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Colin Ward-Henninger | CBS Sports NBA Insider

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February 22, 2024 6:11 am

Colin Ward-Henninger | CBS Sports NBA Insider

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence

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February 22, 2024 6:11 am

CBS Sports NBA Insider Colin Ward-Henninger joins Amy to talk about the Milwaukee Bucks' struggles, potential MVP candidates, and the potential NBA playoff picture. 

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Financing subject to credit approval. We're pleased to welcome Colin Ward Henniger, longtime CBS Sports and CBS Sports HQ NBA insider from the Bay Area. Joining us now here on CBS Sports Radio.

Well, let's start there, Colin. What is wrong with the Bucks? One thing is that Doc Rivers was brought in to kind of, you know, take over the leadership role and get the players, the superstars, a.k.a.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard on his side. I don't think a three and seven start is really the way to do that. So I don't know if he's instilling the kind of confidence in those two players and the rest of the group moving forward with a team that is basically championship or bus. And that's why they fired Adrian Griffin. One slightly positive sign for the Milwaukee Bucks is that their defense has improved. Went from 19th before Doc Rivers took over to 12th now in his last 10 games. That's been offset by just horrific offense and really trying to figure out the Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo pick and roll, which was supposed to be this absolute deadly weapon.

You could go to it any time and get a good shot. It just simply hasn't been that. It wasn't that way under Griffin and it hasn't been that way under Doc Rivers. So that is really what he needs to figure out in this final home stretch. I'm kind of blown away by that because as much as a coach can stand there and diagram and dial up pick and roll, it's not that complicated. It's one of the first things that you learn when you play high school basketball. So what is the issue with the two of them who are world class players?

Yeah, it's a great question. Part of it is buy in. They haven't been running as many as people thought they would be in terms of the pick and roll. So maybe there's something there with with the players themselves. Giannis not wanting to be a screener. Dame wanted to kind of find offense in different ways. But really, it kind of goes back to what what Giannis said at the beginning of the season.

He was kind of surprised at the way teams were playing them. So essentially, they're going to blitz Damian Lillard, make him get the ball out of his hands, and then they're going to load up in the paint to make sure Giannis can't have an easy roll to the basket. That leaves players open. But it's their, you know, third, fourth, fifth best players on the team.

And those are the guys who are getting the shot. So defenses are basically saying, anyone but you two, if you guys want to beat us, go for it. And I think that that Giannis expressed that he was a little surprised that getting shots for Damian Lillard and Giannis himself was that difficult, that they were kind of relying on their supporting cast. So you'd think it would get better as the season went along, but it really hasn't seemed to.

But like you said, this is a simple play. This is what everyone in the NBA runs. So for them, two of the best offensive players we've seen in the last 20 years, to not be able to figure it out, it's a little concerning. At this point, they faded back to third place in the Eastern Conference. It's been cool to see the Cavaliers grow up a little bit and put some pressure on Boston. But as you look at the Eastern Conference, Colin, who is the best challenger to battle Boston down the stretch?

Yeah, that's tough. Boston is just such a good team. It's hard to watch them sometimes because they're so good.

They're boring in certain ways. Cleveland, if they can continue down the path that they're on, they'll be an interesting kind of surprise team. But when you think of Cleveland, you think of their horrible playoff exit in the first round last year, where they were just absolutely dominated by the Knicks. And then you think the Knicks, you know, they can get OG and a Novi back and everybody's healthy. They've been playing great with him. But do you trust Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson in a playoff series?

Brunson is going to be great on offense, but we saw teams just continually target him on the other end of the floor. So I don't know if the Knicks are there. To me, it ultimately comes down to the team that we were talking about. The Bucks, if they could somehow figure this out, they have one of the greatest basketball players on earth. That always goes a long way. And then the 76ers, somehow Joel Embiid can come back and be relatively healthy heading into the playoffs.

That is an absolute handful. They were playing great before he got injured. So, you know, barring the Miami Heat getting a matchup with the Celtics, as we've obviously seen them be able to just kind of turn things on in the playoffs.

I think if you're just looking at who the worst matchups are, I'd say just Giannis with the Bucks and then Embiid with the 76ers. Typical Heat languishing in seventh place only to turn it up when they get to the postseason with that defense intensity for them. Who's the team that has surprised you in the East? I kind of saw the Pacers thing coming. Like, I thought they were going to be better. I didn't think they were going to be six in the Eastern Conference at this point. They are a really fun team to watch.

Tyrese Halliburton got to put on a show in the event that will not be named that took place over the weekend. He's the way they push the pace. The Pascal Siakam edition, I think, is going to be great for them. Not just this year, but moving forward because they just don't play any defense whatsoever.

