The Battle For the Eight-Seed In the West

As of now, it looks like the top seven seeds in the Western Conference are set. The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit in the seven seed. They have seven more wins than the Denver Nuggets, who currently hold the eighth seed.

The seven top seeds in the West also are the only Western Conference teams with positive point differentials this year. It seems like the top seven seeds in the West will be, in some order, the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Jazz, Clippers, Grizzlies and Thunder.

That leaves one spot up for grabs in the playoffs this year. This is already an unusual position for teams to be in in the Western Conference. According to Tom Haberstroh on Twitter, the projected record of the eight seed in the West would be the worst since 1997.

So with a plethora of teams fighting for that final spot, what teams have the potential to make a strong push in the final months of the season?

The Contenders

The Denver Nuggets currently hold the eighth spot. Although their lead is still slim, they have a good chance of keeping that spot in the final few months.

(courtesy of Denver Stiffs)

For starters, Nikola Jokic has been on a tear recently. In his last 10 games Jokic has put up 22.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. Those are elite numbers coming from the young big men. The emergence of Jokic as a truly elite big man put the Nuggets in good position to keep their playoff hopes alive this spring.

Their deep bench has also been a huge asset this season. The young backcourt of Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray has been performing well so far this season. Murray or Mudiay have been featured in four out of the five most efficient lineups for the Nuggets. Their young talent has given them depth off of the bench that could make them a threat down the stretch.

Their trade earlier this week makes it clear that they are trying to make the playoffs this year. Mason Plumlee will be a big help for the Nuggets and has been having a great season so far. They also eliminate the somewhat redundant skill-sets of Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic that has been plaguing them all season. The Nuggets have to be the favorite to take the eighth seed at this point.

The Sacramento Kings could also contend for that final spot. The Kings have one thing that the Nuggets lack. They put one of the top players in the league onto the court every night.

(courtesy of Deadspin)

Demarcus Cousins has been having yet another great season for the Kings this year. He is averaging 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, and has improved his three point shot significantly. The injury to Rudy Gay will make it difficult to win enough games down the stretch however. They have been keeping their head above water without Gay, but his scoring threat is dearly missed on the team.

If the Kings are able to make a deal at the deadline that brings them more scoring, they have a shot at making the playoffs. Otherwise, the playoffs may be a pipe dream. With their supreme lack of talent outside of Cousins, it may be better to have a lottery pick this season anyways.

The Portland Trailblazers have been somewhat of a disappointment this season, but remain in contention for the eight seed. The Blazers are another team that desperately needs a trade before the deadline if they want to contend.

(courtesy of Hoops Habit)

The acquisition of Nurkic will certainly be helpful, but it’s unlikely that he is enough to turn the team around. Regardless, they now have three first round picks in the stacked 2017 draft. That removes any motivation for the team to tank down the stretch. That increased motivation may be enough to push them by their competition.

Additionally, they now have to make up for the lost production of Mason Plumlee. It’s hard to see the Blazers having an actual shot at the playoffs this season with the way things have gone. With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum anything is possible though, and they will continue to be a threat this year.

The rumors connecting the New Orleans Pelicans to Brook Lopez and Jahlil Okafor make the Pelicans a threat this spring. Okafor may not be enough to tip the scales on the Pelicans season, but the addition of Brook Lopez would certainly give this team a new breath of life.

(courtesy of Yibada)

Anthony Davis has been having a ludicrous season while averaging 28.0 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. Jrue Holiday has also been having a great season for the struggling Pelicans. The addition of Lopez would make them the favorite for getting the eighth seed.

Anthony Davis is one of the most talented players in the league. He has shown he is capable of dragging subpar teams to the playoffs as he did in 2015, and if he stays healthy this spring the Pelicans will remain contenders. He is just that good.

The Pretenders

Despite their recent success, the Dallas Mavericks won’t be making the playoffs this season. Harrison Barnes has been great this season, and Yogi Ferrell has been a revelation off of his 10-day contract. This team simply doesn’t have enough depth and talent to push them past some of the other Western Conference contenders.

(courtesy of NBA.com)

Their recent losses to Portland and Denver reinforce that position. The Mavericks are pretenders, and won’t be making the playoffs this year.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are an incredibly talented team. They have a ton of potential and young stars. This, however, is not their year. They’ve lost Zach Lavine for the rest of the year. It’s time for them to try and put themselves in the best position possible for the 2017 draft.

The Timberwolves also have the toughest remaining strength of schedule in the entire league. It will be too hard for them to overcome their injuries and tough schedule this year.

Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns have absolutely no chance at the playoffs. The Lakers need to be trying to lose as many games as possible this season, as they only keep their top pick if it falls in the top-three.

The Suns are simply terrible. They have only won six games in-conference this season, and have shown almost no signs of life this season. They have young pieces, but it is time for them to tank.

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How Social Issues are Becoming Entrenched in the NBA

Recently, social issues and politics have become especially prominent in the NBA. Basketball has always found itself intrenched in cultural issues, but over the past year it has become increasingly noticeable.

One prominent social issue that came to light earlier this year was regarding the use of marijuana in the NBA. Frequently outspoken coach and former player Steve Kerr made headlines when he admitted to using marijuana to help with his back pain. Kerr, 51 years old, also mentioned that hopes the NBA will soften its stance on marijuana. Interestingly, the NBA already refrains from testing for marijuana during the offseason.

The NBA has a much more lenient position on pot usage than the MLB and NFL. The NFL is notoriously strict on players who test positive for marijuana and bans players for a full season after testing positive three times.

NBA Social Issues

(Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Kerr specifically spoke out against the NFL’s policies.

“If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you got lot of pain, I don’t think there’s any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin,” Kerr said.

Former NBA player Jay Williams said that he believes 80% of NBA players use marijuana. He also expressed his support for leniency on marijuana also citing the benefits of marijuana over painkillers.

