The regular season has ended, and the playoffs are finally among us, and there was a ton of drama up until the last game. There was lots of competition to get both into the playoffs and get seeding which made the season end incredibly fun to watch. There’s a lot to unpack about a couple of things that transpired during the season and the upcoming playoffs. To guide you in what to expect in the playoffs, a few of our wordsmiths have come together to talk about it. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Who has the better legacy? Wade or Dirk?
Mike Fanelli: Dirk Nowitzki
Both players are without a doubt first ballot hall of famers and had excellent careers. Depending on what factors you put into determining a players’ “legacy,” this question could go either way. For me, I see it as who had more of an impact on the game, and in that case, it would be Nowitzki. While Wade has three rings compared to Nowitzki’s one, Wade only won one as the best player on the team.
Nowitzki’s Mavericks team took down the big three in Miami in 2011 despite being heavy underdogs. Not only did Nowitzki finish his career as the sixth all-time leading scorer compared to 29th for Wade, but Nowitzki averaged 1.63 points per minute in his career compared to 1.54 for Wade. Now, who was the better player? It’s Wade and not even close.
Troy Pierce: Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is arguably the most underrated superstar of the last decade. He is the first Euro player to dominate at his position truly. He’s the first 7 footer to be a great outside shooter. And he’s the last player to win a title while being the only player from his team selected to that year’s All-Star game. The effect that Dirk had on the league helped make the NBA what it is today. Now it’s not uncommon to see 7 footers hitting from outside, in fact, almost every team has a stretch 4 or 5 that can hit from distance. Without Dirk, guys like Embiid, Brook Lopez, and others would still be confined to the low post and playing a back-to-the-basket style. Dirk helped progress what the game of basketball has become. Obviously, the traditional big man still has a place in this league but that role is changing, and it’s thanks to the work Dirk has done over his career. He’s the original unicorn.
Josh Elias: That’s a tough one, but I’m going to have to go with Dirk, for the sake of how much he changed the game. Both players had insanely good peaks, both led their respective team to one of the most impressive titles in NBA history, and their paths crossed multiple times along the way. They’re each consensus third or fourth best players ever for their respective position. Their resume is quite similar, aside from Wade having earned two additional titles alongside LeBron James and Nowitzki winning an MVP. I’d argue that Wade was, by a small margin, the better player overall player, but Nowitzki’s impact on the game was bigger. Before Dirk entered the league in 1998-99, 19 years worth of 7’0”+ players combined for 507 three-pointers made. In his 19 years, he alone nearly quadrupled that. There are currently 47 7’0”+ players in the league and 33 of them hit a three this year. That’s because of Dirk.
Zach Gotlieb: Dirk Nowitzki
Let me be clear, both of these players are no doubt, first ballot Hall of Famers. Both players had amazing careers and impacted the game so much. I’d have to say Dwyane Wade was the better overall player simply because of his offensive and defensive awareness vs. Dirk not being much of a defender. But the question is about legacy and not the better player. With legacy, I have to give the nod to Dirk. He’s among the last remaining players of the generation of players that stayed with the team that drafted them for the entirety of their career. He owns the record for most seasons on one team with 21 seasons. Aside from that impressive achievement, Dirk changed the game on so many levels.
First and foremost, he completely changed the perspective teams had on European born players, and they’re more prominent now than ever before. Stars and rising stars such as Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, and Kristaps Porzingis have their place in the league because of the way Dirk changed the outlook of the game. Using the same examples of Porzingis and Jokic, Dirk altered the way that big men play the game. Before Dirk, big men were basically required to stay down low, rebound, block shots, and dunk and that’s about it. Dirk had the innate ability to be 7’ tall and step out and shoot jump shots all the way back to the 3-point line and famously known for his fadeaway mid-range jump shot. Wade was a great player and made an incredible impact on his team and the league, but Dirk changed the perception of big men as a whole and European players, which is what he’ll forever be known for, aside from the accolades.
