NBA Roundtable: Previewing the Playoffs

NBA Roundtable: Previewing the Playoffs

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Both the Lakers and Bucks have looked more fallible in Orlando than they did during the regular season. Which No. 1 seed are you more concerned about heading into the playoffs?

Alex Barutha: The Lakers, largely because their path will be tougher. There's a strong chance they'll face the red-hot Blazers in the first round and, obviously, things only get tougher from there. The Bucks have the entire first round to get right and definitely an easier second round.

Nick Whalen: The Lakers, and it's not close. Milwaukee has the luxury of another four-game tune-up in Round 1, whereas LA will have very little room for error if Portland is the opponent. The Lakers haven't just looked out of sorts – they've been legitimately the worst offense in the bubble. I'm not concerned about LeBron James and Anthony Davis showing up in the playoffs, but the lack of dependability beyond those two is extremely worrisome.

James Anderson: I think everyone is overreacting on the Bucks and Lakers, but I'd be more worried about the Lakers because one of their top five players opted out (Avery Bradley) and they're in the same conference as the Clippers.

Shannon McKeown: I'm more worried about the Lakers. Los Angeles has zero depth behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis and a much harder path to the Finals than the Bucks.

Mike Barner: I'm more concerned about the Lakers, but that's only because the West is much more difficult than the East. Outside of the Celtics and Raptors, I don't think there is a team in the East who can even test the Bucks in a seven-game series.

Jeff Edgerton: The Lakers have the more difficult path to the Finals, so I would be more concerned about them. One bad night from either James or Davis reverts the team back to the 2018-19 Lakers, and that isn't a pretty sight. The Lakers' bench is also filled with question marks, and their second unit is largely responsible for their sub-par bubble play.

Ken Crites: May I answer with "neither"?  I think the players are well aware that these play in games are fairly worthless. This is especially true for the number one seeds. Is there really a "home court advantage" in Orlando? Do the Lakers or Bucks care who they play in the first round?  The answer to both questions is "no".

Which players' performances in the Orlando bubble have forced you to reconsider your evaluation of them?

Barutha: The Spurs' young core is way better than I anticipated. I still think their collective ceiling is relatively low but I've ultimately been impressed. Notably, Derrick White is averaging 33.4 fantasy points while Keldon Johnson is averaging 24.0 fantasy points and looks like what R.J. Barrett is supposed to be (sorry, Nick). – Editor's note: This was uncalled for.

Whalen: I'll name a few role players who have stuck out to me: Darius Bazley, Keldon Johnson, Mikal Bridges and Gary Trent Jr. Two of those guys were virtual non-factors during the regular season, while Bridges and Trent were still very much finding their footing. In Orlando, Bridges looks like a future First Team All-Defense wing, and Trent is one of the hottest three-point shooters in the league. Bazley has the makings of a long-term starter on the wing, and Johnson has emerged as a potential steal late in the first round.

Anderson: It's not a big enough sample to be worried about anything to do with shooting efficiency or just a couple shaky games, but T.J. Warren went from being one of the most underrated two-way players in the league before the bubble to a player who could conceivably make an All-Star team someday. I also think people need to chill on the Zion hype a little. He's an offensive force, but I'm worried about his weight, his medicals and his defense.

McKeown: The only correct answer for "better" is T.J. Warren. He's been a solid player the past 2-3 seasons and has flashed gradual progression, such as refining his three-point shot during the 2018-19 campaign, but he's never played at such an elite level over a five-game stretch in his career. He's scoring on a highly-efficient MVP-level while also providing Josh Smith-like defensive stats in the bubble. I have my doubts Warren will ever become a true No. 1 (or No. 2) option for a team, but his performance in the bubble will certainly have me reconsidering that evaluation if his strong play continues throughout the playoffs.

Barner: This is not a big name, but Cameron Payne. I thought he had no chance of being a useful player in the NBA after his disastrous stint with the Bulls, but he's really proven himself to be a viable option off the bench for the Suns. If he can keep this up, he could find himself as a valuable first point guard off the bench for teams.

Edgerton: I expected Ja Morant and the Grizzlies to make it into the playoffs, but the loss of Jaren Jackson and a lack of cohesiveness in the offense thwarted their playoff aspirations. The Pelicans were also a major disappointment.

