Question of the Week: Who is the 2016-’17 Sixth Man of the Year

Now that the Awards finalists for the 2016-’17 NBA season have officially been released, lets take a look at some guys who may be taking home hardware this summer. First up, the Sixth Man candidates! While this award isn’t the most glamorous, it is an important honor nonetheless that highlights the guys who provide a positive impact off the bench. Which of these three valuable bench-ballers do you think is going to be taking home the award this year? Check out my prediction down below.

Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets: A few years ago, Eric Gordon was being heralded as one of the next best shooting guards to grace the league. Unfortunately, Gordon was hit with numerous injuries over the past few seasons, derailing dreams of him becoming a perennial All-Star and possibly more. Here we are in 2017, and the narrative on Gordon has changed a bit: Eric Gordon, an excellent shooter backing up one of the best shooting guards in the league. After an ugly stint with New Orleans that saw the shooter decline with each season, Gordon made his way to Clutch City thisEric G past offseason, looking to improve a solid Rockets squad. At this point, it is safe to say Gordon succeeded in his goal. In his first year in Houston, Gordon put up some nice numbers, averaging 16 points, two assists, and nearly three rebounds as a reserve. Gordon was also cash from the three-point line, shooting 37% from deep and making 206 threes off the bench (the most threes off the bench since the three point era began in 1979-’80). Eric Gordon was crucial to the success of the Rockets, as his shooting and ability to
run an offense off the bench helped Houston maintain their high-octane offense while Harden rested. Whether Gordon wins the award or not, he has found a solid role for himself in Houston and will be a valued member of the team for years to come so long as he continues playing as he did in 2016-’17.

Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors: Another season and another year Andre Iguodala is being considered for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Will the 33 year old wing finally take it home this year? In my opinion, there is a good chance Iggy finally brings home some hardware this summer. Looking at Iguodala’s stat line from 2016-’17, nothing pops out as amazing; he averaged slightly over seven points a night, grabbed three four rebounds, and dished out about three assists per contest. Yet when you take a deeper look into the 2015 FinalIggys MVP’s numbers, you can see where he has a case; Iguodala shot his best percentage from the free-throw line in seven seasons (70%), shot a career best from the field at 52%, and posted his best player efficiency rating in a Warriors uniform to date with 14.37. Iggy is also a member of the team with the best record in the NBA, something I believe will help his chances come June.

Lou Williams, Houston Rockets: Two years removed from his stint in Toronto, it would seem Drake’s favorite former Sixth Man has done it again. For two different teams, first Los Angeles and then Houston, Lou Will came off the bench and was quite simply a bucket. In 2016-’17 Williams averaged a combined career best 17.5Louuuuuu points, good enough to lead the league as a reserve scorer. Williams also shot 36% from three (38% in 58 games as a Laker), contributed two rebounds, three assists, and was among the top 15 players in the NBA when it comes to free-throw percentage. In his 11 years
as a pro, Lou Williams has showcased a consistent ability to score off the bench, something that I believe will keep him in the Sixth Man conversation for many years to come.

Prediction: While all there of these finalists are excellent candidates for the award, I personally believe Lou Williams will be crowned Sixth Man of the Year in June. I look forward to another Drake song based on Lou Will’s accomplishments in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Stats via ESPN.com/Basketball-Reference.com

All Images via Google.com

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Playoff Preview: Western Conference

As the NBA Playoffs kick off this afternoon with some Eastern Conference games, lets take a look ahead at some of the Western Conference matchups that are soon to follow. Golden State Warriors v. Portland Trailblazers: Diving right into this Series, the Warriors are coming off of a great year and looking for a third […]

Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference

Now that the 2016-’17 regular season has officially concluded, lets take a look at some of the teams in the East looking to make a playoff push.

Boston Celtics v. Chicago Bulls: The Celtics have had an amazing year led by their diminutive star in Isaiah Thomas, finishing their ’16-’17 campaign at 53-29 and snagging the one seed. With the creative coaching of Brad Stevens, this Celtic team has ascended to the ninth best team in the league when it comes to offensive efficiency. Boston is also one of the best in the NBA when it comes to ball security, only committing 13.3 turnovers a game in comparison to their 25 assists per contest. Boston’s bench has been coming alive as of late, and I believe big contributions from Marcus Smart and Amir Johnson will be a necessity if they hope to avoid an upset in the opening round. The Bulls, on the other hand, had a less than stellar season, finishing with a .500 record of 41 wins and 41 losses. Addled by various injuries, internal issues, and a lack of perimeter shooting, Chicago was in a dogfight to make the post-season, but made itJimmy v IT.jpg nonetheless. With that being said, don’t count Jimmy Butler and the Bulls out just yet. Despite their current seeding at eight, Chicago is a hard-nosed team that thrives off of defensive-rebounding leading to fast break points (13.8 per game) against the Celtics (12.3). While only a small aspect of the game, if Chicago can come out aggressive in games and control the glass, they will give themselves a fighting chance against the Celtics smaller front court. The Bulls also have some favorable match ups on the defensive end with a versatile lineup filled with solid perimeter defenders such as the former Celtic Rajon Rondo, Dwayne “The Flash” Wade, and Jimmy Butler. If Chicago can contain Isaiah Thomas, through either trapping him or forcing him to take bad shots, Boston will be forced to find offense elsewhere.