So to have a long, rangy, switchable guy, I think that's going to go a long way for them moving forward. You don't want to play this team in the first round. They're going to put up 130, 140 points a game.

They're not going to play any defense, but if you can't score, if you have an off-shooting night, they could beat you potentially three, four games in a seven-game series. So I've really enjoyed watching the Pacers this year. We're excited to look ahead to the second half, even though it's past the midway point, with CBS Sports Insider Colin Ward-Henniger, who is based in the Bay Area and joins us here after hours on CBS Sports Radio. Let's talk about the big story in the Bay, which is the Warriors, Draymond out, Draymond back. But now they move Klay Thompson to the bench, and there's this talk about him becoming the most valuable sixth man in the NBA. What do you think of that move?

I love the move. I think that it's probably something that the organization has been thinking about for a long time, but it's just a hard move to pull the trigger on. I mean, this guy, he's going to have a statue outside the arena one day. He is absolutely beloved in the Bay Area. It's hard to kind of explain to people how much Bay Area fans love this guy. So to see him go to the bench, especially after all that he's been through, the Achilles, the ACL, being called out by national media saying that he's not the same player, the way that he's just been so vulnerable in his press conferences and admitting that he's coming to grips with the fact that he's not the same player that he used to be, he's been dealing with that all season. And mentally, Steve Kerr always says that Klay is so hard on himself that when he has bad shooting nights, which he's had a lot of this season, that he just beats himself up and kind of takes himself out of the game. So all this to say, I think the move to the bench will be good for both sides. I think Klay can come in as he did in his first game off the bench since his rookie year, puts up 35 points, just gets hot right away.

That's not going to happen every night, but at least now when he comes in, he doesn't have to think about all this stuff. You can just be our heat check scorer. If you miss three, four in a row, maybe Kerr pulls him to put them in with a different unit, something like that. But the pressure is a little bit off of Klay Thompson. It also allows Brandon Pajemski, the rookie, to enter that starting lineup. And the numbers with him in Klay's spot with the rest of those starters has been really, really good for the Warriors. How much does that have to do with the surge? They've won eight of their last ten, though they are still sitting in tenth in the West.

Yeah, it tells you how much ground they needed to make up, right? So they're eight and three in their last 11 games. And really the key to that has been Draymond Green. You mentioned it in and out of the lineup because of suspensions.

We didn't really know whether he was actually going to come back this season. He's just been tremendous since they came back. Steve Kerr put him in as the starting center, which used to be their kind of closing lineup, the desk lineup, whatever you want to call it.

Now that's their starting lineup. And Kerr says, you know, the way the NBA is gone, we need to play faster. We need to play smaller.

We need to spread the floor. And that's exactly what Draymond's done. He's done that on offense. And then what he brings defensively, they were 24th in the NBA in defense prior to Draymond's return since he's been back their fifth. So it just tells you everything you need to know about what this guy's bringing. Now, can you trust him to continue his, you know, good walk that line between passion and kind of chaos?

I don't know. As of now, the Warriors, you know, Kerr says, this is the team. This is our team. This is the way we want to play. They've got Chris Paul coming back.

Gary Payton is healthy. It seems like they've got a lot of momentum. But as you said, it's hitting intense with the teams above them that they're not bad. Like they're not going to just start losing games out of nowhere.

So it's going to be an uphill climb for sure. The top of the West has four teams that are separated by just three games in the standings. Timberwolves down to the defending champion, Nuggets.

How much actual separation is there among those four? Yeah, it's a great question. I think the whole season, you're just kind of waiting for Minnesota and Oklahoma City to start falling back. And they may have it. I mean, Minnesota, they have the best record against teams above 500 in the entire NBA. 23 and 11 have some signature wins over the Clippers, over the Thunder, the teams that are right below them. So with the number one defense in the league, you're just going to win a lot of regular season games because every single night you're going to be in it.

You're not going to get blown out. So, you know, the Timberwolves have really impressed me this season. The Clippers, I think, are the upside pick where they might not be as concerned with getting that number one seed. But when they get to the playoffs, they're going to be a team that certainly has, you know, championship potential. The Thunder, to me, are still a little young, but with a player like Shea, still just Alexander, I mean, they can go as far as he can take them, basically. But ultimately, to me, it's the Nuggets, I think, that we're going to start to see. They kind of, you know, were pretty bad heading into the All-Star break, but I think they're going to flip that switch, start to see the playoffs coming and really have to get into gear here because they know repeating is going to be much more difficult than it was last season with injuries and different feedings and things like that. Ultimately, I think Denver will probably climb up to that number one spot, but all those teams are very good.