Marijuana has proven to be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of NBA personalities expressing their beliefs. This became especially clear in the months surrounding the 2016 election.

On November 6th, in Cleveland, LeBron James spoke out at a rally for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Rather than spark a controversy, his endorsement brought support from his peers on both sides of the aisle.

Milwaukee Bucks center Spencer Hawes, a known conservative, spoke out on James’ endorsements in October. Hawes was asked whether James’ comments regarding Clinton made him uncomfortable in an interview with Sporting News, eliciting this response:

No, I like it. Obviously, I don’t agree with LeBron there. And that’s fine. But the ability to not agree and put that in one compartment and not judge someone’s entire character based on how they view the world or what their political beliefs are, that’s what makes us great. So yeah, I disagree with LeBron. I would love to have a discussion with him or anybody that wants to talk about it. But at the end of the day, there’s two parties, there’s two ways of doing things. Each one has been in power many times over again, and we’re still where we are.

The political statements from big NBA stars only continued after the election. Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr and Stan van Gundy all made huge political statements in the days following the 2016 election.

NBA Social Issues

(Courtesy of Rolling Stone)

The NBA’s social involvement does not end with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In 2014, across the league, players showed their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Led by stars Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose, many players wore shirts that said “I can’t breathe” during warmups. The NBA broke their protocol and decided not to fine the players who wore the shirts.

In another politically charged act, the NBA pulled the All-Star game from Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this year. This came in response to the “bathroom bill” that had been passed in the state. The NBA also became the first professional American sports league with an active openly gay athlete when Jason Collins came out in 2013.

NBA Social Issues

(Courtesy of USA Today)

This article from Bleacher Report explains how Donald Trump was causing turmoil in NFL locker rooms because of political divides. Similarly, the NFL was the focus of a huge nationwide media controversy as a result of Colin Kapernick kneeling during the national anthem earlier this year. The political statements that come out of the NFL have simply not been received kindly by fans and the media alike.

As we can see from the comments from Hawes and those three coaches, the NBA has clearly had a much better reaction to the social issues that have become so deeply entrenched in this sport.

Additionally, while some more mediocre players in other sports leagues have spoken up, marquee players in other leagues have been mostly silent about social issues. Meanwhile, some of the biggest stars in the NBA have been politically outspoken.

Kobe Bryant and Lebron James are undoubtedly the two biggest 21st century basketball stars and both have been remarkably outspoken about social issues. Additionally, stars such as Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and many others have let their voice be heard. And, as mentioned, three of the top coaches in the league spoke very strongly about their political beliefs this year.

So, what allows the NBA to foster so much more activism than other American sports leagues?

NBA Social Issues

(Courtesy of NBA Lead)

One of the key factors is commissioner Adam Silver. Silver has fostered an environment in the NBA that has allowed players to be comfortable expressing their beliefs politically and on social issues.

Since becoming the commissioner of the NBA, Silver has set the tone for creating a welcoming environment and has hastily stood up for the things he believes in.

Silver delivered a lifetime ban to former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his racist comments. He instituted the removal of the All-Star Game from Charlotte earlier this year. And earlier this year, Silver expressed outright that NBA players were free to use their celebrity to express their political views.

Silver has emphasized the importance of sports bringing people together and he has certainly not been afraid to put his beliefs to action. Silver also remains an incredibly liked commissioner, proving a sharp contrast to the commissioners of other sports leagues such as Gary Bettman and Roger Goodell.

The NBA’s ability to intertwine relevant social issues and sports has proved successful so far. With one of the most liked and respected commissioners in sports at the moment, it seems likely that they will continue to succeed. And as long as it’s working, why not?

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February NBA MVP Rankings

It’s February, which means there are only about two months left in the NBA season. It’s been one of the strongest seasons in terms of individual performances in recent memory.

With so many outstanding performances this year, it’s important to try and sort out who is in the front running for the 2017 MVP award.

Tier 1: The guys who actually have a shot

1. Russell Westbrook: James Harden is currently the most popular pick for MVP in the eyes of many fans, but Westbrook has a small edge here for a few reasons.

For starters, Westbrook is essentially a lone wolf in terms of scoring on the Thunder. Their starting lineup consists of Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Steve Adams. No one besides Westbrook is a serious help on offense.

Westbrook is carrying this team to the playoffs right now.February NBA MVP Rankings

James Harden has a team built to score around him. The proficiency of their three point shooters also spaces the floor and gives him enough space to score and distribute the way he does.

Nothing against Harden and the incredible season he has been putting up, but Westbrook’s season is just more impressive. Additionally, the historical precedent is enough to justify putting Russell Westbrook in the top spot.

He would be just the second player in the history of the NBA to average a triple-double. How can someone having that unprecedented of a season not get the MVP?

Understandably, the guy below him on this list is having a historic season of his own. The gravity of averaging a triple-double over a season simply cannot be understated. The fact that he has been a much more formidable defender than the other two point guards in tier 1 helps his case immensely.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of NBA)

2. James Harden: What have we been missing all these years with Harden not playing point? The race is so close between Harden and Westbrook right now.

Harden is leading the league in assists and is third in points per game. Westbrook is leading the league in scoring and third in assists per game. Harden’s Rockets having a far superior record to the Thunder will most likely be used as reasoning for putting Harden ahead of Westbrook.

Harden’s superior team around him is impossible to ignore however.
It would be unsurprising if either of these players won the award this year. A strong argument can clearly be made for both. Right now, the season long triple-double give Westbrook the slightest of advantages. Let the stretch run begin.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

3. Lebron James: Voter fatigue is a real thing. LeBron has been dominating the league for so long now, that he can put up ridiculous stats without attracting much attention.

He is averaging more than 25 points per game this year while adding more than eight assists and rebounds. Those would both be tied for his career high. He’s also boosted his 3-point average and is hitting at his best rate since 2011. His play has been a notch below Harden and Westbrook, but you can’t ignore what the King has been doing in Ohio this year.