Levon Satamian: Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki finished with one finals MVP, NBA MVP in 2007, he was a 14-time All-Star, Three-Point contest champion in 2006, 12-time All-NBA — First Team, joined the 50-40-90 club in 2007, All-Time leader in Mavericks history: Games, points, rebounds, blocks, field goals, 3-pointers, free throws made. Dirk was 6th on the All-Time scoring list, 26th All-Time in rebounding, 144th All-Time in assists, 50th All-Time in blocks, 84th All-Time in steals.
Although, Dwyane Wade’s averages were better and the fact that he has two more championships than Dirk, even though, Dirk’s one ring was against Wade’s Heat, alongside LeBron, Bosh, Ray Allen, etc. Dirk willed the Mavs to win the finals in 2011. Wade won finals MVP in 2006, 13-time All-Star, 1x All-Star MVP in 2005, Scoring champion in 2009, All-Time leader in Heat history: Points and Assists. Wade was 29th All-Time in points, unranked All-Time in rebounds, 41st All-Time in assists, 121st All-Time in blocks, 29th All-Time in steals.
In conclusion, Dirk Nowitzki had a better legacy.
Pranav Rama: Dirk Nowitzki
Dwayne Wade is the third-best shooting guard of all time and injuries aside his speed and ability to consistently score made him the No.1 option in Miami for many years while Dirk Nowitzki needed some time to develop his game. Wade was the master of jumping into people for fouls and Nowitzki was known for pioneering the fadeaway, and both were surrounded by great teammates. Shaq helped Wade win his first championship over Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks in 2006, but Dirk came back and beat a Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh lead Miami Heat team in six games, so head to head is 1-1. Dirk surpassed Wade because he found a way to win with inferior teams longer and Dirk’s prime lasted longer than Wade’s because of Wade’s injuries. Also, Dirk’s entry opened up the gates for international players like Giannis Antetokounmpo to enter the NBA and get a chance with NBA teams. Wade won two more championships with LeBron and went to Chicago and Cleveland before returning for a grand farewell in Miami while Dirk stayed with the Mavericks and Mark Cuban for 21 years winning just that one ring against Wade. Wade has the statistical advantage, but Dirk has made a bigger impact on the game, so Dirk has had a bigger legacy than Dwayne Wade.
What is the biggest potential upset in the first round?
Mike: Oklahoma City Thunder defeat Portland Trailblazers
Not sure if this should count as an upset but it would be the lower seed beating the higher seed. The six seed Thunder should easily upset the three seed Blazers. The Thunder have the two best players in the series with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Meanwhile, the Blazers are entering the playoffs with plenty of injuries. C.J. McCollum has played just 54 total minutes since mid-March because of injury, and he is still shaking off the rust but is expected to be a full go for game one on Sunday.
However, rising star Jusuf Nurkic obviously won’t be playing in the playoffs this season as he suffered a gruesome leg injury March 25th verse the Nets. The late-season addition of Enes Kanter is now all the more critical. Unfortunately for Blazer fans, Kanter is nowhere near the rim protector that Nurkic is and the Thunder know that. Kanter was a member of the Thunder two years ago, and the team has to know all of his weaknesses on the court. With no Nurkic and a rusty McCollum, I wouldn’t be surprised if this series was over after five games.
Troy: Indiana Pacers defeat Boston Celtics
I think the obvious answer here is the Thunder knocking out the Trailblazers in the first round. Portland loses a lot of production on the boards and around the basket without having Nurkic. Having Kanter on the roster definitely helps but he just doesn’t provide the level of production that Nurkic does. I really don’t consider this to be much of an upset. Oklahoma City is the better team, but they’ve played sloppy heading into the playoffs. Russ and Co have got to be happy that they managed to avoid facing Golden State or Denver. That being said, I’m looking at the Pacers-Celtics series. What the Pacers have done without their star player, Victor Oladipo has been nothing short of amazing. Many people, including me, wrote them off following the injury but they’ve managed to outplay a lot of teams since then, and I think that effort intensity will carry over into the postseason. Losing Marcus Smart leaves a hole in the Boston defense, but if Indiana can take advantage of their size and win the battle on the boards, then the Pacers can win this series. Indiana in 7.
