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

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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

2017 NBA Draft: My Top Ten Picks

As the NBA season concludes with the Golden State Warriors winning it all, lets shift gears and look to the future, and what better way to do that then evaluating the 2017 NBA Draft? This years class has the potential for greatness, with a bevy of skilled guards and a nice mix of versatile forwards, I don’t expect the rookie class of 2017 to disappoint. But who’s going where? Is Lonzo heading to L.A? Who are the Knicks going to get? Lets take a look.

1st Overall Pick, Philadelphia 76ers: Thanks to some last minute negotiation, the Philadelphia 76ers have once again landed the first overall pick, and it seems like Philly has their sights set on Washington guard Markelle Fultz. Fultz is one of the most highly touted players to enter the NBA in recent memory, and for good reason; 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 College Basketball. As a freshman, Fultz averaged 23 points, five rebounds, six assists, shot 47% from the field, a nice 41% from three, and averaged a player efficiency rating of 27.9. The 6’4″ 195 pound guard has good size for his position, is an efficient and skilled inside scorer, has a quick and consistent jump-shot, and has an extremely high basketball IQ. Fultz Mark fis also an elite-level athlete with an ability to rise above the rim with ease, an aspect of his game that will only enhance an already athletic Sixers roster. If drafted by the 76ers, I envision Fultz splitting time with Simmons as the lead ball handler on the squad, something he should be able to adequately do with his solid shooting ability. With that being said, there is a possibility for complications to arise for Fultz in Philly, as his playmaking and shot-selection could use improvement.

2nd Overall Pick, Los Angeles Lakers: For the second year in a row, the Lakers have finessed the second overall pick in the NBA draft…the only question is, who are they going to draft with it? As soon as the draft lottery concluded last month, everyone assumed the Lakers would be selecting Lonzo Ball out of UCLA with the second pick. With the way things are shaping up, I believe this was a safe assumption. Lonzo Ball is a big guard with a sweet outside shot and an ability to create offense for his teammates, and while Magic Johnson was never exactly a sharpshooter, I think that the new Lakers president of basketball ops wants the chance to mentor Ball. In his freshman campaign at UCLA, Ball put up some nice number; the face of Big Baller Brand averaged 14 points, six rebounds, nearly eight assists, shot a healthy 55% from the field, 41% from deep, and contributed 6.8 win shares to the team. And while many are enamored with Ball’s skill as a shooter and scorer, it is the Bruin’s ability to effect the game in multiple ways that will make him an NBA talent. Ball is an underrated passer with exceptional vision and a willingness to pass, a talent I belieLonzove will only be improved under the tutelage of Luke Walton and Johnson. If the Lakers do draft Ball, I hope and believe the young guard embraces whatever role his is thrust into as L.A. gears up for a rebuild. On the next level, I hope to see Ball mature physically so he can be a more adept defender and to see him transition into a more consistent shooter, as his shot proved to be somewhat streaky in college.

3rd Overall Pick, Boston Celtics: Another season and another year that Danny Ainge has proven why he is one of the best front office guys in the NBA. Ainge put together a team in Boston that not only made the Eastern Conference Finals, but a team that also had the number one pick in the draft before he unloaded it for the third pick and another future first round selection. But what will Ainge do with the third pick? I think I have an idea. With the third pick in the 2017 NBA draft, I think the best option for Boston would be to draft the wing scorer out of Duke in Jayson Tatum. As a freshman in Durham, Tatum had a nice season putting up 17 points a night, grabbing seven rebounds, getting two assists, and shooting 45% from the field and 34% from three. Tatum also boasted a 22.0 player efficiency rating and contributed 4.1 win shares over the season, showing how effective his play was for Coach K and the Blue Devils. Tatum is a big forward at 6’8″ with a deadly mid-range jump shot, solid athletic ability, underrated post moves, and a knack for getting buckets. His ability to play both the small forward as well as the small-ball four, coupled with his potential to space the floor with his shooting will be well utilized by a BosJay Tateton team that could use a go-to second option. In the NBA, Tatum should look to improve as a defensive player, as he often loses focus on defense and can allow easy baskets. Also, if Tatum is playing the four position in the League, I expect him to have difficulty guarding some stronger power forwards as a 205 pound rookie.

