James Harden: Mid-Season MVP?

Last years MVP race was hands down one of the best in NBA history; Westbrook averaged a triple double, Harden carried the Rockets while leading the league in assists, LeBron was LeBron, and Kawhi showed us why his name deserves to be mentioned among the best in the league. In the end, it was Westbrook who edged out the competition and was crowned Most Valuable Player in what proved to be a close race. While this years race for MVP may not be as close, right now, it has been just as electrifying.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is taking that next step into super-stardom and his ceiling is beginning to look scary. LeBron James, like a fine wine, is getting better with age while willing his Cavs to wins. But in this post I want to focus on a certain bearded beast out West by the name of Harden, because right now, he’s been the MVP of not only the Rockets, but of the League.

James Harden, Houston Rockets: If you’ve been watching the NBA this season, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see “The Beards” name in this, because when the guy is 100%, he’s virtually unstoppable. What might surprise you though, is the fact that Harden has been a viable MVP candidate for the last three seasons. Could this finally be his year?

Looking at his numbers through 35 games, Harden is averaging an astounding 32 points, five rebounds, nine assists, and two steals, coupling his 45% shooting from the field with a career best 39% from deep. Harden has been an absolute monster on the offensive end this year, seemingly mastering his ability to initiate contact and get to the line, a fact well-illustrated by his league leading 10.5 free-throw attempts per game. Hathe beardrden has also improved upon his efficiency, boasting the best player efficiency rating in the NBA at 30.4. In regards to Harden’s value to the Rockets, he is exactly what he has been throughout his six year tenure in Houston, undoubtedly invaluable. Harden leads the league in offensive win shares with 6.5, overall win shares at 8.0, in addition to boasting the highest usage rating in the NBA at 36.0 percent, proving how just how much the beard means to the success of Houston.

Simply put, Harden is coupling his sky-high usage rate with a quality efficiency rating that we have not seen before from him with wondrous results. Harden is also averaging his fewest turnovers a game since 2015, while still being able to effectively distribute the ball and get teammates involved. The chemistry between Harden and Clint Capela is undeniable, a factor that I see them carrying into the Playoffs, as well as one that has led to career highs across the board for the young big man. Harden has also played well both with and without new addition Chris Paul, a positive sign for the future of this Rockets team.

Every year it seems that James Harden just wants to prove why he is among the best five players in the NBA, and this year…”The Beard” may prevail. If Harden is able to return from his grade two hamstring injury and pick up where he left off leading the Rockets, I don’t believe his missing time will be enough to hold him from the MVP. With that being said, being sidelined for the next few weeks will hurt his chances and open up a lane for studs like LeBron and the “Greek Freak” to make their bids.

But as of now, Harden has been magnificent, I don’t see how he isn’t the MVP today.

AP ROCKETS KINGS BASKETBALL S BKN USA CA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stats via BasketballReference.com/Teamrankings.com

Images via Google.com

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The OKC Thunder: Finally Turning the Corner?

Though a young franchise in a small market, the Oklahoma City Thunder boast one of the most interesting stories in recent sports history. From the controversial decision to move from Seattle, to the formation of an elite young core comprised of Durant/Westbrook/Harden/Ibaka, to the eventual collapse of this core, the Thunder have experienced a lot of turmoil in such a short time. This summer was no different, as big name players such as Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were brought in to help Russell Westbrook and the team work toward the ultimate goal of every team, winning a Chip.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned initially, as OKC was a meager 8-12 through their first 20 games. Being sub par early on is not always a big deal, but being four games below .500 with three bona-fide All-Stars and the reigning MVP on your team is a problem. So when people started casting off the Thunder as a failing experiment or began looking for a scapegoat to blame, I wasn’t surprised, but I knew they were wrong. It takes time for teams to sucessfully acclimate players, especially when these players are such high-profile guys trying to fit into a new role amongst an entirely new group of teammates. But as the great teams always do, I believe the Thunder have figured it out and finally turned a corner on this year.

