Five Quick Thoughts for a Monday:
1. NORRIS COLE (Heat): It's funny, you watch a guy play and now really produce and it just jumps off the page at you - why? You put a young player with potential in a winning environment where there is veteran leadership, outstanding coaching and management and a 'way' that things are done and it's a wonderful environment for growth, improvement in a climate of constant accountability and expectation of achievement/production. When he was drafted out of Cleveland State this was a young man who could go either way as a pro but the professionalism of the team that drafted him has been a wonderful place for him to be nurtured and educated on how to be a good pro. He's really impressed me with his play off the bench and has made a significant difference against Indiana in key moments. Proper environment truly does effect outcomes.
2. INDY DEFENCE: I'm sorry but the Pacers have NO chance of winning this series if they continue to allow the Heat to shoot 50 per cent plus as they've done in all of the first three games. The Pacers have been an outstanding defensive team the past few years and that's their "calling card" - it sure ain't their offence! To think that you're going to run up and down with the Heat and match buckets - good luck with that. The small/skilled lineups that the Heat throw out there are making Roy Hibbert and David West ineffective to say the least. It's easy to say but hard to do, but the Pacers have to start mucking it up and make this a much more physical and hotly contested defensive style of play. Miami is a flow team and if you allow them to get in rhythm and swing the ball with minimal resistance you might as well set up tee times for next week. The 'D' had better be drastically better on Monday night or this series will wind down quickly.
3. SERGE IBAKA and REGGIE JACKSON (Thunder): A combined 30 points from two starters vs. minimal production from Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha - what a difference! Add another playmaker in Jackson (five assists) to the mix and suddenly the ball moves with a purpose and they look like a "team" instead of an "iso show" and then Ibaka was brilliant coming back from the injury with seven boards and four blocks - talk about impact performance. Suddenly the rim/paint was being protected and the Thunder played with some force and swagger defensively and on the boards. Good players used properly and healthy enough to play changes how things go drastically. Winning is really hard and you need your top guys there or you are overwhelmed at times. Now that looked like the OKC Thunder on Sunday night. If they can continue to play that way we've got a series that will go seven games.
4. NBA DRAFT: You watch the Playoffs so far and the thing that continues to jump out at me is how the NBA has changed over the years. How that reflects on this year's Draft is that if you're the Cavs and the Bucks with the first two picks you've really got to think long and hard about how Joel Embiid's game fits in the league today versus the upside over a 10-12 year period of guys like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. This has become a perimeter-based league with skilled guys who can do it all versus the traditional brand of power basketball which still has its place in the game...yet at what price? Always a terrific philosophical discussion for GM's, executives and coaches to hash out.
5. POTENTIAL VS. PRODUCTION (Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors): You can talk about the No. 20, 37 and 59 picks in this year's Draft that the Raptors have and the free agent decisions and possible moves that GM Masai Ujiri can make this off-season. But for the Raptors to continue to improve and take nice gradual building steps over the next few years the significant improvement in every respect from these two youngsters is paramount. Players are made in the off-season and teams are developed in-season. Will these two young men pay the price between now and early October and come back stronger, more skilled, more knowledgeable and ready to be consistent winning pieces that take an organization from respectable to another gear? Only time will tell. "To whom much is given (major minutes and starting opportunities as sophomores), much is expected." Can't wait to see what both young men come back like in the Fall. Their improvement/development will define the next step for the Raptors. Lots of attention will be focused on the role of head coach Dwane Casey and his staff along with the support staff in the further growth of both guys but in my opinion it's a whole lot more now on these two guys personally of how bad do they want to be next level players? When you reach your third year as a pro it's time for you to be able to "figure it out" on your own and the coaches are there to guide you on the proper path - yet it's on YOU. It's time to be consistent producers in every respect. How these young men (I really like both of them) take personal ownership of their professional careers will set the stage for the long-term direction of the Raptors and the moves Ujiri needs to make accordingly to fill in the blanks. The proper environment exists for both to improve significantly - now it's on them to seize the opportunity given to them.