It’s likely that the recent debacle with Charles Barkley will negatively impact his standing with MVP voters as well. Lebron would have to go on a tear to catch up with the two guys in front of him. Unlikely? yes. But impossible? No.

Tier 2: Guys with an outside shot

4. Isaiah Thomas: The last pick in the 2011 draft continues to impress this year. Not to mention, he has been the undisputed belt-holder of the “best in the fourth quarter” award.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of The Boston Globe)

19 of his 44 points came in the fourth on Wednesday. That was in the midst of a ferocious fourth quarter comeback. He has been a man possessed for the last few months and he has lead the Celtics to the second spot in the East.

Only one thing keeps Thomas from vaulting into the top tier. His defense is some of the worst in the league. According to ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus ratings, it is in fact the worst among point guards.

He’s become somewhat of a revolving door for opposing offensive players as they blow by him to get easy buckets. Quite simply, Isaiah Thomas does not have much of a chance at grabbing an MVP award this year. His scoring isn’t quite at the level of Harden’s and he has been playing some of the worst defense in the league. It won’t be this year for Isaiah Thomas.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of JordanDaily)

5. Kawhi Leonard: In typical Spurs fashion, Kawhi Leonard has been quietly dominating the league. He’s not the flashiest guy in the league. He doesn’t make the headlines that other superstars do. At this point, it’s pretty clear that he is the best two-way player in the league.

Offensively, he has taken a huge leap. He is now averaging 25.5 points per game with 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He’s the perfect player for that system as well.

The Spurs lost a lot of leadership and talent with the departure of Tim Duncan, but Kawhi has evidently filled that role. They’re clearly one of the three best teams in the league this year, and Kawhi has let them remain a contender.

Perhaps most impressive is his 3-point shooting. He came into the league as a poor shooter, but is shooting 40 percent from down town. He is scoring more that he ever has while remaining a huge defensive force.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of Sporting News)

6: Kevin Durant: Kevin Durant recently talked about how he would start to let Steph Curry run the offense and take a step back. Durant’s season, however, has been one of the best of his career. It has certainly been his most efficient as a result of having Klay Thompson and Steph Curry spread the floor around him. Despite his cold streak recently, he is sporting a slash line of .541, .377 and .875.

He hasn’t had to shoot as much as he had to in OKC, but he is doing more with his touches than before. Not to mention, he’s averaging more than eight rebounds and eight assists. If he didn’t have another MVP candidate on his team, Kevin Durant would be much higher on this list.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

7. Stephen Curry: Just one year removed from being the unanimous MVP, Steph has seen diminished production with his diminished touches. Not to mention, he has been heating up lately and has been taking control of the offense.

Since Durant’s comments about letting Steph play his game, Curry has put up 43 and 39 points, while adding five and nine rebounds, and six and eight assists.

If Steph can continue to play at that level, he will undoubtedly rise up the ranks. It will be impossible for him to even come close to his astronomical numbers that he put up last season, but Curry can certainly make his way into the conversation for MVP. As of now, he finds himself on the fringes with a long shot.

Tier 3: Great seasons, but no shot

8. Anthony Davis: Anthony Davis deserves to be on a better team. For the fifth straight year, Anthony Davis is on a subpar team. He is also putting up ridiculous numbers for the fifth straight year.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of For The Win)

Davis is putting up career highs with 27.9 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. He is tying his career high in assists with 2.2 per game as well.

There have been four players in NBA history who have put up 28 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Shaquille O’Neal did it three times, Bob McAdoo did it three times, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it once. That’s some elite company.

There’s absolutely no chance that Davis is going to win the MVP award based on the fact that he’s on a terrible team. Even if the Pelicans are able to play their way into the eighth seed in the West, it’s unlikely that The Brow will get serious MVP consideration. It is a shame. Get this man on a better team!

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of CSN)

9. John Wall: John Wall has been on an absolute tear lately. Of the 16 games in 2017, John Wall has nine double-doubles. He now has 28 double-doubles on the season.

Wall has been the engine on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. He’s done so by averaging a career high in both points, assists, and steals. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career and he has established himself as one of the best point guards in the league.

His uptick in production hasn’t effected his efficiency either. He is scoring at the best rate of his career while taking more shots per game.

John Wall has earned this spot on the list this year by turning the Wizards into a contender in the East. He is solid on both ends of the floor and continues to improve in his bigger role.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of AP)

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak has made it clear that he is going to be a force in the league for years to come. He is the only player leading his team in every stat category, and has dazzled all year with freakishly athletic highlights.

Giannis, like Anthony Davis, has no shot at winning this award simply because of the team that he plays on. The Bucks have a chance at getting one of the lower seeds in the Eastern Conference, but it’s not likely to give him a chance at the award.

It’s not likely it will matter. Giannis will see his name on many top-ten lists in years to come and might just have his name engraved on an MVP trophy someday. This is not his year though.

 

 

 

 

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Stars That Should Be in The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

It was recently announced that Brazilian basketball legend Oscar Schmidt will be participating in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. Here are some other icons that would make the game even more of a spectacle come All-Star Weekend.

NBA All-Star Celebrity GameJack Nicholson (Coach): Oscar Schmidt is an international basketball legend, but actor Jack Nicholson is a legend in his own right. And no, not just on the big-screen. Nicholson is one of the biggest celebrity basketball fans out there.

He has been a staple of Lakers games for years now. Sure, the man might be chasing 80 years now. But having him in the All-Star game would add an extra level of intrigue to the game. New York Knicks superman Spike Lee was the coach of the celebrity game in 2015, so Nicholson’s time has come.

Will Smith: Whether or not Smith can play ball is uncertain. But he is a huge Philadelphia 76ers fan, and he certainly balled out in Fresh Prince of Bel Air back in the day. Getting Will Smith in the Celeb game would be and instant classic.

NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

Tiger Woods: Tiger recently made his (not-so) triumphant return to golf, and maybe it’s time for him to step onto the hardwood. Woods is one of the most gifted athletes of this generation, and has been a huge Orlando Magic fan.

Putting in one of the biggest athletes of the 21st century would be big enough, but the controversy that Tiger could bring with it would add another layer of intrigue. Get El Tigre into the Celeb game.

Mark Cuban: Sure, Cuban owns the Mavericks, but the guy is a marketing powerhouse. He steals the stage everywhere he goes, and no doubt the Celeb game would prove no differently. Cuban would undoubtedly be a hit on the course, and in the interview room.

Jared from Subway: Ok this might be a stretch. If only because Jared is currently in prison, getting him to New Orleans might cause some logistical problems this year. Nevertheless, getting the former commercial star to the celebrity game would be a great show. Jared is a big Indiana Pacers fan, and is still just 39 years old. Surely, it would make for great television.

Barack Obama: We come to the final, and most important name on this list. There is currently a huge push to get former President Barack Obama to New Orleans to play in the game. Sure, it might be a bit of a long shot. But can you imagine?

Obama is currently on vacation and enjoying his time now that he is out of office, but right now the Celebrity game needs him. Drop those swim trunks and lace up those sneakers Barry. The time has come for you to shine.

Here are some highlights of Barry ballin’ out on the hardwood. Expect lots of weak defense on the president if he plays. And for the sake of the potential greatest moment in Celebrity game history, please play Barry. Please play.

 

 

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(courtesy of Forbes)

The Swift Downfall of the Chicago Bulls

There exist only three certainties in the world: death, taxes, and the implosion of Rajon Rondo. I can’t imagine anyone is too surprised after his latest escapades. If anything, it’s surprising that it took this long for him to blow up on his new team.

Rondo went in on his teammates on Instagram with this tirade early on Thursday night:

This comes after a post-game rant from Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade that called out their Bulls teammates following a loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The Bulls appear to be in a freefall after exceeding expectations at the start of the year.

More than anything, this instagram rant seems like Rondo’s way of saying he wants to be traded. This is not the first time Rondo has had some regrettable antics (ahem) but this is probably the most destructive act of his career. After all, the Bulls are still in playoff position and have one of the leagues premier players in Jimmy Butler.

It’s hard to blame this all on Rondo though, as the Bulls’ season was bound to unravel at some point. They signed Rondo and Wade over the summer to try and make a push this season after losing Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Signing washed up stars may not have been the ideal move for this team however.

The Bulls roster this year consists of Jimmy Butler in his prime, Wade and Rondo as they decline, and a myriad of young budding players including Michael Carter-Williams, Denzel Valentine and Doug McDermott. With that mix of upcoming and declining talent, their pace was simply unsustainable.

It’s hard to predict what comes next for the Bulls. Rondo will almost certainly hit the trade market sooner rather than later. All eyes have to be on Jimmy Butler. Butler has been the center of rumors for a while now. In past years he was often linked to the Boston Celtics. Is it finally time for the Bulls to part with their superstar. For the next few years it will be hard to get past the Cavaliers in the East, so a rebuild may not be the worst idea.

Only time will tell what will happen to the team, but one thing is for sure. They’re dysfunctional, and they’re a mess. It’s unlikely that they retain their playoff spot, and it’s almost unthinkable that they could do any damage in the playoffs. Like it or not, the Bulls have hit their fall from grace. And thanks to Rondo, it’s not gonna be pretty.

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Trying to Figure Out the NBA Eastern Conference

We’ve eclipsed the midpoint of the season and one thing is abundantly clear: the NBA Eastern Conference is crazy. As in, don’t even try to figure out the power dynamics of the crazy conference. As in, the Philadelphia 76ers have a better record in 2017 than the Cleveland Cavaliers crazy.

Let’s start with those Cavaliers. The Cavs have lost five of their last seven games, and Lebron James recently called out his team for being “top heavy as sh**.” Not an incredible sign for the favorite in the East. They now only hold a three game lead in the conference, and don’t have a top five point differential in the league anymore.

Ultimately, it’s unlikely that the Cavaliers continue to struggle for too much longer. They’ll likely revert to the mean sometime soon and finish the East with home court advantage. Deeper in the east though, it just gets wackier.

The Atlanta Hawks looked to be ready to reload just weeks ago. Kyle Korver was traded to the Cavs, and Paul Millsap found himself the center of too many trade rumors to count. Now, they’ve won seven of 10 and are in the thick of the Eastern Conference race.

NBA Eastern Conference

John Wall (Photo courtesy: nicekicks.com)

The Wizards have has a similar rejuvenation of their season. After a 9-14 start, they’ve completely turned their season around. John Wall is having his best season ever, Bradley Beal has been productive and healthy, and Otto Porter Jr. has been a breakout star.

Not to mention, the Wizards look unbeatable at home. They have the second most wins in the league when they play at home.

Further down in the standings sit the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. They respectively hold the 7 and 8 seeds which is, quite simply, not sustainable. Neither team has a positive win differential, and on paper they look much worse than the younger teams that sit below them. Nonetheless, they sit in playoff spots. Can the star power of Paul George and Jimmy Butler be enough to grab a playoff spot?

That brings us to the wackiest part of the Eastern Conference. Currently seeded 9-15 in the conference are the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets, Heat and Magic are the only disinteresting teams of that group. All three should be focused on nothing but tanking for the rest of the year. Of course, the Nets have no pick to tank for, but that only makes them less interesting of a team.

The other four teams add an element to the Eastern Conference that will make it riveting to watch down the stretch. The Detroit Pistons are in a pretty unique spot. They are stuck in somewhat of a limbo between contending for a playoff spot and needing to add pieces for the future. Andre Drummond is a solid piece to build around though, and they figure to be somewhat of a threat down the stretch.

