Welcome to Ask Soda!, the weekly column in which the many questions and queries of Buckets Zone followers are answered by resident staff writer ChocolateSoda. We’re getting to that stretch of the NBA season in which the postseason picture is beginning to form; many stretches of early-season dominance have either been exposed as flukes or solidified (mostly), and vice versa for rocky starts.

Nonetheless, questions still hover around the NBA world. And answers won’t come if I sit here and simply mention those questions. Let’s get into this week’s batch!

What is going on with Dallas and is Luka enough to carry this team to the playoffs?

Submitted by Pixel on Discord

As I’m writing this, the Dallas Mavericks’ unimpressive record of 9-14 is second-worst in the Western Conference. This includes a six-game losing streak that snapped with a close February 3rd win against the Hawks, only to be followed with a 116-147 loss to Golden State.

The problem? Well, there’s a lot of small-ish culprits. Josh Richardson, for one, isn’t playing exceptionally well. Dorian Finney-Smith has been lackluster. Kristaps Porzingis has missed roughly half of the team’s games nursing an injury to start the season.

But the real issue, in my opinion, is Dallas’ defense.

The Mavericks rank bottom-five in defensive efficiency, and place in the bottom half in defensive metrics such as opponent shooting percentage and opponent EFG%.

It also doesn’t help that they flounder in the clutch – of all the games considered “close” that the Mavs have played in, their winning percentage is just .200.

Barring his shooting struggles, Luka Doncic is still having an exceptional season. But it’s become clear that he alone isn’t a bandage to what appears to be a teamwide set of wounds. The struggle rests on the shoulders of the Dallas system, not purely on Doncic.

There’s plenty of time for the Mavericks to right the course, so playoffs aren’t impossible just yet. But in a tight Western Conference and with the level of competition stacked against them, it’ll take quite a bit of magic that even Luka will struggle to orchestrate.

Who is the most portable NBA star?

Submitted by Nairn.McKeon on Discord

Webster’s Dictionary defines “portable” as “capable of being carried or moved about.”

My pick would be Tremont Waters. He’s 5-10 according to most sources, and weighs about 175 pounds. I can’t necessarily pinpoint if he’s the shortest nor lightest NBA player in the league, but I’m going with Tremont nonetheless as the most portable.

If you specifically want STAR players, though, the answer would be Trae Young. At 6-1 and 180 pounds, he’s easily one of, if not the lightest All-Star still active in the NBA. (Not sure if Isaiah Thomas is fully retired yet or not, though his weight of 185 pounds is actually more than Trae’s.)

Sidenote: what kind of question is this?

Are the Utah Jazz a championship-caliber team?

Submitted by Fast pp the Goat on Discord

The Utah Jazz have been one of the NBA’s biggest surprises thus far, and that’s saying something given the league’s current sittings. At the time of this writing, their 18-5 record puts them at first in the Western Conference.

You read that correctly – first in the West. Over LeBron, AD and the Lakers. Over the Kawhi and PG13 Clippers. Denver, Portland, Phoenix, Golden State, you name it. The Jazz have them all beat.

The usual suspects are performing as one would assume. Donovan Mitchell has remained an elite scorer and top guard in the league. Rudy Gobert, despite dips in offensive production, is still one of the best defensive players in the NBA today. Bojan Bogdanovic was icy cold to start the season, but has since found his shooting rhythm and hasn’t looked back (so far).

The biggest contributor to Utah’s current success, however, has been Mike Conley. The veteran point guard’s first season on a team not called the Grizzlies was extremely underwhelming: 47 games of inconsistency, sloppy efficiency from the field, and a slump in playmaking productivity (barring injury-riddled campaigns, his 4.4 APG in 2019-20 was his worst mark since his sophomore season).

Thankfully, 2020-21 has been a welcome return to form. Conley’s sparkling averages of 16.5 points on 45.0/41.0/81.5 splits have done wonders for the Jazz’ offensive efficiency, and his playmaking has stabilized, too. To my surprise, he’s also the team’s leader in VORP and +/-, two things I would’ve easily attributed to Mitchell or Gobert before researching.

With Conley having found a greatly improved follow-up year to his disastrous entry in Utah, the Jazz now have all the perfect cogs to perform as one of the West’s top franchises. Their record may not top the conference for too long, but they have my vote as a legitimate contender for the 2021 Finals.

Who are your Top 10 players of all time?

Submitted by Devastating Buckets on Discord

I really don’t want to get into specifics with this kind of list. People practically write essays on who makes their list, who doesn’t make it, and why each player did or did not scratch the top ten.

Plus, these lists are always subject to revision in hindsight. I may have an order I’m satisfied with today, but tomorrow I may want to move a few players around. It’s complicated.

Anyways, here’s my current mood’s top ten list, from 1-10:

Michael Jordan

LeBron James

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Wilt Chamberlain

Bill Russell

Tim Duncan

Kobe Bryant

Shaquille O’Neal

Magic Johnson

Larry Bird

I hate having to leave Hakeem off, by the way.

Are the Heat going to make the playoffs, if fully healthy?

Question submitted by Fast pp the Goat on Discord

The reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Miami Heat have been one of the more surprising franchises to kick this season off – and not in a good way. Their 8-14 record has them seven games back from the top seed in the East.

Much of this slow start can be explained easily. Jimmy Butler, for example, has been battling injuries and has played in only 10 of Miami’s 22 contests. Or, Kendrick Nunn was playing like molasses until the last seven or so games. Or, Meyers Leonard’s underrated contributions as a stretch five came to a screeching half as shoulder operations ended his season. You get the point – it’s a lot of small things.

But, as the question posed, what if the Heat were healthy? Would they be a playoff team? They may sit seven games back from the top, but their record is only a game worse than the Charlotte Hornets, who currently hold the eighth seed.

My answer is, without a doubt, yes. Bam Adebayo has been playing out of his mind. Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, even though their shooting efficiency has slipped slightly, are still notable scoring threats in any given contest. Goran Dragic, at age 34, is still putting Goran Dragic-y numbers on the board every night.

While this cocktail of players’ journey to the Finals may have been somewhat fluke-worthy, their status as a playoff team was anything but. Keep Jimmy in good health and Miami is in the Eastern postseason picture. No ifs, ands, or buts. Just But-lers.

Forgive me for that pun. Please.

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By Myst