Three Early Season Overreactions

A couple of weeks into the 2018-’19 NBA season and there have already been countless shocks and surprises. The Houston Rockets and LeBron James-led Lakers currently rank amongst the lower half of the teams in the Western Conference. Derrick Rose dropped 50 the other night and it isn’t 2010. Jimmy Butler is still currently on the Timberwolves and the Sacramento Kings are the six seed in the West right now.

This season has been wildly entertaining through about ten games so far, but should still be kept in perspective. We’re only ten games in and there’s a lot of basketball to be played. So let’s take a step back, no pun intended, and realize the season is young and bound to look different in the coming weeks and months.

With that being said, here are some of the top overreactions of the 2018-’19 NBA season till this point.

The Washington Wizards need to blow it up? As a team brimming with talent all over the place,the early issues the Wizards have faced can only be described as perplexing. Sitting at an embarrassing 1-7 through their first eight games, the Wizards look terrible right now. Boasting the League’s second worst defensive efficiency rating at 1.130, while allowing opposing teams to put up 124 points a night, the Wizards are essentially the worst defensive team in the NBA. To make matters worse, there are rumors surfacing about chemistry issues in the Washington locker room, specifically stemming from the high number of upcoming free-agents on the roster.

For about four seasons now, the NBA community has consistently been waiting on the Wizards to make their official arrival and statement as one of the top teams in the East. At this point, after seasons of disappointment and the threat of imminent stagnation or decline, many believe the Wizards need to begin trading away their big pieces and begin a rebuild phase. With guy’s like John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and some young talent like Oubre Jr., there is no doubt the Washington organization can make some major moves. But the question is, should they blow up the entire thing right now? bealXwall

My Verdict: I think this is a slight overreaction, with the operative word being slight. I think that if I’m in charge in the Wizards front office, I’m waiting till right before the All-Star Break to see if this dumpster-fire of a team can’t work itself out. Bradley Beal is too talented to trade away right now and John Wall is only 27 years old, so I’m giving them at least a half season to see if they can work things out and get the offense going at a more efficient rate. Give this team a bit more time to see if they can finally reach their potential in the weak Eastern Conference, but understand that the clock has been ticking on this team for years, and it may have just run out.

Luke Walton should be fired? Right now, at 3-5, the Lakers aren’t looking like a top notch LeBron James led team. Like any other LeBron team that doesn’t come out of the gates 7-2, this is going to put some pressure on everyone in the organization and the head coach in particular.

Here’s where Luke Walton comes in; a young coach who sucessfully built a team culture in L.A. last year, on his way to helping the Lakers on their road back to relevancy. Now on the hot-seat for not being a top seed in the West already, people are already calling for Walton’s head. Rumors of Magic Johnson and Walton’s one-on-one meeting don’t help much either.

My Verdict: This is easily an overreaction and should be shut down immediately. Historically, LeBron’s teams usually need a good bit of time before they are fully adjusted and ready to win. This was the case in Miami, the case when LBJ returned to Cleveland, and it is the case now as the King suits up in purple and gold. The Lakers also have some issues they are still addressing as a team and as a defensive/offensive unit, issues I am confident will be corrected and improved upon as the season continues. So please, give Luke Walton some time to figure out all of his sets and schemes, as well as some time to adjust to being the head-coach of the best player in the world. NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers

 

Are the Sacramento Kings Good? The 21st century has not been an easy one for the Sacramento Kings organization. After finding some great success in the early 2000’s with those exciting Chris Webber/Mike Bibby/Peja Stojakovic led teams, it has been difficult for the Kings to reclaim anything even close to their former glory days. Well, finally, after years and years of anticipation, the King’s are back.

Led by one of the NBA’s greatest minds and coaches in Dave Joerger, the Kings have taken major leaps this year as a team on both sides of the ball. Joerger has the young Kings in Sac-Town running all over the floor on defense, and it is yielding wonderous results. Sacramento holds opponents to the fifth worst shooting percentage from three (32.9), while also boasting the 16th best defensive efficiency as a team through nine games. Much of this staunch defense has come on the road as well, a good sign for a young team working to create a culture.

On the other side of the ball, the Kings are scoring the fourth most points in the NBA per game right now at 120 a night, while also shooting above 50% as a team from the field, second only to noneother than the Golden State Warriors.

My Verdict: While I won’t officially say the Kings are a Playoff lock or that some of their numbers won’t slip as the season progresses, I think they are back as an organization. With De’Aaron Fox emerging as the focal point of a promising young core, along with the development of Willie Cauly-Stein and Buddy Hield, this team is building a strong group of dangerous players more than equipped for today’s game. Joerger is the perfect coach for these guys and seems to have everyone on the roster from top to bottom motivated and ready to begin winning as a team. Shoutout to you if you’re a Kings fan because these guys are up next.

