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NBA Take Meter: The Stretch Run, Part 2

The takes are coming down the stretch. As most of the league prepares for one final push before the playoffs, we ruminate over the biggest questions still on the board. Part 2 of our survey tackles the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis plan, the next Kawhi, and the Warriors’ biggest hurdles.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Just a quarter of the 2018-19 NBA season remains. What’s left to figure out? Our staff dissects the most pressing takes left before the postseason begins. Read Part 1 here.

1. Anthony Davis should stay home for the rest of the season.

A. Tattoo the take on the back of my calf.
B. As here for it as Luka is for Fortnite.
C. Somewhere in the middle, like the Pistons.
D. Barely believable, but enough to publish on The Ringer dot com.
E. As out on this take as Anthony Davis is out on New Orleans.

Justin Verrier: (A) Anthony Davis is getting booed at home, and (maybe, probably) faked an injury to ditch the Pelicans’ last game before the All-Star break at halftime. Alvin Gentry may blow a gasket if he has to keep answering questions about Davis. Dell Demps was fired over the Davis fallout. Davis keeps putting all sorts of feet in his mouth every time he’s in front of a live mic—at All-Star Weekend, he claimed that the reported wish list of teams he would re-sign with was true, that the Celtics (who were not on said reported list) are on the list, that every team but the Pelicans is on his list, that he never “gave a destination” of where he wants to play, and that he would pen a very tender goodbye to New Orleans on Instagram when he leaves. And basically every media outlet in the country has written a column bashing the league for forcing this all to happen. Otherwise, this decision has been great.

Kevin O’Connor: (A) It’s in the best interest of both parties, since—as I wrote two weeks ago—there’s nothing for the Pelicans to gain by playing Davis, and Davis is better off avoiding getting hurt. The NBA should stay out of it and let Davis go home or let the Pelicans send him home.

Zach Kram: (D) I want to see how many more news cycles this thing can sustain, and how many more management shake-ups this mishegas can inspire.

Jonathan Tjarks: (C) It depends on who is asking the question. The Pelicans don’t gain anything by playing Davis at this point, but he shouldn’t shut himself down for the good of a team that he will not be with for much longer. You get only so many years to play basketball at a high level. You might as well play if you can.

Dan Devine: (A) I’ve been on this train since Rich Paul lit up his Woj signal: Davis continuing to play for the Pelicans doesn’t benefit anyone. It’s not like AD’s going to show something on the court over the next two months that’s going to make him a more enticing trade prospect, since he’s spent the past six and a half seasons becoming one of the five best players in the world. And it’s not like he’s going to recover the love that he’s lost from New Orleans fans in messily trying to effect his exit. That ship has sailed, no matter how touching Davis promises his eventual Instagram post will be.

Having to play Davis creates a no-win situation for the Pelicans. If he plays great and they win more games than they would’ve without him, then they’ve harmed their lottery position for the first draft of the oncoming rebuild. If he doesn’t and they don’t—like, say, when he had maybe the worst half-game of his career in a 30-point blowout loss to the Magic before the break—then what was the point of forcing the team to suit him up? And if he plays and gets hurt—always on the table for a player who seems to have to go back to the locker room to get something checked out about four times a week—then he could significantly damage both his own value around the league and the Pelicans’ leverage in trying to make a deal. Go grab some couch for a few months, AD. We’ll see you when the bidding gets good.

Danny Chau: (A) Outside can be scary! There are wizards and grizzly bears and wolves outside. Nothing can harm you indoors, except for a wet shower area.

Haley O’Shaughnessy: (C) Davis should worry about the two things that will matter most going forward: his health and his image. The latter took a hit from his trade request, and though all might be forgiven by the start of next season, Davis will become only more of a villain the longer he plays. He also has his health to worry about—and so do the Pelicans. Both need his trade value to be as high as possible for each to get what they want.

Paolo Uggetti: (C) The Davis saga has been interesting from all angles. It’s put the Celtics in a weird spot, the Lakers in a tough spot, and the Pelicans in a can’t-win spot. It’s made Magic Johnson a polarizing figure, led to the loss of Dell Demps’s job, and even reportedly involved Lakers hater Gregg Popovich. It has everything we’d want from a news story. So, yes, Davis’s staying home for the rest of the season would be best for all parties involved, but I’m not going to complain if he decides to be stubborn and tries to play. Bring on the chaos.