4th Overall Pick, Phoenix Suns: Once again the Phoenix Suns have found themselves selecting high in the lottery, but unlike some of the previous teams I’ve discussed, Phoenix’s decision is going to be a bit tougher. At this point in the draft, especially in this years class, there is still a nice selection of players the Suns can get, it simply depends on what they are looking for. The Suns have the possibility to draft point guard De’Aaron Fox and pair him up with fellow Kentucky guard, Devin Booker. I believe this could be a match made in heaven, as Fox is already a very solid defender at only 19 years old with a respectable wingspan of 6’6″, as well as a proven playmaker who has showcased an ability to efficiently run an offense. In his freshman year under Coach Cal, Fox averaged close to 17 points, four rebounds, and four assists, while shooting 48% from the field with a PER of 22.0. Fox was also a critical member of the Wildcats success, as he contributed 5.1 win shares over the course of the 36 game season. I have faith that if drafted by Phoenix, Fox will have a nice role on one of the more underrated young teams in the DeaaronNBA, helping the Suns eventually rise in the West. On the NBA level, Fox will need to continue improving his three point shot as he shot an abysmal 24% from deep over the course of his one year college career. As a side note, the next guy I will be talking about would also be a nice fit for Phoenix, and I can see him and Fox switching spots.

 

5th Overall Pick, Sacramento Kings: While I hope this is one of the last seasons the Kings are selecting in the lottery, I doubt it is. Regardless, Sacramento’s front office has a chance to get a player that can be a piece of their rebuild, a piece named Josh Jackson. Jackson is a 6’8″ small forward with elite level athleticism, a nice playmaking ability, has solid rebounding skills, and is a guy who is unafraid to make the hustle play. In my opinion, this former Jayhawk is not only one of the safest picks of the draft, but a player with one of the highest upsides in the draft. As a freshman at Kansas, Jackson averaged 16 points, a strong seven rebounds, three assists, averaged a player efficiency rating of 24.1, and contributed 4.9 win shares. The Kings are looking to rebuild around some of their young pieces, selecting Jackson with this pick would help tKansas Jayhawks - January 28, 2017his movement exponentially, as they add a player with excellent athleticism and a solid all-around game. It should be noted that in his lone year at Kansas, Jackson shot 37.8% from three, quelling any ideas people had about him not being able to consistently shoot. As an NBA player, Jackson should look to add moves to his offensive game, as creating offense against NBA wings is much harder than against college kids.

6th Overall Pick, Orlando Magic: This pick is quite possibly going to be a toss up, as the Magic are not the most reliable team when it comes to drafting. With that being said, I expect them to select FSU forward Jonathan Isaac with the sixth overall pick. The first thing you notice about Isaac is his length; at 6’10” 210, Isaac is a long, yet thin forward with solid athletic ability and a nice shooting form, an excellent combo in todays NBA. As a freshman at Florida State, Isaac averaged 12 points, eight rebounds, one assist, shot 50% from the field, 34% from deep, and boasted one of the better PERs in college hoops at 24.6. The Magic have been looking for a young versatile wing for years, if they select Isaac, I believe they will have found their guy. In the NBA, Isaac is going to need to work on being aggressive on both sides of the floor, add some weight to his thin frame, and improve on his defensive IQ.

7th Overall Pick, Minnesota Timberwolves: Unlike many of the previous teams on this list, I expect this to be one of Minnesota’s final years selecting in the lottery. And with the seventh pick in the draft, I think the Timberwolves would be striking gold selecting the forward from Arizona in Lauri Markkanen. As a seven footer, Markkanen posses an high level of agility that will help him both score and defend in the NBA. The Arizona product is also a big man that can score in a multitude of ways, whether this be scoring in pick an roll situations as the roller, or pulling up from the perimeter, Markkanen was one of the more versatile offensive players in all of the NCAA. As a freshman, Markkanen averaged 15 points, seven rebounds, and one assist, while shooting a stellar 42% from three shooting 4.4 deep balls per game. In 30 minutes a night, Markkanen was also very efficient, ending his collegiate career with a 25.0 player efficiency rating and an effective field goal percentage of 58%. The T-Wolves need a solid player at the power forward position, and with his ability to stretch the floor as well as score in a variety of ways, Markkanen would be a great fit. As he transitions into the Legaue, Markkanen will need to improve as a defensive player and rebounder in addition to adding muscle to his 230 pound frame.

