NBA 2k E League

2K Corner Series: An Interview with Wizards’ Grant Paranjape

Imagine you’re back in middle school during the mid 2000’s. All of your friends are out of town or busy with their families, so you resort to playing computer games. You stumble upon World of Warcraft (WOW), and after a few hours, you’re instantly hooked.

This is how it all began for Grant Paranjape, the Director of Esports for the Washington Wizards. Paranjape fell in love with WOW and played professionally. Fast forward to 2017, and Paranjape is using his gaming experience and MBA from Tulane University to take part in building the NBA 2K E League from the ground up.

Breaking into the industry

While it sounds like a great career trajectory, things weren’t always so clear for Paranjape. Like most college students, his entire life plan changed during his tenure at Tulane.

“I was on track to be pre-med, but I missed the deadline to apply because I finished undergrad early”, Paranjape said. As a result, Paranjape pursued the new MBA program at Tulane because it would allow him to finish in one year instead of two.

So with his MBA in hand and professional gaming experience, Paranjape was fielding offers from everyone you can imagine, right? Not exactly.

“There wasn’t a clear path to get in the Esports industry.” It wasn’t until Paranjape reached out to Splyce’s co-founder that he landed his first job as their social media manager.

Bridging the Gap Between Sports and Esports

Paranjape gained great experience during his time with Splyce. He spoke at length about how that experience was tremendous and critical to success at his current position. In August of 2017, Paranjape was hired by Monumental Sports Entertainment. He is now officially known as the Washington Wizards’ Director of Esports. Specifically, he would be working help ensure the success of the highly anticipated NBA 2K E League. Paranjape’s experience in the industry and business acumen made him the perfect candidate for this task.

“The first thing I had to do was explain esports…how the industry works and how to activate interest in our market.”

– Grant Paranjape

People like Paranjape are the key to bridging the gap between sports and esports. A former professional esport player who has experience working in an org, as well as an MBA is a great to unlock the barriers between the two industries. They are capable of explaining not only the consumer and what they are looking for, but also translate their wants and needs into effective business strategies.

Goals for Season Zero

NBA 2k E League

Photo courtesy of the YouTube account: titansfreak28

“It’s early, but we want to win,” Paranjape said of his expectations for this season. Given his background as a professional player, he wants to compete for the championship. However, he’s not alone in that goal.

Over the weekend all of the franchise esport directors gathered in New York to brainstorm and talk about season zero, but they also squared off against each other.

“I can’t include myself in the conversation of best NBA 2K player. Of the directors I’d say Anthony Muraco (Cavaliers), Cody Parent (Pacers) and Adam Rubin (Pistons). I think that fact is substantial. It inspires confidence that they will strive to create the best teams possible.”

One of Paranjape’s goals for the NBA 2K E League as a whole was to viewed as a standalone league.

“I think the phrase propped up is the crux of the issue”, Paranjape said.

While co-branding with the NBA would be beneficial, they have to communicate that this is a standalone league and not one that simply being funneled money and infrastructure by the NBA.

Silencing the doubters

He also spoke to those who may be doubting the league and whether or not people will watch it by saying NBA 2K itself has a distinct advantage. Essentially, you’re still just watching basketball. Unlike other popular esports, there is very little keeping the average fan from watching. If they understand basketball, they will understand the games and be interested in the NBA 2K E League.

 

You can hear the full interview including details about the national tryout and the qualification process to become a professional 2k player in the 2k Corner 3 Podcast by clicking here.

To stay updated be sure to follow Grant Paranjape on Twitter @Keiranthil.

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NBA takeaways

Eight thoughts about the NBA season minus LeBron James

The NBA is off to a wonderful, yet somewhat surprising start. The Celtics have won 16 straight games, the Pistons are third in the Eastern Conference and the Oklahoma City Thunder are under .500 despite building a super team in the offseason. Here are a few early season takeaways.

1. Is Lonzo Ball going to be good?

Going into the draft, the Lakers knew they were not drafting Lonzo Ball for his scoring ability, but his shot has been just awful. On shots from 0-3 feet from the basket (essentially layups), Ball is shooting 45.5 percent. His abysmal 22.8 3-point percentage is the worst in the NBA.

