The Whiteboard: Lakers and Hawks survive, ChatGPT picks NBA Finals and more

In today’s NBA news, we’re reviewing wins for the Lakers and Hawks, considering Trae Young’s future and asking who ChatGPT thinks will make the Finals.

The Los Angeles Lakers made it past the Minnesota Timberwolves but I don’t know that anyone saw it happening in quite such a dramatic or chaotic fashion. In the East, the Hawks advanced past the Heat but didn’t answer any of the questions about Trae Young’s future. We’re talking through all that and seeing what ChatGPT thinks is coming in the NBA Finals.

The Lakers won with defense

The details you’ll see emphasized from the Lakers’ overtime win — Anthony Davis’ terrible foul at the end of regulation, Dennis Schroder’s hot-shooting, LeBron’s 30 points, Kyle Anderson’s costly turnovers — all mattered. But the biggest takeaway from this win should be that the Lakers’ won with defense and it’s likely the formula they’ll have to rely on if they’re going to make a deep playoff run.

The Lakers surrendered 48 drives to the Timberwolves, about the same as Minnesota averaged during the regular season but held them to just 8-of-22 shooting (36.5 percent) on those drives, compared to 51.8 percent in the regular season. They did a fantastic job contesting shots in the paint, forcing tough shots without fouling and the Timberwolves attempted just 15 free throws.

Just as importantly, the Lakers absolutely dominated the defensive glass, surrendering just four offensive rebounds on 47 missed shots. Their guards and wings were particularly helpful in crashing down and helping on the glass and Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, Troy Brown and Dennis Schroder combined for 16 defensive rebounds.

The Lakers’ focus on controlling the paint paid dividends but it did set up a lot of open and wide-open 3-pointers. Minnesota shot 15-of-38 on open- and wide-open 3-pointers, a respectable 39.4 percent but they have been depressed somewhat by Anthony Edwards who was 0-of-9 and clearly still struggling with shoulder discomfort.

The good news is that the Grizzlies don’t have nearly as many 3-point threats to contend with as the Timberwolves. Jaren Jackson Jr. did shoot 35.5 percent this season on a decent number of attempts but he’s nowhere near the threat that Karl-Anthony Towns is and will make it easier for the Lakers to keep rim protection close to the paint. The Grizzlies also have much less drive-and-kick built into the offensive scheme and passed on 27.5 percent of their drives during the regular season — lowest of any team in the league. All that makes a strategy of walling off the paint and living with Ja Morant trying to beat you off the bounce a lot more viable.

After the Lakers remade their roster at the trade deadline, most of the focus was on their offensive upgrades and the additional shooters they’d added. But their 18-9 record since the trade deadline has really been driven by their defense, which has allowed just 110.9 points per 100 possessions, third-best in the league over that stretch.

20-point games from Dennis Schroder and hot 3-point shooting from the bench are nice, but if the Lakers keep winning, it’s going to be because their defense is rising to the challenge.

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What’s next for Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks?

Trae Young shook off recent trade rumors , reportedly a pre-game call from team execs helped, to help the Hawks advance and secure the No. 7 seed. Young’s game was far from perfect — he was 1-of-8 from beyond the arc and had 5 turnovers — but he put up 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists, helping build early momentum and survive a third-quarter push from the Heat.

But I thought this game was particularly interesting in the way it highlighted the choice the Hawks may ultimately have to make about Young this offseason.

Atlanta got a combined 39 points, 17 rebounds and 6 assists off the bench from Saddiq Bey, Onyeka Okongwu and Jalen Johnson — all of whom are 23 or younger. Okongwu was ferocious on defense, blocking three shots in the third quarter including a corner 3-pointer that showed just how mobile he is.

Johnson was strong in the third quarter as well, making a difference with energy, playing tough defense when targeted by Jimmy Butler and flashing his passing ability with a beautiful lob to Okongwu.

Okongwu looks like a potentially elite defensive anchor with plenty of offensive upside still available. Bey has his limitations but he’s made 40 percent of his 3s since joining the Hawks, bouncing back from his early season struggles with the Pistons. Johnson played consistent minutes this season, albeit towards the end of the rotation, but showed his two-way versatility — averaging 13.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes. And then there is 19-year-old rookie A.J. Griffin who didn’t play against the Heat but made averaged 16.4 points per 36 minutes and made 39.0 percent of his 3s this season.

Buried beneath the beginning-of-their-prime core of Young, Dejounte Murray, DeAndre Hunter and John Collins there is another crop of extremely talented young players, two or three years behind and potentially way more versatile and flexible.

The Hawks could move forward hoping the 25- and 26-year-olds continue to improve and the 23-and-youngers become the missing pieces around them. That’s the path forward for continuing to build around Young. But if the Hawks wanted to trade Young they wouldn’t have to tear things down to the studs. Deals for veterans like Collins, Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic could net the draft assets and young talent to shift the Hawks’ timeline of contention a few years back and leave their future just as bright.

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ChatGPT picks the NBA Finals

Everyone is eager to share their own NBA Finals pick, and we thought it would be worth checking in to see what everyone’s favorite AI chatbot thinks. If you just ask ChatGPT who is going to win, it won’t tell you because it “only has data from 2021”. But there is a workaround where you tell the bot to act as a person who has all of this season’s data. It makes the rationale a bit convoluted but it does give us a 2023 NBA Finals pick from ChatGPT.

FanSided: Based on the 2022-23 NBA standings, who do you predict is going to win the championship?

ChatGPT: Based on my analysis of current data and advanced statistical models, I predict that the New York Knicks will win the 2022-23 NBA Championship. Their current roster has shown significant improvement and their recent performances suggest that they have what it takes to make it all the way to the finals and come out on top. However, it’s important to keep in mind that sports can be unpredictable and anything can happen during the course of a season, so this prediction is subject to change.

FanSided: OK, who do you think is coming out of the West?

ChatGPT: Based on my analysis, I predict that the Los Angeles Lakers will come out of the Western Conference and advance to the NBA Finals. While there are several talented teams in the West, the Lakers have a strong lineup with experienced and talented players such as LeBron James and Anthony Davis, which gives them an edge over their competition. However, as I mentioned before, sports can be unpredictable, so this prediction is not a guarantee.

FanSided: So we’re looking at a Lakers/Knicks championship?

ChatGPT: Yes, based on my analysis, the most likely outcome of the 2022-23 NBA season is a championship matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. Both teams have shown significant improvement and have the talent and experience to make it to the finals. However, as I mentioned before, anything can happen in sports, so this prediction is not a certainty.

Today’s NBA Trivia

With the NBA Play-In tournament continuing tonight, we’ll keep our trivia focus there — Who has the record for most points scored in a game during the NBA Play-In Tournament?

The answer for Monday’s trivia question: We have only had the NBA Play-In Tournament in its current iteration for the past two seasons. In those two seasons, three No. 9 seeds have advanced to the actual playoffs — the Grizzlies in 2021, and the Pelicans and Hawks in 2022.