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Images courtesy Google.com

Stats courtesy TeamRankings.com

 

 

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The Jimmy Butler Fiasco

Every blue moon, a team in the NBA will be hit with an unusual situation or abnormal issue, affecting the entirety of both the team and the organization. These occurences are rare, as they should be, but often dictate the course of a franchise for many years to come. In recent history, the well-documented feud and eventual breakup between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant comes to mind as one of these momentous occasions, changing the course of history for two franchises. Or perhaps the meteoric rise and subsequent fall of the once MVP, Derrick Rose.

The situation involving the Minnesota Timberwolves and All-Star forward Jimmy Butler is shaping up to be one of these team-altering incidents, and I can’t wait to see where this goes. Lets take a deeper look into this debacle.

Three weeks ago, the world was informed that Jimmy Butler officially wants out of Minnesota via trade. A bevy of social media attacks involving Butler, his young teammate Andrew Wiggins, and the retired Stephen Jackson followed soon after. Add in a pinch of internal beef between head coach and President of Basketball Operations, Tom Thibodeau, team owner Glen Taylor, and GM Scott Layden, and here we are.

And then there’s this…During a team practice today, the first of which Butler has attended since his trade request over three weeks ago, Jimmy Buckets made a dramatic return. Described as being “vociferous and intense,” during the T-Wolves scrimmage sessions per league sources, Butler was on a mission in practice today to prove who he is to this team. Butler put an emphasis on his point when he formed a team of third-stringers and himself and took on the starters, beating them comfortably in the process. After the victory, Butler turned to team general manager Scott Layden saying: “You f***ing need me, Scott. You can’t win without me.” After the subtle reminder to Layden, and everyone else in the room, Butler proceeded to exit the gym.

In an interview with Rachel Nichols, Butler essentially confirmed the incident, qualifying it with passion and a love of the game that overtook him in the moment, but also as a moment he believes is necessary. As an outside viewer as well as a competitor, I see exactly where Butler is coming from; when you are a guy bringing your all to each and every game and practice and you don’t see the same effort from others around you, frustration is guranteed. In the case of Butler, who has openly said he believes Towns is the “…most talented player” on the Timberwolves, how can you not be heated when you see him taking plays off and not giving it everything he’s got. Or when he’s accused of being hard on Wiggins, another guy Butler has said is the most “…god-gifted player” in Minnesota,why can’t it just be an older guy who knows what it takes to be great trying to get the most out of a guy he believes can be great?

The Bottom Line: Jimmy Butler is a 29 year old All-Star caliber player who has had to work for everything he’s ever had in this world. Now, he’s ready to win some meaningful games and take the next step in his career. While Wiggins (23) and Karl-Anthony Towns (22) are still young, as the cornerstones of this team, winning has to become their main focus sooner than later if they hope to remain relevant in the Western Conference. If they can make winning the top priority and improve their consistent efforts, I can see a reality where Jimmy Butler remains with this team and leads them to great things. If things don’t change with the young stars in Minnesota, I expect Jimmy G Buckets to be elsewhere either within the next couple of weeks or by the February trade-deadline.

The clock is ticking in Minnesota, and it’s only a matter of time before the situation explodes.

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Inside information courtesy of Adrian Wojnarowski

Images via Google.com

Interview courtesy Rachel Nichols and ESPN

 

3 Guys With Something to Prove this Season

I’d like to preface this post with a shoutout to Mac Miller. Mac was an more than an artist and the great gifts he gave this world will live on. Rest easy King.

As the 2018-’19 NBA Season approaches, why don’t we take a look at a few players entering the new year with an especially large chip on their shoulder. Let’s dive in.

Markelle Fultz, PHI: Being the number 1 overall pick is never easy, regardless of the sport. Sure, these guys become exceptionally wealthy and famous all at once, but there’s more to being the head huncho than just the perks. The pressure of being the first guy drafted in your class is difficult enough, when you couple that with the duress of trying to avoid the “bust” label, it becomes easy to see how hard the life of a number 1 can be.

Entering the 2017 NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz was the highly-touted prospect out of Washington; in his lone year as a Husky, Fultz separated himself from the pack as not only an elite guard but as one of the best players in all of the NCAA. Fultz was viewed as not only a skilled PG, but a fierce scorer with a leathal jumpshot and an extremely high basketball IQ capable of making big plays.

Here we are in September of 2018 and it’s safe to say quite a bit has changed for Markelle Fultz. The fiasco involving Fultz’s broken jumper, while extremely perplexing, is a matter of the past that the young guard needs to move on from at this point. Regardless of what you think of the guy, Fultz is much more than just his shot, and I am confident he can be an effective player and star in the NBA. When I first watched Markelle Fultz play, I saw a mix of Kyrie Irving and Penny Hardaway in him, as he’s a guy with an elite handle and the faculty to make the razzle-dazzle play at will. I also believe Fultz has a lot to offer as a playmaker for the Sixers, as well as another athletic perimeter player coach Brett Brown can use to defend other guards and finish consistently at the rim.

I hope (and believe) this Season will be a bounce-back year for Fultz, as he finds his way and joins the rest of Philly as they try to take the East.

