NBA All-Star Game format a hit

This year had to be different. With the recent All-Star games in the NBA, fans were getting disinterested, as it was just a prolonged dunk contest. It failed to truly showcase how great the players partaking in the game were. NBA Commisioner Adam Silver and team captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry all stepped up to make the new NBA All-Star Game format work.

The Draft

2018 NBA All-Star Draft

All-Star Draft (Photo by: express.co.uk)

One conference playing another in any All-Star game was a great idea, before interleague play started happening in every professional sport. It allowed room for debate of who had the better players and which conference was better overall. It solved the great unknown questions of the era.

Those questions are, for the most part now answered.  Now teams get to play each other multiple times a year in the NBA and the Western Conference is deeper than the Eastern Conference. Players no longer take pride in their conference, but rather in their specific teams and themselves. The change to a draft format was necessary.

James and Curry treated the draft the right way, with James selecting Kevin Durant to start off the selections. Both tried to field teams that could win rather than picking players they were close with. Curry was unable to get his teammate, Durant, and James didn’t pick his teammate, Kevin Love, early at all.

The draft itself helped create some interesting matchups and combinations that fans now wonder about. James and Durant, the two best players in the league, were on the same team. James was reunited with teammate Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook and Durant were on the same team for the second straight season after Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As for matchups that were created, Dwayne Casey coached team LeBron and against his own players, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Westbrook and Irving got to match up with Curry and Harden in a battle of the best guards in the league. When Team LeBron went small late in the game James got the pleasure of guarding Joel Embiid that created some great sequences.

The Effort and motivation

2018 NBA All-Star Game

Photo by: fatmouthsports.net

All the players had a lot to play for, as the winning team would get $350,000 to charity, while the losing team gets $150,000. While these aren’t great personal stakes, it gives the players something to take pride in.

This also helped create a sense of competitiveness around the game. The minutes weren’t split evenly as in past years. James played 31 minutes (as opposed to just under 20 in 2017), while Curry accumulated 26 minutes. Al Horford logged only 12 minutes and Goran Dragic was in for 11 minutes. (LaMarcus Aldrige played four minutes due to injury and Jimmy Butler sat out with sickness). While the West gave a lot of playing time last year to it’s starters, the East did not give anyone more than 24 minutes.

Not only were there more minutes played for the stars (overall), than most years, but they were on the court when it mattered. Team LeBron had their starters (with a minor concession of subbing Anthony Davis out for Paul George) on the floor at the end. Team Stephen put in Kyle Lowry and Draymond Green in at the end of the game in an effort to get a stop. Both teams gave themselves a chance to win because they put their best players on the court (or tried to) for whatever situation came up.

Another surprise was, players actually fouled to prevent baskets rather than running out of the way. There were 16 personal fouls in 2017. This year there were 26. That’s a perfect mix of making sure no one gets hurt from crazy fouls and actually trying for an All-Star Game.

The main thing that made this work was the defensive intensity. Last year there were 374 total points scored. This year the teams’ defense stepped up and only 293 total points were scored. Curry was held to 27% shooting from deep, while Harden was even worse at 15%. Staples Center did have some pretty stiff rims, but the defense was also a cause of the low shooting percentages this year.

The Finish

When it came down to the last quarter, it was apparent that both teams were actively trying to win, which isn’t always the case in an All-Star game. Timeouts were called to set up plays and, as mentioned before, the best lineups were put in for the best results.

At the very end it was Team LeBron storming back to take the lead 148-145. They needed a defensive stop against a team that was loaded with some of the best three point shooters in history. To end the game, James and Durant were able to trap Curry in the corner and prevent him from getting off a great shot.

That play capped of the best NBA All-Star game in years. If that wasn’t enough for fans, Adam Silver announced that the same format will be used next year, but that the draft will be televised. This should just generate more interest and competitiveness between players.

For once fans can get excited about All-Star weekend again.

 

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The project bigs in the NBA

With the current eligibility rules to enter the NBA being one year after completely high school, many players aren’t fully ready for rigors of the league. Many organizations choose to focus on the development of young players and give them very little opportunities of seeing an NBA court. With the improving G-League and increasing development staff, teams have the ability to work with talented youngsters and allow them to grow into the NBA.

It’s becoming increasingly common for teams to take project players in the draft. These players usually don’t have lots of basketball skills but have tons of potential because of their athleticism and size. While some players can’t ever acclimate to the NBA level, nurturing young stars can allow them to have great careers as well. Some of the current players who were once considered projects are: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Thon Maker, Serge Ibaka, Paul George, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside.

Here is a list of the current project bigs who you could see dominate the next couple of years:

Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings

Harry Giles has been recovering from a torn ACL last season at Duke where he was slightly disappointing averaging 3.9 points a game and only 10 minutes of action. While he is a raw prospect for the Kings, everyone from the players to owners they all can agree on one thing: Giles is a beast.

Many people forget that Giles was the No. 1 player in the nation out of high school only 2 years ago. This was the same year as Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum and his Kings’ teammate, De’Aaron Fox. He stands at 6’11 with a 7’0 wingspan and has the ability to shoot, pass and moves very fast for someone his size. The Kings smartly traded down from their No. 10 pick to get pick’s No. 15 and No. 20. They were able to take Justin Jackson and Giles with their acquired picks. While the Kings have had some struggles in the past with their draft, the trio of picks this summer looks to guide the franchise in a new direction.