8th Overall Pick, New York Knicks: As a New York native, I am genuinely excited about the options the Knicks have with this pick, barring any unruly and foolish actions by Phil Jackson. With the eighth selection in this years draft, the Knicks can either get dynamic scoring guard Dennis Smith Jr. out of NC State, or the Wildcat bucket in Malik Monk. For the sake of this mock draft and due to the needs of the Knicks, I will be selecting the former. Dennis Smith Jr. had an up and down year at NC State, as the Wolfpack struggled in the standings and Smith was plagued with questions regarding his character and shot selection. Regardless of all this, I am confident that Smith is a player ready for the NBA, and a player ready to help the Knicks. As a freshman, Smith averaged 18 points, six assists, four rebounds, recorded a PER of 23.1, and shot 35% from three. Smith is both one of the most explosive players in the draft, as well as one of the strongest guards in this class, a player that can blow by defenders as well as play the pick and roll effectively.  And though we did not see enough of it in his lone year at NC State, Smith is a solid playmaker with respectable vision capable of making a play when asked to do so. I can only imagine how great it will be to see Smith and Porzingis killing teams as a pick and roll duo…unless old man Jackson trades KP. In the League, Smith will need to improve as a playmaker, work on his decision making, and improve his defensive effort.

9th Overall Pick, Dallas Mavericks: As the Mavericks begin preparing for the post-Dirk years, this selection could prove to be critical. While it is possible Dennis Smith Jr. slips to the Mavs, it is a bit more likely Dallas’ front office selects Malik Monk with their ninth pick. If you’re a Mavericks fan, this should be a gift, as Monk is a solid overall player and one the best shooters in this entire class. In 32 minutes a game under Coach Cal, Monk averaged 20 points, two rebounds, two assists, a steal, and shot 39% from three while attempting 6.9 threes a game. Simply put, Monk is a bucket. A guy with an extremely quick first step, Monk is adept at both getting himself open for clean looks or driving to the rim with authority. As a freshman, Monk also displayed his passing ability on numerous occasions, hitting the open man or a diving cutter for an easy basket, an aspect of his game that will help him remain in the NBA for years to come. If drafted by Dallas, I can see Monk getting the start at either the point guard or off guard spot, or simply being the go-to-guy off the bench for a team in need of some offensive flare. One major weakness to Monk’s game is his small size at 6’3″ something that may prove to hinder him in a League filled with large experienced guards at both the one and two position.

10th Overall pick, Sacramento Kings: The tenth pick from the Kings is one that is majorly dependent on what they do with the fifth pick, but if they do select Josh Jackson earlier in the draft, I expect them to either take big man Zach Collins or French mystery man Frank Ntilkina. While Zach Collins is a safer pick than Ntilkina, the Kings already have a somewhat crowded front court with the emergence of Willie Cauly Stein as well as the developing Skal Labissiere. After doing some extensive research, I have come to the conclusion that Ntilkina should be the Kings pick at this point. Ntilkina has all of the physical tools to be a very good point guard at the NBA level, at 6’5″ with a wingspan over seven feet, Ntilkina has the tools to be an elite defender today. On Strasbourg IG, Ntilkina’s French team, the guard averaged close to six points, two rebounds, and 1.7 assists, while shooting 39% from three in only 19 minutes a game. While these stats do not blow you away, Ntilkina is a player that needs opportunity to thrive, something he will have plenty of in Sacramento. As a big guard, Ntilkina can shoot and make plays over shorter defenders, he is also already a strong defender, and his size will allow him to not only play but also guard multiple positions. While I do not see the Kings starting Ntilkina in his rookie year, if they select him, I expect them to allow him to develop into a versatile lead guard and eventually, a large piece of their future. As he enters the League, Ntilkina will need to improve as a playmaker, improve his shooting consistency, and work on his ability to effectively and efficiently run a complicated offense.

Good luck to all these guys tonight, and thanks for reading.

