The 2015-16 NBA regular season resumes this week after its week-long All-Star break. Minnesota plays at Memphis Friday night.
Prior to last weekend’s events, ESPN NBA Analysts Chauncey Billups and P.J. Carlesimo talked to reporters, including the MSR, in a media conference call. Both took questions on the season’s remaining schedule, which is almost three-fourths completed:
• On this season’s surprises: “I’m just so impressed with a lot of the younger players in the league” including Golden State’s Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio and Chicago’s Jimmy Butler — all three were chosen as All-Stars this season, noted Carlesimo. “These guys were good players and…the three of them came into the league with the reputation as defensive players.”
“Oftentimes in our league, now you draft guys for their potential, or they have one special trait, or they’re 6’11” and they can shoot the three or there…” said Billups. “But there is something to be said for guys like Draymond” who has improved each year since being drafted.
Billups also noted Detroit’s second year center Andre Drummond should be on that list. “The crazy thing about Andre is he hasn’t even touched the surface yet to what he could be. This guy has now become a really hard worker.”
Golden State’s ‘real MVP’ not named Curry or Thompson: “It’s Green,” said Billups. The Warriors “literally feed off of his toughness and his tenacity out there,” said the retired 5-time All-Star point guard. “There is something to be said about the hard work he’s put in. I’m proud of him.”
• Does Los Angeles’ Blake Griffin, who suffered a broken hand after an incident with a team employee, deserve the four-game suspension, which he will serve once he is declared physically fit? “I don’t think there is any question he deserves a suspension,” stated Carlsemo, a former NBA coach. “The guys who should be the most upset at all are the teammates. It wasn’t intentional, but the people it hurts the most are the Clippers, those guys in that [locker] room.”
• Who can beat Golden State? “I don’t think you can say anybody other than Golden State is a favorite,” continued Carlsemo. “They’re clearly No. 1 and the [San Antonio] Spurs are clearly No. 1-A. I think [Cleveland] is the class of the Eastern Conference. I don’t think it’s a walkover but I think they’ll come out of the East, and I think they’ll have a realistic chance of winning a NBA championship.
“OKC (Oklahoma City) matches up pretty well with Golden State,” he added. “OKC’s a tough match-up for the Spurs. I think the Spurs can be a tough match-up for the Warriors. I could easily see the Clippers getting in that mix. So I think the match-ups will be fascinating.”
“Even with Blake, I don’t know that they can beat either of those teams,” argued Billups.
• Why after 11 years, San Antonio with Mano Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, is still tough to beat? “I think they’ve just done a brilliant job of not only keeping those guys at a high level, but just filling other pieces around,” noted Billups on signing LaMarcus Aldridge over the offseason. “There is a culture there and they’ve set a standard there, and they have the best coach in basketball who is going to make sure that happens. It’s beautiful to me on what they’ve been able to do.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.