Ivica Zubac, Los Angeles Lakers

Zubac, who was the last pick in this year’s draft has failed to see the court on numerous occasions. He’s routinely playing in G-league games to get experience. However, The Croatian standing at 7’1 finally got some time at the NBA level and had a breakout game. In 20 minutes, Zubac had 19 points on 8 of 8 shooting. Yes you read that correctly, he did not miss a shot. Zubac also added in 11 rebounds for the purple and gold.

Don’t be surprised to see Zubac get an increase in usage following the all-star break. Hopefully Luke Walton will get Lonzo and Zubac on the court together more, as they formed a dynamic duo in the Summer League.

 

Jakob Poeltl, Toronto Raptors

Jakob Poeltl has rode the bench a lot so far in his career, but has made the most of his minutes. (Photo by defpen)

 

Poeltl is also a foreign-born big man, however Poeltl played 2 years at Utah before declaring for the draft. Poeltl was dominant in college, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year his sophomore campaign.

However, because of the talent on the Raptors there was no chance of Poeltl playing his rookie season. He has finally started to log more minutes coming off the deepest bench in the league. He’s seventh in the league in field goal percentage(65%) and averages 2.4 blocks a game per 36 minutes. Poeltl is still young and a raw big, but is likely a good enough player to start on bad teams.

 

Jonathon Isaac, Orlando Magic

 

The Magic have tried to get Isaac on the court when he’s healthy. However, he is a young raw prospect and he’s been hurt quite a lot this season. Isaac was the sixth pick in the draft this season and he was terrific at Florida State. However, he’s struggled a bit when he’s seen the NBA court. John Hammond(their GM) saw visions of the Greek Freak (who Hammond drafted) on the court. Nonetheless, Isaac has struggled to stay on the court.

Isaac’s defense and versatility are what got him drafted so early. Similar to Anthony Davis, Isaac had a late growth spurt that allows him to be as quick as smaller player. It’s fair to say the rookie is growing into his body. If he can stay on the court and develop a better offensive game, he could be a real problem on the court for his opponents.

Feature image by: NBA.com

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Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Will Isaiah Thomas be on the move again?

The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired former All-Star and crafty scorer Isaiah Thomas, but plenty of question marks lie in the chance of his return next season, his fit next to Lonzo Ball and most importantly, the future of the Lakers.

It is the morning of Feb. 8, 2018, and NBA fans all around the world are constantly navigating through various social media devices to see who is about to end up on a new team by the middle of the day. Plenty of surprises came our way, but arguably none more intriguing, to say the least, than the Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Isaiah Thomas.

What was this trade all about?

The trade involved sending Jordan Clarkson and high-flying act Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in return for Thomas, Channing Frye and a pick. While this did throw off many NBA fans, the Lakers are doing nothing except preparing themselves for the future.

Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Photo from silverscreenandroll.com

The Lakers stood at a record of 23-31 before Thomas stepped foot on the floor for LA, clearly closer to tanking than playoff contention as expected from a young team. The potential is there though. Brandon Ingram is supposedly the next Kevin Durant. Kyle Kuzma has shown flashes of brilliance all season. And of course, there is the one and only Lonzo Ball.

They are young, talented and have the potential to be studs in just a couple years. So why get rid of two other young players when they are already developing the youngsters this season anyway?

Well, it had nothing to do with the talent levels of the newest Cavaliers. In fact, they were some of the best players to come off the bench in the whole league, and the defense (especially Nance’s) will definitely be missed from a defensively-weak Lakers team.

With this trade, Magic Johnson and the Lakers are making it clear that they are doing something that other teams like the Sixers and Timberwolves have already started doing quite well: preparing for the future.

What can Los Angeles do next season?

Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Photo from youtube.com

With this trade, Los Angeles now has enough cap space to sign two free agents to a max deal for the 2018-19 season. This is absolutely huge for the Lakers, as they have been eyeing players like Paul George, LeBron James and seemingly countless other big names since even before this season. Now all of the talk about a couple big signings could become a reality.

The most ambitious (and bandwagon) of Lakers fans are all dead set on James and George both coming to Los Angeles next season. Regardless of the rumors and speculations, there is truly no way of knowing what Los Angeles will do until they announce it themselves. Stay tuned for what should be a wild offseason.

Now what?

For right now, many of us are curious how the rest of the season will go for the Lakers. It’s a huge question mark if Isaiah Thomas will stay or not, but so far not so good for the former All-Star.

After a debut of 22 points and six assists in purple and gold, he has flopped since then, playing just five minutes against the Pelicans and shooting 3-for-15 against the Timberwolves. The biggest takeaway from all of this? All three games since Thomas’s arrival have been losses.

Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Photo from thesource.com

Unfortunately, the issues don’t stop there. No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball is on the verge of returning from an MCL injury, and just so happens to play the same position as Thomas. There’s no doubt that Magic knows this and has ensured fans that Ball would be starting when he returns.

This leaves us with Thomas, who was an All-Star and third in the league in scoring last season, to come off the bench of a slightly below average Los Angeles team.

I know what you are probably thinking. Just a minute ago, I said I liked the trade for cap space purposes, but now I’m giving reasons why it doesn’t make too much sense.

To be crystal clear, the future of the Lakers absolutely benefited from this deal. However, despite many sources saying Thomas plans to stay in Los Angeles, it just does not seem likely. He has the talent and skillset to be a starter on so many teams, and backing up an inconsistent rookie like Ball is probably not where Thomas wants to be after averaging 28.9 points per game.