2. Pascal Siakam is the new Kawhi Leonard—a.k.a., a young player who will break through in the postseason.

A. Tattoo the take on the back of my calf.
B. As here for it as Luka is for Fortnite.
C. Somewhere in the middle, like the Pistons.
D. Barely believable, but enough to publish on The Ringer dot com.
E. As out on this take as Anthony Davis is out on New Orleans.

O’Connor: (D) I love Siakam, but he lacks the pull-up shooting ability and lockdown defensive chops to have a Kawhi-style breakout. The Spurs needed Leonard to fill that scoring role because of the decline of their aging stars. The Raptors don’t need that from Siakam—they have Leonard.

Kram: (C) Let’s try to find the player who most closely approximates Kawhi in 2013-14, pre-Finals MVP. We want a player who scores, but not too much; who isn’t afraid of the ball, but doesn’t dominate it; who shoots well from 3; and who produces more value on defense than offense. And for a tiebreaker, we want a player who, ideally, has playoff experience, and maybe a meaningful postseason moment already in his career. Plug in all those traits, and we find a list that includes Brook Lopez, Joe Ingles, Jerami Grant, Dewayne Dedmon, Allen Crabbe, Robert Covington, and Alec Burks. Gimme Ingles!

Tjarks: (B) Pascal is great, but hasn’t he already broken through? He dropped 44 points in a game last week! Here are a few deeper cuts: D.J. Wilson in Milwaukee (its most switchable defensive big man) and Terrance Ferguson in OKC (the best 3-and-D player in its supporting cast). Two guys who will need to come up big for their teams to live up to expectations in the playoffs.

O’Shaughnessy: (A) Any Siakam-Leonard comparison should be heard out. Both came into the league advanced on defense and developed their offensive game over time. The postseason can easily startle a young player whose reputation is rooted in shooting or scoring—defenses are better, smarter, and more specifically catered to stop attacks. A defense-first mind-set isn’t shaken as easily, because the player’s mojo isn’t reliant on field goal percentage. Siakam’s lateral speed propels him around the court like he’s in a pinball machine, and he hasn’t lost that energy as his opportunities have increased (which explains his bursts to the rim when he is scoring—which, it should be said, he does quite well).

Devine: (B) Siakam has, thanks to the fluctuating health and availability of his older teammates, been arguably the second-most-important player on the team with the NBA’s second-best record, and he’s starting to get recognition for it. If Toronto makes a deep playoff push, it’s a good bet that his ability to guard damn near anybody and create matchup problems on the other end has played a major role.

My other favorite candidates here: the Jamal Murray–Malik Beasley–Monte Morris troika in Denver, which will need at least one perimeter player to pop alongside Nikola Jokic to advance; and the De’Aaron Fox–Buddy Hield backcourt, because if the Kings make the top eight, it’ll probably be because they’ve been sensational down the stretch and will be a bear for any Western favorite to guard in a short series.

Uggetti: (B) I’m in on this, if only to see the Looper-like scenario where the next Kawhi is playing alongside the current Kawhi in the playoffs. Siakam’s 44-point game against the Wizards before the All-Star break may have seemed surprising, but this has been building all season. He has posted 16 games of 20 points or more, which is more than two of his more heralded teammates, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol. Siakam has already arrived.

Verrier: (C) Siakam’s the clear choice from a production standpoint, but if we broaden the definition to a young player who can leave any kind of mark on the postseason, may I suggest the guy with the gall to (seemingly) call Klay Thompson a hoe?

Chau: (B) Siakam already has been beyond what the Raptors could have reasonably expected from him entering training camp, but there is still another switch that has yet to be flipped. Consider that Siakam has played only 162 minutes as Toronto’s undisputed center on the floor this season, accounting for less than 9 percent of his total time spent on the floor. Siakam’s combination of elite end-to-end speed, playmaking ability on the move, spot-up floor spacing, and physicality at the point of attack make him a terror at the 4. It might make him a game-breaking agent at the 5 once the Raptors start dictating postseason matchups in their favor. (But don’t sleep on Nikola Jokic, who also fits the criteria—he’s a year younger than Siakam!)

Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics
LeBron James
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

3. If the Lakers make the playoffs, they’ll be the Warriors’ biggest threat in the West.

A. Tattoo the take on the back of my calf.
B. As here for it as Luka is for Fortnite.
C. Somewhere in the middle, like the Pistons.
D. Barely believable, but enough to publish on The Ringer dot com.
E. As out on this take as Anthony Davis is out on New Orleans.

Tjarks: (A) This might be wishful thinking, but I’m going with it. LeBron plus a bunch of shooters and defensive players in Cleveland took it to Golden State in Game 1 of the Finals before he broke his hand. Los Angeles picked up a few shooters at the trade deadline. I want to believe that LeBron still has some greatness in him.

Devine: (D) All things remain possible through LeBron, but gimme OKC’s “PG + Russ + Dudes” approach, a math equation that’s proved successful at flustering Golden State over the past two seasons. We’ve seen the Thunder push the Warriors to the brink with extreme length and athleticism, battering-ram rebounding, and sheer relentlessness. Sure, the Warriors didn’t have Kevin Durant then. But now that the Thunder have one of those again, too, I think it’d be one hell of a fight.

Kram: (E) We’ve already seen how Golden State fares against LeBron and 11 friends. Here’s a hotter take: Of all the West’s potential 8-seeds, the Kings—who have lost three games to Golden State by a combined 10 points this season—would give the Warriors the best and most entertaining first-round series.

Verrier: (B) For all the talk about how thick the West field is, four of the five teams with the most imposing collections of talent now reside in the East. The depth of quality opponents in the West will present a different challenge for James, but one he may be better suited for than if he had stayed East. “Best player wins the series” has carried him all the way to a matchup with Golden State for years; why would this year be any different?

Uggetti: (D) We’ve seen this story for years now—LeBron struggles in the middle of the season, then elevates on his way to the Finals. It’s like reading the same thing over and over and expecting a different ending. Still, while I don’t want to bet against LeBron just because he’s flipping the switch later than usual, the road to the conference finals is much harder in the West. I firmly believe the only team that can make a Golden State series semi-interesting is the Thunder.

Chau: (D) Russell Westbrook averaged a 37-point triple-double in the five games he played against the Rockets in the 2017 playoffs. LeBron would likely have to do that for at least eight games for the Lakers to even come close. I hope LeBron makes me look stupid.

O’Connor: (D) The Lakers’ young players are better than they get credit for, but LeBron still needs more help to put them on the level of deeper teams with star power such as the Rockets, Thunder, and Nuggets.

O’Shaughnessy: (E) Who wrote this question?

4. The Warriors should throw the playoffs to keep Kevin Durant.

A. Tattoo the take on the back of my calf.
B. As here for it as Luka is for Fortnite.
C. Somewhere in the middle, like the Pistons.
D. Barely believable, but enough to publish on The Ringer dot com.
E. As out on this take as Anthony Davis is out on New Orleans.

Devine: (E) Something tells me that KD wouldn’t take too kindly to any maneuvering or manipulation aimed at influencing his eventual decision. Our guy wants to be his own man; he doesn’t want anyone trying to pull his strings. The Warriors should try to win the championship, showing everyone just how much fun it remains to win big alongside Stephen Curry. After all, you never know who might be watching.

Uggetti: (E) Kevin Durant seems to be as out on staying with the Warriors as Anthony Davis is out on New Orleans. Why throw away a title in an attempt to keep him when he may still leave regardless?

Chau: (E) Bro, did you see how Steph and Giannis connected at the All-Star Game?

O’Connor: (E) No.

Tjarks: (E) Get as many rings as you can while you can get them. Maybe KD leaves this summer. Maybe he doesn’t. All you can do is live in the moment: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble on its own.” —Matthew 6:27

O’Shaughnessy: (D) This qualifies as “barely believable” only because The Ringer dot com loves a good conspiracy. The beginning of the end of Golden State’s dynasty is approaching soon; even if Durant leaves, Klay Thompson’s contract this summer and Draymond Green’s the next (if they offer him one) would leave the Warriors with limited paths to filling out the roster. A postseason elimination doesn’t necessarily mean Durant will stay, anyway—he left Oklahoma City after it pushed the Warriors to seven games in the West finals. The Warriors should win another ring while the gang’s still together, because there aren’t any guarantees this’ll be the team they have going forward.

Kram: (E) Take it away, Herm:

Verrier: (A) Fuck y’all.

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