This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.
Welcome to a special, sports blackout edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable. With the NBA on hold for the foreseeable future, we're not quite sure how – or if – the season will ultimately end.
In the meantime, we'll continue to provide as much coverage as we can, whether that means looking back at the 2019-20 season or looking ahead at what's to come.
In this week's Roundtable, we cover a little bit of both.
Let's say that when the NBA returns, the current standings remain as-is heading into the playoffs. Which Eastern Conference first-round series would be the most intriguing: Milwaukee-Orlando, Toronto-Brooklyn, Boston-Philadelphia, or Miami-Indiana?
Nick Whalen: There are really only two choices, so I'll go with Boston-Philly. By the time this series is (hopefully) played, the Sixers could be fully healthy. They're the team that's underachieved this season, but even as the lower seed I think a full-strength Sixers team wins in six or seven games.
Alex Barutha: Boston vs. Philadelphia. It's one of the rare, good rivalries we have in the modern NBA. Somehow it feels like we've been sleeping on the Celtics despite them having the third-best net rating (+6.7) in the league, plus the second-best net rating (+1.9) on the road against top-10 point differential teams – a stat that I think needs to be taken into consideration when talking about potential playoff success.
Meanwhile, the 76ers have a passable +2.8 net rating overall (11th in the league), but that slips to an egregious -11.3 on the road against top-10 teams (19th in the league, and there are five non-playoff teams above them). I think the narrative would be that the series projects as a defensive slugfest that probably goes seven games. The numbers suggest we shouldn't be shocked if Boston wins in five. It's a great example of an eye-test vs. stats series, a great example of a coaching vs. top-end talent series, and a great example of "who is the real superstar here?" series.
Ken Crites: I think Miami versus Indy will be very exciting. Everyone knows about Miami's big deadline trade. But It seemed like the Pacers finally did a nice job of re-integrating Victor Oladipo into their core lineup just before play was suspended.
James Anderson: Miami-Indiana would be a pretty good series. Obviously, a healthy Sixers team vs. Boston would be good, but I'm pessimistic about Ben Simmons' availability and think the Sixers would have a really hard time keeping pace with Boston offensively. That's one where I think you could make some good money just betting the Boston money line in every game.
Alex Rikleen: Since some will probably focus on the Celtics-76ers here, I'll highlight the close runner-up: Heat-Pacers. I have no idea which team to pick in this series. If Victor Oladipo is anywhere near his pre-injury self, then his defense is a good match for Jimmy Butler. The Heat has enough size to fight with the Pacers' twin towers, but Bam Adebayo can only guard one of them, and while the other has a field day against Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard. This matchup may only have one A-list star, but the fourth-through-sixth best players in this series are among the best of any possible first round matchup.
Shannon McKeown: If the playoffs started today, BOS-PHI and MIA-IND would both be balanced and competitive first-round matchups. But the answer would absolutely be TOR-BRO if the extended delay provides Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant enough time to return from their injuries.
Mike Barner: Definitely the Celtics and Sixers. The added time off should do a world of good for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, so they could be a really tough out. Their struggles on the road this season are alarming, but facing them in the first round is certainly something the Celtics didn't want to see.
Adam King: It has to be Boston and Philly. Both teams could be at full-strength, something that may not have been the case had we not been forced into an extended layoff. Add to that the fact they have a well-documented dislike for each other and it would certainly be a spicy series.
Under the same circumstances, which Western Conference first-round series would be the most intriguing: LA Lakers-Memphis, LA Clippers-Dallas, Denver-Houston, Utah-Oklahoma City?
Whalen: My heart says Clippers-Mavericks, but at the end of the day I think the Clippers are too good for that to be a legitimately contested series. Denver-Houston could have major ramifications for the futures of both franchises – the Rockets in particular. A first-round exit could mean major changes in Houston, while for the Nuggets, a loss would call into question the long-term viability of the Jokic-Murray-Harris core. Last season, Denver needed seven games to get past an inferior Spurs team in Round 1.
