1 - Kawhi Leonard looks like a lock to make his first All-Star team. Will LaMarcus Aldridge miss the cut for the first time since 2010/11?
Erler: It sure looks that way right now, huh? Not only has Aldridge gotten off to a poor start, but what's also working against him is another frontcourt teammate in Tim Duncan. Adam Silver has shown he has love and respect for all-time greats, so I always suspect that he works behind the scenes for guys like Duncan, Nowitzki and Bryant to make All-Star teams as long as they're healthy and willing, especially if there's speculation that it might be their final season.
Passos: I'd put it at a 40% chance he makes it. 15 and 10 in the early stages of the season doesn't kill him, and it's likely he gets that scoring average up. But he's probably already behind frontcourt players Griffin, Durant, Cousins, Jordan and Davis, while guys like Dirk, Towns, Gordon Hayward, and Draymond Green all present more compelling narratives. Hmmm, make that 25%.
Itz: I don't see how he makes it unless he starts to hit 60% of his shots. He's not going to get enough attempts to put up all-star numbers unless he becomes ridiculously efficient and it's not like the starting unit has found a solid flow for him to get consistent easy buckets. I guess the Spurs could go like 45-8 or something leading up to the break and warrant two all-stars, but even then I wouldn't count out Timmy or even Manu. I'll give Aldridge a 2% chance.
Gomez: Landing a perennial All-Star only to have him miss the festivities his first year in San Antonio would be the most Spurs thing ever. I'm still holding out some hope that Pop figures out how to get him more touches. If the team's record is good enough to merit two All-Stars in the coaches' minds he might make it but it's not looking good for Aldridge right now.
J.R. Wilco: I couldn’t care less, and I hope he doesn’t either. Fitting in with the team is priority #1, and anything else is a distraction that will stunt the process of joining LMA into the system.
2 - Manu Ginobili has been fantastic so far. Can he sustain his level for a full season?
Michael Erler: I think quite *this* level, with a 25+ PER and 50 percent from the floor is unrealistic, but I think he can be 85 percent of this all year long if he stays healthy. The biggest thing is for wing players in front of him (Leonard and Green) to not get hurt, because as we saw last year, Ginobili will wear down if he has to do too much to make up for the absences of others. No matter what the game situation is and how others are playing, 20-22 minutes is ideal for him and anything above 25 is really pushing it. By the time you get to 28 minutes, not only are you producing diminishing returns for that game, but likely causing long term ill effects for him in the future. 38-year-old shooting guards playing like All-Stars are very delicate structures, built on a foundation of bubble gum and paper clips.
Bruno Passos: He's really laying himself out there some nights and, in that regard, I kind of hope he doesn't. But is he able to? Probably! I think he's due to slip a bit in his shooting percentages, and his turnovers seem a bit low, but I think he's proven that he is still capable of playing basketball at a very high level on a almost-nightly basis.
Chris Itz: I dunno, but I'm going to sustain my enjoyment of every single minute that he is on the floor this season. He's playing within himself, is seeing the floor as well as he ever has and looks to be enjoying himself - and he's not doing anything particularly unsustainable. I love it.
Jesus Gomez: This is late-career Manu's best case scenario, really. He's feasting on catch and shoot looks, picking his spot on when to drive and limiting his turnovers while still taking some chances. Because he is doing almost everything at such high level I can see him regressing a bit but as long as he continues to play with Patty Mills and Boris Diaw and doesn't suffer serious injuries, I think he could have his best season in years.
J.R. Wilco: I think it’s less about whether he can, and more about whether the Spurs need him to. Remember, Manu’s tendency is to fill the voids he sees. If there aren’t any, then he’s content to wait in the shadows until he’s needed. You know, like Batman. So far this season, he’s been the hero we’ve needed. But later on, once LaMarcus Aldridge is playing better and the starters are clicking, he’ll be the hero we deserve – popping into games with a flash-bang here and a Manu-rang there to be sure we don’t forget about him before the playoffs roll around.