X-Factors in this Series:  The X-Factor for the Bulls in this series will be veteran guard Rajon Rondo. If Rondo can be an effective defender and control the tempo of the game for Chicago, he will give them a legitimate chance at upsetting the Celtics. The Celtics X-Factor is going to have to be the defensive-minded forward, Jae Crowder. Crowder will most likely be matched up on Butler for a majority of the Series, and if he can contain the Bulls best offensive player, he will increase Boston’s chances of putting the Series away early.

Prediction: I expect this to be a dragged out low scoring series that will ultimately end with Boston winning in seven games.

Cleveland Cavaliers v. Indiana Pacers: Of all the Series set up in the East, this one has me most excited. There are just so many great storylines at play in this Series; the “slipping Cavaliers,” the rising Pacers looking to make a final push, and potentially exhilarating matchup between LeBron and Paul George. Cleveland had a storybook season last year, making it to the Finals and beating the reigning champion Warriors in seven games. And while the ’16-’17 regular season has not been as kind to the Cavs, who is to say they won’t dominate again in the post-season? Despite their losing record since the All-Star break, the Cavs are still one of the best teams in the NBA, and I honestly don’t think they will be tested in this opening Series. Ignoring the fact that playoff LeBron is an absolute monster, Cleveland has a lot of stats supporting their superiority to Indiana. On a basic note, the Cavaliers averaged 110.3 points per game in comparison to Indiana’s 105. 1, a clear indicator that the Cavs not only score more, but also get consistent three-point shooting. Cleveland also gets an average of three more rebounds per game than Indiana, a number I believe will be exaggerated due to the high-stakes nature of the post-season. On the other side of the Series, we have the upstart Pacers, another team who made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. Indiana finished the 2016-’17 regular season at 42-40, ending the year strong on a five game win-streak. Unfortunately for all you Hoosiers out there, I don’t expect this winning to carry over into the post-season. While the Pacers are a relatively dominant team when it comes to scoring down low, 42 points in the paint per game, as well as the fact that they have a nice mix of young and veteran players, they are simply too inconsistent to win a seven game Series against a battle-tested team such as Cleveland. While I have no doubt Paul George will do his best to outgun LeBron and keNBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacersep his team close, at this point in both of their careers, James is still the better player and will ultimately win this matchup. Irving and Teague will duel, but I have a feeling the defense of George Hill will be missed when it comes to this point guard battle. Sharpshooter C.J. Miles will do his thing as the deep ball specialist on Indy, and the defense of Myles Turner will be an annoyance to Cleveland, but the sheer number of big men the Cavs have to throw at the young center will ultimately be too much.

X-Factors in this Series: The X-Factor for the Pacers in this two v. seven matchup will have to be their bench. With some bona-fide solid players as a second unit, Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson in particular, Indiana’s bench will need to provide some strong offensive power while their starters rest in order to push the Cavs. Kevin Love is the X-Factor for Cleveland in this first round matchup, as his rebounding will be a deciding factor in games.

Prediction: The Cavs should win this Series in five games, but I hope/expect to see an otherworldly performance from either Paul George or Myles Turner that will extend this first round battle to six games.