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DeMarcus Cousins, GSW: After tearing his ACL towards the tail-end of this past season with the Pelicans, DeMarcus Cousins watched as countless teams passed up on him during this summers Free-Agency period. Whether or not teams were afraid of what Boogie will look like after such a gruesome injury, especially to such a big guy, they passed up on him allowing the sneaky Golden State front office to slide in and sign the All-Star center for a meager 5$ mil one-year deal.

Whatever reason the other 29 teams in the NBA told themselves to justify not signing Boogie, I could honestly care less and so could Cousins. Sure the former Kentucky big man gets angry sometimes, racks up techs, and can have an occasional attitude, none of these excuses change the fact that DeMarcus Cousins has been a top three big in the NBA for the past 4 years. As a fan of Boogie and his approach towards the game, I hope he takes this past free-agency as nothing short of a slight. Cousins proved he can be a good teammate under Mike Malone in his early days in Sacramento and again when he found a home in New Orleans; if all goes well in the Bay Area and the Warriors can reach Boogie, I don’t see why Cousins can’t have a great year on his way to capturing a free ring with Golden State.

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In 48 games this year, Cousins put up 25 points a night, grabbed a career high 13 rebounds, a career high 5.4 assissts, a block, a steal, and shot 36% from three. When he returns around December, barring injury and setbacks, if DeMarcus Cousins can put up something even relatively close to these numbers on the Warriors, expect Boogie to leave the Bay with a ring and a fat contract elsewehere.

Eric Bledsoe, MIL: It was a somewhat rough season for Eric Bledsoe, as he very publicly forced his way out of Phoenix before landing in Milwaukee with the up-and-coming Bucks. While Bledsoe didn’t have a bad season with the Suns and Bucks, he didn’t look like the guy once called a “mini LeBron,” in his final year with the Clippers and his previous campaigns in Phoenix.

Posting some of his lowest rebound and assist percentages this year, Bledsoe seemed to lack a bit of the dog he once had in him and looked like a slighlty above average PG in today’s NBA. I thought that once the Bucks reached the Playoffs, Bledsoe would shine as a staunch defender and more-than adept playmaker and third-option for Milwaukee.

Well, the Playoffs didn’t go as expected for E-Bledsoe, as he was embarrassed by Terry Rozier after talking that talk about the Boston guard following Game 2. With this “mini-beef” behind him and with Mike Budenholzer taking over the helm as head coach for the Bucks, I expect Bledsoe to thrive this year as the number 3 guy in Milwaukee.ebled

A disciple of Popovich, Budenholzer is one of the most skilled basketball minds in todays game, and if there is a guy that can get the most out of these young Bucks and Bledsoe, coach Bud is on that short list. At 28 years old, Bledsoe is entering his prime in a good situation with Milwaukee, I hope he makes the most of it in the 2018-’19 season.

On a side note, shoutout to Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, and Maurice Cheeks on making the HOF. You were great players and pros and will now forever be immortalized as legends. Thanks for your contributions to the game.

Follow me on twitter @sidthekid_12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Stats via BasketballReference.com

All Imaged via Google.com

My Top 25 Under 25

The NBA has always been a League blessed with a solid crop of young prospects waiting in the wing to pick up the mantle. When Magic and Larry were heading towards their twilight years, Detroit’s Bad Boy Pistons and Michael Jordan’s Bulls were there to carry the weight of the oncoming decade. And when MJ was gone, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal rose to prominence, often battling with other young titans such as KG in Minnesota or Tim Duncan out west in San Antonio. While these are just a few examples, the point is clear and prevalent.

Today, in 2018, while many aspects of the NBA have changed, one constant remains; the future of the Association is in good hands.

Keeping in line with this, here is my list of the top 25 guys I think will be the next wave of NBA stars in the League today.