The Bucks on the other hand are one of the most talented young teams in the league. It would be shocking if they can’t grab one of the last spots in the playoffs by the end of the year. The Greek Freak and Jabari Parker have both had ridiculous breakout years, and the Bucks look just about ready to make the jump.

And for Toronto and Cleveland, the Bucks have to be the last team they would want to face in the first round of the playoffs. Besides a lack of experience, the Bucks figure to be one of the most dangerous teams come May. Look for them to be a threat to any team.

NBA Eastern Conference

Joel Embiid (photo courtesy: fansided.com)

The Knicks are another team that seems to be underachieving. Carmelo Anthony is aging, but is still a star. Derrick Rose is having a solid season. Kristaps Porzingis is breaking out in his second year in the league.

The Knicks haven’t quite seemed to put everything together though, and they have struggled to reach their potential. They are another team that would be a tough out in the playoffs. Though they are not as dangerous as Milwaukee, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose have both been there before. If they can find some synergy on the court, they too could threaten one of the final playoff spots.

The final team, and perhaps the most fascinating, in the East, is the Philadelphia 76ers. Not a year ago, they were the laughing stock of the league. They were historically bad. Even earlier this year they struggled immensely, especially with Joel Embiid off the court.

Recently though, the process has begin to show signs of life. Seven wins in 10 games has them closing in on some of the playoff teams. Even without Joel Embiid, they are showing an ability to contend and win games. And possibly as soon as February, they are going to have their number one draft pick back on the court.

Obviously the Sixers are not good enough yet to do any serious damage in the East. But who would have expected this? The laughingstock of the East no more, the Sixers have provided a much needed shakeup of the Eastern bottom dwellers. The second half of the season will no doubt be great as these teams duke it out, and the craziness is not likely to stop soon.

 

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Who Should Play in the NBA All-Star Game?

The NBA All-Star starters have been released, but not without its share of controversy. Russell Westbrook will be coming off the bench this year despite his historic start.

In anticipation of the final all-star lineups, here’s who should be playing in the exhibition this year. Keep in mind, that the starting lineup allows for two guards and three frontcourt players.

Starters

Isaiah Thomas: Kyrie Irving has the starting spot this year, but Isaiah Thomas is more deserving. Thomas has been on a roll this year for Boston. He is currently third in the NBA in scoring (outscoring James Harden) while shooting at a .461/.384/.907 clip. Thomas is the star and best player of the third best team in the East. Without a doubt, he deserves this spot.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak made the All-Star game as a frontcourt player this year, but the stats say otherwise. According to Basketball Reference, he has played over 60% of his minutes at shooting guard. So, I’m putting him in as a guard. Either way, the Milwaukee Bucks star has undoubtedly earned his spot in the starting lineup this year.

In fact, he has solidified his spot as one of the premier players in the game right now. For one, he is the only player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Let that sink in. He is leading his team in every major statistical category. On top of that, he is top-25 in the league in every one of those categories, and top-10 in points, steals, and blocks.

Giannis has been doing a little bit of everything for one of the most exciting teams in the Eastern Conference this year, and he is well deserving of an All-Star starting spot.

Jimmy Butler: The decision to put Jimmy Butler in my lineup was not an easy one. You can easily justify putting Demar Derozan in as a guard, and shifting Giannis to a frontcourt spot. Butler and Derozan have both been having monster seasons for their respective teams. On top of that, they have been having remarkably similar years.

Derozan has a slight edge in points, Butler has a small edge in rebounds, and they are almost exactly even in assists. Butler gets on my starting lineup, however, because of an edge in three point shooting and defense.

Butler has been a much better three point shooter than Derozan this year, which allows his team to spread the floor more when he is on the court. He also has a sizable edge in blocks and steals over Derozan. I wouldn’t say the voters made a horribly wrong choice in nominating Derozan, but Jimmy Butler gets the nod in my starting lineup.

LeBron James: LeBron is the best player in the league. He is top ten in the league in scoring and assists. What is a rather pedestrian year for one of the greatest players of all time still easily allows him a spot in the All-Star starting lineup. Oh, and he’s got a three point shot again.

Joel Embiid: The real All-Star game starting lineup has no true center. In fact, the lineup doesn’t even have a real big man. Yes, the game is changing and centers have become less and less important. But, Joel Embiid has been the best big man in the league this year, and possibly the most important player to his team’s success.

(courtesy of CSN Philly)

The Sixers have been on an absolute tear lately, and they can largely attribute that success to Embiid. They are a completely different team when he is on the floor. He leads the team in points, rebounds, and blocks; and on top of that he is playing with a minutes restriction. It has been a weak year for Eastern Conference big men, and Embiid has been the most impressive. Call me crazy, but he deserves this spot.

Bench

Demar Derozan: The Raptors have been great this year, and Demar Derozan has absolutely been on fire. Critics might say he is a relatively one-dimensional player, but man can this guy score. He’s sixth in the league in scoring, trailing only James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, Anthony Davis, and Demarcus Cousins. He has been one of the best guards in the league and absolutely deserves a spot on this team.

Kyrie Irving: The East is stacked when it comes to point guards, but Kyrie is a no-brainer for this year’s All-Star game. Isaiah Thomas makes my starting lineup over Irving simply because he has more of a load to carry, but both guards are having great years for their teams.

John Wall: The Wizards have been scorching hot lately, after a dismal start to the season, and John Wall has sparked their success. Wall has cracked the top-15 in scoring, is third in the league in assists, and first in steals. He is one of the best pure point guards in the league, and he’s having a career year. He’s earned this.

Kevin Love: After Embiid, Kevin Love has been the best big man in the East this season. He’s rebounding at a ferocious rate again, and he’s hitting threes at his highest rate in years. After a healthy offseason where he’s been able to rehabilitate, Kevin Love has returned to being one of the premier power forwards in the league.

