggering, with a 12-4 record and plus-12.2 point differential, against a tough schedule, since the trade. To wildly overreact briefly, the '96 Bulls were at plus-12.3 for the season. That's not to suggest Denver is going to join MJ on the hoops Mount Rushmore, but "for real"? Yes.
Matt McHale, By The Horns: Depends on what you mean by "for real." Can they win 50-ish games, earn the fifth seed in the Western Conference and make the Oklahoma City Thunder sweat in the first round? Absolutely. But next season, reality is going to kick in. When that happens, well, remember how good the Milwaukee Bucks were supposed to be this season?
Robert Silverman, Knickerblogger: If by "for real," you mean are they a talented, deep, young team that seems to genuinely enjoy being on the court together (kind of like the Knicks pre-Melo trade), then yes. I could easily see them getting out of the first round, depending on who they face. That said, they're not beating San Antonio/L.A. and/or reaching the finals.
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: Absolutely 100 percent yes. They are playing winning basketball at both ends of the court, and I believe they have a real chance to turn years of NBA conventional wisdom on its head over the next three months. I do not think they will win a title, but they will not be disposed of easily by anyone.
3. What's wrong with the Knicks?
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: The Knicks have a lot of adjustments to make.
Carmelo Anthony has to adjust to coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, and D'Antoni has to adjust his offense to better fit Carmelo. Amare Stoudemire has to adjust to playing with a ball-stopper for the first time in his career, and the supporting cast (guys like Landry Fields) have to adjust to that, as well.
But perhaps most importantly, D'Antoni needs to become more of a defensive coach. Defense can't be an afterthought, and it can't be an individual scheme. It must be a team scheme that is emphasized and that players are held accountable to. Scouts and opposing coaches have told me that they don't see a team scheme defensively in N Y -- a lack of weakside help, a failure to collapse in the paint, and no consistent plan against the pick-and-roll. The top defensive teams are "on a string," rotating and helping one another.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Outside their Big(ish) Three, look at the players they're trotting out there! New York has such a thin roster that it can't withstand the slightest injury, such as Ronny Turiaf's on Saturday. Reminder that Carmelo chose this -- to force a trade now to max his money, rather than wait for free agency and max his teammates.
Matt McHale, By The Horns: Plenty. Amare Stoudemire is worn out from playing too many minutes. Their early-season chemistry was destroyed by the Melo trade. They aren't running enough. There's no rhythm to their offense. They aren't playing any defense. None of the players look like they're having any fun. And why would they?
Robert Silverman, Knickerblogger: Chauncey Billups put it best the other day: "Camaraderie and cohesiveness beats talent every day of the week. When we get to a point where we get that, combined with the talent, we're going to be a very dangerous team."
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: As I wrote for months, you cannot pair dual sieves Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire on your front line and win consistently. Plus, Chauncey Billups has slipped considerably over the past two seasons, especially late in the season. After having a couple of big games to start his career as a Knick, he has come back down to earth.
4. Who's the best prospect you've seen in the NCAA tournament?
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: Kyrie Irving. I really like Derrick Williams, but Irving is the best prospect, hands-down. He can shoot the 3 and the midrange J, he can get to the hole, he's got a great handle, he's poised, he can pass, he's got good character, he's a smart player and he's a true floor general.
One NBA exec told me he doesn't have the explosiveness of some of the latest great PGs like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and John Wall, but that he's more like a Chris Paul -- a quick, savvy, clever leader who truly knows how to run a team.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Kyrie Irving's 28-point performance versus Arizona was a reminder of his craftiness with the ball. His ceiling may be lower than the Rose/Wall level, but I saw enough to still like his pro potential a little better than that of Jared Sullinger and Derrick Williams in this superstar-less draft.
Matt McHale, By The Horns: Normally, I'm wary of undersized power forwards, especially when the primary comparison I keep hearing is to Michael Beasley. That said, Derrick Williams is pretty awesome. Complete offensive game, efficient player, athletic, high basketball IQ. As long as he gets paired with a tough center who can play defense and clog the paint, Williams could make an instant impact.
Robert Silverman, Knickerblogger: The surest bet is Derrick Williams. He's a natural-born scorer (if a bit of a tweener) and could emerge as a more soundly wired Michael Beasley. You may laugh, but the player with the best chance to be a perennial All-Star is John "The Muppet" Henson. He has the same tools/ridiculous upside as Anthony Randolph. Marcus Camby 2.0, if you will.
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: I love Derrick Williams and Kemba Walker, who will be destructive on offense as a pro; however, my pick is Harrison Barnes. Barnes has tremendous size and at only 18 has shown he can make big plays with or without the ball, and he can already use his left hand. Best of all, he is not allergic to defense.
5. What kind of NBA career will Jimmer Fredette have?
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: I hope I'm wrong, but I believe Jimmer is going to struggle at the next level. At 6-foot-2, he's too small to play shooting guard, and I'm not sure he has the point guard skills and instincts to be an NBA starter. (Perhaps he could play PG on a team like the Lakers or the Heat, which just needs a shooter at that spot. Perhaps.) Also, no NBA team is going to give him the green light he had at BYU.
Defensively, he's going to get demolished. He sat back in that zone at BYU, and even then he didn't put forth any effort. He won't be able to guard anybody in the NBA, and that will put his team at a disadvantage.
At best, he'll be a contributor off the bench.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Initially skeptical, I've come to believe in The Jimmer, impressed by his creativity with the ball, upper-body strength and sheer production. I believe he can be a potent NBA scorer off the bench, a role which would best allow him to continue to play the freewheeling style he excelled at for BYU.
Matt McHale, By The Horns: After watching Fredette play, especially during BYU's loss to Florida in the NCAA tournament, all I can think is: "He's the Adam Morrison of point guards."
Robert Silverman, Knickerblogger: If only to avoid falling into the odious trap of comparing Caucasians only to other Caucasians, I think he'll be quite similar to Dell Curry -- a deadly, undersized shooter and subpar defender who could be a solid rotation player on a good team as long as he's OK with relinquishing the Iverson-ian freedom he currently has in BYU's "system" (for lack of a better term).
Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company: He will have a long career as a more talented version of Eddie House. With his range and instincts, he can feast on teams as a secondary option when defenses cannot focus much attention on him. In addition to his B-52-like range, he is a deft passer capable and willing to set up teammates for easy looks.
Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.
Mark Haubner, Matt McHale, Robert Silverman and Jeremy Wagner are writers for the TrueHoop Network.
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