Josh: Oklahoma City defeats Portland Trailblazers
Frankly, I’m not even sure if this even counts as an upset in anything other than formality. The Thunder swept Portland in their season series this year with Paul George averaging 38.0 points per game in those four games, and that was before Jusuf Nurkic went down with an injury. Portland does have a stronger bench than they did last year and Enes Kanter deserves a huge amount of credit for averaging 18.1 points and 11.4 rebounds since Nurkic’s injury, but this is a bad matchup for Portland.
Zach: Indiana Pacers defeat Boston Celtics
All in all, this year doesn’t look great for upsets. While some could go with San Antonio beating Denver, I just don’t see it. Neither team is particularly great on the road and Denver has more home games as well as they played much better in close games statistically speaking. There’s always 5v4 matchups, but there’s a reason they’re one after the other, they’re really close. The trouble is that the 5v4 matchups are the most likely upsets, especially in this case. The Indiana Pacers have been really impressive this year. Most people thought they were gonna be in the position, but that was before the Oladipo injury. When Oladipo went down, I will admit that I kind of wrote them off and had them falling to the 7th or 8th. Their continued success even without Oladipo is a true testament to how the job McMillan has done coaching this team and the rest of the team’s ability to compete and play hard every game. The thing that is going to Indiana a step up is that Boston has been a mess for the majority of the year. Guys like Jaylen Brown have underperformed for the majority of the year, Gordon Hayward just hasn’t looked all the way back from his devastating injury last year and the star, Kyrie Irving, has been an inconsistent leader. The loss of Marcus Smart will likely be a big problem for them, particularly on the defensive end. The key for the Pacers is to get everyone involved on offense. Bojan Bogdanovic leads the team in scoring which will be key, but it’s getting guys like Wesley Matthews and Darren Collison involved on the offensive end. Defensively, they are one of the best teams in the league, beginning with the anchor of Myles Turner in the paint. While it’s not clear cut of course, as the Celtics are still a massively talented team, the Pacers seem to have the team continuity and defense to keep the Celtics at bay and the weapons on offense to score with the Celtics.
Levon: Brooklyn Nets defeat Philadelphia 76ers
Brooklyn Nets have the best chance at the biggest potential upset. Joel Embiid is doubtful for Game 1, meaning Brooklyn can steal Game 1 in Philadelphia, and gain home-court advantage in this series. If D’Angelo Russell can have a big game in games 1, 3, 4, and 6, the Nets will upset the Sixers.
Pranav: San Antonio Spurs defeat Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets have been very successful this year and have overachieved winning a bunch of games without their guards being healthy thanks to Nikola Jokic and are the second seed in the West, but they have no playoff experience and are going up against Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have a viable offense with DeMar DeRozan looking to right the ship after getting benched last season in the playoffs and LaMarcus Aldridge, who can pick and pop from anywhere on the floor. The Nuggets need to make sure that the guards are ready to play because they will get the looks they want, but they have to knock them down, and from a unit that hasn’t been healthy all year it’s hard to see that happening. Popovich will draw up a scheme trapping Jokic and when they should get to Games 3 and 4, they should be tied 1-1 and will win both games at home to take an overbearing 3-1 series lead. The Spurs will close out the series in six and await their next opponent. The Nuggets inexperience will be their biggest doom.
Who is the most important player to their team’s success?
Mike: Giannis Antetokounmpo
This might seem like an obvious answer, but the Pistons would become the favorites to win their first round match up if Giannis Antetokounmpo all of a sudden got hurt and missed the series. While James Harden‘s flashy video game-like numbers will likely earn him the MVP award again this season, Antetokounmpo was the most important player this year. Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to the best record in the league, while the Bucks are a borderline playoff team without him. Unless Antetokounmpo gets hurt, the Bucks should easily take care of the Pistons in five games or less.
Troy: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis needs to continue to play at this MVP level if the Bucks are going to make a serious playoff run and reach the Finals. The Bucks go as Giannis goes, and this season he has taken them to the top of the Eastern Conference. Can he take them to the Finals?