Crites: This is obvious, but I always liked T.J. Warren's game. I'm a sucker for players with potential for blocks and threes. I trust the Pacers. Warren has now had six straight seasons of tangible improvement. This is not a bubble fluke (though 30 points per game isn't realistic).

Rank the following players in terms of which you'd most want to build your team around going forward: Brandon Ingram, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum

Barutha: Tatum, Simmons, Ingram. I value two-way ability, so that automatically bumps Ingram to the back of the back since he's unquestionably the worst defender of the group. And while I believe Simmons could be more effective offensively than he's shown if a team was built around him like the Bucks built around Giannis, Tatum's more varied offensive repertoire makes him a fit on any sort of team construction. Tatum would be the toughest for another team to deal with in a playoff series, even if his passing is the furthest behind in the group.

Whalen: Tatum, Simmons, Ingram. At certain points this season, you could justify ranking these three in any order, but to me Tatum is the most consistent, as well as the easiest to build around. In terms of pure upside, there's a case a case for Simmons to leapfrog Tatum, but Simmons requires a tailor-made supporting cast to maximize his potential. Meanwhile, for as much of a leap as Ingram made this season, his raw numbers haven't necessarily led to wins, and he's pretty easily the worst defender of the three.

Anderson: Tatum, Simmons, Ingram. Tatum is the most complete two-way player with the highest offensive ceiling. Simmons will never be a great franchise player as long as he is on the same team as Embiid, but I think Simmons could be a First Team All-NBA-caliber player if he had his own team and was surrounded by shooters at all times. Ingram doesn't quite have Tatum's offensive upside, and he's easily the worst defender of the three.

McKeown: Tatum, Simmons, Ingram. Tatum is the best all-around player with the most offensive upside. Simmons is elite in numerous areas (playmaking, transition, rebounding, defense), but he needs to improve his shot and range to be ranked first in this trio. While I like Ingram, I don't believe he could be a true No. 1 option for a perennial playoff contender, which is how I view both Tatum and Simmons.

Barner: Tatum, Ingram and Simmons. Tatum has taken his offense game to the next level and is an easy choice at number one for me. I ranked Simmons third because his lack of shooting ability continues to limit his ceiling.

Edgerton: It depends on what kind of team you want to field.  Your solid core pick would have to be Tatum, but if you want to draft a high-risk/high-reward team you would go with Ingram. I like Ben Simmons, but questions about his position and a lack of statistical diversity aren't as enticing.

Crites: Is this even a question? Tatum is my No. 1, hands down. Simmons can't shoot, is 24 years old and he sure isn't creating good team chemistry in Philly. Brandon Ingram gets hollow stats on losing ball clubs. Tatum is winning, is coachable and gets 2.3 steals-and-blocks per game.

In an NBA Playoffs fantasy league, which player would you take No. 1 overall? 

Barutha: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Only one of the Los Angeles teams can make it to the Finals (a fact that haunts Adam Silver every day), so I'd rather bank on the Bucks, who are the strong favorite to come out of the East.

Whalen: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even with the Bucks looking less like an all-time-great team in Orlando, I still think they're the safest bet to at least make the Finals. Combine that with Giannis' elite, all-around numbers and he'd be a no-brainer for me at No. 1.

Anderson: Giannis. I think the Bucks are the best bet in the bubble to make it to the Finals and the only guys who I might take over him on a per game basis are Harden and Doncic, and their teams might not make it out of the first round.

McKeown: Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Barner: Giannis Antetokounmpo. He can obviously stuff the stat sheet in multiple areas and I think the Bucks have the best chance of any team in either conference to reach the NBA Finals. The Bucks may have a couple of easy series in which they don't play many games in the first round or two, but Giannis is still my top choice.

Edgerton: We're looking for a high-quality guy on a team that won't sweep. For me, one player that fits the bill is Luka Doncic. They are going to be competitive but they will also drop a few games. The only question mark is how far they will get into the bracket, which is why James Harden might be the safer, more logical choice.

Crites: Giannis all day and night. He leads the league in fantasy points per game over the regular season and has the easiest path to the Finals of all the stars. 

More disappointing showing in Orlando: The Pelicans or the Kings?

Barutha: Pelicans. They are far too talented for what they showed. The combination of Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson is the equivalent of like 2.5 All-Stars, and that's not taking into consideration how deep they are with Derrick Favors, Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick and others.