Prediction

If I had to make some not-so-bold predictions about the Lakers’ roster next season, I would say it is one that lacks guys like Julius Randle, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Isaiah Thomas, but adds at least one superstar with Paul George being a feasible and likely candidate. What the Lakers have done with this trade was a very intelligent way to prepare for next season and beyond, but there is almost no doubt that Thomas will once again be wearing a different jersey.

It’s only speculation at this point, but we could see a whole new group of guys wearing purple and gold next season, and I’m already intrigued to see how everything falls into place.

 

Featured image by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

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NBA All-Star

NBA All-Star Game predictions

You either love the NBA All-Star game, or you’re completely uninterested in it. There’s no real in between, and it’s not hard to understand why. Watching super-rich athletes engage in playground basketball with their friends is either exciting or nauseating.

NBA All-Star

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. (Photo by Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

In the past, it’s basically been a continuation of the dunk contest. Once the player is past half court, the lane clears, and the man with the ball gets to show off. Last year’s All-Star game ended in a 192-182 victory for the West. To put that into perspective, the average score of a game last season was 105.6 points. That’s how little NBA All-Stars are interested in guarding their man.

Now, be well aware that these are the best scorers in the league, in most cases. And defense is not only less exciting than offense, but it takes more effort. The All-Star break is a rare occasion that these star players can get meaningful rest, it is what’s paramount to a successful back end to a season, and playoff runs. So working hard on the defensive end of the floor doesn’t quite make sense for them.

The problem is that the game doesn’t mean anything. There’s no competition because bragging rights are essentially irrelevant to these players. They have already proven they’re the best in the game by being chosen, so why try?

The new draft format and $100,000 cash prize are attempts at trying to remedy this issue. It’s unclear whether or not these changes will make any difference in competitiveness. But before evaluating and predicting, let’s look at the updated rosters.

Rosters

Team LeBron: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, Bradley Beal, Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook

NBA All-Star

Westbrook and Durant will be on the same All-Star team for the second year in a row. (Photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Team Curry: Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar Derozan, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Al Horford, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns

Worth mentioning here is the fact that LeBron’s squad has lost four All-Star selections to injury. In the first year of the draft format, that’s not good. It’s especially bad considering all of the injuries came from the same team.

Also worth noting is that Westbrook and Aldridge missed four games between them in the last week. They will be ready for the All-Star Game, but that’s two more question marks for Team LeBron.

The replacements for injured players were not conference-specific. While in the past, someone from the same conference would have had to be chosen, this time it’s simply overall vote-getters. This probably led to the continued snub of Lou Williams, and Dragic sneaking his way in.

Team Curry

With all of his original players still in the lineup, Curry’s team has to be the favorite.

With Antetokounmpo, Derozan, Horford, Embiid and Towns, the team has tremendous length. And those of them who can’t slash to the bucket can certainly handle themselves around and beneath it.

Add in Curry and Harden, and that should be all the shooting they need. But, still, they have Butler, Lillard, Lowry and Thompson to pick up the slack. All of them can also get to the hoop, as well. But with the length on display, expect to see a lot of three-pointers from this team.

Team Curry is also being coached by Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have the best record in the NBA, and the most potent offense in the league. Not that a team of this many great players will need much coaching, but expect D’Antoni to draw up offensive set pieces consistently and try to win this game with 150-plus points.

Team LeBron

Again, this team has been decimated by injuries. Four have been replaced, and two more are reportedly not at 100 percent.

Those replacements have been: Paul George for DeMarcus Cousins, Goran Dragic for Kevin Love, Kemba Walker for Kristaps Porzingis and Andre Drummond for John Wall.

NBA All-Star

Kristaps Porzingis won’t participate after tearing his ACL on Feb. 6. (Photo by Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports)

These injuries have made the team markedly smaller. Porzingis’ and Love’s replacements cost the team almost two feet of length. Having Drummond in for Wall stops the bleeding a little, but Drummond is not effective more than five feet from the basket. Kevin and Kristaps are both big men who can shoot from anywhere, and rest assured they would be if they were playing.

Some NBA fans might like the current lineup better for one reason or another. The point of All-Star selections is that they are subjective. And in just one game, the pieces don’t necessarily have to fit perfectly to win. But, losing four bonafide All-Stars for players that were “the best of the rest” shouldn’t inspire confidence.

LeBron’s team is being coached by Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors, who have the best record in the East. A no-nonsense defensive coach is a definite shake up for the All-Star Game. If Casey holds the other squad to less than 140 points, he will have lived up to that reputation.

We all know that LeBron is tired of losing, but we’ll see if he can will his team to that $100,000 prize.

Effort

Speaking of $100,000, does it really matter to some of the richest athletes in the sport? These players not only have massive contracts, but they’re all so good that they have deals and endorsements and appearances to help bolster their bank accounts.

What many fans might not know, is each member of the losing team will get $25,000. So that narrows the net winnings to $75,000. Sure, it would be life-changing money for most people in the world, but is that $75,000 worth the effort to these players?

Players don’t want to sound ungrateful, or out of touch with the rest of the world. So odds are, all 24 of them would answer with some form of, “yes, of course it matters.” And I’m sure it would be nice to have $75,000 more than you had yesterday. Especially if you receive it for playing a game you play every single night. But the fans will never really know how interested the players are. It’s an exercise in futility to read into it too much. The players will give however much they want to on the court, end of story.

LeBron will be out there trying his best to win. Curry will, too. They did put these teams together, after all. They want to be seen as a better “fantasy” manager than the other. But with the injuries, LeBron’s team has an excuse if they lose, and Curry’s team has a small incentive to take things easy on defense.