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL: Giannis is undisputedly a top five player in the NBA and has the ability and upside to be a perennial MVP candidate for the next decade. I think this placement is a no-brainer. The “Greak Freak” will be 24 in December.
  2. Joel Embiid, PHI: This one was hard for me due to the fact that Embiid is not a durable player and has only displayed a sample size of his abilities in the time he’s on the court. Granted, the sample size Embiid has showcased has been nothing short of phenomenal, exhibiting a potential ceiling that can eclipse the likes of Karl Towns and Denver’s Nikola Jokic. Embiid turns 25 in March.
  3. Nikola Jokic, DEN: As quiet as its kept, The Nuggets have a real franjokerchise cornerstone in the young and crafty center, Nikola Jokic. With court vision superior to the average guard, (6.1 APG last year), and a skillful inside-out game, Jokic is a perfect modern big and looks to only be improving each year. Nikola “The Joker”Jokic will be 24 in February.
  4.   Kristaps Porzingis, NYK: While KP may have a somewhat injury-riddled career entering his fourth year, I believe he has proven that when he’s on the court, he can be an All-NBA type of player. Sure Porzingis is going to miss a bit of next year rehab-ing his ACL injury, but considering he just turned 23 earlier this month I’m sure he’ll make it up.
  5. Donovan Mitchell, UTA: I can confidently say that Donovan Mitchell’s rookie campaign was one of the most impressive I have ever witnessed. After being picked towards the end of the lottery, and being able to go out and not only play like a superstar but to lead the Jazz the way he did, Mitchell’s performance last year can only be described as inspirational. I think the young Jazz guard carries over a lot of this momentum into his sophomore effort and solidifies himself and Utah as a real threat in the League. Mitchell turns 22 in a couple of weeks.
  6. Ben Simmons, PHI: The leader of the 76ers offense, Ben Simmons has the potential to be the best player on his team, but I don’t think he fully earned that title in his “rookie” year. In a couple of seasons, the reigning ROTY should be higher on this list, but for now I think this suits him. Simmons turned 22 in July.
  7. Jayson Tatum, BOS: Another tough decision, I decided to go with the Celtics rook over Devin Booker based on a few things. While both players played huge roles in their respective teams successes this season, Tatum’s contributions more often led to victories. Tatum also never really made “rookie mistakes,” a part of his game I believe will be important in his development. The Celtic second-year man will be 21 in March. dbook
  8. Devin Booker, PHX: The sharpshooter in Phoenix is one of my favorite players in the NBA and a guy I see becoming a consistent 26+PPG player on a night-to-night basis. Now that Booker is teaming up with a dominant big in Ayton, additional three-and-d guy Mikal Bridges, and a quality vet in Trevor Ariza, I expect the young scorer’s game to take a solid leap. “D-Book” will be 22 in October.
  9. Karl-Anthony Towns, MIN: A dominant force in the paint as well as on the block, KAT is no-doubt a quality player and top ten big man in the NBA today. I only hope the Timberwolves team chemistry issues do not distract the young center as he continues with his career. Towns turns 23 in November.
  10. Jaylen Brown, BOS: The other-half of the Celtics young up-and-coming wing duo, Jaylen Brown is a talented defender with ample athleticism and a stronjb7g grasp of how to play and work within defensive schemes. Brown’s offensive game also took a nice leap this year, as he improved exponentially as a scorer and shooter. JB turns 22 in October.
  11. Dennis Smith Jr, DAL: The explosive Mavericks guard is a guy with an endless source of athleticism and a Westbrook-like mentality. When you couple this with DSJ’s high-octane offensive potential, a superstar in the making is the only logical outcome. I expect Smith to take a major leap this year as he shares the backcourt with new draft pick Luka Doncic. Dennis Smith Jr turns 21 inabout three months.
  12. Clint Capela, HOU: The man in the middle for the Rockets, Cappella is a throwback center who can run, jump, and dunk as good as anyone. A defensive anchor as well, Capela’s multi-faceted game is so critical to Houston’s success and an integral player to the future of this Rocket team. Cappela will be 25 next May.
  13. Jamal Murray, DEN: One of the best shooters on this list, Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets is a stud in the making. A combo-guard with the ability to drive and finish or pull up and splash, Murray is a dangerous opponent fitted with an uncanny knack for scoring and making the winning play. Expect Murray and Jokic to be major players on this Denver team in coming seasons. Murray will be 22 in February.
  14. Kyle Kuzma, LAL: One of LeBron’s newest teammates, Kuzma is a guy who can flat out score. I believe Kuz’s offensive versatility will only be emkuuuzphasized by a new crop of top-notch playmakers and floor generals for the Lakers. I expect the 23-year-old to have a great year for LA in the 2018-’19 season and to see a jump in his game under the tutelage of some great veterans.
  15. Gary Harris, DEN: The third Nuggets player to pop up on this list, regardless of where the rest of the League is going, if Denver can hold onto this core…the rest of the NBA should be on notice. Gary Harris was an easy fit right here as he’s a well above average two-way player who can guard and switch onto most positions with ease. Harris is also a valuable floor spacer who’s shooting always seems to be relatively consistent. Harris will be 24 next month.
  16. Aaron Gordon, ORL: A guy I often think is overlooked, Aaron Gordon is a strong wing player who can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, as well as make a catch and shoot three (sometimes). A full year with Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba will show us what this Magic team and Gordon will look like for the foreseeable future. Gordon turns 23 next month.
  17. Lonzo Ball, LAL: Despite what most think, theeldest Ball brother actually had a pretty solid rookie year with the Lakers, and I’m excited about his future. Sure, Ball has some work to do when it comes to his offensive game, but he’s already a skilled playmaker and these next couple of seasons under LeBron James will only help further Lonzo’s development. Ball will be 21 in October.
  18. Zach Lavine, CHI: Another guy plagued with an unfortunate history of injuries, Zach Lavine is a guy looking to bounce back with Chicago after a promising stint with the Timberwolves. While I do not know how high Lavine’s ceiling is at this point in his career, after his flashes of brilliance last season and his career history, I am confident the former UCLA Bruin will be one of the best players on this young and promising Bulls squad. The high-flying Lavine will be 24 in March.
  19. Brandon Ingram, LAL: Somewhat of an enigmatic figure on this Lakers team, Ingram is undoubtedly a talented shooter and scorer, as well as an above average passer, but will he ever develop into what we thought he could be when he was a draft prospect years ago. I think this year will answer a lot of questions for Ingram and his fans. The Lakers forward turns 21 in a couple of weeks.
  20. D’Angelo Russell, BKN: As head honcho in Brooklyn, D’Angelo Russell has the opportunity to truly lead this young team in a wide open EBrooklyn Nets v Orlando Magicastern Conference. I believe a full year of health and more acclimation within the Nets systems will be everything “D-Loading” needs to take a leap forward as the man of NYC’s other team. Russell will be 23 in February.
  21. Lauri Markkanen, CHI: This may come as a hot take, but I firmly believe that Lauri Markkanen has the potential to be the best player on this Bulls team in upcoming seasons. With a lethal three point shot (36% as a rookiePF) and an expansive collection of poster dunks and passing ball-handling wizardry, Markkanen has already proven he can shoot effectively and attack as a viable offensive threat. If Markkanen continues to follow up and develop upon his rookie campaign, i don’t see why he can’t be considered one of the best bigs in the NBA one day. The Bulls big will be 22 next May.
  22. Marcus Smart, BOS: Although not always pretty, or even entirely comprehensible, Marcus Smart affects games (usually) in a positive way. Quite possibly the Celtics number one perimeter defender, Smart can guard virtually every position and has proven himself to be an at least okay playmaker, earning himself a spot in this talented Boston rotation. The 24 year old Celtics guard will be 25 come March.
  23. Myles Turner, IND: While less talented than his contemporary bigs, Myles Turner is no slouch, as he has shown a more than competent shooting stroke and life of a budding post-game. I think if Turner can figure out how to compliment Oladipo as a second option on the Pacers, the team and Turner will flourish greatly in 2018-’19.
  24. Dennis Schroder, OKC: The now backup point guard to Russell Westbrook, Dennis Schroder is a player I actually believe can lead an offense. With a deadly mid-range shot and a crafty ability to get to the rim, Schroder keeps defenses honest and allows wing teammates easier looks when he drives-and-kicks. While his role as a backup may be minimized this year with the Thunder, I believe Schroder will flourish with OKC and be a major part of a Playoff team.
  25. Julius Randle, NOP: The big forward now with New Orleans, Julius Randle is a guy I see with Draymond Green potential. A speedy forward with the ability to score facing up to the basket or driving towards it, as well as hit the open man after grabbing an offensive rebound, Randle is the definition of versatile. I think that with an expanded role with the Pelicans, Randle has a golden opportunity to seize and show the League what he is capable of.