Toronto Raptors v. Milwaukee Bucks: While not as good as their 2015-’16 campaign, the Raptors have had a phenomenal year nonetheless, finishing the season as the three seed in the East at 51-31. The Raptors are a team in a good spot as they are getting healthy at the perfect time, and they seem to be improving the teams chemistry in recent weeks with the return of Kyle Lowry. A team that can beat you down with their offense, the 11th best field goal percentage in the league, Toronto is a team with not only lots of fire-power, but lots of pieces as well. DeMar DeRozan is one of the league’s best scorers, Serge Ibaka is still an elite-level defender, Kyle Lowry is a guard that can cook on both ends of the floor, Valanciunas is a solid rebounder and an improving post-up player, and the Raptor’s bench is one of the stronger ones in the NBA. On the season, Toronto has held teams to an average of 102.6 points a game, something that does not bode well for Milwaukee when you consider the fact that the Bucks only score an average of 103 points a game. But hold on before you count the young Bucks out just yet. Milwaukee has had a year of redemption after missingToronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks the post-season in an embarrassing showcase in ’15-’16, and I think they will find some success in this first round matchup. The Bucks are a fast team that thrives off of transition offense, they average 14 fast-break points per game, as well as a team that likes to pound it down low (48 points in the paint per game in comparison to Toronto’s 43). Milwaukee also benefits from a high-scoring bench that averages 39 points per contest. Looking at their lineup, Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo has had an absolute year, one worthy of the Most Improved Player award. Tony Snell has proven to be a great addition to the Bucks, as he provides a consistent 3-and-D option for Jason Kidd. The return of Khris Middleton has been a blessing for the Bucks, as his consistent shooting and strong defensive play is a reason the Bucks were so good in March. Rookie of The Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon has also been great for Milwaukee as a smart player and a quality passer/defender, but the Bucks would be foolish to depend on a rookie in a Series like this. When you add all of these factors together, the Bucks actually appear to have a chance; if Kidd and his team punch the ball down low and get the Raptors into some early foul trouble, they give themselves a strong chance to steal a game or two.

X-Factors in this Series: The X-Factor for Milwaukee is the low-post-load in Greg Monroe. A strong player who can score in the post as well as on face-up looks, Monroe will need to be an effective offensive player for the Bucks either coming off the bench or starting. Toronto’s X-Factor in round one is Kyle Lowry; Lowry has a reputation for disappearing in playoff Series, and if he wants to help his squad advance to the next round, he will need to assert himself defensively and allow DeRozan to be the focal point of the Raptors offense.

Prediction: The Bucks are young and scrappy, so I see them fighting out at least one win at home against the Raptors in what will ultimately be a five game Series in favor of Toronto.

Washington Wizards v. Atlanta Hawks: The Washington Wizards are one of the success stories of the 2016-’17 NBA season. A team that started off near the bottom of the East finally came together this year, and by utilizing everyone’s specific skills, eventually ascended to one of the top squads in their Conference. John Wall has had an outstanding year worthy of recognition, while fans were finally able to see how effective a healthy Bradley Beal can be. Otto Porter has finally taken that step forward, and has displayed an ability to be not only a solid third option, but a potentially elite three-point shooter. And the two bigs on the Wizards, Morris and Gortat, have remained consistently solid players on both ends of the floor, something that will be huge in Washington’s upcoming playoff push. The Wizards have a high octane offense and average about 109 points a game, but their defense will need to improve in the post-season, as they give up 107.4 points a contest as well. To go along with that high-octane offense, the Wizards get 16 fast-break points a game, a focus of their game I know will help them in this upcoming Series. While I wouldn’t exactly call the Hawks 2016-’17 a “success story,” they fought through a season of change and have made it to the post-season. But what type of noise will they make? The Hawks are a 43 win team that likes to play with a balance of both attacking from the perimeter as well as pounding the ball down low, creating a slowing tempo that can actually play to their advantage in this round one series. On the defensive side of the ball, the Hawks are a strong and physical team that is not afraid to body guys up when necessary(avg. 53.7 boards per game), a fact that I believe will be very apparent when playing the Wizards (avg. 50.6 rebounds per game). Taking a wider look at totto v paul millhe Series, the Hawks have a solid squad with an fringe All-Star in Paul Millsap, a rejuvenated Dwight Howard, and rising stars in both Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. With that being said, I believe that though the Wizards starting lineup is the superior one in the series. Marcin Gortat is a physical guy who won’t back down to Howard, and though Millsap outmatches Morris, the dynamic duo of Wall/Beal in the Wizard’s backcourt is still superior to the Schroder/Hardaway Jr. combo.

X-Factors in this Series: The X-Factor for ATL in this first round battle is going to have to be Kent Bazemore. Bazemore has struggled since the All-Star break for the Hawks, he is shooting an abysmal 70% from the free-throw line, has been losing minutes to Taurean Prince, and is shooting a lowly 40% from the field. If Bazemore does not get his game together and return to the form he was in last year as a defender and capable scorer, the Hawks could be in for a rough Series. The X-Factor for the Wizards is going to be Otto Porter Jr. I know John Wall and Bradley Beal will be ready when they are called on, but Porter has a bit of a habit of disappearing and missing assignments, something he will need to focus on in this years playoff festivities. I can see this first round matchup being a national stage for Otto to either shine or fade into darkness missing a golden opportunity.