Whalen: It has to be the Pelicans, but don't let that erase just how quickly the Kings threw in the towel after losing their first game. I had high hopes that Sacramento could do what the Suns are doing, but the Kings will now head into the offseason with even less optimism than they had in mid-March. 

Anderson: Pelicans because there were actually expectations for them to make some noise.

McKeown: The Pelicans. Every basketball fan wants to see Zion in the playoffs. For what it's worth, Memphis has been more disappointing than both New Orleans and Sacramento.

Barner: The Pelicans because they have enough talent to where they should have been able to make a run. Playing Zion Williamson limited minutes really put them behind the eight ball.

Edgerton: I suppose if you're a Kings fan, the bubble was a real let-down, but the Pelicans' performance is the real headliner. I think many people thought that Zion's return would be the piece to put the puzzle together for New Orleans.

Crites: Both are deplorable. I had higher expectations for the Pelicans, but Zion Williamson's defense has been terrible. He can't guard anyone on the perimeter. And when is Lonzo Ball going to show any consistency? This was a big stage opportunity for Ball and he failed: 5.7 points per game from 26 percent shooting.

Who are some of your favorite non-stars that you plan to target in playoff fantasy leagues? 

Barutha: Does T.J. Warren count as a star now? Duncan Robinson, Marcus Smart, Ivica Zubac, Danuel House.

Whalen: I'll be loading up on as many Raptors, Clippers and Bucks role players as I can.

Anderson: Donte DiVincenzo (I know he hasn't been great, but it's a small sample), Brook Lopez, Marcus Morris, Eric Bledsoe (just because he'll be discounted due to past playoff failures), all the Raptors' rotation players.

McKeown: Like last postseason, I wouldn't be surprised to see George Hill step up for the Bucks. He'll be a solid late-round option if you're targeting potential games played.

Barner: The Clippers were my pick to win the championship at the start of the season and I'm going to stick with them, so I'd be looking to target players from their squad. Montrezl Harrell would be in their second-tier of players who could be really productive if they do go on a lengthy run. He's back in the bubble now and should be ready for the start of the playoffs.

Edgerton: Fred VanVleet is a guy I targeted in DFS many times throughout the bubble, and I think the Raptors are the favorites to make the East finals opposite the Bucks. It's difficult to delineate who is or isn't' a star, but I also like Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton as high-impact guys that aren't necessarily household names.

Crites: Keep an eye on Derrick Jones Jr. in Miami. He's averaged 21.4 minutes over his last 16 games and is starting to prove he's more than a dunker. He's only 23 years old. In Denver, I'm happy to see PJ Dozier getting minutes. Last year, he was lighting up the G League on a nightly basis. He's yet another quality, affordable bench player for the Nuggets.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.
Mike Barner
Mike started covering fantasy sports in 2007, joining RotoWire in 2010. In 2018, he was a finalist for the 2018 FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year award. In addition to RotoWire, Mike has written for Sportsline, Sports Illustrated, DK Live, RealTime Fantasy Sports, Lineup Lab and KFFL.com.
Alex Barutha
Alex is RotoWire's NBA Assistant Editor. He writes articles about daily fantasy, year-long fantasy and sports betting. You can hear him on the RotoWire NBA Podcast, Sirius XM, DraftKings Live and other platforms. Vince Carter and Alex both first dunked during their respective sophomore years of high school.
Ken
An early RotoWire contributor from the 90's, K-Train returns with the grace of Gheorghe Muresan and the wisdom of Joe Gibbs. Tweet @KenCrites or e-mail at ken@rotowire.com. Ken won the FSWA 2014 Humor Article Of The Year award. He's also the 2016 Champion of the prestigious RW NBA Keeper League and the 2019 Champion of the RW NFL Ottonue Keeper League. Ken still owns a RotoNews shirt.
Jeff Edgerton
Jeff has provided sports content for numerous sports outlets and has played fantasy sports since scores had to be tabulated via newspaper. He started working with RotoWire in 2017. Originally from South Carolina, he's a lifelong Clemson fan now enjoying the sun in Los Angeles.
Shannon McKeown
Shannon McKeown is the VP of Advertising Sales and Basketball Editor for Rotowire.com. He's a two-time FSWA finalist for Fantasy Basketball writer of the year and co-host of the RotoWire Fantasy Basketball podcast.
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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