The annual “Big Shot Bob (Rob)” tourney is back on the scene like The Machine in New York City. Although all the MVP talk has been fun (best reads on the matter: Kevin Pelton, Zach, Lowe, FiveThirtyEight), it has taken attention away from the NBA playoffs. But here we are, with the first games kicking off and with questions abound (except for the eventual champion–we all know that’ll be a team whose name starts with a W). Let’s take a look at each first round series before we review this year’s BSB(R) picks.
In the East…
- Celtics-Bulls: To my surprise and skepticism, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton picked this series as the most likely upset. Although the Celtics are a weaker-than-normal 1-seed, they have deep talent at every position (although Paul George or Jimmy Butler would definitely be nice right now). The biggest weakness the C’s have are Isaiah Thomas’ defense and team rebounding. I have little confidence in Rajon Rondo lighting up Dave Attewell, let alone IT. As for rebounding, the Bulls do rate well on the offensive glass, but without Taj Gibson, I’m skeptical of that having any impact on the series. Playoff experience also factored into Pelton’s evaluation, but that doesn’t matter to me, here. Between Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart, the Celtics have good defenders to throw at the Bulls’ best and most experienced players in Wade and Butler. And anyone who doubts Isaiah Thomas’ ability to rise to the occasion must not know much about the guy. So despite Pelton’s thoughts and the “Rondo seeks revenge on the Celtics” narrative, the C’s should have too much trouble, here.
- Wizards-Hawks: I won’t spill too much ink about the Wiz here, given that I expect to do a lot of that all the way into June. The Wizards still think about the 2015 playoffs, in which the Wiz lost to the best-record-in-the-East Hawks in six games despite Wall’s broken wrist. Even though this year’s Hawks are a shell of that team, you can bet the Wizards will be fueled with a healthy dose of vengeance. As far as the matchup, the Wiz are offense-first, the Hawks defense-first. Unfortunately for the Wizards, the Hawks feel like a team tailor made to take advantage of their defense, despite their limitations. Millsap, the Hawks’ best player, will go at Markieff Morris, one of the Wizards’ weakest defenders. Incessant pick-and-rolls involving Schroder handling the ball could run Wall in circles. Luckily, the Wizards’ defense has nowhere to go but up, especially in the playoffs when everything is on the line. Throw in the Wizards’ talent advantage and John Wall’s leadership, and the ‘Zards should still come out on top.
- Raptors-Bucks: The Raptors could make the NBA Finals. They also might get upset by the Bucks, who arguably have the best player in the series. The Raptors are still reintegrating Kyle Lowry after his injury. Although they were decent in last year’s matchup against the Cavs, they’ve rarely impressed in the playoffs and often play down to their opponent. Meanwhile, the Bucks looks like a better team with Middleton back on the court and are good at making the game chaotic, which sometimes plays to underdogs. They also have a certain fearlessness to their game. Still, it’s easy to underestimate just how good the Raptors are–they had the best SRS in the East despite getting the third-seed, and that undersells how good they are given their late-season acquisitions and Lowry’s injury. Anything could happen, but the Raptors winning is what will likely happen.
- Cavs-Pacers: We spend enough time thinking and talking about the Cavs. Suffice to say, the world will be watching to see whether Playoff LeBron makes his annual appearance and whether the team can defend the ball. The Pacers as a team don’t strike fear in opponents after a distinctly average season, but there are some individual players that can’t be slept on. Teague can shoot and get dribble penetration, Paul George has another gear he can reach, and Myles Turner is a three-point shooting rim protector for whom the Cavs have no real answer. Throw in the perennially underrated C.J. Miles and Thaddeus Young, and you have a team that will at least test the Cavs and make them show the world whether they have what it takes to succeed later in the playoffs.
In the West…
- Warriors-Blazers: Not much intrigue here. Yes, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will make it their personal mission to be the best backcourt in the series. Yes, Jusuf Nurkic, health provided, should be a matchup problem for the Dubs. Yes, everyone will be examining Durant’s re-integration with the offense. Despite all that, this series is likely too lopsided for any meaningful conclusions to emerge. More important than anything, the Warriors should focus on winning quickly to preserve themselves for the future rounds.
- Clippers-Jazz: The Clippers were a 4-seed last year, and seem to always be faced with difficult first-round matchups. Such is life in the West when you aren’t a first or second seed. This year, they’ll face a team in the Utah Jazz whose ceiling isn’t yet determined, although we know it’s high. Yes, the Clippers have talent and experience. But the Jazz are deep, well-rounded, versatile, and defensive-minded. And in Rudy Gobert–DPOY candidate and second in Win Shares–some might argue that the Jazz have the best player in the series. The GH duo–George Hill and Gordon Hayward–are also underrated as playmakers and defenders. I don’t think any team likes playing the Jazz, and Salt Lake City has a notoriously good home crowd. Still, the Clippers, if healthy, have too much talent, playmaking, and experience to get knocked out. Plus, I have a pet theory that Chris Paul is dying to get a shot at upsetting Steph and the Warriors.