Prediction: I believe that this Series has game seven potential due to the veteran nature of this Hawks team, but realistically, I see it going six games in favor of the Wizards.

2017-NBA-Playoffs-Preditions

 

 

 

 

 

All Stats via ESPN.com/TeamRankings.com

All Images via Google

March Madness Special: Top Ten Prospects Still in The Dance

In honor of the glorious event that is March Madness, I’m going to be taking a break from the NBA and focusing on some of the young stars in college. In this edition, I’m taking a look at some of the best players who have not only made it to the Tournament, but are still dancing as well. Here we go!

Josh Jackson, Kansas Jayhawks: Entering his college career as a highly touted recruit, it is safe to say that Jackson has lived up to expectations, and perhaps even exceeded some. Jackson is averaging 16 points, three assists, and a healthy seven rebounds per game for Kansas; Jackson also gets a steal and a block a game, and is turning the ball over 2.3 times per contest. Coming into his freshman year known as an athletic wing with an outstanding leaping ability, there were critics who believed Jackson was simply an athlete with a hitch in his shot. Well based on his performance this year and thus far in the Tournament, Jackson has silenced these critics and has proven he is a flat out scorer with the ability to do much more than just that. Jackson shot 38% from three during the season and over 51Josh Jackson% from the field, yet his abysmal 55% from the free throw line is concerning. Overall, Jackson is most definitely a player with loads of potential and numerous superb performances backing this up, I think it is very possible Jackson goes number one overall in June. I also see him and Kansas continuing their run in March.

*Miles Bridges, Michigan State Spartans: Having not watched a lot of MSU play during the season, it has been a treat watching the young Miles Bridges ball during the Tournament. A big 6’7″ 230 pound forward, Bridges is a player that has a lot more game than meets the eye. In his lone season at MSU, Bridges has averaged 16.7 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and swats one shot a game, while turning the rock over two times. And while Bridges may resemble a power forward, he shoots the ball like a guard, as he is shooting threes at a 39% clip. Bridges is an athletic strong player with a knack for being an on-court leader, making mid-range shots and a respectable rate, and can play much larger than his height suggests. I believe that if Bridges continues to focus on his shooting mechanics and improves on his defensive consistency and intensity, he will be a great player in the NBA. If he declares this June, Bridges should be a lotto pic, even though his Spartans didn’t make it to the Sweet 16.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Wildcats: For years, Kentucky has produced excellent players who find a way to continue being studs in the Association. I am confident this years class of Wildcats won’t disappoint. In Fox, John Calipari has a 6’5″ guard with the ability to both attack the rim as well as consistently make plays for his teammates. In his freshman year as a Wildcat, Fox averaged 16 points, four rebounds, and five assists, while swiping the ball once a game, and turning it over twice. A stat that should be noted for Fox: while he turned the ball over 47 times all year, he had 157 assists, triple the number of times he coughed it up. And when you watch Fox, it is apparent that he is always looking for his teammates, sometimes to a fault. One major downside to Fox’s game, his weak three point shot, as he shot the deep ball at a 23% clip this past season. Nonetheless, I am confident in Fox and his ability as well as mentality; if the young Wildcat decided to declare for the draft, expect him to go within the top seven picks. I also envision more March success for Fox and the Wildcats, as I am confident they will make the Final Four.

Lonzo Ball, UCLA Bruins: Despite all of the nonsense Ball’s father may spew, his son is one heck of a ball player. During his debut season at UCLA, the former Chino Hill’s star had a nice year; Ball averaged 14 points a night, six rebounds as a guard, and over seven assists, while stealing and turning the ball over twice. Entering this season, I believed Ball was overrated. I am not ashamed to say that I was wrong. Ball is a magician with the rock, placing pin-point passes into his teammates hands with shocking precision, and though I didn’t believe his unorthodox shot would translate to college, his 41% three point shot is impossible to doubt. Ball is also a vocal guy on the court, often directing plays and calling out ball screens wherever they appLonzoooear, something I believe will translate well in the League. Ball does need to work on his free throw percentage which is in the mid sixties, as well as become a more consistent player on a nightly basis in terms of ball security. When he declares, expect Ball to be a top five pick. And even though there have been many upsets this March season, I think the Bruins advance after tonight.

Frank Mason III, Kansas Jayhawks: Possibly one of the best players in all of college basketball, this guard on the Jayhawks is cold. A two year starter for Kansas, the senior guard has really stepped up this year; Mason III averaged 13 points last year, that has gone up to 21 in his senior campaign. He also contributes five assists a night, four rebounds at 5’11”, and steals the ball 1.3 times per contest. A player with a knack for getting buckets, Mason III is a hard man to stop on offense as he is so quick off ball screens, moves well without the ball, and is an adept ball handler. Mason’s shooting is also shocking, as he shoots the three at a startling 48%, nearly as well as his field goal percentage which is at 49%. While Mason III may not be a lotto pick, predominantly because of his 5’11” frame, I am confident he will make a name for himself in the League.

