1 - Kawhi Leonard has been terrific since the All-Star break. Is he a top 10 player right now?
Michael Erler: For sure. You have LeBron, Durant (who we don't even know will ever be the same after his foot issues), Westbrook, Paul, Harden, Davis and Curry. That's seven guys. After that he's as good as anyone else. At worst he's like 15th. But I still think Tim is a top 15 player too. Defense matters.
Bruno Passos: I think the thing with top-X players is that they don't need to be qualified by their play over a certain period. Kawhi has been incredible over this stretch, but I think we need to see more of it (and know we can count on it) before listing him among the game's best.
Chris Itz: If we take the last five weeks, then the question is whether or not he's a top-five player. Among players that have played at least 30 minutes (starters minutes) a game since February 28th, Kawhi's absurd net-rating of +21.8 leads the league by a wide margin (B. Griffin +18.1.) His defensive prowess is unquestionable, he's top-five at the least, and if you remain unconvinced that he's a great offensive player, consider that over that same span only Dwyane Wade has scored more points in fewer minutes per game. By the way, those 19.4 points he's averaged have come on 54.2% from the field and 38.9% from deep. Only Stephen Curry has a higher effective fg% while scoring more points per game over that span.
Jesus Gomez: It's hard to rank Kawhi because he's been playing at this level only since March. Right now he's definitely playing like one of the league's elite. But at one point in the season Jimmy Butler looked like a top 10 player. Hassan Whiteside was a top five center. Can Kawhi sustain this level? I think he can but until I see him do it, I'll reserve judgment.
J.R. Wilco: In Ben Golliver's excellent piece on Kawhi, he included an excellent chart that showed the top players in the league when looking at PER, Win Shares per 48 minutes, and Real Plus Minus. Leonard ranked 7th -- behind all of the MVP candidates, and ahead of Tim Duncan. His recent play has helped him achieve that ranking, but those are season-long numbers. Even without his recent leap, he's in the top ten right now.
2 - Manu Ginobili is shooting just 34 percent from outside this season. How big of a problem is that for the Spurs now that Cory Joseph took over the role of back up point guard?
Erler: It matters, but not because of Cory. Mills has shot just as poorly from outside as Joseph. I prefer Joseph because he does everything better than Mills but shoot 3s, on top of which he takes better shots. He actually gives the second unit a second penetrator. Mills is streaky and can get hot, but so can Ginobili.
Passos: Whether it's turnovers, shooting or health, there's always some variable in the Manu equation. I think the shooting should be a mild concern, but that's what comes with our favorite roll of the dice. I'm optimistic the number improves in the postseason.
Itz: Jesus Gomez tweeted that last season Manu just shot 35% from deep in the season but upped that to 39% in the playoffs. So I'm hoping that we see Manu shoot 38% come the second season.
Gomez: It's a big problem because the second unit now has two non-shooters in Baynes and Joseph. If Manu can't punish the defense when it packs the paint, the spacing will get awfully tight. I am still optimistic about Manu shooting better in the playoffs, which assuages my concerns a little.
Wilco: As we saw against the Rockets Wednesday night, Manu can still heat up. He's always found a way to rise to the occasion, and with his acquiescence to a reduced role, I think he'll be able to spot up more and his numbers will improve.
3 - The Spurs throttled the Warriors. Should they still try to avoid them even if it means not having home court advantage?
Erler: I'd actually prefer playing them sooner rather than later. Why let them gain the momentum and confidence that comes with winning two playoff series? Their biggest weakness is their relative inexperience in the playoffs. The argument against that is maybe they'll be more beat up and injured by round three, but so will the Spurs. I definitely don't think it's realistic to expect somebody else to do the dirty work for us in beating them like the Warriors did with Dallas in 2007. Ultimately the best argument for finishing with the best record possible is that it gives you HCA for as many rounds as possible, including perhaps in the Finals vs. Cleveland?
Passos: At this point you have to assume we'll see them at some point in the playoffs, whether it's sooner or later. I wouldn't want to give up homecourt advantage just to avoid them for another round, especially not with how hot the team has been.
Itz: I'd rather see the Spurs play them in the second round than the WCF so that they're not beat up from two rounds of Grizzlies/Rockets/Clippers/Mavericks. One round through Portland has been my preferred plan since they lost Wes Matthews. So, I guess I never thought the Spurs should avoid the Dubs.
Gomez: One game doesn't change the fact that the Warriors have been the best team in the league by a wide margin. I'd rather see some other team catch fire and beat them than for the Spurs to have to face them at any point. That being said, the Spurs just need to think about winning as many games as they can to go into the playoffs as sharp as possible, so I'm not in favor of too many rest games to influence the standings.
Wilco: The last thing the Spurs should do is try to play around with how many games they win. Just go for broke, ride the streak as long as possible and let the chips fall where they may. You've got to beat the best sooner or later. Plus, if Steve Perrin of ClipsNation is right, should the Spurs, Grizzlies, Rockets and Clippers end with the same record, the Spurs would get the 2 seed ... and face the Mavericks in the first round.
4 - The Spurs have won 50 games for the 16th year in a row. Can they keep the streak going next season if Ginobili and Duncan retire?
Erler: It depends who they get to replace them. If it's the same team minus those two, then pretty doubtful. Also, it doesn't seem like Green is a sure thing to return either. He'll fetch a nice perhaps 8-figure annually contract somewhere and paying both him and the max for Leonard would kill the Spurs cap room unless their agents were nice enough to let the Spurs get the outside free agent help first and then use their Bird rights on their own guys.
Passos: Ummmm... next question.
Itz: Who's retiring? Where'd you hear that? I'm looking forward to Kawhi leading the Big-Four on their way to a three-peat.
Gomez: It will come down to free agency, which is new territory for the Spurs. If Duncan and Ginobili are gone and the Spurs manage to get someone like Paul Millsap while retaining Green, they will be contenders next season. If Green bolts and they have to settle for role players in free agency, there's a chance the streak is snapped.
Wilco: I'm still clinging to the hope that if Tim and Manu don't return, that we'll finally (FINALLY) sign a top-flight free agent. That -- along with signing Leonard, Danny Green and Aron Baynes -- should set them on the path of contention, not just winning 50 next year. (Yes, I'm probably as deep in denial as Passos and Itz.)
5 - The last two playoff spots in the East are there for the taking. Which of the five teams still in the running would be fun to watch play the Hawks and Cavaliers?
Erler: I'd pick Miami for sure if Bosh was healthy but unfortunately he's not and the rest of their guys are banged up too. Gimme Indiana vs. Cleveland and Charlotte vs. Atlanta. I don't want to see Brooklyn or Boston.
Passos: Brooklyn against Atlanta could be fun, with a big clash in styles of play and overall team ethos. With Atlanta's play dipping and Brooklyn looking better, I wouldn't be surprised to see that one go to six or seven. Miami-Cleveland would be my other choice for obvious reasons.
Itz: Ideally I'd like to see Miami play Cleveland and Boston play Atlanta. The LeBron-to-Cleveland thing would be as interesting a story-line to a two-seven series as there is and Boston/Atlanta would allow us to watch two great coaches.
Gomez: Pacers-Hawks would be great. A complete role reversal from last playoffs, when the top-seeded Pacers had to face an Atlanta team with nothing to lose. I'll take Brooklyn against Cleveland because the individual matchups are so intriguing.
Wilco: What is this "East" of which you speak?