Barutha: I think we can throw out Lakers vs. Grizzlies – sorry, De'Anthony Melton. It's really difficult to choose between the remaining three. I think Nuggets vs. Rockets is the winner here, though. It should be the most entertaining series from a watchability perspective, plus we get the "new-look Houston/Russell Westbrook redemption" story arc vs. the "are Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets ready to be taken seriously?" story arc. The clash of styles would be awesome, especially since the Nuggets have the personnel to show different looks. You can run super big with Jokic/Paul Millsap/Jerami Grant (or Michael Porter) – a lineup which has just 20 possessions of sample size – or go small with someone like Grant at center – a minus-8.4 net rating in 249 possessions. If either team gets swept it would probably be a tipping point in their team construction.
Crites: I've been hoping for, somehow, an OKC versus HOU series. I'd love to see former-Rocket Chris Paul and his Thunder face off against Westbrook and the Rockets. The trash talk, whining to officials and general melodrama could be epic. Would Steven Adams get monster minutes versus Houston's small ball lineup or would he be played off the court?
Anderson: Lots of good options. I'll go with LAC/DAL just because it would be amazing TV if the Mavs can keep it close. The only one that wouldn't be very competitive would be LAL/MEM.
Rikleen: Basketball-wise, all of those are interesting. But Denver-Houston is the clear winner because of the surrounding narratives. Both teams see themselves as legitimate title contenders, making a potential first-round exit a franchise-altering catastrophe. A Rockets loss would doom Harden (and all of us) to at least one more year of obnoxious can't-get-it-done-in-the-playoffs talk. A Nuggets loss could lead to massive off-season moves, despite deep and young core that looks like it could contend for the next decade.
McKeown: I'm most intrigued by the DEN-HOU matchup. The Nuggets and Rockets have split their season series (2-2) and I view those two teams as the third and fourth best teams in the West, behind both LA squads.
Barner: I'm going to view this as the series that I think will be the most fun to watch, which is the Clippers and Mavericks for me. Watching Kawhi Leonard and Paul George against Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis should be awesome, even if the series doesn't max out at seven games.
King: This one's a little tougher but I would lean towards Denver and Houston, simply for that fact that both teams would be genuinely expecting to win. Whichever team is eliminated may have to consider a few changes moving forward given current expectations.
If the regular season is virtually over, who are your picks for the following awards: MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year?
If voting were to take place right now, who would make your First Team and Second Team All-NBA?
I'm calling LeBron a guard for a bunch of reasons, including that the Lakers said he was going to play point guard and that he actually does play point guard. That allows:
Assuming salaries are identical, which of the following point guards would you most want to hold for the next three seasons in a keeper league: Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook, Lonzo Ball, or De'Aaron Fox?
Whalen: De'Aaron Fox. He's had a down year, but he still has a relatively high floor with arguably the most room to grow among the five options. Irving is a cross-off for me until he proves he can stay even remotely healthy. Ball is still too much of a liability as a scorer and at the line. Westbrook's resurgence has been incredible, but whether he'll continue to play in such a tailor-made system for the next three years is very much up in the air. Then there's Walker, who probably has the highest floor of the five but doesn't project to get any better going forward.
Barutha: Russell Westbrook. He's the oldest by two years, but he's played the second-most games over the past three seasons and hasn't ranked lower than 15th on a per-game basis over that timeframe. I'm worried about Irving's injuries, Ball's ceiling as a scorer and Fox's three-point/free-throw shooting. Walker might be my second choice, as I think he has the highest floor over the next three years.
Crites: Let me first say that Kyrie is who I least want to own. Will he even play 50 games a season? I'll take Westbrook. Yes, his age is a concern, but the big boost in FG and FT percentage this season is encouraging.
Anderson: I'd take De'Aaron Fox. He has the best combination of youth, durability, upside and track record.
Rikleen: Kemba Walker. I remain terrified of the end of Russell Westbrook's career - I think his hyper-aggressive mentality and play are going to lead to a rapid and steep decline (though I have no idea when that will come). Kyrie Irving last played a full injury-free basketball season in middle school - hard pass. I like Lonzo Ball a ton, but his weirdo production locks teams into a certain kind of category build - if I'm signing up for three seasons with a guy, I'd prefer more flexibility. De'Aaron Fox is the only option I seriously considered here, but I think his ceiling is providing the kind of production I'm already expecting from Walker. Walker is only 29, he should still be very good in three years.