The Team: In their last 15 games, OKC has gone an impressive 12-3, winning seven of their last eight and riding a six game win-streak into their matchup with the Bucks tomorrow night. As a team, the Thunder are playing great basketball of late; offensively, OKC is the number one team in the league when it comes to offensive rebounds per game at 12.2 a night, a testament to the work of Steven Adams and Westbrook. On the defensive end, the Thunder allow the third fewest points in the paint in the NBA at 40.2, while holding opponents to an average FG% of 51.7%, good enough for 12th best in the Association. OKC is begining to make the changes necessary as a team to thrive in the competitive West, and come Spring, I’m confident the Thunder will be doing more than just competing.

The Players: Individually, the OKC players have also been playing better as of late. Westbrook seems to be returning to his MVP form of last year after a week averaging 30 points, nine rebounds, and nearly ten assists. Oh yes, “Danger-Russ” is in rare form, playing with his signature speed combined with his dastardly aggression and athleticicsm, the reigning MVP has been vicious in the past month. Paul George has been solid throughout OKC’s recent surge, averaging a healthy 20 poiRussnts, five rebounds, two assists, and a league leading 2.5 steals per game. Carmelo Anthony has also been a key in the Thunder’s newfound success, as the veteran has finally begun to embrace a new role as a complementary player on this team. In his last ten games, Melo is averaging 16 points, five rebounds, and nearly two assists.

The OKC X-Factors: Finally, getting to the two X-Factors on this team, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, have also continuiously displayed their value for the Thunder in recent weeks. In the month of December, Adams is averaging 16 points, ten rebounds, a block, a steal, and an assist all while shooting an efficient 68% from the field. Adams has also continued to develop into one of the NBA’s best rim-protectors and rebounders, boasting the best offensive rebound percentage in the NBA (17.4). Roberson’s stats, while less glamorous, have been just as important in the recent rise of Oklahoma City. Over the last ten games, Roberson is averaging five points, five rebounds, an assist, a block, and nearly two steals a night; while Roberson may be a liability on offense due to his poor shooting, his defensive ability is matched only by PG13 on the Thunder. Roberson held James Harden to 29 points on Christmas day, and while this might not seem like a good defensive day, Roberson also forced the “Beard” into many poor shots resulting in a mediocre 7-18 shooting night.

The Verdict: OKC is finally heading in the right direction, Western Conference, beware because the Thunder are coming…Melbourne United v Oklahoma City Thunder

 

 

 

 

Stats Via BasketballRefrence.com/ESPN.com/TeamRankings.com

Images Via Google.com

 

Rookie Watch: My Top Three Rooks (So Far)

Here we are, officially one month into the season, and there’s been much to see. From a devastating opening-night injury, to insane stat lines from various “unicorns” around the League, the ’17-’18 season hasn’t disappointed. The 2017 rookie class deserves some credit for this as well, boasting not only a talented group of guys but a deep class as well. Sure Lonzo’s struggling, as all rookies do, but he wasn’t the only person drafted in June…

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers: While Joel Embiid garners most of the attention on the Sixers, it’s Simmons who has the opportunity to take home some hardware this Spring.

Entering the season, I wasn’t sure of what to expect from Simmons after a year of being sidelined by injury, in fact, I was worried that he might disappoint. “Big Ben” had other plans. Through 15 games, simply put, Ben’s balling. Playing about 35 minutes a night, Simmons is the focal point of this Philadelphia offense as their fearless floor general, and watching Simmons orchestrate for his teammates has been a pleasure. Watching a nearly seven foot guy bring up the ball is old hat at this point, thanks LeBron, but what Simmons brings to the point position is much more than just size. In his first 15Big Ben games as a pro, Simmons has had nine games with eight-plus assists and ranks fifth in the League in assists per game. What’s even scarier, I believe we are only seeing a glimpse of the type of playmaker Simmons can be.

