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

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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.

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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

 

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.

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Stats via BasketballReference.com/Teamrankings.com

Images via Google.com

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