NBA All-Star

Curry and James picked the All-Star teams, and will go head-to-head again in 2018. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

With the new format, this should be a more competitive game. It will still be high scoring, and there will still be more joking around than defensive pressure. But the winning team won’t be eight points shy of 200 this year.

Prediction

Team Curry wins, 163-148

This was an easy call to make. The shooting and athleticism on Curry’s team is overwhelming. LeBron’s team will show more effort, and with Coach Casey on the sidelines, will be more engaged on the defensive end. But in the end, the shooting is what will matter.

People will clear the lane for Antetokounmpo, Harden and Curry will take 15 three-pointers each, and Embiid will trash talk his way either into or out of America’s heart.

Featured image by Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

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So are the Cavs good now?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently on a four game win streak and have looked revitalized after they blew up the roster at the trade deadline. The new additions at the deadline are all playing significantly better in Cavalier uniforms and have the Cavaliers growing momentum at the All-Star Break, and all looks well in The Land. However, The Cavaliers have only played a handful of games with their new roster.  Are the Cav’s good now?

Why the Cavs did get better:

Thomas only played 15 games before he was dealt to the Lakers. (Photo by News | USA)

Getting Isaiah Thomas out of the locker room is like removing a tumor. The team chemistry was significantly brought down by Thomas’ presence. He continuously denied any responsibility with the team’s struggles, and pointed fingers at other teammates. Thomas looked awful during his time on the court, Offensively he was inefficient and defensively he couldn’t stay in front of anyone. Getting the bad teammate out of the locker room has allowed the team to show chemistry on the court and healthy excitement off the court.

Thomas wasn’t the only bad player that was dealt either. Dwyane Wade was terrible with the Cavs and people who say otherwise have not watched him play. He’s shooting 45% from the field(3% off from his career average) and 33% from downtown, which is not good. Jae Crowder was a really good player on the Celtics with Brad Stevens, but he was awful on the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers brought in new young talent and did not get rid of the Brooklyn 1st round pick.

Jordan Clarkson has provided great energy since his arrival for the Cavaliers. (Photo by CavsNation)

The new additions have provided new life to the roster, Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson are playing fantastic with LeBron in charge and now. The Cavaliers have finally put young talent on the court and decreased the average age of the roster by 2 years. George Hill(31) and Rodney Hood(27) are both veterans, but they’re both bringing new life and energy to the roster. Hill is a very serviceable point guard and is a perfect role player to surround LeBron with. Hood has been a knock-down shooter even since he left Duke.

The emergence of the new players have also had a great effect on the other players as well. J.R Smith has played like a better version of himself despite a increased tendency to take questionable shots. LeBron has played well in the games with his new team, scoring 37 points against the Thunder. Even Cedi Osman has played increased minutes and is playing well as a starter. The Cavaliers will look very interesting once Kevin Love comes back, as the team will be complete with the new roster and 2nd best player back and healthy.

Final thought

The Cavaliers look like the team to beat in the East once again. If they build more team chemistry and learn how to play together, they could challenge either the Warriors or Rockets in the NBA Finals.

Why the Cavs did not get better:

The Cavs are not better than they were last year. The Cavs lost in five games to the Warriors and the Cavaliers had to have record breaking 3-point shooting to win game four to prevent a series sweep. The Warriors would have to have numerous injuries to key players for this to even become a series.

Cleveland lost their second best player from last year(Kyrie Irving) and the Cavs need a real second star with LeBron. Kyrie was the only player who actually made Cleveland significantly better other than LeBron.

Without Kyrie, will Cleveland win the East? (Photo by Heavy.com)

You can look down the Cavs roster and say if he wasn’t on the roster, that wouldn’t change the success this team has in the playoffs. That includes Kevin Love. There is no player on this roster with irreplaceable value outside of James.

The Cavaliers gave up on Isaiah Thomas after 15 games. Not only did they trade him, they attached their first round pick for a backup point guard on a lottery team (Jordan Clarkson) and a backup big(Larry Nance) who are both overpaid. Thomas was not playing to the standard he played at last season, but they did not give him enough time to figure out a role with the team and get back into playing shape after his hip injury.

There were rumors of Thomas being rushed back and having no feel for the game. While Thomas is a free agent this summer, trading him at the deadline may be a huge mistake. Thomas is a creator on offense, and besides LeBron, no one else can create on a consistent basis.

 

Cleveland’s trading away of Crowder, Shumpert and Rose is unequiventy good. There was no solid contributions being made from any of them and they were dead weight. Receiving Hill and Hood was a great move, adding talent and getting younger. However, George Hill is just a role player and while Hood shows flashes of being a complete player, he’s still just a good role player.

 

Cleveland now has no team chemistry and the players have no experience playing with one another. They don’t have the talent or chemistry to challenge the Warriors, and could struggle getting out of the East. If LeBron has to carry his team throughout the first rounds of playoffs again, how will he play in the conference finals and finals?

Final Thought

LeBron won’t win a title without a second star player. The Spurs swept LeBron and the Cavs the year he carried them to the finals. One great player can not beat a great team by himself. Plus, LeBron needs more than role players if they want to even compete with Golden State. The Cav’s have no chance of winning the championship with the current roster they have.

NBA MVP candidates

Top 5 MVP candidates at the All-Star break

The NBA MVP field is crowded. With so many great players in the league, anyone’s argument on who should win is probably valid. This is why there has only been one unanimous MVP in the history of the NBA.