With his exceptional vision and willingness to pass, Simmons has all the tools to be an effective playmaker in this league for a long time, an aspect of his game that shouldn’t be overlooked.

But “Big Ben” isn’t just a good playmaker, he’s a dog on the glass as well, snagging 9.2 boards a night, Simmons is a ferocious rebounder unafraid of getting physical for the rock. As a scorer, Simmons is above average at this point; while his shooting stroke is still somewhat suspect, 60% from the stripe and 0-7 from three on the year, the former Fighting Tiger has still found ways to be an effective offensive option. Combining his devastating athleticism with a deep bag of dribble moves, cuts, and solid post play, Simmons is putting up 18 points per game on 50% shooting. While these numbers don’t blow you away, they’re undoubtedly nice, especially when you consider Simmons is doing this without a consistent shot.

Right now, Ben Simmons is the clear option for ROY based on his superb play and the fact that he’s helping his team do something few rookies are, win games. The Sixers went 2-2 this past week and are now 8-7 on the year, chomping at the bit for a playoff berth and “Big Ben” might be the guy to lead them there.

2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: Entering this season, there were a few rookies I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about, guys I knew were somewhat ready for the NBA game. Jayson Tatum was one of these guys, and based on his first 11 games as a pro, I made a good call and so did the Celtics.

In ten games as a Celtic, Tatum is averaging quality numbers with 14 points a night, nearly six rebounds, an assist, a steal, a block, and a player efficiency rating of 17.2. No Tatum’s numbers aren’t going to blow anyone away, as he isn’t putting up gaudy scoring totals, but his consistent play and offensive efficiency might. The former Duke star has transformed in his short time with Boston, becoming a good defender reluctant to take plays off, while also improving on the other end of the court. This statement is reinforced by the fact that Tatum has contributed the NBA’s fifth best defensive win shares for the Celtics (1.0) in only 11 games.

Jayson Tatum,LeBron James

Offensively, Tatum is vastly better than he was in College, transforming his deep mid-range buckets into reasonable yet effective threes. On the year, Tatum is shooting 49% from the field, a healthy number that will likely improve as he matures and adjusts to the NBA game. As for his three pointer, Tatum is already amongst the best deep shooters in the League, boasting an absurdly high 48% from downtown to this point, good enough for 11th best in the Association. No, Tatum isn’t putting up crazy numbers on a nightly basis or posterizing someone new every week, but he’s a key contributor to the best team in the NBA, and that means something.

Jayson Tatum is a smart young player with a clear desire to improve and help this Boston team in any way he can, and if the Celts keep winning and Tatum remains consistent, he’ll have a real shot at ROY come June.

3. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz: If there was a team that went through some drastic changes this summer without consistently being in the media, it was probably the Utah Jazz. After losing their franchise center-piece to Danny Ainge and the Celtics, things looked bleak for the Jazz…Then I remembered that on draft night last June, Utah made one of the best moves of the night, a move that’s paying off now, a move by the name of Donovan Mitchell.

When Mitchell was initially traded to the Jazz on draft night, I wasn’t sure how the Louisville guard would fit into the already crowded Utah backcourt. How would he see any time playing behind an improving Rodney Hood? Would he get minutes over Alec Burks or Dante Exum? But as Summer League unfolded, Mitchell’s role on the Jazz became more apparent; Quinn Snyder and the Jazz coaching staff are grooming Mitchell to not only play and be a factor right away in a year of flux, but to one day fill the void left by Hayward.

Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz

And though he struggled early on, finding trouble with his shooting stroke and staying efficient, Mitchell looks up to the task of late. After getting the start over Rodney Hood this Monday, Mitchell took the opportunity and ran with it, impressing with his improved play in nearly every aspect of his game. This week, D-Mitchell shined as a starter, putting up 20 points a night, three rebounds, two assists, two steals, and raising his shooting percentage from 38% to nearly 50%.