Josh: Giannis Antetokounmpo
No team in the playoffs relies so much on one player, and that includes Houston. At least James Harden has Clint Capela, Chris Paul, and a large supporting cast of two-way impact players. Giannis’ assortment of teammates is entirely built to thrive playing off of Antetokounmpo. No other player on the team could fill his role on offense, and the only person that could even pretend to is Malcolm Brogdon. No one feels threatened by Malcolm Brogdon enough for Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and Nikola Mirotic to get the same quality of looks as they do with Giannis there.
Zach: Jamal Murray
He’s not the best player on the team, but as it pertains to who is going to be the biggest reason for a team, especially a team as inexperienced as Denver, to advance in the playoffs, he’s got to be the one. The reason he is the key over every other player on the Nuggets and even among the other playoff teams is that he has proven time and again throughout the season that if he’s hitting shots, few teams can stop him and in turn the Nuggets. The problem is his lack of consistency. It’s honestly maddening. He can go 2-13 in the first half of a game, but then all of a sudden, he’s 8-9 for 20 points in the third quarter alone. It’s a true lightswitch. You can see it in the big games, he’s built for those games and ready to piss off anyone and not run from the challenge. The kid is only 21, but he faces a huge task of being one of the leaders of this team a very inexperienced playoff team. If he’s hitting his shots and playing with high energy on both ends of the floor along with Nikola Jokic doing his thing, the Nuggets are going to be a very tough team to beat
Levon: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard because for years, this Raptors team has fallen short to LeBron James. Now, Kawhi is with the Raptors, and LeBron James is not in the Eastern Conference. I look at it from this standpoint. In my opinion, and many people will disagree, Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the Eastern Conference. Just like LeBron willed his teams to the finals for eight straight seasons, Kawhi will do the same with the Raptors, this season. The Raptors may have won games when Kawhi was resting during the regular season, but the Raptors always do well in the regular season, and always come up short in the playoffs. I think Kawhi will give the Raptors the extra boost they need to make the finals.
Pranav: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry is the most important player to the Golden State Warriors success, and when he missed 13 games this year, the Warriors went 7-6 not to mention the feud that Draymond Green and Kevin Durant had when Curry wasn’t operating the offense. He sets up other teammates well and can lead the offense with his own three-point shooting. The constant switching also confuses the opposing defense to the extent that it opens up the Warriors offense. Curry can brush his ego aside, something that not many superstars do for the betterment of the team success and helps feed the hot hand. While LeBron James is important to the Lakers success even with LeBron, they looked sloppy while Curry can clean that up and make the Warriors unstoppable when the Warriors need a win or when they are in the playoffs. The Warriors are gearing up for another playoff run, so they need to make sure Curry is 100% to guarantee them the three-peat.
Who is most likely to take down the Warriors?
Mike: Boston Celtics (if healthy)
The only real answer to this question is the Warriors and if they get bit by the injury bug. However, the only other team that could take down the Warriors is the Celtics, but only if they are healthy. The Celtics have plenty of playoff experience all along their roster. All their young guys like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier gained valuable playoff minutes last year after Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injured.
While veterans like Hayward, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart have years of experience in the playoffs. The wild card is Irving, as he is the only one on the roster with NBA finals experience. If the Celtics can get through the eastern conference and make the finals, they would be the toughest matchup for the Warriors given their experience, depth, versatility, and defense.
Troy: Houston Rockets
James Harden has been absolutely phenomenal this season. When you take into account that he was without Chris Paul, without Clint Capela, and literally put the team on his back and carried them to 4th in the Western Conference(!!!), not only is he the MVP, but if you give him a healthy Chris Paul, a healthy Clint Capela – this Houston team has what it takes to beat Golden State. They just can’t miss 27 three’s in a row this time.
Josh: Los Angeles Laker (offseason)
The chances of the Warriors not winning the Finals again this year are so low that when we’re talking about likelihood, it’s irrelevant. Free agency is what could kill this dynasty. It seems to be a given at this point that Kevin Durant is leaving in the summer, but even losing him isn’t particularly a guarantee to end the Warriors’ reign over the league. If the Warriors lose Durant and also don’t offer Klay Thompson the max contract, then we’re talking. Klay has said he’s not settling for less than the max, and the Lakers are the team most rumored to be set to sign him if he does leave Golden State.