Hassan Whiteside: Whiteside has been the classic “good stats on a bad team” player this year. His eye-popping stats are less meaningful because of how abysmal the Heat have been. Regardless, it’s hard to keep a player with 17 points per game and 14 rebounds per game out of the All-Star game. The weak big men in the East this year only further his case.

Kristaps Porzingis: Putting aside his injuries, the Latvian stud has seen no signs of a sophomore slump. He’s been the best player on the Knicks when he’s healthy, and has continued his dominance on both ends of the floor. Another beneficiary of the weak frontcourts in the east this year, Porzingis is deserving of one of the East’s spots.

Kyle Lowry: Behind Derozan’s great season, Kyle Lowry has become somewhat under appreciated for the Raptors. He has a slash line of .470/.429/.824 while averaging 22 points and 7 rebounds per game. He may not have the same recognition has Demar Derozan, but he is deserving of a spot in the lineup nonetheless.

Starters

Russell Westbrook: Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double. I’ll Repeat: Averaging a TRIPLE-DOUBLE. As in, Russell Westbrook is doing something that hasn’t been done in 40 years. He is first in the league in scoring. He is second in the league in assists. He is eleventh in rebounds. It is absurd that Westbrook won’t be starting in this year’s All-Star game.

(courtesy of Clutch Points)

James Harden: 28.7 points per game. 11.6 rebounds per game. 8.2 rebounds per game. Harden is having an equally (if not more) impressive season than Westbrook. Harden and Westbrook are having the two best seasons in the NBA this year and should be starting in the All-Star Game for the Western Conference.

Kevin Durant: KD is having an incredibly efficient season (.544/.400/.862) and has already become the go-to guy on the Golden State Warriors. He has shown no real signs of a big adjustment period with is new team and has continued to be one of the best scorers in the NBA.

Kawhi Leonard: Kawhi has somehow quietly had a ridiculously good season. So is life playing for the San Antonio Spurs. Obviously, he is one of the best defenders in the league. The difference this year has been in his continued improvement on the offensive end. He’s scoring more than he ever has and is absurdly close to a 50/40/90 season.

Anthony Davis: If not for the struggles of his team, Anthony Davis would most likely be right up there with Harden and Westbrook in the MVP conversation. Seriously. The Brow is continuing his ascension to the top of the league, and is single-handedly keeping this team relevant. He’s fourth in the league in scoring, and seventh in rebounding. At this point, it’s hard to say he’s not the best big man in the league. Despite the deterioration of his team around him, Anthony Davis has done as much as anyone to earn his spot as a starter this year.

Bench

Steph Curry: Last year, Steph Curry had the best season of anyone in the league. This year, he’s not even having the best season on his own team. His shooting percentage and three point percentage may be way down, but he’s still averaging 24.6 points per game. He’s nowhere near the level of the unanimous MVP we saw last year, but it’s impossible to leave him off this team.

Demarcus Cousins: Behind Anthony Davis, Boogie has been the best big man in the league this year. Not to mention, he’s hitting threes at a 37.5% clip. Like Davis, he’s on an abysmal team and single-handedly keeping them relevant. No doubt, he makes the team.

Damian Lillard: Despite the Trailblazers’ fall from grace, Lillard has still had an All-Star-worthy year. His defense has been atrocious this year, but it’s simply too hard to keep a guy with 26 points and six rebounds per game out of the All-Star game.

Gordon Hayward: Gordon Hayward has been the most important and best player on the fifth-best team in the Western Conference. He has seen an uptick in scoring and in efficiency. Sure, he may not be a bona fide star in the league yet, but his season this year has been no joke.

Mike Conley: Conley has earned his max contract this year for the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies aren’t a true contender in the top-heavy West, but Conley has made them competitive and fun to watch with his great season. 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game to go along with solid efficiency numbers warrant a first All-Star game for the Memphis star.

Karl-Anthony Towns: Towns and the Timberwolves haven’t quite lived up to his incredibly lofty expectations for this season. Despite that, he has undoubtedly had a great season so far. 22 points and 12 rebounds per game warrants an All-Star game spot despite his teams immense struggles.

Draymond Green: This last spot was the hardest to fill on the roster, but I decided to reward Draymond and the Golden State Warriors. They have clearly been the best team in the league this year so far, and Green has been a key part of that. He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, and he has continued to do a little bit of everything for the Warriors. He scores when he needs to, he rebounds, he distributes, and he plays defense as well as anyone in the league. Draymond makes the roster based off of his contributions to his team over his stats.

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Some Crazy (And Not-So-Crazy) Possible Trade Deadline Move

As the trade deadline approaches, it’s time to start thinking about some of the moves teams could make. With so many teams in the no-mans-land of not being elite, but not quite being terrible either, this trade deadline has the potential to be exciting. For the same reason, it also could lack intrigue and big moves.

Teams with young talent and no chance at a title may try to acquire picks or more young players. Teams on the cusp of being elite may try to bolster their roster. Here are some crazy (and not-so-crazy) deals teams should try to strike as the deadline approaches.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder:

Rudy Gay

Ben McLemore

Sacramento Kings

Alex Abrines

Kyle Singler

Andre Roberson

Cameron Payne

The Thunder get a deadly scoring threat to pair with Russel Westbrook. The Kings clear up cap space and are able to acquire more young talent (especially in Cameron Payne). Payne has a ton of potential and is wasting it as a backup in Oklahoma City. A change of scenery and a chance to get more minutes could do wonders for the second year player.

 

Sacramento Kings:

Goran Dragic

Miami Heat:

Rudy Gay

Ben McLemore

This move would be making the exact opposite decision for the Kings. In the above move, they would be gearing for the future. This move would allow them to make a run at the 8th seed this year with a consistent point guard threat. They would also acquire their point guard for the net few years. For the Heat, they would free up cap space, allowing them to make a run at a big free agent this year. They might even be able to leverage some kind of future pick from the Kings.