Granted, a couple of good games doesn’t make an NBA player, but the potential Mitchell is flashing is too intriguing to disregard, especially considering the situation he’s in. With a green light and a starting job for the foreseeable future, don’t be surprised if Mitchell makes a legitimate run at ROY.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Stats Via ESPN.com/BasketballReference.com

All Images Via Google

The Boston Celtics: Kings of the East?

 Regardless of where you stand on the Kyrie Irving deal, Boston’s ability to bring in and sign Gordon Hayward is the predominant reason the Celtics had a positive and productive offseason. Going into the season, I had expectations for the new-look Celtics of Boston Garden; visions of Kyrie dazzling the crowd with his vast array of crossovers and spins before heaving a cross-court pass to a cutting Hayward for a devastating slam on a helpless defender, the Celtics on their way to the two seed in the East and a possible trip to the Conference Finals. Then tragedy struck. Going up for an alley-oop from none other than Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward came down hard on his left leg and the result was a gruesome dislocated and fractured tibia. For a few fleeting moments, it looked like all hope was lost for The Celtics.

But there was a reason the Celtics went out and got Hayward this summer, yes because he’s an elite level NBA talent, but more importantly, because they knew who he was when he signed. Like the rest of Boston’s roster, Hayward is a fighter, and he will be back. 

With that being said, my vision for the Celtics has not changed much. After starting the season 0-2, the Kyrie Irving-led Celtics are now 6-2  and tied for first place with the Magic. Yes, you read that correctly, the Orlando Magic are on top of the Eastern Conference…for now. And while it’s true, the season is young, this Boston roster is an intriguing one with potential to seriously shake up a weak Eastern Conference.

Jaylen Brown’s ability to seamlessly switch between defending positions 1-5 is an exciting aspect of a young forwards game like Brown, especially in the position-less basketball system of Brad Stevens. In his second year, Brown has made a nice jump as an overall playerterry ro, increasing all of his averages in every major statistical category and taking on a do-it-all role for Boston. Al Horford has been his usual consistent yet never flashy self, but has been surprisingly solid on defense, boasting the league’s fourth highest defensive win shares (0.6). Marcus Smart has been a slight disappointment after a summer of hype; he is still inefficient and his shooting hasn’t improved enough. I love watching Smart play for all of the little things he does in the game, but after a certain point I want to see him begin growing as an all around player.Terry Rozier has made a major jump this season, becoming a viable sixth man option with his improved efficiency and his elite defensive ability (Rozier leads the league in defensive rating).

As for the rook, Jayson Tatum has looked like I expected him to; a comfortable rookie with a knack for rebounding and a confident shooting stroke. Through the Blue Devil’s first eight NBA games, he’s averaging 14 points per game, a healthy six rebounds, an assist, and shooting a strong 51% from the field. While Tatum’s numbers may be slightly inflated due to an increased minute total as a result of the Hayward injury, his play is undoubtedly impressive. Quick side note, through his first eight games in the league, Tatum has made 50% of his three point attempts (11-22), a beautiful and vastly impressive rookie statistic that should be monitored.

Finally, Kyrie Irving has been a great leader for the Celtics, something I have found to be a nice surprise. In his eight games as a Boston Celtic, Uncle Drew has been balling; averaging 22 points, three rebounds, five assists, two steals, and shooting 44% from the field. Most importantly, Irving looks like a leader, he has been a more decisive passer this season than I have ever seen before, a stat noted by his four six plus assist games. While his point average of 22 is modest for him, this is a deceptive number as Irving has been scoring more as well as more efficiently for Boston of late, with a six game streak of 20 plus points still going strong. In these first eight games, Irving has also consistently displayed that Finals-caliber defense he played occasionally on Steph Curry in the good ol’ days. On a serious note though, Kyrie has been a dog on defense this year; Irving ranks second in the NBA in steal percentage (3.9), as well as second in the league in defensive win shares with 0.6.

