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

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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

 

Game 2 Preview: Cavs v. Warriors Round 4

Here we are. Four years later and the story is the same, the Cleveland Cavaliers are back in the Finals facing none other than the sharp-shooting Golden State Warriors. The Warriors took the Title in 2015 and 2017, and coming off a Western Conference victory over the Rockets, are considered the favorites for the chip once again. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are back in the race for the chip, as I expected, after fighting off the Celtics in a gritty 7 game battle for the East. Will 2018 be another title run for Golden State, or can Cleveland and their King repeat their performance from 2016 and be crowned league champions?

Recapping Game 1: One major takeaway from Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals is the undisputable fact that this Cleveland Cavaliers team has the ability to hang with the Warriors. After a performance from LeBron that can only be described as majestic, in which he outsmarted and outplayed the Warriors defense in every way, I am confident in James’ ability to not only play with the Warriors, but to motivate his team to play with them as well. Because LeBron was able to effectively and efficiently get to the cup when faced by smaller defenders, or kick the ball out when centers switched onto him, he was able to get teammates involved while also going off for 51 points. Kevin Love was a great second option for Cleveland, as he shot 9-20 and poured in 21 points in 39 minutes following his concussion in the Eastern Conference Finals.

As for the rest of the Cavaliers, the supporting cast was less than stellar. J.R. Smith’s mistake will be remembered for a long time, and while I will admit it was embarrassing and devastating for the Cavs, if George Hill, a career 85% free throw shooter, had hit his second shot J.R. wouldn’t have ever been in that position. Larry Nance was phenomenal in 19 minutes, as he picked up 9 points and 11 boards off the bench, providing a much needed spark for Cleveland.

Looking at the Warriors, Stephen Curry looked the best he’s ever looked in a Final’s contest; the sharp shooting guard looked confident and focused as he dropped a near double double and made big shots when the Warriors needed. Draymond Green was one assist shy of a triple double as he willed the Dubs to a game one victory with his consistent vocal leadership. Klay Thompson’s injury in the early portion of the game does not bode well for the Warriors, but the 24 points and 5 threes he provided, including a couple of clutch ones in the overtime period, were huge in securing his teams victory. Finally, Kevin Durant didn’t look great in Game one, as the forward from Texas shot a brutal 8-22 from the field and 1-7 from three.

Neither team shot well in game one, but the fact that the Caves were able to keep it close with such a lackluster performance from some key guys like J.R. and Jeff Green, is a good sign moving forward.

Looking Ahead: There is no way the Golden State Warriors continue shooting as poorly as they did in Game 1, Cleveland needs to understand this and plan for it accordingly if they hope to keep the game as close as it was. Cleveland needs to remain focused and refuse to be disheartened by the loss and the manner in which they took it in the first game of this series. From what I’ve heard, both LeBron James and head coach Tyronn Lue has motivated the Cavaliers to shake off the game 1 defeat and get their minds right for battle in Game 2. I expect an impassioned performance from Kevin Durant, as he looks to make up for a rough first game. I also believe J.R. Smith will play his best basketball of the Playoffs tonight, as he fully embraces his role as J.R. “Swish” with the greenest of green lights.

Prediction: LeBron is going to have a big game while trying to involve his teammates more in the first half, in hopes that by the time the fourth comes around, they’ll be warmed up and ready to make big time plays. The studs on the Warriors will be looking solid, but I believe that if Klay doesn’t play, that will open up an opportunity for Cleveland to steal a win in Oracle. With all that being said, if Klay doesn’t play, I am guaranteeing a Cleveland Cavaliers Game 2 victory, as his injury coupled with Iguodala’s will prove too much ground for the Warriors to make up.

LBXKD

 

Donovan Mitchell or Ben Simmons: My 2017-2018 Rookie of The Year

Being able to watch a young player enter the League, seeing how they both develop and react to NBA life, is a truly interesting experience. When the player is clearly special, watching them becomes more than just an experience, but a privilege as well. When there happens to be two of these special individuals in one class, the opportunity is nothing short of miraculous.

When Donovan Mitchell entered the league as a relatively un-touted player this fall, he immediately asserted himself as not only one of the best players on the Jazz, but one of the best young players in the NBA. And while we had to wait a little longer for the debut of Ben Simmons, it’s safe to say that the Aussie and former LSU Tiger did not disappoint.

Without any further delay, let’s dive in and take a closer look at these two young studs.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz: Entering the 2017 NBA draft I knew there was an athletic guard from Louisville that could go top 20, a quality prospect with defensive ability a team would definitely bite on; I believed his name was something like Don or Donny. After a full season, Donovan Mitchell cleared two major things up for me; he wasn’t a prospect but in fact a fantastic young player with loads of talent, and that I would never forget his name again.