- Rockets-Thunder: Indubitably, this is the marquee matchup of the first round. Where to begin? The two leading MVP candidates, and former teammates, facing off. Somewhere in there is an “analytics vs. heart-and-soul” narrative to be mined. It’s a series where the Rockets are favored enough such that their loss would constitute a big upset, and yet, they aren’t so favored that such a scenario seems impossible. Andre Roberson is the ideal defender to have on Harden, and Taj Gibson and Steven Adams are reasonable people to switch onto Harden, as far as humans go. There’s no stopping Harden, but given how important he is to igniting the Rockets offense, even slowing him down could pay huge dividends. But even if the Thunder have sone luck in doing so, the Rockets figure to have an even easier time slowing down Westbrook. That’s because a) Beverley is an A+ defender, b) Ariza plays passing lanes as well as anyone, which will thwart some of Westbrook’s kick-outs, and c) Westbrook and his teammates are simply less efficient than Harden and his. Still, nothing is guaranteed, and hopefully the series will live up to the hype.
- Spurs-Grizzlies: This series should be fun.. These teams have a playoff history against one another. The Grizzlies have that grit-and-grind play, coupled with years of experience together, that should make them a cinderella candidate. Conley is having a career year, and Gasol is a strong candidate for one of the All-NBA teams. But come on, folks. These are the Spurs, coming off their first-ever second-consecutive 60-win season. Sixty wins despite injuries to Leonard and Gasol, despite resting their guys, despite aging veterans (as always). These Spurs will make quick work of these overperforming Grizzlies. I wish it’d be more fun than that, but I don’t think Popovich and Kawhi Leonard have any interest in introducing fun into the equation.
Let’s take a look at some of the trends and oddities in people’s picks (click on images to enlarge):
First round thoughts…
- First thing’s first–we have 38 participants! This surpasses last year’s 28 and 2014-15’s record-breaking 36 participants. Well done, squad!
- 29/38 people had the Warriors sweeping the first round. Only one person had them getting to six games. Not much faith in the Blazers from this crowd.
- This has to be the most striking thing: All 38 people picked the Wizards to beat the Hawks. That has never happened in a 4-5 matchup in the history of BSB(R).
- The other 4-5 matchup was nearly an even split, with 20/38 picking the Clippers
- 4/38 people picked the Bucks to upset the Raptors. Although this isn’t terribly surprising, the Bucks were a reasonable upset pick (for reasons described above).
- A solid 11/38 people picked the Thunder to upset the Rockets. With Westbrook behind the wheel, anything can happen!
Second round thoughts…
- 20/38 people have the Wizards making the ECF. Yes, there is a disproportionate amount of Wizards fans in the group, but it’s still striking.
- 34/38 people saw the Cavs making the ECF. Projections would give the Raptors more of a chance than that, but this group is no different than the rest of the world: In LeBron we trust.
- To no one’s surprise, all 38 people have the Warriors going to the WCF
- 33/38 have the Spurs meeting the Warriors in the WCF. We’ve been waiting a couple years for this matchup to finally take place–maybe this year everyone will get their wish. Still, a tad surprising there weren’t more people willing to take a risk on the Rockets.
Conference Finals thoughts…
- In the East, nearly everyone has Cavs-Wiz or Cavs-Celtics, with some other matchups scattered throughout. Among Cavs-Wiz, 11/16 had the Cavs winning; among Cavs-Celtics, 18/18 had the Cavs winning. That’s a lot of faith in the Wiz, especially as compared to the Celtics. The four instances the Cavs aren’t in the ECF are all Raptors-Wizards, 3 of which the Raps are predicted to win. This means the Cavs are predicted to make the Finals for 28/38 and the Wiz are predicted to make it the second-most (6/38)
- In the West, 31 of the 33 Warriors-Spurs folks have the Warriors winning. In the 5 other matchups, the Warriors win 4/5 matchups (Issei, as he does every year, has the Rockets coming out ahead). This means the Warriors are predicted to make the Finals for 35/38 people.
NBA Finals thoughts…
- An NBA Finals rematch is predicted to happen for 27/38 of us. Among those 27, only 2 have the Cavs winning.
- Of the other 8 people that have the Warriors in the Finals, they win 7/8 times. Gary Sapphire, always the wildcard, has the Wiz beating the Warriors. Altogether, 32/38 have the Warriors winning. The exceptions: The Cavs (twice), the Spurs (twice) the Wizards, the Rockets.
Enjoy the first round, folks. I’ll give a BSB(R) and playoff update after the first round is over.
Who are your picks to win, both the playoffs and the AGR tourney? Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook.