Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, NBA London 2018 Q&A

Former head coach of the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets Jeff Van Gundy and 1989 NBA All-Star Mark Jackson sat down with international media to discuss the upcoming NBA season, with less than a week to tip-off. The pair also offered their view on the London-bound Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, including the 76ers’ chances to qualify for the NBA Playoffs and the Celtics’ chances to overcome the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

Q. What are your thoughts on the Sixers and Joel Embiid, and can they get to the Playoffs?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, if Joel Embiid is able to remain healthy, and I don’t know what that means, let’s say 70 games, they’ll make the Playoffs, and he’s that good. He’s that dominant. He’s talented. And what I love about him is he’s got a competitive mean streak about him, too, that I think when you’re trying to break through a historic amount of losing that they’ve done, you need that one star that has a competitive streak to him.

I like the addition of J.J. Redick. He’s a pro’s pro, puts a lot of shooting around their better players, can work off baseline screens, and then obviously Ben Simmons I haven’t seen yet, but obviously their size with him and Embiid on the floor, their length is terrific. They’re a really good team, and if Embiid stays healthy, they’ll make the Playoffs.

Q. Jeff, do you feel that the leadership of Okafor and Redick is going to dramatically impact the Sixers this year?
VAN GUNDY: Which Okafor?

Q. The older, Emeka.
VAN GUNDY: Emeka? I think it’s two different scenarios. Emeka Okafor was out of the league, so I think he’s probably just trying to get his feet back on the ground, make the team, and fall into line. I think J.J. Redick, his leadership will be one about his actions because I don’t think he’s going to say a whole lot, but he’s going to do the right thing, practice, individual preparation, on the floor in games. I think he’s going to set a great example and a great tone.

But the best players on a team, that’s where most of your leadership emanates from. They either lead you in the right way or they mislead you in the wrong way, and so you can surround your players with good examples, and I think Philly has done a good job with that, but at the end of the day, your best players have to do the right thing and unite and inspire your group with their play and their unselfishness.

Q. Ben Simmons, there’s a lot of interest in him down here, what he may or may not do in the next decade or so. In terms of potential, what do you think we’re looking at with Ben, and also, if there’s a player that you could liken him to, if that makes sense, who might that be?
JACKSON: I think the future is incredibly bright for him. What he does on the basketball floor, how he impacts the game, his potential of impacting the game in a variety of ways, to me he could be the next superstar. It’s about individual success and team success. They’ve got great young talent, and I think that the main thing for him is staying healthy, and we know what he can do when he’s healthy.

The guy that I probably would compare him to, and I think he’s, with all due respect, has the potential of being even better because of his size, is Lamar Odom. Lamar Odom did it from the small 4 position, where Ben Simmons in 2017 legitimately is comfortable handling the ball and initiating the offense. But I think he has superstar written all over him.

VAN GUNDY: I loved Simmons’ ability to impact the game with the rebound and the pass, like a hard combination to find, a guy who can handle, pass and rebound. Should be an outstanding defender with his length and athlete six. Right now he takes a little bit — notoriety wise takes a little bit of a backseat to Embiid, but his development is every bit as important as Embiid’s development, and hopefully he has great health, and I’m sure his shooting will continue to improve, but his talent is unquestioned.

Q. How tough is it to get a team together with so many new guys, and can they actually overcome Cleveland? Is that feasible? How did Stevens put this talent together and maximize this talent when all the pressure is on them to obviously beat the Cavaliers?
VAN GUNDY: Well, I think you don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves and anoint them or any team right now in the preseason. But the one thing I do believe is even if Cleveland is totally healthy, I think Boston is far better equipped this year to match up effectively against Cleveland than they were last year. They are huge on the wings. So if you just think about the overall size they added to their starting lineup if they go with what appears to be Irving, much bigger than Isaiah Thomas, Brown and Tatum, much bigger than Avery Bradley and Crowder, and that ability to be bigger but not lose lateral speed and quickness I think gives them a very good chance. I think Rozier continues to improve over his three years. I think he’s done a great job of just improving every year.

And so I really like their team. I think they’re much better equipped to have long-term playoff success now than the team last year, even though that team last year, man, they were so impressive and they overachieved, and I loved the individual seasons that they got out of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Crowder, but I just think for matchup purposes, they’re in a much better situation right now.

JACKSON: I think to me Cleveland is still the favorite in the Eastern Conference, but if the Boston Celtics came out of the East I wouldn’t be shocked. They’re loaded, they’re talented, they’re deep. One thing I will say is I believe that they’re going to miss what Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder brought to the table, and that’s no knock on what they have, but you’re talking about in Avery Bradley an elite, top-notch, arguably the best-in-the-business on-ball defender that had the ability to guard scoring point guards and also shooting guards, whether they were in pick-and-roll situations or moving without the basketball. To me, they are going to miss those two guys’ toughness and their ability to defend, but they are clearly at worst the second best team in the Eastern Conference and a dangerous team.

Q. A lot has been written about the Cleveland-Boston trade and the other moves that the Cavaliers have done, but I was just wondering, how much do you think Cleveland is going to miss Kyrie Irving, a little bit, a lot, and what particular areas might they miss him in?
JACKSON: Well, they’re going to miss him, especially if Isaiah Thomas is not healthy. I think an underrated signing was Derrick Rose, a guy who — we’re thinking the old, hobbled Derrick Rose. This guy averaged 18 for the Knicks and had some bright spots last year. I think he’s going to have a breakout year and play extremely well in the absence of Isaiah Thomas, and then when Isaiah Thomas comes back, he’s a guy that can play alongside of him, also. But they’re going to miss Kyrie Irving, his play making ability, his scoring ability, and as crazy as it sounds, I thought Kyrie Irving for three years now has done a very good job defending when it mattered most, paying attention to details, trying to stay at home with Steph Curry and make them work in The Finals. That’s a tall task for anyone, and I thought he did a very good job. But I think they’re going to miss him, but when you’re making trades in this league, it’s a give and take situation. I think it matters how healthy Isaiah Thomas is, and when he comes back that will make a difference.

VAN GUNDY: Yeah, and I think playing with LeBron James when Isaiah Thomas does make it back, he’s going to have to adjust and adapt to that. I’ll be interested to see, I’m really interested to see how the Rose-Wade pairing in the backcourt works, not just offensively with their shooting but with their defense to start games. I think J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, that situation, sacrifice sounds like a great thought in theory. I think most NBA players would agree that it’s necessary. But when it comes to individual sacrificing, it becomes a much more challenging situation.

Obviously they’re probably not happy wanting to cover it up, but I think that situation also is important to monitor throughout the year.

Q. Do you think that they’ll miss Kyrie anyway in certain areas?
VAN GUNDY: Well, I think — Mark said it, too. I think his defense many times has been misevaluated, and I think the offensive ability — people talk about isolating too much, but you’d better have some home run hitters when it gets tough against the best defenses in the league that can make something out of nothing, and he was exceptional doing that. And I think he will be missed, and how much is dependent on Isaiah Thomas’s health.

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Source: Pitch London
Image: NBAE/Getty