I can honestly say that I see a partial mental shift in Kyrie Irving, a newfound focus perhaps in the same lineage as Mamba Mentality, but a positive shift nonetheless. I see this change becoming a deciding factor in the fate of the 2017-2018 Boston Celtics. This statement doesn’t mean how far can Kyrie carry the Celtics, but rather how far can he lead them. As of now, enjoy it at the top Uncle Drew, and good luck protecting the crown.

Thanks for reading.

 

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All Stats via BasketballReference .com

All Stats via ESPN.com

All Images via Google.com

 

 

 

Question of The Week: Can Kyrie Irving Lead a Team?

With Kevin Durant’s shocking move to Golden State during last years free agency, I didn’t think an offseason could be topped and was sure it wouldn’t happen just a year later. Here we are in 2017 and the NBA is in a major state of flux, filled with questionable moves as well as an abundance of dramatic rumors. Among the various rumors, one recent development stands out; Stephen A. Smith, of ESPN’s First Take, reported on Monday that Kyrie Irving is under the impression that LeBron James himself leaked Irving’s trade request. Smith, on his radio show, reportedly said that he heard this news from sources in LeBron’s camp, and went even further to say that an insider close to James said that if LeBron and Irving were in the same room, LBJ would be tempted to “beat his (Irving’s) ass.” LeBron has since refuted this rumor as fake news, to which Smith retorted with a fiery comeback on his radio show earlier today. While I do not necessarily believe these rumors about James, as it is extremely unprofessional and would blemish his own legacy, if this is what Kyrie believes to be true, could he be headed somewhere else very soon? And if so, can he effectively lead an NBA team?

In his career, Kyrie Irving has averaged over 20 points a game, five assists, three rebounds, 1.3 steals, less than three turnovers, and has shot 48% from the field and 38% from three. Kyrie Irving is an outstanding offensive player, a simple yet true fact, a player with an endless bag of tricks that ranges from finishing at the basket effectively after a dazzling dribble move, or breaking down the defense with his stellar outside shot. Irving is also both an elite clutch player and unafraid to take the big time shot, a skill he displayed so well over a year ago when he hit one of the biggest shots in Finals history. There is no doubt that Kyrie Irving is a superstar, he’s got the handles, the offensive prowess, and is extremely marketable. But I do have my doubts about whether or not “Uncle Drew” can be the leader of an NBA team. And these doubts begin when taking a look back at the desolate and weak Cavaliers teams of past seasons, teams led by none other than Kyrie Irving. In the tree years spanning from the 2011-’12 season to the 2013-’14 season, the Kyrie-led-Cavs never made the Playoffs. And while these teams were never great, Irving never truly elevated them either, coming in as their point guard yet never managing to surpass 6.1 assists during his first three years. In his first three years as the go-to-guy, Irving’s leadership was questioned as well, as numerous accounts of feuds between former teammate Dion Waiters over who the leader of the team was were consistently in the media. But these were Kyrie’s first three NBA seasons and I understand fully that he is a different player, but I am still not convinced he is ready to be the focal point of a team yet. Looking at Irving today, he still needs to improve in two major areas before I believe he will lead a team; Irving needs to become a much better defensive player in addition to elevating his playmaking ability. Throughout his entire career, Irving has never been able to boast a positive defensive box score plus/minus, as he is often exposed by larger guards or lost in defensive sets. WhileI am confident Kyrie works hard as a defender, if he wants to be the guy, he will need to grow on that end of the floor. As for his lackluster playmaking ability, 5.5 assists ain’t gonna cut it for a starting point guard unless you’re playing alongside a solid facilitator, in Irving’s case, LeBron James fit(s) that bill perfectly.

Right now, I believe there is a 50/50 chance Irving is traded within the coming weeks, and while I do not want to see that happen, I realize it is a possibility. If “Uncle Drew” is traded, I know he will still be a great offensive player, but unless he improves as a playmaker and defender, I see a bleak future of .500 seasons, nice stats, and early Playoff exits in Irving’s future.