Zach: The Golden State Warriors
The truth of the matter is, the Golden State Warriors are just too good. The Rockets are a great team and certainly a viable option, but I just don’t see it. Yeah, they were likely a Chris Paul and historically bad shooting night away from winning last year, but that was last year. It just seems like this year, of all the years of their dominance, they’ve had the most problems. They’ve actually had off games, they had a significant dispute between KD and Draymond earlier in the year, and the pending free agency of KD, Klay, and Boogie Cousins are the main headliners, and it’s a near guarantee that those guys are not going to hear the end of those free agency questions. The only hope for other teams is the future Warriors free agents lose focus, all 5 all-star starters hitting an epic cold streak all at the same time, and of course, Steph Curry forgetting his contacts at home for the entire series. Past that, I just don’t see how other teams are going to beat the Warriors. They’re gonna have to beat themselves 4 times for them to get eliminated.
Levon: Toronto Raptors
As I mentioned earlier, Kawhi is the best player in the Eastern Conference. We remember what he did against Kevin Durant and the Warriors until Zaza Pachulia purposefully injured Kawhi. He had 23 points, with 7 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, torching Kevin Durant, and had his team up by 20+ points. Kawhi can prove to everyone that he should be in the conversation for the second best player in the league, alongside Kevin Durant. Also, the Raptors ability to switch, off almost every screen, defensively is key. Kawhi, Ibaka, Gasol, Danny Green, are all great defenders, the key is, how will they do when they’re switched on to a big, or a guard, besides Kawhi, because Kawhi can guard the 1-4. Danny Green is my only concern with switching onto a big.
Pranav: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are well-equipped yet again to give the Warriors a solid six games this year. Last year Iguodala’s injury bogged down the Warriors on offense and their failure to close out Games 4, and 5 extended the series while Chris Paul’s injury robbed the Rockets shot at the Finals as the Warriors escaped in seven games. The Rockets lost some key defenders in Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute so the Warriors will have an easier time generating offense. Chris Paul and James Harden proved they know how to maximize possessions on offense so they should help keep the Rockets in games. The big tactical adjustment the Warriors made was getting DeMarcus Cousins because now the advantage that Clint Capela had on the boards last year will most likely not be there if Cousins stays out of foul trouble. The Rockets need to generate good looks from three and not chuck up shot after shot even though missing 27 straight three-pointers probably won’t happen again. The Rockets need Chris Paul to keep his hamstring in one piece and Mike D’Antoni to adjust some schemes along with focus for 48 minutes to be the most likely team to knock the Warriors on this postseason.
Mike: Golden State Warriors defeat Toronto Raptors 4-1
According to Vegas, the Warriors are super heavy favorites to win their third straight NBA championship, and most people agree. So the better question is: who will win the eastern conference? My answer is the Raptors over the Celtics in a close series. While Kawhi Leonard will get the Raptors over the playoff hump and into the finals, the monster known as the Warriors are just too much for the Raptors to overcome. Warriors win the series in five games.
Troy: Golden State Warriors defeat Toronto Raptors 4-2
The Warriors are just unstoppable. 5 All-Stars. The greatest shooter of all time. The real-life Monstars are here, and they’re poised for another championship run. I really don’t see anyone taking this team down. There are just too many weapons for them on the floor. They also have a chance to threepeat and further solidify themselves as one of the greatest dynasty’s of all time (2nd right behind the 90s Bulls). I’m taking the Raptors out of the East because they have veteran experience and championship experience that the Bucks, Sixers, and Celtics don’t have. I know, Boston has Kyrie Irving, but the Celtics have been wildly inconsistent and haven’t been better than any of those other teams, except the Sixers.