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All Stats via BasketballReference.com/DraftExpress.com

All Images via Google

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

Rookie of The Year is one of my favorite awards, as it recognizes a first year player who who not only had a good first season but a player that shows potential for the future. While this years crop of rookies wasn’t stellar, a handful of rooks showed signs that they can be players in this League for a long time. The three finalists for this award did this and much more; from a second round pick who surprised to an injured big man who finally got a chance to shine, all the way to a sweet-stroking forward from overseas, these three rooks balled out. Let’s take a deeper look!

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: First off, it would be remiss of me if I did not point out the fact that Joel “The Process” Embiid was in fact drafted two years before he stepped on an NBA court to play. Therefore making the title of “rookie” somewhat tenuous in this big mans case. Nonetheless, Embiid was well worth the wait; in his first year of NBA action the center from Cameroon put up historic numbers, averaging a healthy 20 points, eight rebounds, two assists, a stifling 2.5 blocks and lead all rookies in player efficiency with 24.1. Embiid even etched his name in the history books with his play in his “rookie” campaign; per 36 minutes, “The Process” put up better stats in points, rebounds, and blocks than all-time greats such as Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson. Embiid also showed the league that he isn’t your typical center, as he shot an impressive 36% from three and a solid 78% from the stripe. But it joel ewasn’t all roses and daisies for Embiid in his first year; “The Process” needs to work on his ball security and his stamina, as he averaged a paltry 3.8 turnovers per game and was consistently gassed on court. With all that being said, Embiid’s “rookie” year was nothing short of awesome, as he showed with his much-improved jump shot and majestic post moves that he is willing to put in the work to become a potential superstar in the NBA. Joel Embiid has a legitimate chance of winning this award, and would be a lock for it if he had played more than a third of the Sixers games, but regardless of what happens on June 26th one thing is for sure, “The Process” is here to stay for a long time.

Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks: If I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the former UVA guard when the Bucks drafted him in the second round of last years draft. After witnessing Brogdon’s first year, it’s safe to say that Malcolm Brogdon has made me eat my words. In his rookie campaign, the 24 year old from Atlanta proved that he has all of the tools to not only make a name for himself in the NBA, but possibly be a crucial piece to a team on the rise in the Bucks. In 75 games, Brogdon put up ten points a night, four assists, three rebounds per game, shot 40% from deep, and proved to be a staunch defender as he grabbed 1.1 steals a game as well. Brogdon also showBrogdoned that he can run an offense when he got the start at point for Milwaukee in the Playoffs and kept his turnover numbers down (2.0 per game). Brogdon’s efficient and consistent play was critical in a solid year for the Bucks, as the team was better offensively when he was in the game, and suffered defensively when he wasn’t. While he doesn’t have a big time name or a super catchy nickname, Brogdon was quite possibly the most consistent rookie this year, something the young Buck deserves to be recognized for.

Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers: If you’re a Sixers fan, you have to be loving your chances at this award! A mystery man also drafted in 2014, Dario Saric entered the NBA with a splash in 2016-’17. The forward from Croatia proved that he is more than just project-player in 81 games for Philly; a player who benefited from a trade-deadline move, Saric really had a year after the All-Star break. After All-Star weekend’s festivities concluded, Saric seized his opportunity averaging 17 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, numbers that blew his pre All-Star break stats out of the water. Saric also displayed a sweet stroke in his first year, as he shot a solid 31% from three, 78% from the field, and maintained a field goal percentage above 40%. The 22 year old forward also displayed signs that he can be an effective two way pD-Sariclayer, as he posted a solid 106.9 defensive rating with an overall player efficiency rating of 12.84 (11th best among all rookies). If Saric can become a more consistent all-around player and improve his outside stroke as well as his finishing ability, I am confident he will be a large part of Philadelphia’s plans in the future. While I think it’s doubtful Saric brings home the ROTY trophy, his improved play over the course of the season should be recognized and noted, and hey anything is possible.

Prediction: While all three of these young finalists had respectable first years, I think Malcolm Brogdon is the most deserving of this award due to his consistent play throughout the entire season.

Honorable Mentions: Willy Hernangomez of the New York Knicks showed me that he is a hard-working big man who, with the right opportunity, will be a solid role player in this league. Phoenix Sun forward Marquese Chriss also had a very underrated season and should not be overlooked. Shoutout to some solid freshman campaigns from Lakers Center Ivica Zubac and Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Stats via ESPN.com/BasketballReference.com

All Images via Google