Jayson Tatum, Duke Blue Devils: Although I may not be a fan of Duke, you gotta love this kid Tatum. A 6’8″ Forward from Saint Louis, since his return from injury, Tatum has made Duke the frightening powerhouse they once were. After missing eight games to injury, Tatum came in and put on a show during his freshman campaign: averaging 17 points, nearly eight boards, two assists, and a block and a steal. Tatum also turned the ball over two and a half times. An athletic player with a solid stroke from outside (33% from three), Tatum is a guy who can put up big numbers any given situation. He is a strong player at 205 pounds who has the ability to play in the post, drive the lane, and has shown an ability to go coast to coast after a defensive rebound. If he declares for the draft, I guarantee Tatum will be a top five pick, I also have a sneaking suspicion that this may be Duke’s year…

Justin Jackson, North Carolina Tar Heels: A lanky kid from Texas, Justin Jackson is the silent killer of the NCAA. Now in his junior year,averaging 18 points, close to five rebounds, two assists, and only one turnover a game, Jackson has truly developed in his three years under Roy Williams. Jackson is also more aggressive on both sides of the court than he used to be, something that can be noted in his five steals in tonights win over Arkansas. Now the go-to guy for UNC, Jackson has stepped up to the challenge and become an excellent shooter from three, raining in deep buckets at a 38% clip. While I am unsure whether Jackson will declare or not, if he puts on weight and stays aggressive, I have faith that he will be a solid role-player in the NBA. I see the Heels making it to the Elite Eight.

Malik Monk, Kentucky Wildcats: If there was one player I would define as a straight up scorer in college hoops, it would have to be Malik Monk. This is the guy who went off for 47 back in December, and the same guy who averaged 20 points during his freshman year.  In addition to his 20 points, Monk also averaged two assists and rebounds, while shooting 82% from the stripe, and 39% from three. Oh yes, Malik Monk is an absolute bucket. A guy who is athletic enough to get around defenders, split defenses wiMonk manth his ball handling ability, while also dangerous enough from outside to attract attention from his teammates, Monk has a bright future. Monk is also clutch, not in the sense that he hits a lot of game winners, but in the sense that he makes timely buckets, something that was highlighted earlier today with his big three against Wichita State. While a great player, who will no doubt go top five come June, Monk needs to do more than just score as two assists and rebounds is simply not enough on the next level.

TJ Leaf, UCLA Bruins: The leading scorer on the Bruins, TJ Leaf is yet again another excellent player on the stacked Bruins. The 6’10” forward from Cali is about as diverse a player as they come, as he has an uncanny ability to both be an effective post player as well as a consistent and efficient outside scorer. In his freshman year at UCLA, Leaf averaged 16 points, a nice eight rebounds, and 2.4 assists per contest, while turning over the rock about once a game. Yet the impressive thing about Leaf is, at 6’10”, he shot the three at a superb 46% clip, going 26-56 throughout the year. Leaf is a big kid with excellent footwork, solid court vision, and a willingness to do the little things on the court. Although, I would like to see Leaf become a more aggressive defender and work on upping his free throw percentage. If he declares come June, I think Leaf should be a lotto pick.

Luke Kennard, Duke Blue Devils: While I was considering placing Edrice Adebayo from Kentucky at this spot, I think the Wildcats have had enough representation here, and this kid Kennard absolutely deserves some due. As a sophomore in Durham, Luke Kennard has broken the idea that he is only a sharpshooter with his play this year; Kennard is now averaging 20 points per game this year (up nine points from his freshman year), five rebounds, two assists, and shoots the lights out (44% from three and nearly 50% from the field). A deceptive player, Kennard is more athletic than he may appear as he possesses the ability to not only get his shots off running around screens, but also after shifty dribble moves he uses to create space for a nice mid-range jumper. And at only 6’6″, Kennard is a very solid rebounder who is not afraid of contact, something that will serve him well in years to come. Though I have a feeling Kennard may remain under Coach K for one more year, if he were to declare for this years draft, he’d go in the first round for sure. NCAA-March-Madness

 

2017 NBA Trade Deadline Review

February is one of the most exciting times in the NBA. The month encapsulates All-Star weekend and all of its joys, as well as the exciting and pressure packed Trade Deadline only a few days later. While All-Star weekend is more for the fans and to show appreciation for some outstanding players, the Trade Deadline is where real moves are made and contenders are discerned. Lets take a look at some of the moves made today.

