If Power Rankings are going to continue to be a tenet of sports journalism, Alex and Jonny refuse to be denied their seat at the table. The Next Generation will honor the players who embody the spirit of J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters in any possible way (irrational confidence, unharnessed talent, supreme in-the-moment-ness, unintentional humor, etc.). Besides featuring new players the same rules will apply: Eligible participants (all NBA players) can rank anywhere from the coveted number one spot all the way to the bottom spot at number two. Selection and order is determined by the arbitrary decision-making of the committee (Alex and Jonny).
The tipoff of the Conference Finals is the moment when the stakes of NBA games line up with the stakes NBA fans place upon literally everything that happens at any moment of a calendar year in the NBA on or off the court. Do you remember telling your friend who can-have-fun-watching-an-NBA-game-but-doesn’t-really-care-what-NBA-Twitter-has-to-say-about-Rob-Pelinka-or-whatever that Markelle Fultz hit a 3-pointer last October, and he/she was essentially like, “isn’t that a thing that happens all the time in NBA games?” Well, that complete idiot is now popping up and asking you, “So, who’s in the Conference Finals?” It’s your duty to talk about how this could be the first big step in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s legacy or whatever dumb narrative he/she can wrap his/her head around. You’ll start naming names and all of those names will be names that he/she has heard.
And the J.R. Smith’s and Dion Waiter’s of the world will hear this and say, “.....aaaaaaannnnddd me.” They’ll say this for one of two reasons: Either because they think you’ve had a long week and didn’t get your coffee this morning and actually forgot to mention them or because they know you think what you think, but they’re here to tell you what’s what.
The first step is them saying that. The next step is them proving that. Big names have won and lost championships because these caliber players have attempted to prove that we’re actually here to watch them. Sometimes it’s because they are facing off against those big names and sometimes it’s because they are teammates with those big names.
With J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters sitting at home, we celebrate the ones who might fill their shoes.
1.) Pat Connaughton, guard, Milwaukee Bucks
Pat Connaughton has two distinct advantages on the basketball court: 1.) He is athletic, and 2.) He does not look particularly athletic so his opponents likely assume he is not.
Not looking particularly athletic is very much related to his race: white. His whiteness is of a garden level variety; he doesn’t look like Chris “Birdman” Andersen, tatted up and built like a pterodactyl. He looks like the guy that came back to your high school five years after graduation to coach every JV sport and “teach” geometry.
That basic whiteness fits perfectly with the other sport that he is extremely good at: baseball. So things start to make sense. He is a baseball player, and baseball players don’t seem to be all that athletic. But by and large, most of the ones that are good at it are actually very athletic because, you know, it’s an athletic venture. He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles out of Notre Dame in 2015, and there has yet to have been a person who’s been asked to play for a team in more than one of the four major American professional sports who isn’t supremely athletic. So, Connaughton does things like get offensive rebounds and loose balls and defend opponents better than they might expect and hit his own defenders with a first step they also weren’t expecting.
The baseball players at the college that I attended kind of seemed like not cool people based on the equation of: their endearing qualities divided by how cool they thought they were (or something). No one really cared about the baseball team, but they all (I’m generalizing) seemed to think they were a bigger deal than the basketball team, which people, in contrast, actually cared about. Both Pat Connaughton and I attended Catholic universities, so I’m led to believe based on my own completely flawed logic that he is a very cocky person.
Cockiness is good. I want him to feed into that cockiness. Antetokounmpo can’t win this championship all by himself. At some point, he’s going to need a shooting guard who is fine-enough-at-shooting-I-guess to shoot them in or out of a fourth quarter. You could be that shooting guard, Pat.
When you opted in to your 17-2018 contract with the Blazers for $1.4 million, the Orioles vice president said, “Good for Pat. It looks like a pretty good deal for him. I have maintained since the kid was in high school that his future is in Major League Baseball, but he doesn’t see it that way. It’s really his career, right?”
I think that’s hilarious, and I know you do, too, because you never gave back the $428,000 signing bonus they gave you. The Orioles are 14-26 as I write this.
Go make your moment, Pat. You will have a hand in who makes it to the NBA Finals, and you’ll be the one deciding how big of a hand you have in that matter.
2.) Seth Curry
Seth and Steph Curry will make (boring?) history as the first brothers to face each other in the Conference Finals. Seth is a more than capable scoring guard, and no, you’d be correct in arguing that in no way does he embody the spirit of either Dion Waiters or J.R. Smith, who are basketball players who balled like prairie fires and for whom a sort of roving malfeasance was codified doctrine. They were defiant and brilliant and boneheaded at both the right and wrong times, but these types generally don’t advance all that deep into the postseason (J.R. of course had the good fortune to be dragged along for many years by the occasionally impractical benevolence of the King, before the infamous, you know what). The players that get to this point are more often company men and specialists, tools for very specific jobs, cerebral second-options, and of course, the grinning faces of the franchise. That doesn’t mean we don’t expect some of these (sorry Seth) less interesting suckers to rise to the occasion, or to explicitly defy their own natures whilst backed up against the kismet wall. Getting to the Conference Finals is what every non-hegemonic powerhouse should strive for every season. Anything can happen at this point. And as Charles Barkley says, the Warriors have no chance to beat the Blazers without Kevin Durant. That’s not true of course, but it’s more true than it probably ever has been, and aficionados of Powell’s Books and the Portland Japanese Garden should take solace in that.
Seth Curry, a capable 28-year-old man talented enough to at least occasionally poke free from the shadow of his history-altering younger brother, is shooting extremely well from 3-point range in the playoffs. That’s very appropriate for a member of his family! That’s just what they do. But he’s due for the game. Seth Curry is getting one game out of this thing. It is something that must be. The one righteous haymaker you might land against an opponent who embodies the virtues of both the immovable wall and the unstoppable force. The Lesser Brother’s Dissent. Taking exception to the narcissism of rather large differences.
It might seem a small thing, drilling a three in his Big Brother’s face, but it’ll echo throughout both Curry family lore and Portland’s as well especially, if I am correctly predicting it to occur in a Game 5 overtime after a galvanizing comeback, which will bring the Blazers back from a 3-1 deficit, heading back to the Pacific Northwest full of vicious hope.
I actually managed to catch up to Seth, and shared my predictions, and was allowed to conduct a short interview.
Me: Hey Seth, I’m a Warriors fan, but please don’t hold that against me. What do you see are the keys to defeating Golden State, heavily favored, but no longer invincible, especially with Kevin Durant out at least a few games?
Seth Curry: Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer, by this sun of My Brother Steph Curry; And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house, in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Me: I see. What’s it feel like facing your brother in the Conference Finals? That must be hard for your parents.
Seth: What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by. Seth loves Seth; that is, I and I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am. Then fly! What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself? Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
Me: Zach Collins sure is--
Seth: Think on Lord Hastings. Despair and die.
Me: Do you think Al-Farouq Aminu has a chance in hell when Draymond starts playing mind games with him?
Seth: Bad is the world, and all will come to naught when such ill-dealing must be seen in thought.
Me: That actually makes sense. Do you think CJ is ready for Klay Thompson? Klay’s a bit more seasoned than Gary Harris.
Seth: Now is the winter of our discontent. Made glorious summer by this sun of My Brother Steph Curry.
Me: You already said that, Seth!
Seth: Tis better, sir, to be brief than tedious.
In my opinion, it is best to be both.
Seth Curry will embrace the cozy darkness of wrath and will efficiently drop 13 cold-blooded points in Game 6. Dell and Sonya will cheer him straight to the sky.