- Will James Harden and Chris Paul mesh? Can Mike Conley reach another level? Anonymous NBA scouts ask tough questions.
Houston Rockets: Will Paul and Harden mesh?
It’s a knee-jerk reaction to think that if you add Chris Paul, you can’t get worse. But history shows you that if you don’t find a way to integrate everything, these moves aren’t going to have the desired result. That’s one of the big question marks: Are Paul and James Harden going to be able to mesh? . . . Everything last year was predicated on Harden’s breaking down the defense, but Paul needs the ball in his hands. It’s going to be a big challenge. However, with Mike D’Antoni, there’s so little stress on defense and you get so many possessions in their offense, maybe that’s the way you get it done. The more offensive possessions there are, the more satisfied the guys can be. . . . Clint Capela is never going to be a polished offensive player, but that fits the profile of the team: Only a few guys need to have plays run for them. . . . There are definite holes in Ryan Anderson’s game. [But] how many stretch fours out there are good defenders and rebounders? . . . The ability of P.J. Tucker to reinvent himself as a shooter at this stage of his career is pretty rare. He’s known as a good defender, and in this era of positionless basketball, he’s not a wing or a four. He’s just a player. . . . Luc Mbah a Moute is a great person and very aggressive defender. These are limited pieces, but personality-wise they can work. You surround your stars with accepting role players. . . . Eric Gordon can give you 17 points per game right there. He’s so laser-focused as a scorer—I’m gonna get my buckets, I’m gonna draw a foul, I’m gonna use my strength. I’m gonna rise up in your face.
San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard is the ultimate winner
Kawhi Leonard is an ideal winner: a guy who knows when to step up and when to accept the development of other players around him. . . . They made minimal changes this offseason, but I think that almost works to their advantage, just having a year-to-year understanding. They’re almost in a class by themselves because of that. I look at matchups against them and I still don’t feel completely comfortable. They could have eight guys averaging between eight and 18 points. . . . We look at the average, but Pau Gasol understands when he needs to score 22 points on a given night. I was watching Pau at EuroBasket—this guy just gets it. . . . Rudy Gay is such a maligned player. There aren’t many guys who score so effortlessly and get less respect. I don’t think it’s a huge request for him to compromise his offense and fit in. He’s not a rabble-rouser. He’s a good dude. I just get the feeling he will accept his role and take his foot off the accelerator a bit—kind of like Kevin Martin. . . . Certainly Tony Parker’s leadership is critical, but they’ve got players who will be able to make up for his absence [due to an injury that could sideline him until November]. That will benefit them in the long run, conditioning those players to look for other aspects of their game. . . . Kyle Anderson has his limitations, but he can pass. He’s got a really good feel for the game. . . . Dejounte Murray is a great raw, individual talent.
Memphis Grizzlies: Can Conley reach another level?
Marc Gasol is such a fun guy to watch because he’s got no athletic superiority whatsoever. What he’s become is a huge credit to him. . . . It’s been hard for Mike Conley to penetrate the top tiers of point guards. It’s a little telling that he’s never been an All-Star. At what point does his game flatten out? Conley is going to be 30 and coming off his career high in scoring. And I’m not saying it’s an unwilling 20 points per game, but that’s more than three points higher than any season before. Do we really expect him to go to a higher level? You’ve got Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard out there—guys who play with such flair and scoring bravado. I never saw Conley as that guy. Maybe that’s because of the talent around him or the defense-first mentality there, but maybe it says something about him. . . . Tyreke Evans—there’s some individual talent, but it can be hard to blend a ball-dominant player like that. There’s a certain fear that he could go off for 30 points at any time, but is that going to be in a winning effort? . . . Whenever you’ve got a guy who’s got the physical tools that Ben McLemore has and who has demonstrated he can be a threat from the perimeter, you’re tantalized. You give him the opportunity because physically he has stuff that other guys will never have. . . . JaMychal Green was given the perfect opportunity to shine and took advantage of it. There’s just nothing special. I don’t see a continual developmental curve. He’s an accepting role player, but I don’t think he’s perched on the ledge to move up in the league.
New Orleans Pelicans: Two players don't make a team
After the DeMarcus Cousins trade I looked at their lineup and thought, “Oh, my God, we’ve gotta play them? We’ve gotta play against that frontcourt?” But there’s so much more to the game than individual talent. I think this team needs to learn how to win first. It’s an identity thing. The teams above them in the pecking order clearly have that understanding. . . . If Cousins and Rajon Rondo are on the same page, that dynamic could click. I don’t really see Jrue Holiday as a guy who’s running your team. So if Rondo can do that while playing with Holiday and he’s also [in sync] with Cousins, that’s something to fear. . . . The wing rotation maybe has a chance if Holiday can sustain 33, 34 minutes a game. But it’s going to take a lot of development, and a lot of things are going to have to correct themselves for that to happen. There’s such a lack of fear for opponents as far as these wings are concerned. . . . Cousins does so many things well. He can pass the ball too. Anthony Davis as a face-up shooter has become so good. But your team is not just two twin towers that are remarkably versatile. It’s the integration of all that individual talent. Is it Rondo who’s going to pull that off? Is he going to be on the court long enough? Is he going to connect with everyone? . . . I’d love to see Davis playing with a Chris Paul type. Davis does so many things well as a finesse player. There’s not a lot of power to his game. Is there enough grit and toughness? He’s got such great length, but I want to see him play with a top backcourt player.
Dallas Mavericks: Who is Dirk's heir?
A successful season will be linked closely with the play of Dennis Smith. After the draft there were some question marks about him. Was he the right guy to take? Is he going to start? But at Summer League, everyone saw that he can play at that level. If he can develop quickly, he could be a top 30 player by his second year. This is a star-centric league, and they need a star. . . . NBA coaches like to be safe. If anything holds back Smith, it could be that. Yogi Ferrell is a safe player. Seth Curry is a safe player. J.J. Barea is a safe player. Smith is more like a wild card that could win a lot of pots for you. . . . I don’t see Harrison Barnes as a willing alpha. It hasn’t been his personality, going back to high school. He’s not a great passer. He’s not a great rebounder. He’s a decent defender. I just don’t see him with that dog in him, and he doesn’t really fill a stat sheet. . . . Dirk Nowitzki is a watered-down version of what he used to be. We do player comps and say that some other guy plays like Dirk, but like a bad version of Dirk. That’s almost what he is now. I think you have to keep him on the floor 24 to 28 minutes a game—it’s not as if there are better options. I don’t think Dirk has some understudy on the roster. . . . Nerlens Noel is so limited offensively. He can hit a face-up jump shot once in a while, but nothing is effortless for him. He needs a major polish upgrade. . . . Wesley Matthews is a good player. He hits jump shots, he can score, he’s a decent defender. But when I’m game-planning, I’m not worried about him.