Boogie Cousins to NOLA: On Sunday evening, nothing short of a blockbuster trade was made. In a deal sending DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to New Orleans in return for Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, as well as 2017 first and second round picks to Sacramento, a contender was made. Looking at the deal from the side of the Kings, they receive a young guard with a lot of potential in Buddy Hield, a very solid veteran player in Evans, and a nice backup piece in Langston Galloway. This was clearly a deal for the future in regards to Sacramento, as they will most likely struggle through the rest of this season on their way to hopefully drafting a nice player in the 2017 NBA draft. And while the Kings gear up for the future, it is the Pelicans who won the deal. Adding a player who averages 28 and 10 is no small feat, and when you couple that with another guy averaging 27 and 11, the possibilities are endless. I firmly believe that if head coach Alvin Gentry can install an efficient offense built around his two studly bigs in Davis and Cousins, while surrounding them with shooters and penetrating guards, this team will wreak havoc on the Association. It should also be noted that when healthy, Omri Casspi is a deadeye from three, around 40%, and that is a factor that only strengthens this team. Beware NBA, the Pelicans are coming.

The Raptors improve: Last week, Toronto made a move that sent Terrence Ross and a 2017 first round pick to Orlando in return for defensive big Serge Ibaka. Then earlier today, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri struck again by moving Jared Sullinger and two second round picks to the Suns for the defensive minded PJ Tucker. Both of these moves clearly display Toronto’s desire to not only compete for the East, but perhaps even make it out. By adding Ibaka, a stretch four who is an elite inside defender, they bolster both their offense as well as their defense. They also only gave up a streaky Terrence Ross and a first round Clippers pick, which shouldn’t be worth much. Looking at their PJ Tucker move, the Raps got rid of a player who rarely suited up for them in Sullinger, while adding a player with to ability to match physicality with a team like the Cavs. Only downside I see in this for Toronto, is the fact that they lost a lot of picks, something that can hurt in the future. As for Orlando, they did dump some salary while also gaining an athletic and young player, making it a respectable trade for them.

OKC gearing up: One of the larger trades of the day involved two teams fighting to stay in the playoff race in the respective conferences; the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC and Chicago linked up for a deal that sent Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 second round pick to the Thunder in return for backup guard Cameron Payne, shooter Anthony Morrow, and young big Joffrey Lauvergne. This was a big deal because of what it represents for both teams. By adding a veteran big man and underrated post player in Gibson, the Thunder are clearly making a push for the postseason. The addition of Doug McBuckets supports this, as he is being swapped for a struggling shooter in Morrow. I think both of these guys will help the Thunder continue to compete, and I am confident they’ll see a lot of time. The Bulls also made a solid deal as they added a nice backup guard in Payne, as well as a nice offensive player in Lauvergne.

Mavs swipe Nerlens Noel from 76ers: In an afternoon deal sending second year forward Justin Anderson, defensive guru Andrew Bogut, and a very protected first round pick to Philly for Noel, Mark Cuban and the Mavs pulled a fast one. This trade is okay for Philadelphia as they get a defensive minded young player in Anderson, and a pick, but they failed to flip Bogut for another asset and he will most likely be bought out and join a playoff bound squad. This trade was a major win for the Mavericks, as they add a strong and mobile defender in Noel, who is only 22 years old. This is perfectly in line with what the Mavs will have to do as Nowitzki ages and the franchise must endure an overhaul. On a side note, a duo of Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel could be scary in coming years.

The Rockets ready for takeoff: The Rockets made multiple moves leading up to the three PM deadline; acquiring Six Man Lou Will, leads league in points off bench, only strengthens a strong Rockets bench. Corey Brewer wasn’t doing much for the Rockets this year anyways and a guard tandem of Eric Gordon and Williams off the bench would scare any NBA team. The Lakers get another vet who can defend, as well as a first round pick in an excellent draft class.Earlier today, the Rockets also traded KJ McDaniels to the Nets, a player who was not significant to the Rockets team. This is a good move for Houston because they are freeing up about three million in cap space. This move doesn’t mean much for a struggling Nets team, but I do believe McDaniels will continue to be a quality defender in Brooklyn. Finally, the Rockets also traded point guard Tyler Ennis to the Lakers for more established backup guard, Marcelo Huertas. This is another small deal that will mean more for the Rockets, as the Lakers are mostly just adding youth and shooting in Ennis.