My Under 25 Team: Dennis Smith Jr, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, (Embiid as sixth man).

Snubs: John Collins (ATL), Jusuf Nurkic (POR), Andrew Wiggins (MIN), Jabari Parker (CHI), Elfrid Payton (NOP).

 

 

 

 

All Statistics via BasketballReference.com/ESPN.com

All Images via Google.com

 

Top Dog in the East?

For the last 13 years, give or take, LeBron James has been the undisputed best player in the Eastern Conference and probably in the entire NBA. From his early years in Cleveland to his dominant ones in Miami then back to Cleveland, LeBron has made every team he’s been apart of a realistic contender for the NBA Championship in the East.

Now, he’s gone, headed out West with hopes of bringing a storied franchise glory once more.

With LA-Bron officially becoming a reality a few weeks ago, I think its time we take a look at the Eastern Conference and some of its brightest stars in the wake of the Kings departure.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: Possibly the most popular player on this list, and perhaps even in the East, Joel Embiid is a big time player with a big personality and some serious skill. After missing his first two seasons to injury, there were a lot of questions about Embiid and his ability to be a real NBA player. While his past two seasons have not answered every question, Embiid has proven that he not only belongs in this league, but that he can someday even dominate it.

With a perfect combination of a throwback centers game spliced with the necessary skills of a modern NBA big, Joel Embiid has proven to be a force on both sides of the ball for Philly. In his first season, appearing in 31 games for the Sixers, Embiid flashed his brilliance as an efficient post-up scorer with the ability to stretch the floor as well as protect the paint with authority.

This past season, Embiid looked much-improved, as his footwork took a major leap forward while he maintaining his defensive prowess and becoming a better passer and rebounder. As the focal point of the Sixers offense, “The Process” looks like a real cornerstone to build around for the future and an exciting figure for a team hoping to become contenders in the coming years. With LeBron out of the way, who’s to say Embiid can’t claim the crown in the East?

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Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: When the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 Draft, few expected he would become a perennial All-Star. Even fewer expected him to become a 2x All-NBA player and Most Improved Player winner…Well here we are, five years later and Giannis Antetokounmpo is the cover athlete of NBA 2K, known across the globe as the “Greek Freak,” and on the shortlist of candidates for the best player in the Eastern Conference.