With more than half of the NBA season gone and the trade deadline passed, teams are taking the shape they’ll have going into the playoffs. Players are making the push to play their best basketball to secure seeding.

There are far more than five players that are deserving of being in the MVP conversation. Russell Westbrook is having a great season, DeMar DeRozan has made huge strides and Karl-Anthony Towns is becoming the player everyone thought he would be. But for the sake of brevity and exclusivity, here are the top five MVP-caliber players.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek Freak is setting the league on fire. His athleticism is, as his nickname suggests, nothing short of freakish. We’ve seen him get from the top of the key all the way to the rim in just three steps. And he dunks whenever possible.

In many ways, he’s the antithesis of what the NBA has become in the 2010s. He’s much more concerned with cutting or driving to the hoop than with shooting from deep. He does not take or hit many 3-pointers. In fact, he’s shooting just 28.6 percent from behind the arc this season.

NBA MVP candidates

Giannis Antetokounmpo jumps over Tim Hardaway Jr. for a dunk. (Photo by NBA via Twitter)

But that seems insignificant when compared to his other numbers. He’s scoring 27.6 points per game this season, which is up from 22.9 last season. He is collecting almost two more rebounds per game than last year at 10.4.

Since he gets to the rim so often, Antetokounmpo is shooting an insane 53.7 percent from the field. Those kinds of percentages are usually reserved for true centers that live underneath the basket.

He is no slouch on defense either. His blocks and steals both hover around 1.5 per game. Those numbers aren’t likely to trend downward in the back end of the season.

The Bucks are playoff-bound thanks in part to the kind of season Antetokounmpo is having. He’s solidly in contention for MVP honors, but in a shooting league, assists are becoming more valuable than ever. His assists per game will have to come up as he continues to score if he wants to upset the favorites.

4. LeBron James

It wouldn’t be an MVP conversation without mentioning The King.

LeBron is seemingly ageless. In his 15th year in the league, he’s still putting up numbers any player would love to have. His points per game is at 26.5, and his assists and rebounds are both above eight.

With all the success the new-look Cavaliers have had since the trade deadline, it isn’t crazy to think all three averages could get even higher. It’s a very small sample size, but the pieces Cleveland has in place now already seem to fit better than the previous ones. He has more shooters and better defenders to rob other teams of possessions. That virtually guarantees James will have the ball in his hands more.

The main thing James has going against him is the fact that NBA fans are used to this. He is perennially in the top five MVP candidates. Common sense says that continued greatness shouldn’t count against him. But James already has four MVP awards. It makes sense that voters would want to spread the wealth.

3. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant’s points, rebounds and assists per game are all lower than LeBron’s, but he doesn’t play as many minutes as him. The only category that is up from his career average is assists at 5.5.

Durant definitely benefits from the fact that he’s on the best team in the league. All of the fantastic players around him actually make him look better, contrary to what one might think. His rejuvenated commitment to defense might also be a reason he sits so high on the list.

NBA MVP candidates

Kevin Durant won his MVP award in 2014 while he was with the Thunder. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

He is averaging almost one more block per game than his career average. The intangibles are also better than they have ever been. Watching him play speaks to that. Although the defensive numbers aren’t quite standouts, he plays hard on that end of the floor and challenges everything that his man puts up.

The assists and the unselfish play are the big stories here though. Golden State easily sits at the highest assists per game average, and Kevin Durant has bought in. He still gets his 25.5 points per game while feeding a team full of shooters.

Keep in mind that NBA broadcasters and sports writers vote for the MVP award. These are people that make their living watching NBA basketball. Their analyses will go deeper than numbers will indicate.

2. Stephen Curry

Another Warrior, and another perennial contender, Stephen Curry is having a great season despite some injury woes. He’s missed 15 games this season due to a nagging ankle injury.

That being said, he’s still putting up 26.8 points per game. That is three points better than his 2015 NBA MVP season, and only 3.3 points worse than his unanimous 2016 MVP campaign. Along with that, he’s collecting 5.2 rebounds at the point guard position. Golden State is relatively small to begin with, but that’s still pretty impressive.

Continuing with the Warrior trend of great shooters dishing out plenty of assists, Curry has been good for 6.5 per game. Again, that’s not massively difficult on a team full of shooters. But one of the greatest shooters passing up his shot to find a better one is MVP-caliber play.

He also benefits from being on a super team, but like James, Curry will be in the conversation every year. With his 3-point shooting abilities and his surprising ability to get to the hoop, he is an all-time great player. He also suffers a little from already having two MVPs under his belt, although that is still not as much as James. If he can stay healthy and grow his numbers, he has a real shot at a third.

1. James Harden

Harden had an MVP type of season last year. But he was unlucky enough to have it the same year Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double.

NBA MVP candidates

Harden does his signature “chef” celebration mid-game. (Photo by Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)

This year is a different story. Harden is averaging 31.4 points, 2.3 points more than last year. His assists are down slightly from 11.2 to 9.0, but that was to be expected after adding one of the best passers in the league to the roster in Chris Paul. He also gets five rebounds at a guard spot, which isn’t shabby by any means. He’s also doing this while having missed seven games.

Dishing out almost double digit assists while still getting over 30 points per game is phenomenal. Harden has 11 games scoring over 35 points, including four games scoring over 50. If the Rockets can stay healthy and keep Harden, Paul and Capela on the court, his assists numbers will continue to rise.