 

Portland Trailblazers:

Marcus Smart

1st Round Draft Pick (From Philadelphia)

 

Philadelphia 76ers:

CJ McCollum

 Boston Celtics:

Nerlens Noel

Now these start to get a little crazier. The Sixers have a stockpile of picks, and could use one of them to land an offensive star. With McCollum, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, the Sixers would have their core to build around. The Trailblazers have been disappointing this season, and may decide it’s time to refocus their team. With a high draft pick and Marcus Smart, they could kick-start that rebuild. The Celtics could use Noel or Okafor on their team, but Noel would add a defensive presence that would be vital to this team. It wouldn’t make them an immediate contender, but it certainly would help.

Sacramento Kings:

Amir Johnson

Marcus Smart

1st Round Pick

Boston Celtics:

Demarcus Cousins

If the Celtics try and leverage their 1st round pick, that they can swap with the Brooklyn Nets, they may become an immediate contender for the Eastern Conference title. They are one star player away from being a title contender, and Boogie Cousins could certainly be that star. For the Kings, they could start their rebuild with a top 5 pick and a solid young player in Marcus Smart. They may require more to even consider this deal (Jae Crowder or Jaylen Brown) but a trade of the Kings’ star may be beneficial for both teams.

 

Charlotte Hornets:

Brandon Knight

 Phoenix Suns:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Frank Kaminsky

1st Round Pick

The Hornets need to help Kemba Walker in the back-court if they want to succeed in the East. Brandon Knight may be the solution. Knight’s value is as low as it has been in years, and for a pair of young players and a pick they may be able to snag the guard. He is still a solid player and fully capable of making this team relevant in the Eastern Conference.

 

So, how many moves will we see go down at the Trade Deadline? Who will be the winners and losers? With so many talented players in the rumor mill, we can only hope it will be an eventful one.

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It’s Time to Take the Washington Wizards Seriously

After a putrid start to the 2016-17 NBA season, many people wrote off the Washington Wizards. They lacked depth, their star players weren’t performing well, and their coaching transition seemed to be going anything but seamlessly. Fast forward to today and they have completely reversed course.

Once again, it’s time to take the Wizards seriously. They’re not yet a contender in the East, but they have become a dangerous team as they start to hit their stride.

Obviously, the team revolves around John Wall. After a slow start, Wall is averaging career highs in points, steals and assists. NBA teams need star power to succeed, and Wall is delivering that power better than ever.

Wall’s importance to the team was on display Tuesday night as they faced off against the Chicago Bulls. The Wizards set up an iso to the right side, and Wall buried a deep jumper to put the Wizards ahead in the final seconds of the game. Wall’s leadership and clutch factor have been brought into question over the years as the Wizards have struggled to live up to their potential. Clearly, Wall is ready to push those notions aside.

(courtesy of Washington Post)

A healthy Bradley Beal has also contributed to the success of the Wizards this year. Fresh off a max contract, Beal has lived up to the lofty expectations that he faced this year. Beal’s talent is rarely called into question, but his health struggles have posed a problem for the Wizards over the years. Those issues are starting to be put to rest. Beal is pouring in 22.5 points per game for the Wizards and has been a force during their recent surge.

The third personnel piece that has led the Wizards to success is third-year forward Otto Porter Jr.  Porter has had a breakout year averaging 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Even so, his stats undervalue the impact that he’s had on this team. He has been an explosive scorer and has come up big during important moments.

Marcin Gortat rounds out the starting five for the Wizards, which has played well over the Wizards’ hot streak. The problem remains in the bench. The Wizards have thrown in a litany of unknown and poor bench players to backup their solid starting lineup. The recent success of the team has come with a significant uptake in their starters minutes. Beal, Wall, and Porter have each averaged almost 40 minutes a game during the streak.

This might signify an impending downtick in production for the Wizards. It’s easy to think that this might not be sustainable and that the team is due for another slide soon. The Wizards will rely on the improvement of role players like Kelly Oubre Jr. and Trey Burke if they want to continue their success. They will also need to seamlessly transition Ian Mahimi into their lineup when he is healthy enough to play.

(courtesy of Washington Times)

Either way, it’s hard to see this team falling too far. Coach Scott Brooks has a reputation for bringing out the best in star players, and he’s done exactly that for the Wizards this year. As long as John Wall continues to score and distribute at such an extraordinary rate, expect the Wizards to succeed. With strong coaching and a great starting five, the Wizards are set up to be a dangerous team into the playoffs. It’s time to start taking them seriously.

 

 

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

The NBA Five Years From Now

The NBA is a constantly changing league. Besides the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA hierarchy has been nothing if not fluid.

Just four years ago, the Heat and Pacers dominated the Eastern Conference. Four years before that, the Cavaliers, Magic, Pistons and Celtics were the class of the conference. The Western conference has been similarly volatile despite the Spurs’ constant success. The Lakers dominated the West during Kobe’s prime before the Warriors took over as the most dominate force on the Pacific Coast.

It’s likely that we will see a similar shift in power over the next few years. Five years from now, the league will likely have changed considerably.

Eastern Conference

In five years, Lebron James will be 37 years old. There’s no ruling out that he’ll still be dominating the league into his late thirties. Most likely, however, his days as a world-beater will be done. The power vacuum in the East could be filled by a number of teams, but these teams have the best chance at rising to the top.

Cleveland Cavaliers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Grantland)

The Cavaliers have set themselves up well for the next few years. LeBron won’t stay at this level forever, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love can keep them a contender into the future. Kyrie will be in his prime in five years and will most likely still be one of the best point guards in the game. He can be the best guy on a championship team.