Kyrie, as a fan of you and your game, stick with LeBron for the rest of his career and continue to learn and develop under him as you enter your prime and eventually lead a team as he once led you to a title.

Thanks for reading.

LBxKIRVINg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Stats via BasketballReference.com

All Images via Google.com

Question of The Week: Who are the Winners of the 2017 NBA Free Agency so far?

Aside from the Playoffs and All-Star Weekend, NBA Free Agency is one of the most celebrated events in a given season. It’s a time where teams make moves to further the advancement of their respected franchises, whether that be moving vets in order to attain young players or draft picks, or signing a stud that can elevate your team to the next level, Free Agency is an exciting time for all fans of the NBA. Last year, Kevin Durant shocked the world when he announced his plans to sign with the powerhouse Warriors. So far, the 2017 NBA Free Agency period has not disappointed. Here’s my take on some of the top winners of Free Agency so far.

Oklahoma City Thunder, A+ : It has been a very eventful year for the Thunder; after losing the face of the franchise with the departure of KD last July, I would say that OKC has done a great job of rebuilding their team into a Western Conference contender. First things first, congrats to Russell Westbrook on taking home his 2017 Kia MVP trophy, it was well deserved. Yet even with the reigning MVP on his team, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti was not satisfied, so he went out and nabbed one of the biggest free agents of 2017 in small forward extraordinaire, Paul George. In a trade that can be described as nothing short of a world class finesse, Presti sent Victor Oladipo, his 84 million dollar contract, and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana for Paul George. While losing solid young pieces hurts OKC, the acquisition of George is an obvious win for the Thunder; PG13 is now going to be able to provide Westbrook with some much needed help as an elite two way player that can provide a spark on both endPG13Thunders of the floor. On a more low-key note, OKC also signed stretch four, Patrick Patterson on a three year 16.4 million dollar deal. Patterson is a guy who can play effectively alongside Westbrook and George as a shooter who can space the floor (shot 36% from three in ’16-’17). The Thunder were also successful in retaining defensive stud, Andre Roberson on a nice affordable deal ($30 million for three years), in addition to signing backup point guard Raymond Felton to a minimum salary. On a grand scale, OKC should be an easy lock for a Playoff spot next year, and this is in large part due to the actions they took in this years Free Agency period. Signing two excellent shooters in Paul George and Patterson will create a more efficient offense for Billy Donovan and the Thunder players, as it will force defenders to respect their man and open up lanes for attacks in the paint. With these excellent moves, I see OKC’s ceiling as a vicious defensive team with potential for the three seed in the West.

Boston Celtics, A- : The Celtics entered this years Free Agency with high hopes and grand ideas of superstar signings, signings that were meant to help the C’s dethrone the Cavaliers…And while Free Agency may not have gone as well as Boston would have hoped, Danny Ainge and the Celtics front office execs delivered in one major way. That delivery came in the form of Gordon Hayward. The former Utah Jazz forward joined the Celtics on a four year 128 million dollar deal that shifts Hayward from a good position in Salt Lake City, to an excellent one in Boston. The combination of Isaiah Thomas and Gordon Hayward should be a seamless fit in Brad Steven’s “position-less” offense, as their  ability to shoot from anywhere on the court will allow for both of them to suck in defenders while the other gets free for a clean look. I also believe the pairing between Al Horford and Hayward will be nice, as they can create a deadly pick-and-pop system with the potential to amount to a lot of threes. Hayward is also a very solid and versatile defender, capable of sticking in front of guards as well as bodying up some power forwards when necessary. Looking at the big picture, the Celtics earned this signing with the moves they have been making since the deconstruction of the big three years ago. Yes it is true the Celtics did lose an instrumental part of their squad with the trade of Avery Bradley to Detroit, but this move was necessary in order for Hayward to sign. And for all those who believe Hayward will hinder the development of yoGHayung teammates in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, stay patient, this is a good problem to have as you have two young players who will be able to develop and learn as understudies to a great wing player. The loss of Amir Johnson hurts the already weak physicality of Boston, and when he was on his game, Kelly Olynyk was a nice backup piece, but a piece that can be replaced, hopefully with someone with a passion for rebounding and playing defense. Expect the Celtics to be a top seed in the extremely depleted Eastern Conference, barring injury of course.