With one of the most unique games the NBA has ever seen, Antetokounmpo has taken the league by storm in recent years, finally capitalizing on the flashes of greatness he displayed early in his career. A point-forward of sorts with an enamoring wingspan and an even more impressive stride, the “Greek Freak” is a 7-footer who can beat any big off the dribble, effectively post-up smaller defenders, and elevate above the rim with ease. Antetokounmpo is a more-than-capable defender as well, with his wingspan and lateral quickness allowing him to keep guys in front of him or recover for the closeout or a chase-down block.

Upon his entry into the NBA, the “Greek Freak” proved that he was an above-average rebounder and a solid passer with a good foundation and quality basketball IQ. In addition to maintaining these two aspects of his game, Antetokounmpo has sharpened his defensive instincts considerably while improving his offensive game tremendously. This past season, in 75 games, Antetokounmpo averaged a stellar 27 points  per game, and while this feat alone is impressive, he did it without a consistently reliable jumper (30% from three on 1.9 attempts per game).

If this guy can finally put all the pieces together with his shooting, good luck to the rest of the NBA. So long as Giannis and the Bucks continue to improve as a player and team respectively, I can see the “Greek Freak” reigning supreme in the East in the very near future.

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Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics: Some would say that this is a controversial choice, that Kyrie Irving isn’t one of the top players in this Conference at this point. To those people, my response is simple, take a look at the numbers and the on-court production of Kyrie Irving throughout his career and then make your decision. If your’e still unconvinced, call the optometrist. Unlike the other two aforementioned players, when Kyrie Irving entered the NBA in 2011, the league knew he was going to be a stud of a guard.

With a flawless jump-shot, an exceptionally high basketball IQ, and a pension for making the big-time play, Irving was a star from day one. Yet, as he transitions into his role as leader and focal point of this new-and-improved Boston Celtics team, Kyrie Irving is cementing his role as a superstar in this league. In 60 games for Boston last season, Kyrie was playing arguably the best basketball of his career, as he shot a career best from the field (49%) and his second best from downtown (40%) while improving immensely as a defender and playmaker. Irving is also improving his efficiency, as he averaged a career low in turnovers last season while bumping up his rebounds to nearly four a game, also a career high.

Regardless of where you stand when it concerns his ability as a leading point guard for a contending team, “Uncle Drew’s” scoring ability and ball-handling are nothing short of elite and even stack up amongst some of the best in the NBA. With a bag of tricks deeper than Curry’s range, Irving is an elusive and crafty guard with an uncanny ability to free not only himself up, but his teammates as well. Sure, Kyrie was setback by another knee injury toward the end of last season, but anyone counting him out as a top player in the NBA this year due to this will be sorry.

Kyrie Irving left Cleveland so that he could get out of the shadow of LeBron and become “The Man” in greener pastures. Now, as the man in Bean Town, Kyrie Irving will have another season to show that he is not only a great player but the leader on a great team, and who knows…he might even get a shot at beating the man in Lakerland.

Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (11)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verdict: Giannis Antetokounmpo is my number one guy in the East. There’s cause for some uncertainty regarding Kyrie and his recovery, especially with knee surgery, and Embiid has only played 94 games since getting drafted in 2014.

Snubs: Kawhi Leonard (TOR), Kemba Walker (CHA), Victor Oladipo (IND), Kristaps Porzingis (NYK).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Stats via BasketballReference.com/ESPN.com

All Images via Google.com

2018 NBA Mock Draft: My Top 10 Picks

Here we are. With the official end of the 2017-’18  season being marked by the crowning of the Warriors as NBA champs, we can finally close out one season as we prepare to move onto the next. But before we get into free agency and some possible summer moves, lets kick the summer off right as we always do, evaluating this years draft class and predicting where they’ll land.

The 2018 crop of rooks looks promising, boasting a plentiful selection of talented forwards and some highly skilled guards. Is Deandre Ayton the consensus number one overall pick? Where will Luka Doncic end up? And how good is Michael Porter Jr? Without any further delay, lets take a deeper look.

1st Overall Pick, Phoenix Suns: For the last month or so, all I’ve heard is that Deandre Ayton is going number one to the Phoenix Suns come Draft night. While trade rumors have been circulating and varying sources have said the Suns may want to trade down in the Draft, I believe the story remains the same; Deandre Ayton is going number one tonight. Looking at the prospect, Ayton is simply a physical specimen, as a true seven-footer with an NBA-ready physique, freakish athletic ability, and an aggressive mindset. In my mind, Ayton is one of the more intriguing players in this years draft, as his physical gifts coupled with a growing inside-outside gaytoname make him an extremely coveted possible piece to a franchise. Ayton’s career at Arizona, while marred by an underwhelming result in the NCAA tournament, was also spectacular. The Pac 12 Player of The Year averaged 20 points a night while shooting 61% from the field and a quality 34% from three, while pulling in nearly 12 rebounds, and blocking two shots a night. Ayton has shown that he deserves to be a top pick in this Draft, and the Suns, a team in need of a major front court presence, would be remised to pass up on him. On a side note, I also believe Tyson Chandler would be a phenomenal mentor for Ayton.