Lebron’s game will most likely adapt well as he loses athleticism. His vision and playmaking will withstand father time and compliment Kyrie perfectly. The powers of David Griffin will most likely keep the team contending well into the future.

Best Case: Kyrie turns into a superstar and Kevin Love turns into the Kevin Love of old. LeBron turns into a distributor and the Cavs continue to dominate the East year after year until his retirement.

Worst Case: Kyrie stays at the level he’s at now. Kevin Love regresses and loses some of his rebounding prowess. LeBron loses his midrange touch and struggles with injuries. The Cavs are a fringe playoff team.

Boston Celtics: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Boston Herald)

The Celtics are already a top three team in the East. Besides that, GM Danny Ainge has set them up for future success as well.

Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford will be 31,32 and 35 respectively. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown will each entering their primes rounding out a solid five man rotation.

The picks they have stashed from Brooklyn will help round out their lineup as well. They look to have a couple of lottery picks over the next two years that should work as assets or turn into solid young talent.

Best Case: If they can land a superstar in the draft they could become a powerhouse and the top seed in the East. Similarly, If they trade some picks to land another superstar, they could elevate themselves into the top spot. Only time will tell, but they look to be a lock as a contender for the next couple of years.

Worst Case: They strike out on their lottery picks over the next two years. Their aging talent becomes injury prone and fails to produce at the same level. They stay a playoff threat, but drop to a five or six seed in the East.

Milwaukee Bucks:

Future of NBA

(courtesy of USA Today)

 To be a top team in the NBA, you need a superstar. It’s becoming more and more clear that the Bucks have that role filled. Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as one of the brightest stars in the NBA and looks ready to lead this team for the next decade.

The Bucks have a depth of other young stars as well. Jabari Parker and Malcolm Brogdon look like great pieces and Khris Middleton is set to return next year. The Bucks could be set to dominate the league for the next few years.

Best Case: The Greek Freak becomes the best player in the league. He, Parker and Middleton become a Big Three and they become a perennial championship team in the East.

Worst Case: The Greek Freak continues on his trajectory, but the pieces around him don’t develop. He becomes a good player on a bad team and they are exit the playoffs early.

Philadelphia 76ers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Getty images)

The Sixers could be the biggest unknown in the NBA. They have made huge strides with Joel Embiid this year, but the team’s future is still up in the air.

Like the Bucks, the Sixers have the most important piece of the puzzle. If Joel Embiid can stay healthy he is going to be a star. The question is whether the Sixers can surround him with talent.

Hopefully, Ben Simmons can be another star for the team. And with two potential top ten picks this year, they could add more star power to their lineup. The Sixers have the potential to be a super-team, but also stay at the bottom of the East.

Best Case: They get two more stars in the draft this year. Ben Simmons turns out to be another star, and Joel Embiid turns into the best center in the league. The Sixers contend for the championship every year and dominate a strong Eastern conference.

Teams that will drop:

Toronto Raptors

Atlanta Hawks

Chicago Bulls

Verdict: The Bucks are the most likely team to rule the East in five years. With a few future superstars and proven role players, they are set up best for the future. The Sixers have the second best chance. With their injury risks domination is anything but definite, but they have too much talent to rule out. The Cavaliers and Celtics are dark horse candidates to remain on top of the conference as well.

Western Conference

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Bleacher Report)

Golden State Warriors: 

The rich get richer. The Warriors will most likely take a similar path to the Heat after they signed Lebron James. Although they lacked cap space in the first year, they added depth in James’ second year with the team. Although they lack depth this year, the Golden State Warriors will most likely continue to get better as their four stars hit their prime. They will most likely continue to be the class of the West.

Best Case: The Warriors gain depth to surround their stars. They remain the one seed for the next five years and win championships along the way.

Worst Case: The Warriors can’t retain their superstars. They’re stuck with a middling team that sits in the middle of the conference every year.

San Antonio Spurs: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Bleacher Report)

The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge and a knack for never missing on a free agent signing or draft pick. They will continue to build around Kawhi and remain at the top. As long as they have a star player and the best coach in the league they will continue to contend.

Best Case: They make a splash in free agency. With two superstars and a great supporting cast, Popovich continues to keep this team at the top of the West.

Worst Case: The team struggles to contend, and Kawhi is the only star on the team.

Los Angeles Lakers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of USA Today)

The Lakers have a depth of budding superstars, led by Deangelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. The team is set for the future and have a great young coach in Luke Walton. Whether or not they can contend depends on the progression of Brandon Ingram, but if their stars pan out they could easily turn into one of the best teams in the West.

Best Case: Deangelo Russell and Brandon Ingram turn into superstars and lead the Lakers to championships over the next few years. Luke Walton becomes one of the best coaches in the league and they become the powerhouse of the West.

Worst Case: Brandon Ingram can’t put on weight. Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle don’t live up to their potential. The Lakers can’t execute their turnaround and remain a borderline playoff team.

Minnesota Timberwolves: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Sporting News)

The Timberwolves have a coach, two stars and a depth of pieces that can contribute or be traded. They will also most likely have a top pick in this year’s draft. Although their timetable has already been pushed back, it is matter of when not if they will be the class of the west.

Best Case: Towns and Wiggins become superstars at the level of Durant and Westbrook, but the team succeeds and wins championships. They become a perennial one seed.

Worst Case: The Wolves fall into a trap of becoming a great team, but never an elite team. They never develop the pieces around Towns and Wiggins, and stagnate around the 2 or 3 seed.

Teams that will drop: 

Houston Rockets

Los Angeles Clippers

Memphis Grizzlies

Verdict: The Timberwolves are the most likely team to dominate the West in five years. They have two future superstars in Wiggins and Towns, and they have the young pieces around them to build a great team. The Warriors are the second most likely, as they already have the proven stars, but their stars will be aging in five years. The Lakers and Spurs will be dark horse contenders because of their star power and their respective coaching prowess.

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