Josh: Golden State Warriors defeat Philadelphia 76ers 4-0
The Warriors will win it all again, and without much trouble, unless something goes terribly wrong. It was a hard decision choosing between the Sixers and the Bucks for the Eastern Conference champions, but I’m going with Philadelphia because they have more weapons on both ends of the floor. Boston has been seemingly in complete chaos this year, Marcus Smart is out for most of the playoffs, and frankly, Kyrie Irving is neither enough of a star or enough of a leader for them to go on a particularly deep playoff run. Toronto is many people’s favorite, but Kyle Lowry is responsible for entirely too many of Toronto’s assists. That may seem like an odd observation to make, but successful playoff teams seldom have one player control more than 30% of their assists. For Lowry, that number is 34.2%.
Zach: Golden State Warriors defeat Toronto Raptors 4-2
This is an easy question that really isn’t up for debate. The Warriors weak point in years past has been the center sport, where they have always been able to get by, but now they have all-star center Demarcus Cousins and all 5 positions are covered. There are just very few weak points in this Warriors teams, and even the ones that exist are minuscule and things only the Warriors can do to beat them. Now, for the Eastern Conference, the Celtics just don’t seem to have the continuity or leadership of a team that will make the Finals. I think Ben Simmons’ inability to shoot is going to be the detriment to the Sixers and prevent them from getting there and I do have them on upset watch in the first round. Milwaukee is my pick to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, but their health is a concern and the question of other players, like Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton, aside from Giannis, stepping up. Toronto has an excellent trio of Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam that has been consistent and reliable this season. The addition of Marc Gasol has been a solid one, Danny Green has been an effective piece for the Raptors all year. They have as much playoff experience as anyone in the East, a trio of excellent players including a bona fide superstar in Kawhi Leonard should be enough to get them to the Finals, but then it’s Golden State, and it’s just not gonna go well. I think they can sneak a couple games at home, but Golden State will get the last laugh.
Levon: Golden State Warriors vs. Toronto Raptors
Both teams are questionable to make it, yes, even the Golden State Warriors. DeMarcus Cousins is not fully in shape, yet. He fouls too much, Draymond, Cousins, and Durant, at times complain too much to the ref and may get tossed in a game. That could change the outcome of a series. As for the Raptors, as long as Kawhi remains healthy, this team will make it to the finals. They were my pick to make the finals before the season started, and I’m sticking to it
Pranav: Golden State Warriors defeat Milwaukee Bucks 4-2
The Portland Trail Blazers had a massive comeback against the Sacramento Kings that will help the Golden State Warriors face the Houston Rockets in the second round rather than the Conference Finals. It should benefit them because they will be healthier and more motivated a lot earlier than usual, but this makes the Western Conference Finals a bit of a mismatch. The Golden State Warriors should go five games with the Clippers, six games with the Houston Rockets and five games with the Oklahoma City Thunder en route to another NBA Finals. The East is a bit more complicated than usual with no LeBron James, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks have distanced themselves from the fray as the best team in the East and in the league. Philadelphia and Toronto are solid teams, but come playoff time both of these teams have proven they are not ready yet for this kind of pressure and the Bucks haven’t won a playoff series in a while, but have the experience and coaching on their side to get through the East. The Milwaukee Bucks should go five games with the Pistons, six games with the Boston Celtics and seven games with the Philadelphia 76ers en route to their first NBA Finals appearance since the 1974 NBA Finals. Milwaukee’s shooting and homecourt should help them out, but Kevin Durant should be the X-factor that lifts the Warriors past Giannis Antetokounmpo to complete a three-peat for the Warriors in six games.
The regular season is over, and the best 16 teams remain. We’ve seen some of the most impressive and historic performances the NBA has seen, including the first 20-20-20 game in 50 years, a string of 32 straight 30-point games, and someone who finally dethroned Steph in 3-pointers made in a single game. Now begins the season of, will any team finally defeat the Warriors and stop them from a three-peat. We’re gonna see the usual cast of teams and see if they can continue their success or if some of these surprise new teams can give these other teams a run for their money. It is going to be incredibly exciting.
Questions and comments?
Follow Zach Gotlieb on Twitter @zachgotlieb
Follow Troy on Twitter @HoopHead_prod
Follow Josh Elias on Twitter @_SunsofThunder_
Follow Levon Satamian on Twitter @TheSportsNotes
Follow Pranav on Twitter @PranavRama1
Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images