Talon Ward-Henniger of CBSSports.com and CBS Sports HQ with us here after hours on CBS Sports Radio. You can snicker at the championship hangover, and yet teams really do have to fight through that. Whether it is complacency or just fatigue from having the previous season stretch on, it definitely does seem to be a challenge for teams, especially those who have not won a championship before. Yeah, absolutely, and you know, as Pat Riley always talked about the disease of more and all that stuff, and more shots, more money, you know, more minutes, all those things. And then Denver also, you know, they lost Bruce Brown, which is a big part of their team.

They didn't have a deep rotation, so to lose a bench piece like that who was essentially their backup point guard, they've kind of struggled to fill that role with Reggie Jackson and some of their younger players. So, you know, at the end of the day, do you trust Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to perform in the playoffs? Of course, those are two of the best in the game, and they play together so well.

It's that supporting cast, you're kind of wondering, you know, are they going to be able to step up the way that they did last year, and how are they going to make up for the departure of Bruce Brown? At this point, it seems unlikely, Colin, that Joel Embiid will repeat as MVP, though he is still leading the league in points per game. Who's trying to wrestle that MVP away from Joel? Yeah, I think at this point, Joel Embiid has missed too many games. It's a 65 game limit, so I think he's officially been ruled out, which is unfortunate because he was having just an absolutely monster season. But as of now, I think, you know, the betting favorite, I believe, is Jokic.

He's always going to be a safe bet. The numbers he puts up, the fact that Denver wins, the on-off numbers with him are just phenomenal. But to me, as of right now, if I was voting, I would say that Shay Gildas-Alexander is the MVP of the NBA.

The narrative is all there. The Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the youngest teams in the league, weren't expecting, they were obviously on an upward trajectory, but not expected to contend for the number one seed in the Western Conference. And then what Shay's been able to do, averaging 30, you know, more than 30 points, and not shooting a ton of three-pointers, just over three per game, his numbers on and off are ridiculous. The Thunder averaged 122 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, which would basically be the best offense in the history of the NBA.

And when he leaves, that drops down to 111. So you want to talk about value, you want to talk about narrative, you want to talk about a guy who scores a lot, I think Shay Gildas-Alexander would be the MVP for me right now. Could I potentially interest you in Luka Doncic as a dark horse, considering that Dallas is kind of right there attempting to stay out of the play-in tournament? He's got excellent offensive numbers, but he's also averaging nearly nine rebounds a game.

What do you think? You're never going to go wrong with Luka Doncic, and Dallas is a hot team right now. Him and Kyrie Irving have played tremendously together. Luka's numbers are off, they're out of control. Like, you see these things that he puts up, and watching his 70-point game against the Hawks and all this stuff, the only question for them has been their record, right?

Like, if you're a seven seed, can you have the MVP on your team? There's so many guys putting up these kind of mind-boggling stats this year, it's going to be very interesting to see where the voters decide to make the separation. Is it stats?

Is it analytics? Is it the team's record? And there's always the voter fatigue, where you say, okay, well, we don't really want to vote for Doncic, we want some new blood. A guy like Luka, if he can move that team up, they're definitely within striking distance of a five seed, maybe a four seed. If they can have a strong push towards the end of the season, get that in the voters' minds while he's averaging 35, 12, and 12.

I mean, certainly a possibility. Before we let it go, I'm not going to ask about the game per se, because I really don't care, but I did love the shootout between Sabrina and Steph. Why was that good for the NBA? Oh, it's tremendous.

First of all, it's something new. As you've seen, the dunk contest has lost a lot of steam. The three-point contest is fun.

But to see something that's a head-to-head battle, obviously kind of a battle of the sexes thing. And to show the NBA fans how far the WNBA has progressed. I mean, I know a lot of the NBA writers that I know love the WNBA. A lot of basketball fans love watching the WNBA because of how well those players have done in recent years and how much the game has progressed. So to see that and then to see, obviously, just Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all time, against the greatest shooter in the WNBA right now.

I think it's a very interesting proposition. It was by far the highlight for me of All-Star Weekend. And I love that they said afterwards that, yeah, we should do this every single year, whether or not it's Steph and Sabrina. Maybe it's two other players. Maybe they mix in some more to somehow try to continue that kind of event into the years to come.

I think it's a really good idea. If you can shoot, you can shoot. That had to be my favorite thing that I heard around this three-point competition from Sabrina Ainescu.

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There's joy in every journey. 2024 Santa Fe available early 2024. Colin Ward Henniger is with us from the Bay Area getting set for the stretch run in the NBA. You can find him on Twitter at Colin with one LCBS Sports. Always good to catch up with you. Enjoy the rest of the season. Hopefully, we'll talk to you in the playoffs. Great.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-22 09:40:21 / 2024-02-22 09:49:45 / 9

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