Harden simply seems like the most deserving candidate. He has been the player that has put the Rockets on his back since he arrived in Houston. Even though he has Paul at the point guard position, he is still the focal point of the offense. Not to mention he has the ability to do Paul’s job when he’s on the floor without him.

Houston is thriving within their offensive system, but only because Harden continues to do his job with consistency. Being the top option on the team speaks to the most literal definition of the MVP award. Harden is the most valuable player on his team.

As long as he continues to play great basketball, this award is his to lose.

 

Featured image by Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

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Mbah a Moute

The Fresh Prince of Cameroon

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the stalwart defensive combo forward for the Houston Rockets, is a prince. Let me repeat that: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a PRINCE. Now LeBron may call himself the King, but he isn’t a prince. I watched the Rockets play the Cavaliers on ESPN on Saturday, February 3rd, and ESPN displayed a graphic that stated that Mbah a Moute is a Prince in his home country of Cameroon. I was shocked, as I feel like this is something that should be discussed more in length as it’s not everyday that you find out an NBA player is also a prince. It is time to put some respect on Prince Mbah a Moute’s name.

Mbah a Moute was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon in 1986. Although he was raised and lives in Yaoundé, he has a really close relationship with the town of Bia Messe. This is the town where his father, Camille Moute a Bidias, is the chieftain and where Luc is a Prince. His father is also a government official who is the General Manager of the National Employment Fund of Cameroon. Being a prince isn’t all that what you might expect, Mbah a Moute says.

Mbah a Moute

The family of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute cheers him on at a UCLA game in 2007 (Wally Skalij/Getty Images)

“I don’t really have any power, I just go to different meetings and traditional events, I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to make any decisions. That’s all my Dad.”

Mbah a Moute per ESPN

He grew up playing soccer, and didn’t touch a basketball until he was twelve years old. He taught himself how to shoot and dribble by playing at a street hoop on a lamp post. After playing for a little over two years, he made the Cameroon national youth team at 15 years old.

After being discovered while playing for the inaugural NBA Basketball Without Borders camp in Africa, he was able to get noticed enough that he got a scholarship to go play at Montverde High School in Florida. He then received a scholarship to go play at UCLA in Los Angeles, California. There, he played with fellow successful NBA players Russell Westbrook, Aaron Afflalo, Jordan Farmer, Kevin Love and Darren Collison. He accomplished the rare feat of starting in three straight Final Four’s in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08.

When he came over to America, he knew only a few words of English and still had a very raw offensive game. This didn’t stop him from excelling on the defensive end, usually guarding the other teams best player while at UCLA. He also led the Bruins in rebounding his freshman year. The Bruin fans loved his energy and passion, and even dedicated a fan section to him by calling themselves the “Cameroon Crazies”. This is a knockoff of the Duke Blue Devils fan section and dedicated to his home country of Cameroon.

He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the seventh pick of the second Round of the 2008 Draft. As a second round pick, he wasn’t expected to contribute much, if play at all. He quickly became a fan favorite in Milwaukee for his defensive effort and his rebounding ability. After sending his first 5 years with the Bucks as a great wing defender, he bounced around in the 2013-2014 season playing for the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves, not getting much playing time with either team. He signed with the Philadelphia 76ers for the 2014-2015 season. Even though they were one of the worst teams in the NBA, he had a career year scoring the ball averaging 9.9 points per game while also gathering 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He then spent two years with the Los Angles Clippers. This is when he finally developed into a serviceable three point shooter, shooting 37.3 percent from three over those 2 seasons.

This past off-season, Mbah a Moute signed with the Houston Rockets, where he has continued his development into a 3 and D player. He has hit a career high 1.1 threes a game and has made them at a 36.5 percent clip. He has helped Houston turn into one of the better defensive teams in basketball with a 106.9 defensive rating, while also having the best offensive teams in the league with a 115.6 offensive rating. The Rockets are currently 2nd in the Western Conference behind the Golden State Warriors.

Mbah a Moute at a Basketball Without Borders Camp practice (CNN)

Mbah a Moute has career averages of 6.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.9 steals per game on 45.3 percent from the field and 33 percent from downtown.

Mbah a Moute is the 2nd player ever to play in the NBA from Cameroon. The first was 7-0 center named Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje. He played only 44 games over three years for the Portland Trail Blazers from 2001-2004 before fizzling out the league. In his work with the Basketball Without Borders program, he helped discover Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center and social media icon Joel Embiid and Toronto Raptors power forward Pascal Siakam, both of whom are also from Cameroon.

Mbah a Moute has one of the most interesting backstories in the NBA, and no matter how it turns out, he still is a Prince. Not many people in the world can say that.

 

Featured photo by: Getty Images

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Prospect Profile

NBA 2k League Prospect Profile – TheWealthySon

It feels like the NBA 2k League Combine just started yesterday. Now that we’ve passed the halfway point, players have a better understanding of the combine and how to play within it. One player who understood how to play from the start, is the subject of this prospect profile, Adam Burns.

TheWealthySon’s Profile

TheWealthySon (TWS) is playing as a sharpshooting, slashing Small Forward. This is first small forward I’ve thoroughly evaluated, so I didn’t know what to expect. As always, I determine my grade on the first combine game a prospect plays in. Watching TWS’s first game, was truly eye opening. If you’re reading this evaluation, I encourage you watch his first game because it’s a great example of how to carry yourself for the rest of this combine, which you can find here.