Smaller Moves: Roy Hibbert is now a Nugget. Ersan Ilyasova is going to finish his solid year in Atlanta after being swapped by the Sixers for Tiago Splitter and their second round picks. The Hawks also moved stretch-four Mike Scott to Phoenix for cash considerations.

 

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All-Star Snubs and Shocks

As All-Star Weekend events are finalized and the teams are set, I figure it is time for me to take a look at some of the players who didn’t quite make the cut for the NBA’s wildest weekend as well as some of the more shocking news surrounding All-Star 2017. Here we go.

Snub-Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: While this may come as a shock to some, I believe that Rudy Gobert was snubbed for this years All-Star game. The Stifle Tower is having a strong year, averaging career highs in minutes, rebounds, points, and free throw percentage, while blocking 2.5 shots a game and has become a reliable third/fourth option for the Jazz’s offense. More importantly, Gobert has officially become the defensive anchor for the Utah Jazz, and is one of the reasons the Jazz are 32-19 and in rudy-gthe Playoff hunt for the first time in a long time. Through 51 games this season, Rudy Gobert has contributed 4.0 wins just on his defense alone, while this stat may not seem like much, it should be noted as it illustrates the impact Gobert has had in 2016-’17. Rudy Gobert is averaging 13 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2.5 blocks, shooting 65% from both the field and the free throw line, and has a player efficiency rating of 22.30. I would have selected Rudy Gobert over DeAndre Jordan.

Shock: Russell Westbrook isn’t starting the 2016-’17 NBA All-Star game… Well now that I have recovered from my initial shock,  I may as well speak on this injustice. Russell Westbrook is one of the three best point guards in the NBA, quite possibly the best, as he is averaging a triple double of 31 points, ten rebounds, and ten assists. Disregard the fact that no one has averaged a triple double for a season since Oscar Robertson did it decades ago, and look at the simple truth that Russell Westbrook is having a vastly superior year to the starting PG in theruss West, Wardell Stephen Curry. Many will say that Curry was rewarded for his teams record, something I completely disagree with simply because of the fact that the Warriors already have three other All-Stars on the team. Is that not reward enough? Plus, Westbrook has lead a weak Thunder team to a respectful 29-22 start in the West, where’s his reward?

Snub-Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies: Another year and another All-Star snub for Mike Conley Jr. Simply put, while Tony Allen and Zach Randolph may be the heart of the Grizzlies, and where Marc Gasol adds his flare and flash to Memphis, there is no question that Conley is the leader in the Grindhouse. An efficient player with solid stats of, 19 points per game, four rebounds, six assists, 1.3 steals, and 39% from three, Mike Conley has been a consistent floor general in this league for the past three seasons. Taking on a larger role as a scorer for Memphis, averaging career high point total, cap-conleyConley is reaching his potential as a great all-around point guard in this league. He has been extremely efficient, a PER of 21.9, and has contributed a total 5.2 win shares to the Grizzlies, no small feat. I just believe that its time to recognize a guard in the West on a smaller market team who deserves to the recognition for their play. If I was to swap someone out for Conley, it would be Klay Thompson without a doubt.

Other Shocks: DeMarcus Cousins isn’t starting for the West? I understand Anthony Davis is having himself a year, but when will Boogie get his due, the guy is the best big man in the NBA! Paul Millsap is an All-Star after having a slightly above solid start to the year, but Joel Embiid is a revelation for a somewhat-respectable Sixers team and still catches the snub? There is something wrong with that picture. Gordon Hayward is finally an All-Star! This was definitely a pleasant surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

Stats via ESPN.Com/Basketball-Reference.com

Images via Google.com

 

2017 All-Star Game Starter Predictions

As the official list of 2017 NBA All-Star starters is set to be released tonight at 7 PM, let’s take a look at the list of guys I believe will be starting in New Orleans.

Eastern Conference:

Guard 1, Isaiah Thomas: To keep things short and sweet for the little fellow, Isaiah Thomas has absolutely been balling this year. Thomas is having an MVP caliber year, averaging nearly 29 points, six assists, 2.7 rebounds, and shooting the best percentages of his career from both the free throw line as well as the field. Thomas has been the clear leader for Boston this year, and his fourth quarter heroics is the biggest reason the Celts are 26-16 and the three seed in the East.

Guard 2, DeMar DeRozan: Joining Thomas in the backcourt for the East should be Toronto Raptor swing man DeMar DeRozan. Simply put, DeRozan has been balling this year. He is averaging a career high 28 points, four assists, and a career high 5.4 rebounds, while shooting a nice 47% from the field and draining 84% of his free throws getting to the line about eight times a game. DeRozan came into this year with a mission, return to the Eastern Conference Finals, and he is well on his way to achieving it as the Raptors are 28-14 and the second best team in the East. It should also be noted that DeRozan has had over 15 30+ point scoring games and has had three games where he’s poured in at least 40. Oh yeah, I think this is a safe pick.