As a rookie in Salt Lake City, Mitchell absolutely showed out this season, as he was given the keys to the castle in the wake of Hayward’s departure and some minor roster overhaul. Under the tutelage of Quinn Snyder and playing with confidence rarely seen in a rookie, Mitchell balled out this season, averaging 20 points a night, 3.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and a steal and a half, while shooting 43% from the field and a healthy 34% from three-point range. Starting 71 of the 79 games he played in, Mitchell’s contributions were apparent whenever he was on the court, as the rookie continuously played with a sense of calm yet focused aggression.donny mitch

Defensively, D-Micthell brought his clamps with him to Utah, as he led all rookies in steals (118), and finished the year 19th in the NBA in steals per game at 1.5 a night. Mitchell was also key in further cementing the Jazz as a great defensive team, boasting a stellar 3.8 defensive win share rating for the team, while also reming an efficient offensive weapon. In 79 games of play, Mitchell scored 20+ points in over 40 of those games, kept his assist percentages above his turnover ones, and became a consistent option for Utah as a ball-handler and facilitator.

Mitchell also made history this season, breaking the rookie three-point record on his way to splashing 187 threes and becoming the only rookie to lead a 50+ win team in scoring since David Robinson did it for San Antonio over three decades ago. Watching Donovan Mitchell this year was one of my favorite aspects of the season, and not for the dunks or the flashy play, but because the tangible significance of Mitchell’s meteoric rise to greatness. When great players like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis, to name a few, are giving you props for your game, after you have just beaten them in the regular season, notice should be taken. Mitchell was special this year, and while I don’t know if he’ll take home the hardware in June, I know one thing for sure, Denver made a big mistake when they traded him last summer…D-Mitchell is here, and he is here to stay for a long time.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers: Unlike Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons entered the NBA as the number one overall pick, followed by a lot of buzz and hype surrounding his game and relative similarities to a certain guy named LeBron James. While Simmons is no LeBron, at least not yet, I believe it is fair to say that even after a year out with injury, Big Ben has lived up to his hype.

A bona-fide All Rookie First-teamer, Ben Simmons had a phenomenal debut season for the Philadelphia 76ers. Alongside a talented young core in Philly and under the supervision of the underrated Brett Brown, Simmons led the Sixers to an outstanding 52-30 record, and a shocking third seed Playoff berth. Entering this year, I knew a healthy Simmons would help the record of the Sixers, but to go from being a 28 win team to reaching 50 wins for the first time since Allen Iverson is nothing short of amazing.

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers

On his way to the Playoffs, Simmons averaged 16 points per game, 8.1 rebounds, an astounding 8.2 assists, a block, and nearly 2 steals a night. The “Yank” also proved to be a relatively efficient player on both ends of the floor, as he shot 54% from the field, a mark good enough for 13th best in the NBA this season. Defensively, Simmons is quite honestly already one of the better defenders in the NBA, as his imposing physicality and devastating athleticism afford him the luxury of being able to seamlessly switch onto any position 1-5. On the year, Simmons finished amongst the top 20 in steal percentage (2.5), boasted the eighth best defensive rating at 102.1, contributed the second most defensive win shares in the NBA with 5.0, and was the eighth best pick pocket in the league with 1.7 steals a night.

To be this far along as a defender playing in his first NBA season bodes well not only for Simmons, but for the 76ers as well, as it was Big Ben’s defense that often allowed them to play within their comfort zone. Having a defender like Simmons, a guy who is able to clean up mistakes and effectively hide weaker defenders, is a vital aspect of this Philadelphia team and an aspect integral to their identity as a squad moving forward.

Offensively, while Simmons is an extremely limited shooter, failing to make a three all year and shooting 56% from the free-throw line, I believe he is a very good offensive player. In a one-on-one situation, Simmons can put most any defender on an island and use either his athletic advantage and get to the cup or find the open man and create for one of his guys. I expect Simmons to continue to expand his offensive repertoire and deepen his bag of tricks this offseason, but as a passer, the 21 year old Aussie is already where he needs to be. To average 8.2 assists is not easy, to do it as a first time player against NBA defenders is beyond rare, simply another testament to not only Ben Simmons uncanny floor vision but also his skillful ability to place passes exactly where his teammates like.

Entering the NBA with expectations is never easy, it is even harder when you are the number one pick, and even more difficult when you are being compared to arguably the best player of all time. While I am hesitant to call Simmons a “rookie,” this was his first year and his first opportunity to prove himself as a player, and the guy played absolutely fantastic. Regardless of whether or not he wins Rookie of The Year, which I believe he will, Simmons was wondrous in 2017-’18 and gave all basketball fans a season we won’t soon forget. Big Ben and the Sixers are going to be a problem in this League for a long time…heres to year one.

Prediction: I think Simmons takes home the hardware this year, but after seeing his year as well as what he did in the Playoffs, Donovan Mitchell is my ROTY.

 

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All Images Via Google.com

Statistics Via BasketballReference.com/ESPN.com