3 - Danny Green is shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc through eight games. Is it time to start worrying about him?
Erler: No. He's streaky and seems to be getting similar looks to what he's gotten the few years. He's shown signs of snapping out of it in two of the past three games. He'll be fine.
Passos: He's streaky and still finding his role in the new offense, so I think it's fine to preach patience a little while longer.
Itz: Not even a little bit.
Gomez: No, not yet. He has gotten plenty of good looks that just didn't fall. I worry a little bit about the starting lineup in general and Danny's home and away splits continue to baffle me. But his shot will return soon, I think.
Wilco: If he didn’t have so much history of bouncing back from his bad spells, maybe. As it is, I’m just patiently waiting for the 4-4 and 5-7 games that I know are coming.
Erler: It depends on your definition of what "contender" means. I thought all along their ceiling was the conference finals, and that's if everything broke right for them, so by my definition, neither are contenders or were to begin with. At the moment I think only five teams are capable of winning it all, and that might be generous on my part.
Passos: I never considered Memphis a contender and the Rockets were on the fringe, and I wouldn't put either there now. The Grizz look to have made a smart move in bringing in Chalmers as a gunner, but he doesn't move the needle enough in the grand scheme. The Rockets still need to get back to full strength, but that bench still won't make sense to me and Harden just doesn't look right.
Itz: The only Grizzlies game I've seen was the one where they lost by 50 to the Warriors, so they're on my not-so-good list but they'll probably be a pretty good basketball team when the playoffs roll around -- maybe a second round exit. As for the hilariously terrible Rockets, Harden's ego and "I know I was the MVP" proclamation has served only to annoy Steph Curry, who can find fuel in a perceived slight by the gentlest of breezes. It certainly hasn't helped Harden. Maybe firing Kevin McHale is what the Rockets needed to do, but there's no way that they will raise the Larry O'Brien in June.
Gomez: I think the window is closed, at least for now, for the Grizzlies. Their moves just didn't pan out. Vince Carter is a shell of his former self, Matt Barnes is shooting terribly and Jeff Green didn't give them the positional versatility they were hoping for. Next year if they reload, they might be back in the mix. The Rockets' problems have been about effort. They don't run back on defense and Harden is back to not even trying on that end. If they start caring now that McHale is gone and Morey conjures up some wing depth, they could be back in the mix in a couple of months.
Wilco: Now that the Rockets have dropped McHale, all bets are off. They could get on a winning streak, or they could end up 10-72. Nothing would surprise me. But Memphis is still a quality team. As long as Randolph’s wheels haven’t fallen off completely, they’ll be in the hunt for one of the last playoffs spots.
5 - The East has more decent teams this year but remains top heavy. Can anyone beat the Cavaliers in the playoffs?
Erler: It's highly doubtful, though the Bulls, Heat, Hawks and Wizards are intriguing in different aspects. If you could make an All-Star team from those four rosters, maybe they could beat the Cavs. As long as LeBron James remains indestructible, I don't see it.
Passos: They're beating good teams without Shumpert and Kyrie in the lineup, and that's pretty scary. I have no faith in the Bulls after watching them crumble against them last year, but there are a few other teams I do like. I really believe the Hawks, with momentum on their side (so, the exact opposite of last year's playoffs), could give them a run for their money. I also like the way Milwaukee and Detroit match up against them (but more in a push-a-series-to-six-games sort of way).
Itz: Not if the Cavaliers are healthy.
Gomez: Not without the Cavaliers' collaboration. They have been using Kevin Love better but that's easier to do when Irving is not asking for the ball. Mo Williams has been great for them but he will hijack some possessions from time to time and J.R. Smith is J.R. Smith. If the personalities clash and the effort wavers, anything is possible. But it's hard to imagine any other Eastern team in the finals.
Wilco: Probably not, but all we need is for the East to put up a fight. A Cleveland team that has a couple of 4-0 series before the Conference Finals means a rested LeBron. A competitive East is all the doctor orders, and after so long we might just have that.