Philadelphia 76ers, A : Philly is another team that has had an eventful offseason; after making moves landing them the number one pick and selecting the guard out of Washington in Markelle Fultz, the Sixers front office has made a bevy of nice moves to bolster their roster. Philadelphia is a team with two ball dominant guys in Ben Simmons and Fultz, neither of which is an elite shooter, so what did Bryan Colangelo and Philly’s front office do? They went out and sign one of the best shooters in the League in J.J. Redick. The former Duke Blue Devil shot an incredible 42.9% from three this past season, bringing an elite shot as well as some veteran wisdom to this young group of ballers in new76ersthe City of Brotherly Love. Redick is joining the 76ers on a one year 23 million dollar contract. Philadelphia also increased their veteran presence with the signing of Amir Johnson on a one year $11 million deal; Johnson is a good rim protector and a respectable rebounder, I only hope he doesn’t interfere with the development of Dario Saric. Finally, the Sixers also signed rookie Furkan Korkmaz who played in Turkey over the last few years. Korkmaz is a skinny yet versatile player who can shoot the lights out when hot, and is a solid on-ball defender, I am excited with this signing as you can never have too much youth (Korkmaz is 19) , and shooting. Philly won 28 games in the 2016-’17 season, I expect that number to increase by at ten in this upcoming year, as they are legitimate Playoff contenders in the softened East. Those of you who believe in the process, keep on believing!

Sacramento Kings, A-: For years, Sacramento’s front office made bad decision after bad decision, further plunging the Kings franchise into mediocrity and irrelevance. Yet, after an excellent draft night where they snagged De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, and Frank Mason III, it would seem Vlade Divac and the Kings management have turned over a new leaf. And this upward trend has spilled over into free agency, as Sacramento has made some excellent moves on their way to rising from the depths of the NBA. The Kings are a young team in the West looking to make ascend in their conference, a task that is easier said than done. While it will take years for the Kings to return to their previous form as a contender, Sacramento’s front office is clearly preparing their exceptional young core for the future with some of their recent signings. Since the start of Free Agency, the Kings have signed veteran point guarsacd George Hill, Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph, and Vince Carter. Zach Randolph is an excellent player who can still provide consistent post-up offense as well as some top notch rebounding, but I believe “Z-Bo’s” greatest contributions will come off the court for the Kings. After seeing that Randolph signed for two years, $24 million, I realized that he will be around the young Kings big men like Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein for two years, mentoring them and helping them improve as bigs in the League. George Hill had an excellent year with Utah, and is a consistent two-way player who will be crucial in holding down the fort for the Kings while the young players develop. Hill signed a three year, $57 million dollar contract with Sacramento. As for Vince Carter, a player well-known for his excellent locker room presence, his one year $8 million dollar deal is a perfect fit as I expect him to bring the Kings together in the upcoming season.

Honorable Mentions: The Houston Rockets have had a very good offseason, as the addition of CP3 will only enhance the high-octane offense in H-Town. The Nuggets signing of Pul Millsap is a great one, as he is an ideal counterpart to Nikola Jokic. The Warriors have also been swift in both signing good pieces to improve their roster, while retaining many of their current players.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more. 

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All Stats/Information via BasketballReference.com/ESPN.com

All Images via Google.com

Question of the Week: Who is the 2016-’17 NBA MVP

In what looks to be one of the closest MVP races in NBA history, three excellent candidates are up for the top spot, but only one can win. 2016-’17 was a year that saw James Harden revitalize not only the Rockets franchise, but his career as well. In a season where Kawhi Leonard improved as a player while leading the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals. And finally, ’16-’17 gifted us an angry and abandoned Russell Westbrook who did something that hadn’t been done in the NBA in over half a century. There is no doubt that all of these candidates are studs and deserve their due recognition, but only one can be crowned MVP tonight, so who will it be?