2nd Overall Pick, Sacramento Kings: While there are still talks of the Kings using this pick on a certain Euroleague MVP, I believe Sacramento needs to go with one guy tonight, and his name is Marvin Bagley. In his 33 games at Duke under Coach K, Bagley was a man amongst boys on the court; averaging 21 points per game, 11 rebounds, a block, an assist, and shooting 61% from the field and 39% from three. With an underrated repertoire of post-moves and a knack for rebounding, Bagley would be a great fit for the Kings as someone who can slide immediately into that four spot providing a jolt of both offense and elite rebounding. The risk versus the reward with Bagley is monumental in my opinion, as he has franchise player potential if utilized and developed correctly, yet can still be a more than serviceable option if he doesn’t turn out to be a centerpiece to a team. It also doesn’t hurt that Bagley was one of only a handful of top Draft prospects willing to workout and intervi
ew with Sacramento, a sign of good faith for the Kings that this player is willing and ready to work with them. Lastly, I think that Bagley will be a great pick-and-roll partner for De’Aaron Fox, as both players are athletes unafraid of contact and eager to make the big play.

3rd Overall Pick, Atlanta Hawks: At this point, I believe the Draft begins to open up a bit more as I can see more player being interchanged for different teams depending on some shifting factors. Barring all trades, as I believe it is very possible the Hawks switch this pick for some assets and Dallas’s number 5 overall selection, I think Luka Doncic is the clear option for ATL. The Real Madrid star and Euroleague MVP looks to be a real stud, as a 6’8″ guard/forward with a pure shooting stroke, a more than adept handle, and exceptional passing vision. In 61 Games in the Euroleague and the Liga ACB, Doncic put up nearly 15 points on less than ten shots a night, five rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.1 steals. Doncic is also a good fit for the rebuilding Hawks who canluka_doncic use some additional playmaking and shooting to couple with Dennis Schroeder, while complimenting the growing pieces in Taurean Prince and John Collins. As the most accomplished international player to ever enter the Draft, I think Doncic is one of the safest picks in this draft and will have a lot to offer any team willing to take a swing on him.

 

4th Overall Pick, Memphis Grizzlies: With an aging team mired in bad contracts like the Grizzlies, it’s possible they move this pick for a piece that can help them in the short term. If Memphis opts to keep this pick though, I think they would be making a great decision in selecting Jaren Jackson Jr out of Michigan State. While his college numbers won’t blow you away, Jaren Jackson is a great project player with one of the highest ceilings in this draft and someone Grizzlies fans can be excited for in the coming years. In one year under Tom Izzo, Jackson averaged 11 points a night, six rebounds, 1.1 assists, a stifling three blocks a game, and shot 39% from deep while attempting 2.7 threes a night. Jackson Jr may very well be the best rim protector in the Draft already, and while he will take some time developing as a reliable offensive option outside of the pick-and-roll and lobs, he is already a staunch defender and a guy that I believe can help a team win today. (I should note that out of the top prospects in this years draft, only Wendell Carter Jr from Duke worked out for the Grizzlies, this could be a further sign that Memphis will move down in the draft and select him later on).

5th Overall Pick, Dallas Mavericks: I expect the Mavericks to select Mohamed Bamba with the fifth overall pick here if they hold onto this spot. Bamba is one of the smartest players in this years draft, as well as one of the most dominant bigs with an uncanny defensive ability and a solid foundation of footwork. In one year at Texas, Bamba put up 13 points a night, nearly 11 rebounds, and a stifling 3.7 blocks. If Bamba can develop as an offensive player, which will take some time, I expect him to be a great piece for Dennis Smith Jr to work with in the coming years for Dallas.

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6th Overall Pick, Orlando Magic: While many scouts and analysts believe the Magic will be safe with this pick, Orlando hasn’t been relevant since the Dwight Howard years, and I think they should send this one. The Magic need a point guard, and while I understand he is a risk, Trae Young should be the focus of the Orlando front office. With an elite shooting ability, a solid handle, and a respectable level of court vision, I believe Young can be the franchise piece the Magic are looking for. In one season for the Sooners, Trae Young averaged 28 points, four rebounds, nearly nine assists, and shot 36% from deep while attempting an astounding 10.6 threes a game. The Magic need a point guard desperately, and when you couple the direction of todays NBA and his potential as a scorer and playmaker, Trae Young is the best fit for them. My major worries for the former Oklahoma guard are only that his slight frame and lack of athleticism could hurt him against the grown men in the League. (Trae Young is also a defensive liability, something he will have to develop as he takes this next step).