McKeown: If Kyrie Irving wasn't constantly missing significant time due to injury, he would be the easy choice. But I want a safer option health-wise when projecting the next three years. Instead, I'd place my risk in an upside play and go with De'Aaron Fox. He's only 22 and should be locked into his role with the Kings for the next handful of years.
Barner: I'm going to force myself to pick just one out of this group. I'll go with Westbrook since we are talking about an 8-cat league. He can contribute in so many areas and showed an ability to adjust this season playing alongside a dominant ball handler like James Harden. He's even become more efficient from the field (47.4 percent) while improving at the charity stripe (77.7 percent). As intriguing as it might be to build around Fox or Ball, we are only talking for the next three seasons. I think Westbrook has shown that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
King: Despite the recent injuries, I think I would lean toward Kyrie Irving. In his limited time this season, he was a clear first-round player. The addition of Kevin Durant is certainly going to have an impact but could also work in Irving's favor in terms of load management. The Nets will be able to share the load, not unlike the Clippers have been able to do with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The one caveat here would be that if Ball is able to become a more consistent scorer, he would be a strong consideration given his ability to contribute across the board.
Whalen: RJ Barrett. The shooting numbers are ugly, but I still love Barrett's feel for the game at age 19. His 61 percent free throw mark is particularly rough, but it hasn't deterred him from getting to the rim (4.5 FTA/G). Over his last 12 games before the shutdown, Barrett averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Just saying.
Barutha: Cam Reddish (ranked 115 since Jan. 1) and Brandon Clarke (ranked 124 since Jan. 1). Reddish isn't a great playmaker, but he's a passable shooter and has shown defensive upside – at 6-foot-8, he could guard up to four positions. The Hawks are also 2.7 points better per 100 possessions when he's on the court. Clarke's athleticism is shocking – he gets off the ground like Zion Williamson. He's sneakily an extremely efficient scorer, with a true shooting mark of 67.1 percent that ranks fourth in the NBA. Clarke needs to improve defensively to make a huge leap, especially if he is going to see some action at center, but it's hard to imagine him not eventually getting a real chance at starter's minutes.
Crites: I feel like everyone is going to say Coby White, which makes lots of sense. So I'll suggest Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura. Clarke is shooting 62.3 percent from the field this season. Memphis has to find him more minutes. Hachimura will receive every (and I mean every) opportunity to succeed in Washington.
Anderson: Tyler Herro. He's more skilled off the bounce than I think most people expected/realize and his shooting is obviously very legit.
Rikleen: Brandon Clarke is pretty insulted by this question. By per-game fantasy production, Clarke was actually been the best 9-cat rookie this season by a wide margin (he was a close third in 8-cat). And it's not just fantasy - by some advanced metrics, Clarke was already a borderline top-50 NBA player despite just 21.7 minutes per game. Clarke was so good that choosing him here feels like cheating, so I'll throw out a few alternatives: If any of Matisse Thybulle, Michael Porter Jr, or Jaxson Hayes can get a steady 28 minutes per game, they should be top-100 (or better); I'd be very interested in Goga Bitadze if the Pacers trade Myles Turner.
McKeown: I'm a huge fan of Coby White. He averaged 26.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.9 treys in the final nine games before the season was postponed. I fully expect White to be a future All-Star and the third-best player from the 2019 draft class. I'm also a big fan of Brandon Clarke, who has flashed absurd efficiency and should tap into his huge defensive upside as he develops.
Barner: Coby White. Even if the Bulls make him their sixth-man, he should have plenty of opportunities to provide offense. He's already shown a lot of improvement over the course of his rookie season, even becoming the focal point of their offense when Zach LaVine went down.
King: I'm all about Brandon Clarke. In an increased role, has the tools to become a key piece for the Grizzlies moving forward.