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: In the first year after the retirement of NBA legend and Spurs star Tim Duncan, San Antonio was looking for their next leader, it’s safe to say the search has ended. Every year Kawhi Leonard has been in the NBA, he has improved as a player, adding something new to his game every year while IMG_0378continuing to maintain what makes him so great already. In 2016-’17, Leonard realized his superstar potential and led the San Antonio Spurs to an elite 61-21 record and a Western Conference Finals berth. And even though “The Claw’s” season ended in disappointment, he has nothing to be ashamed about after the year he had in the Southwest. In 74 games, Kawhi Leonard averaged a career high 25.5 points, six rebounds, 3.5 assists, two steals, and shot 38% from three and 48% from the field. Kawhi also boasted the Leagues third best player efficiency rating at 27.5, while also contributing 13.6 win shares over the course of the season (fourth best in the league). While Kawhi may not say much, his game speaks volumes, something he showed this season and the reason he may just be the MVP of the league after tonight.

James Harden, Houston Rockets: After a sub-par showing in the 2015-’16 season, James Harden came back in ’16-’17 as a new player, and he’s being rewarded for it. IMG_0379When he entered the NBA, no one expected that James Harden would one day lead the league in assists let alone be an MVP candidate when he was sixth man in OKC. In the 2016-’17 season, Harden did what he’s done his whole life, defy the odds and rise above. Under new head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Houston Rockets transformed from a lowly eighth seed team into an offensive juggernaut and a top three squad in the stacked Western Conference. Along with D’Antoni, Harden deserves much of the credit for the vastly improved Rockets. In this past season, Harden averaged a career high 29.1 points, eight rebounds, a steal and a half, shot 44% from the field and 34% from downtown. Yet Harden’s amazing play didn’t end there, as “The Beard” also led the League in both assists (11.2), and win shares contributed at 15.0. One knock against Harden’s ’16-’17 campaign, is the amount of turnovers he accrued over the year, as he averaged nearly six cough ups a night. In the new Houston offense, Harden was transformed into a a revamped version of the mid 2000’s Steve Nash, becoming the ultimate playmaker and an elite scorer from anywhere on the court. In Nash’s case, he was crowned MVP, perhaps the same is in the cards for Harden.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: Finally, we reach the MVP candidate with the best storyline of the year. One year, the Oklahoma City Thunder are considered one of the top five teams in the NBA with a strong core of emerging and and established stars such as, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. Fast forward oneIMG_0380 season and the entire landscape of OKC has changed. The team has been ravaged by the losses of both Durant and Ibaka and many wonder if this team will begin its descent into mediocrity and insignificance. Fortunately, Russell Westbrook would not allow that to happen, so he put the Thunder on his back and carried them to a respectable 47-35 season as well as a playoff berth as a sixth seed. And when I say Westbrook put the Thunder on his back, he did exactly that…In this past season, “Danger-Russ” led OKC in every major statistical category, posting a stat-line of 31.6 points a game (best in NBA), nearly eleven rebounds a night, 10.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and shot career bests from both the free throw line (84%) and the three point line (34%). Westbrook also led the league with a player efficiency rating of 30.6 and contributed 13.6 win shares over the course of the year. The same knock against Harden also plagues Westbrook, as he was relatively turnover prone throughout the year (5.4 a game) and took/missed more shots than any other player this year. Whether or not Westbrook wins the MVP tonight, he did something in ’16-’17 that was both historic as well as heroic, and he should be recognized for that.

Prediction: In my opinion, Russell Westbrook was the most valuable player to his team this year, and deserves to win for that fact alone.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

All Stats via BasketballReference.com

All Images via Google.com