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#IMHO: Jaren Jackson, Harden and LeBron, and All-Star selections

by Lang Whitaker | Grizz Gaming GM

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, January 2, 2018 8:30 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

First of all, Happy New Year!

As we charge into 2019 like Bevo going after Uga, let’s look into our own backyard before we look around the League. We know the Grizzlies are struggling lately, losing 9 of their last 12. What is one New Year’s resolution you would prescribe to make 2019 better than 2018 for the Grizzlies?

(And I’ll start with one: Make sure Jaren Jackson plays at least 30 minutes per game. He’s averaging 25 now, so as long as he’s not in foul trouble – which is a legit concern – make sure you get him on the court. It’s not like you’re going to be worse if he plays more. And I don’t think having him or JaMychal Green out there has to be a binary choice – let them play together sometimes!)

Jaren Jackson Jr.

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, January 2, 2018 11:43 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I agree with you, mostly, on the Jaren Jackson Jr. point. Bottom line is this: J.B. Bickerstaff and his staff need to be willing to risk losing games with Jackson on the floor playing through some foul trouble and mistakes. That said, I’m not one of those guys who insists the rookie must play at all cost without accountability. There should be times when he gets pulled and is forced to sit and go over matters with assistants.

On the other hand, what I’d prescribe for the Grizzlies is a healthy dose of offense. No matter how well you play defensively, there are stretches in every game when you need a spark. Memphis needs a consistent second and relatively consistent third player capable of a 20-point game beyond Mike Conley. If a trade is needed, so be it. A top-five defense can only carry a bottom five offense so far.

Lang, you know LeBron’s my guy. I’ve covered him closely and spent time around him off the court. I’ve typically defended him on many stances in the past, and will defend him against unreasonable or unwarranted criticism when it comes. But from the slave reference he made to NFL owners recently to the Jew reference he made in sharing a rap lyric to, now, proclaiming exactly when he passed Michael Jordan to become the greatest of all time, the L.A. LeBron seems to be a far more reckless King James. Considering the mega basketball and entertainment powerhouse he’s establishing, is LeBron taking a risk with recent public perception here? Or is this simply par for the new-age, boldly outspoken social agenda movement?

Lebron James

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, January 2, 2018 1:44 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

One addendum from me to your Jaren Jackson Jr. point about the coaching staff needing to be willing to risk losing games with him: They’re risking losing games without him on the floor. So what’s the difference?

As far as LeBron, he’s been so well-spoken for so long that this recent stuff almost seems like he’s gone wild. I don’t think that’s the case – I think he just had a few misstatements and he’ll go back to being regular old King James. It was funny to hear that statement, however, in the context of this Jordan clip that recently surfaced on Twitter...

Although I guess when you are the GOAT there’s no shame in taking the high road.

Speaking of GOATs, we saw the resurgent Rockets and James Harden in person recently, and right now Harden is red hot, posting 8 straight games where he scored at least 35 points. Watching him made me wonder: How do we contextualize Harden’s game? He plays a completely unique style that’s as predicated on getting to the free throw line as it shooting three-pointers, and defense remains mostly an afterthought. Harden recently said he’s a “dog” on the court. But how do we view him among the all-time GOATs?

James Harden

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, January 2, 2018 1:38 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: #IMHO

To me, Harden goes in a special category among uniquely unstoppable scoring machines without rings – for now. He’s in there, historically, with Iverson, Reggie Miller, Bernard King, Mitch Richmond, Bob McAdoo, Pete Maravich, George Gervin – super superior scorers and magicians. What also makes Harden so special is that, as you pointed out, he’s a masterful manipulator of the game. He’s made drawing fouls a form of art. Moses Malone used to do that from a big man’s perspective.

Lang, let’s get out of here this week on this: The other week, you and Jon Roser debated Conley’s merits for making the All-Star game. We now enter the stretch run for those players who need to stump for votes and support to make it. In the west, let’s assume there will be six backcourt players and six frontcourt players. I’ve got basically five locks at the guard spots right now in Harden, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard.

To me, that would theoretically leave the final spot up for grabs between Conley, DeMar DeRozan, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, C.J. McCollum, De’Aaron Fox and Jamal Murray. If that were the case, who represents the biggest threat to Conley? I say DeRozan, especially if the Spurs are in playoff position ahead of the Grizzlies, and because of his track record as a perennial All-Star he brings over from the East.

Demar DeRozan takes on Mike Conley

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, January 2, 2018 7:17 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

I think you’re right with that list of players that are in the running alongside Conley for an All-Star spot. I think we can eliminate McCollum, who has been excellent, mostly because he plays on the same team as Lillard and Portland isn’t good enough to have two players in the All-Star Game. Murray is still a year away, I think, and while Doncic and Fox have been fantastic for .500 teams, I think they’re more suited for the Rising Stars game than the big show.

Which leaves DeRozan and Mitchell, to me, as the two guys with the best cases to keep Conley out of the All-Star Game. I know Utah has had their issues this season, but Mitchell has also had postseason success and his share of huge offensive games. And DeRozan has been an All-Star before, although in a different conference.

So who gets the nod? I don’t know. But having watched the Grizzlies all season, I do know that if Mike Conley doesn’t make the All-Star Game this season, they might as well just cancel the thing.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. Their sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and they have no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


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