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On the NBA Beat Ep. 2.2: Previewing the 2016-17 NBA Season With James Herbert

On this episode, James Herbert, NBA Writer at CBSSports.com, joined us to run through the most compelling storylines for the fast approaching 2016-17 NBA season. After an offseason filled with player movement and coaching changes, James helps us navigate the new landscape of the NBA, including which teams he thinks improved their chances and which he has lower expectations for. He also opines on possible breakout players, gives his season award predictions and offers his thoughts on the increasing social activism among NBA players and in professional sports in general.

1:40-4:38 Herbert is very high on the Utah Jazz’s prospects for the season. Here’s a taste:

“I just think they’re gonna be a monster this year. I think a lot of people really expected them to be that breakout team last year — some thought it would even happen the year before, they’d make it to the playoffs — but I think this is really the year that it’s going to happen. They should have been a playoff team last year. They just barely missed out, and that was when they didn’t really have a point guard for the whole season…so I’m a bit more bullish on them than I think even most NBA hipsters are…I think they’re seen as this big team, this enormous team that plays power basketball because of [Derrick] Favors and [Rudy] Gobert, but they can put Trey Lyles and Boris Diaw there as their frontcourt with their bench unit, and they can match up with small teams too. I think it’s really about versatility in the modern NBA, not just going small, and the Jazz have the pieces to play pretty much any way.”

11:03-11:50 Like many analysts, Herbert sees a significant drop-off after the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Here’s what he had to say concerning the near-inevitability of another Cavs-Warriors Finals:

“I know that’s kind of a bummer. I know most people going into a season would like to think that there’s some sort of chance that we don’t already know who’s going to meet in the Finals. But to me, I’m just like, ‘Alright, the Finals are gonna be awesome.’ I want to see these two super-teams go at it again for the third straight time when now the Warriors have what looks like the best roster I’ve ever seen constructed in my whole life.”

13:30-13:40 Good news, Houston. Our guest believes the Rockets will show considerable improvement this 2016-17 campaign

“Watching them in the preseason, the way that they’re spreading the floor, the way that they’re pushing the pace, the way that they’re empowering James Harden. I think he’s become a popular MVP pick going into the season for a reason. He’s just got the perfect setup for him to have a huge year. And I think just based on the talent they have on the roster there’s no way they should have been as bad as they were last year, so I think they were naturally going to rebound anyway. And now you put Harden in a [coach Mike] D’Antoni offense and you add Ryan Anderson there to stretch the floor. Yeah, this might still be a bad defensive team, but I think they’ll for sure be one of the best offensive teams in the NBA.”

18:45-19:38: Regarding the Atlanta Hawks, Herbert can envision many scenarios in the wide-open Eastern Conference:

“So I think you look at the Hawks, and you can make an argument, ‘This is the fourth-best team in the East,’ and then you can also go, ‘Well, what if it just doesn’t work, and they lack chemistry like Dwight’s team in Houston did last year? Maybe they have to go a totally different direction. Maybe they have to consider trading Millsap.’ Who really knows? Atlanta’s the No. 1 team like that, but I think what I said about them applies in general terms to most of the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. Outside of those top three teams, you kind of don’t know what you’re gonna get.”

22:54-23:22 Minnesota’s Zach LaVine is on track for continued improvement, he argues:

“At a certain point of the year, [Timberwolves coach] Sam Mitchell said, ‘OK, you can start shooting 3s now,’ whereas he seemed to hate even the concept of playing that way at the start of the year. And LaVine became this incredibly efficient 3-point shooter, a guy that could go and get 20 every night, and I don’t see any reason why he can’t do that this year, and I think if Thibodeau is able to make him even an average defender, that would be an enormous improvement on that end of the court from what we’ve seen in years past.”

31:26-31:45 Herbert went with Joel Embiid as his projected Rookie of the Year. He explains why:

“I just think he [Embiid] is from what I’ve seen in preseason and even just from what we all saw when he was in college and how people projected him…I think with Simmons missing the majority of the season or maybe more than that, to me, Embiid should be the favorite. I think he’s so much more talented than the rest of the crowd.”

In this offseason’s NBA GM Survey, 46.7 percent of respondents chose Minnesota guard Kris Dunn compared to 10.0 percent for Embiid, but at least some of the submissions appear to have been received before Ben Simmons’ injury occurred. In fact, 13.3 percent of respondents chose Simmons as their Rookie of the Year, as well as 13.3 percent for Pelicans guard Buddy Hield. For what it’s worth, the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram also received 10.0 percent of the votes.    

Music: “Who Likes to Party?” by Kevin MacLeod