7th Overall Pick, Chicago Bulls: This pick is quite honestly a toss up, as it can go a variety of ways, but I stand by what I think and believe the Bulls should go with Michael Porter Junior out of Mizzou with this pick. There are many questions about Porter’s injury history and how bad his back actually is, as well as some front office execs questioning his maturity and overall adjustment to being a professional. With all that being said, the guy is still nearly seven feet tall with a sweet shooting stroke and an ability to get above the rim with ease. I also believe that if he pans out well for Chicago, he could be a great complimentary piece to the young core of Lauri Markkanen and Khris Dunn, as a scorer and shooter on the wing. MPJ is the wild card of the draft, and could definitely slip further than this, but I also think that if he develops into what he was supposed to be at Mizzou, he will be a nice addition to Chicago. TheBulls also need to understand that they have no reason to be hurrying to get good, let the young pieces you have develop and strike once your ready, it is the East after all.

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8th Overall Pick, Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavaliers are in a somewhat rough spot with this pick, as it isn’t high enough to trade for or draft a top tier player, but it isn’t low enough that it doesn’t matter. If the Cavs front office decides to hold onto this pick, I can see them getting a safe player in Wendell Carter Jr with the eighth pick of the night. Carter averaged 13 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, two assists, and shot 41% from three in his lone season as a Blue Devil. Carter is a smart pick in this draft as a player with a big body who’s unafraid to get hit and bang down low, while also possessing a rare touch for a big man I think will help him as an offensive player. The Coach K product is also much further along as a defender than most thought entering this season making him a valuable piece of an NBA roster right off the bat.

9th Overall Pick, New York Knicks: The Knicks, like every other year, have a big decision at the ninth spot in this draft. They could go with the older and more established Mikal Bridges out of Villanova, a guy who knows how to win and provided defense and shooting from day one. Or, they can go with the 6’9″ Kevin Knox out of Kentucky, the 18 year old forward with a ceiling no one has seen yet and bounds of potential. Both of these players would be good picks for this team, but I believe Knox is the more intriguing prospect after a year of being underutilized at Kentucky. Knox is a guy who can defend four of five positions on the court, bully smaller defenders in the post, or blow by larger defenders for an easy bucket. After averaging 15 points under coach Cal, while also shooting 34% from three, it is no secret Knox is a scorer and good shooter, but i believe it is his versatility that will get him drafted by New York at nine. With new head coach, David Fizzdale, harboring a love of defending wings I can see Knox being an ideal addition to the young New York core. Kentucky v West Virginia

 

 

 

10th Overall Pick, Philadelphia 76ers: If he isn’t already gone, Mikal Bridges out of Villanova should be the clear cut choice for Philadelphia. Besides the fact that his mother works in the front office for the Sixers, the former Wildcat is an ideal fit in the City of Brotherly Love. Bridges is a 21 year old guard/forward with elite perimeter defensive ability and a consistent shot, able to find himself a bucket or spot up off the pass. While he doesn’t necessarily have “star” potential, Mikal Bridges is a good and smart player who can help out any team as soon as he touches the hardwood come next season. In his final year at Villanova, Bridges averaged 18 points, five rebounds, two assists, and shot 43% from downtown while shooting six threes a game.

Good luck to all these guys on this special night, ya made it.

 

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All Stats via BasketballReference.com/SportsReference.com

All Images via Google

Justify Immortalized at The 150th Belmont Stakes

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the 150th Belmont Stakes where I experienced not only history but one of the best sporting events of my life. Entering Saturday, I was excited yet anxious, as I didn’t know what to expect from the occasion. Reflecting now, I can say with confidence that 150th Belmont Stakes was exceptional and electric, exceeding any expectations I could have entered the day with.

The highlight of the day, of course, was witnessing the undefeated Justify secure the Triple Crown in a race I’ll never forget. As soon as the gates opened, Justify took off and never looked back, leading the pack the whole way in a fascinating display of sheer power and athleticism. In the mile-and-a-half course, Justify looked just as tough as his jockey, 52-year old Mike Smith, as he powered through every turn never allowing the lead to slip away.

Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, remarked on how clean Justify’s break was, and while I’m no expert in equestrian racing, it sounds like this played a major role in Justify’s victory. As an audience member, the pace of the actual race was amazing and furious, set by Mike Smith and Justify, the horses were running at break-neck speed before Justify took home the win with a time of 2 minutes and 28.18 seconds. The second place finisher, Gronkowski, was also a pleasure to watch as he raced back from last place to take the runner-up spot.

As the horses came around the final stretch, you could feel the electricity in the crowd, and when it was apparent Justify would be the winner, forever immortalized by the Triple Crown title, the crowd (including myself) roared. Caught up in the moment, I exchanged many high-fives and hugs with both friends and strangers alike, as the realization of witnessing history set in and brought virtually everyone in attendance together.

The atmosphere throughout the day can be described in many ways, but I believe it is best encapsulated by one simple word, magnificent. You could find virtually any type of person at this event; From elderly gentlemen with a lot to win (and lose), to young kids just enjoying the experience, I was exposed to a whole new side of sports I never even knew existed. The 150th Belmont Stakes was amazing, and you can bet I’ll be back.

Also, big shoutout to my mom! Its her birthday today and I just want to say thanks for everything, without you I wouldn’t be me. Have a day and love you lots.  Justify