Forward 1, Jimmy Butler: While Chicago has had its issues this season, there is no doubt in my mind that Jimmy Butler should be starting in this years All-Star game. The Butler is averaging 25 points (four more than last year), serving up a career high five assists a game, and pulling down a career high 6.8 rebounds. Most importantly, Jimmy Butler is the reason the Bulls are winning games. He is contributing 7.7 win shares, third in the NBA behind Westbrook and Durant,  and without him I have no clue where the Bulls would be this year.

Forward 2, LeBron James: The King of the East is at it again in 2016-’17, putting up big numbers and leading his team to the top of the Eastern Conference. James is averaging a strong 25 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, to go along with a steal a game, and is shooting 37% from downtown. James has been doing this for years now, and considering how efficient he has been this year, it looks like he’ll continue doing it for years to come. The Cavaliers are best in the East as expected with a healthy 29-11 record.

Forward 3, Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak has put the NBA on notice this year, and I believe it will pay off in the form of a start at the 2017 All-Star Game. Averaging nearly 24 points, five assists, close to nine boards, along with two steals and two blocks a game, all while shooting a beautiful 53% from the field, Giannis has been a beast in the seasons first half. Antetokounmpo is also third in the NBA when it comes to player efficiency, something that should not be taken lightly. Finally, The Greek Freak also has his Bucks on the cusp of a playoff berth, a big factor that I believe will help the young player. Milwaukee is currently 20-21 and ninth in the East.

Western Conference:

Guard 1, Russell Westbrook: This pick is easy as DangeRuss has been feasting on the league all season long. The guy has 21 triple doubles, is leading the league in points, and has made an OKC team with little expectations a six seed team in a tough Western Conference. Westbrook is averaging 30.6 points, ten rebounds, and just over ten assists, while leading the league in PER with a 29.6, and is having one of his best years shooting the three. One of the frontrunners for the MVP race, Westbrook is getting this starting spot, my only question is how far will he lead his Thunder this post-season. OKC is 25-19 and tied for sixth place in the West.

Guard 2, James Harden: In my opinion, Harden should have been the League MVP in 2015, and the fact that he was left off of all three All-NBA teams last year was unfair. Well 2016-’17 looks to be the season The Beard corrects all of this as he is playing well enough for that MVP trophy this year, and anyone who thinks he isn’t a first team All-NBA player will be sorely mistaken come spring. Harden is averaging 29 points, eight rebounds, and is dishing up a league high 11.6 assists per game. Harden also has a strong player efficiency rating of 28.07 and is also leading the league in free throws attempted. But it is not just the Beard balling in H-Town, as the team is 33-12 and sitting as the three seed in the West right now.

Forward 1, Kevin Durant: The former OKC superstar has been a beast in Oakland till this point. He is averaging a strong 26 points, eight rebounds, nearly five assists, and is turning the ball over a career low 2.3 times per game. It is fair to say that Warrior ball suits the Slim Reaper, and I am confident he will be the starting SF for the Western Conference. Durant and the Warriors are sitting on the NBA’s best record at 36-6.

Forward 2, Kawhi Leonard: While I wanted to give this position to Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans, I believe it will go to Kawhi of the Spurs predominantly because of his superior team record. With that being said, Kawhi has been cooking all year long. The Claw is averaging a career and team high 25 points, five rebounds, and 3.1 assists, while stealing the ball twice per game, and blocking it once and a half per contest. Kawhi has also been very efficient, as he is shooting 48% from the field, 41% from three, and has the second best PER in the Association. The Spurs and Kawhi are having a hell of a year, and I hope he is rewarded as a starter in the All-Star Game. The Spurs are the West’s second best team at 32-9.

Forward 3, DeMarcus Cousins: One of my favorite players in the NBA today, Boogie Cousins is an absolute monster. In my opinion, he is a top five player in the NBA on a horrible team with poor management, but that does not stop Boogie from balling. Cousins is averaging a career high 28 points, a career high 4.4 assists, adding ten rebounds a night, and shooting not only 51% from the field, but has one of the NBA’s better three point percentages at 37% from deep. While the Kings have had some struggles, 16-25 this year, Cousins has been phenomenal and deserves to start in the All-Star Game in New Orleans. I only hope Zaza Pachulia doesn’t beat him out.

Honorable Mentions: Anthony Davis, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward

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Stats via ESPN.com/Basketball Reference.com

Image via Google.com