Defense Evaluation

The small forward position is hard to play and hard to evaluate because they can choose to play more like a guard or a forward at this end of the floor. So, I had to wait for TWS to cement his choice and evaluate from there. From what I gathered, TWS wanted to primarily play help defense and initiate fast breaks.

His on ball defense is good. When his man gets the ball, TWS doesn’t panic or overreact to movement. He often forces a pass to another player and can return to playing help defense. Very rarely did TWS get beat off the dribble. On the few occasions he did, TWS managed to recover and not put his team in a bad position.

His off the ball defense was good as well. Once he got a feel for the opposition, he had no trouble sifting through the defense to stay with his man. He was also able to take calculated risks as a result of understanding how his opposition and make plays for his team. You can see two examples of his play below.

My biggest critique of TWS on defense would be aggression and indecisiveness. Too many times he would stay disengaged because his man is choosing to stay put away from the ball. I understand he doesn’t want to abandon his assignment, but his team was getting crushed in the paint early. TWS could have stopped the opposition’s success by making a conscious effort to trap. There were also instances that he would crash the boards when it wasn’t necessary, and try to run on the fast break when he should be trying to rebound. Overall, TWS is a solid defender who would benefit greatly by taking more calculated risks on defense.

Offense Evaluation

TWS struggled early, specifically, with his jump shot. This isn’t uncommon for the first game of the combine, the only problem is he failed to properly adjust quickly. For example, he had tremendous success driving to the basket and at the free throw line. Despite that fact, he took multiple baseline jump shots which did not go in. Preferably, TWS should have utilized a pump fake or some kind of move to get into the paint, as opposed to settling for jump shots.

However, he displayed great awareness as the game developed. In the second half TWS had a much better understanding of his strengths and role in the offense. He started to have great success cutting, specifically, the backdoor cut. Once he figured out his role and the proper timing on cuts, his game really flourished. This only accentuated his already good feel for spacing. Ultimately, I believe TWS passed on too many scoring opportunities. I understand he didn’t want to upset his teammates and share the ball, but there were a few instances that he really should have driven to the basket. If TWS could have made these adjustments in the second quarter, I firmly believe his team’s deficit would not have been so large.

 

Communication and Attitude Evaluation

If you watched this game on mute, you’d probably overlook TWS as just an average player. But, his communication and overall attitude are among the best I’ve seen. He would routinely call out double teams on offense, when to time box outs, and cuts to the basket. There were some cases where I think he over communicated during defensive sets, but that’s not a huge issue.

In case you couldn’t tell from the footage, TheWealthySon’s team was down by 20 points for most of the first half. In his team’s first combine game, they faced a seemingly insurmountable deficit. The whole time TWS remained upbeat, encouraged teammates, and continued to play and communicate as if it was a one possession game. This paid off huge. His attitude was clearly infectious and allowed his teammates to battle back. In the fourth quarter, his team was actually up by two points despite being so far down. It was truly incredible to see TWS and his team respond so well in their first combine experience.

Overall Grade

Deciding on a final grade was tough. Thank goodness I was able to hear the audio as well as watch the footage. If not, I probably would have given TheWealthySon a “C” or “C+” grade given his early struggles and lack of adapting quickly. But, I decided that TWS was deserving of a “B-” given his attitude and that this was his first game. Without him, this team would have absolutely lost by double digits, or quit before the game was over.

 

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A recap of Paul Pierce’s historic Celtic career

Very few basketball players get to experience what Paul Pierce did Sunday night. He got to watch as his number 34 get hoisted into the rafters at TD Garden in Boston Massachusetts. A finals champion, A finals MVP and a 10 time Allstar, Paul Pierce stayed through the good and the bad with the Boston Celtics.

Now he gets to put his name in the same category with names like Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Robert Parish. Here’s a look back on his fifteen seasons with the Boston Celtics and why he is one of the Celtic greats.

Background:

Paul Pierce was the Celtics 10th overall pick in 1998. He is a 6-foot-7 small forward, drafted out of Kansas. Pierce spent 15 seasons with the Boston Celtics before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets.

Pierce received Big 12 MVP his sophomore season at Kansas. He has his High School, College and now NBA jersey all retired.

He trails only John Havlicek on the Boston Celtics All-time scoring list.

He played alongside stars like Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Antoine Walker and Shaquille O’Neal. Pierce holds the Celtics’ record for most three-point field goals made and also ranks third in team history in games played, second in points scored, seventh in total rebounds, fifth in total assists and first in total steals.

He is fifth in NBA history for total three pointers made behind: Reggie Miller, Kyle Korver and former teammates Jason Terry and Ray Allen.

The Stats:

Paul Pierce, (Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images).

In Paul’s 15 year Celtic career he never averaged under 16.5 points per game. That 16.5 campaign came in his rookie season where he shot 44 percent from the field and 41 percent from three.

The Celtics made the playoffs in 10 of the 15 seasons that Paul was in the white and green. His Celtics career regular season statistics read as 21.8 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game. His player efficiency rating was 20.6 on average throughout his Celtic career.

Pierce played in 1,102 regular season game and scored 2,4021 points in those games. He shot 44.7 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 80.6 percent from the free throw line over those 1,102 games.

He was never held scoreless in TD Garden (including the games he later played as a visitor). A statistic called wins shared shows that Paul Pierce contributed over 138 wins himself in his time.

In his Celtics career the Celtics were on average +6.8 points per season when Paul Pierce was on the floor versus when he was off it. He scored 2,843 points in the playoffs averaging 20.9 points per game. In the Celtics 2008 banner year he averaged 21 points and shot 44 percent.

The Captain and the Truth:

What makes Paul Pierce so special is that he stayed with the Celtics. He is different because unlike players today that want to leave the team that they were drafted from, he rode with the good and the bad. He spent 15 years in Boston and barring a trade would have probably spent his whole career there.

Paul Pierce is one of the greatest Boston Celtics ever, and now after all the box scores and statistics have closed it is time to say it. A sure Hall of Famer has finally left his mark on the NBA and has left behind one of if not the greatest Celtic resume of all-time.

Paul Pierce will go on New England sports fans mount rushmore. He will sit up their with Tom Brady, David Ortiz and Patrice Bergeron from their perspective sports. The thing that Paul did for the city of Boston was never make excuses. His teams would change year in and year out. Some of his teams were less than spectacular, but at the end of the day he wanted to win, and he did everything in his power to do so for the Boston Celtics.

Pierces’ level of consistency and his dedication led him to a night of being honored for his achievements. A man best remembered for his pull up buzzer beaters or his 41 point performance to beat LeBron in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals has finally cemented himself as a Boston Celtic legend, and that is the Truth.

 

Featured image from Bleacher Report.

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NBA biggest storylines

Biggest storylines heading into the All-Star Break

The All-Star game serves as a reminder to observe the current NBA season as whole and the headlines that have circulated the NBA world. Here are the biggest storylines in the NBA to follow heading into the second half of the season.

Where do all the free agents sign this offseason?

Similar to last offseason, you can expect another exciting offseason with lots of high-profile free agents over the summer. The Lakers freed up cap room for two max contracts and are going to look to add to their young core.

The unrestricted free agents for this upcoming offseason include Kevin Durant, LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Isaiah Thomas, Aaron Gordon, Clint Capela, Jabari Parker, Carmelo Anthony, Avery Bradley, Zach LaVine and Tyreke Evans.

There’s no doubt that some players on this list are going to stick with their current teams, but a fair share of these players could bolt towards new horizons and change the shape of the NBA. This summer may be a turning point for franchises in the association.

Isaiah Thomas on the Lakers?

NBA biggest storylines

How will Isaiah react to coming off the bench after last year’s All-Star performance? (Photo by Lakers Nation) 

Once again, Isaiah Thomas was traded, this time in a blockbuster deal to the Lakers. The now brief fiasco that surrounded himself and the Cavs is now over. The 5-foot-9 offensive star is a two-time All-Star and finished fifth in MVP voting last season.

However, he’s going to be coming off the bench for the purple and gold. Lots of attention follows the Lakers. Lonzo Ball and Thomas don’t play great defense.

It should be interesting to see how the Lakers backcourt plays out the rest of this season.

Can the Cavaliers win the East?

The East has gotten increasingly tougher, and the Cavaliers are not the same team they once were with Kyrie Irving. While LeBron James is still having a great year, it remains to be seen if all their newly acquired players can change the locker room attitude and subpar basketball that has plagued Cleveland.

The new-look Cavs looked great in their first game, blowing out the Celtics on the road. But one game doesn’t define a season. The Raptors, Celtics and Wizards are all going to challenge the Cavs this postseason, and the Cavs aren’t going to have home-court advantage.

Who will be the first pick in the draft?

NBA biggest storylines

Where will Trae Young fall in the draft? (Photo by USA Today)

In what looks to be another stacked draft class, including Trae Young, Marvin Bagley, Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton, who will go first off the board?

While my favorite player in the pack is Doncic, it could be any of the names mentioned that get their names called first.

Is James Harden the MVP?

James Harden is averaging 31.4 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds per game while carrying the Rockets to the second seed in the Western Conference.

If Harden manages to stay healthy and continue on his torrid pace, it’s unlikely anyone can compete with him for the MVP trophy.

Can the Rockets beat the Warriors?

The Rockets have helped close the gap between the Warriors and the rest of the Western Conference. They’ve been nearly unbeatable when Chris Paul and James Harden are suited up and have the No. 2 offense in the league. The defense ranks in the middle of the pack at 15th. The Rockets have won the season series against the Warriors 2-1, and could end up with the first seed and home-court throughout playoffs.

If both teams manage to stay healthy, it’s likely these two will meet in the Western Conference finals. This Rockets team is going to be the first team to test the Warriors since Kevin Durant joined them.

Can the Warriors defend their title?

NBA biggest storylines

Will anybody beat the defending champions? (Photo from Billboard)

The Warriors have the best record in the NBA and an embarrassment of riches on their roster. Their bench play has not been up to par compared to years past. Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala have had down years for the Warriors. Patrick McCaw, Javale McGee and Nick Young have been underwhelming all season as well. Jordan Bell has also hit the rookie wall. Without David West holding down the second unit, this team struggles without its starters in.

It’s likely the Warriors haven’t stayed focused after reaching the NBA Finals for three years in a row. The dog days of the regular season can cause great teams to lose their intensity. The Warriors consistently don’t show up for games, they show up for quarters. Nonetheless, due to the amount of talent on this roster, that has been enough to win.

The Warriors will likely find their intensity come playoff time. However, for now they look like they’re going through the motions.

What is next for LeBron James?

LeBron James is a free agent once again, and no one knows where he is going to go. James displayed how frustrated he was with the roster before the deadline.

How do the trades change his approach for free agency? The teams that seemingly are rumored to be plausible for him to move to are the Rockets, Lakers and 76ers. There is a very strong chance James leaves Cleveland, again.

 

Featured image by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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