NBA takeaways

Hopefully Lonzo can figure out the whole shooting thing (Photo from ClutchPoints)

Instead of panicking, let’s look at some other famous guards. Russell Westbrook shot 47.6 percent from 0-3 feet, and 27.1 percent from three during his first year with the Oklahoma City Thunder. John Wall shot 40.9 percent from the field as a 20-year old in Washington, which is not as poor as Lonzo’s 31.3 percent, but is still weak.

Now for the positives. His assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty solid, and he already has two triple-doubles. Only 12 other guards have eclipsed multiple triple-doubles during their rookie seasons. That list consists of Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, Chris Paul, Walt Frazier, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Johnson. It also includes Michael Carter-Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Art Williams and Elfrid Payton.

Long story short, he could be great, but he also could be a major bust. He appears somewhat passive, and walking away from a fight that involved his teammates makes me question his toughness. Only time will tell, but in BBB we trust. Through 17 games, Ball is averaging 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The only other rookies to average at least seven boards and seven assists were Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

2. Ben Simmons is super talented

You can already tell that, barring injury, Ben Simmons will be in the Hall of Fame. He is a lock for NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging a ridiculous 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. The only other rookie to average at least 18-8-7 was the great Oscar Robertson. He is the modern day Magic Johnson, and NBA fans should be ecstatic.

The kid can do it all. He is special in half court, full court, open court, heck, he would probably be good in a court of law. The best part is a guy who has no jump shot is shooting 52.3 percent from the field. Simmons dominates inside, shooting 73.5 percent from 0-3 feet. I pray each and every day that he stays healthy for the remainder of the season.

3. Joel Embiid is so fun for the NBA

On Monday night, we watched Embiid swat Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, then proceeded to talk trash while Mitchell was down. This prompted Mitchell to shove Embiid, who flopped and drew a technical foul as he fell down to the floor.

In a game against the Clippers, Embiid had 32 points and 16 rebounds, while taunting Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The following night, Embiid put up his historic 46-15-7-7 stat line and proceeded to taunt Lonzo and LaVar Ball on social media.

Embiid is a national treasure, and like his teammate Simmons, needs prayers every night to stay healthy. He has a chance to be an all-time great, both on and off the court.

4. Brad Stevens is a magician and Kyrie Irving is special

The Celtics are off to an amazing start at 16-2, but the MVP of their team is not on the court. He is patrolling from courtside and calling out the plays.

Head coach Brad Stevens is the obvious choice for Coach of the Year and rightfully so. Without Gordon Hayward, Boston is riding a 16-game winning streak, and sits atop the Eastern Conference. Their defense has been phenomenal, ranking second in opponent field goal percentage, third in opponent threes allowed and fifth in total steals. Offensively, Boston is first in total rebounds and third in free throws made.

NBA takeaways

16 and counting (Photo from NBA.com)

When the Celtics were sitting at 14 straight, Stevens, in a postgame interview, noted “We gotta play a lot better.” That is a clear sign of an elite coach.

Kyrie Irving is shooting worse from the field, from three and from the line compared to last season. Luckily, Irving looks to be back on track after two dominating performances. Against the Hawks, Irving had 30 points while shooting 10-12. On Monday, Uncle Drew had his best game as a member of the Celtics. In an eight-point win against Dallas, Irving had 47 points (16-22), six assists and was +21 for the game.

He is also the most clutch player in the NBA. In the final five minutes with the score within five, Irving, in 38 minutes, has 65 points (24-39), 10 assists, zero turnovers, and a plus-minus of +40. Momma there goes that man.

5. Victor Oladipo looks like an All-Star

After being the punchline in the Paul George trade, the former No. 2 overall pick is having quite the season in Indiana. Oladipo is averaging 22.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, while shooting 44.7 percent from long range. All of a sudden, Oladipo is an offensive threat, and has the Pacers above .500.

6. Dwight Howard is a Hall of Famer

On Monday night, Howard had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. This was his 49th 20-point, 20-rebound game, which is the most of any player since 1983. Yes, that is more than Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal.

NBA takeaways

Dwight Howard will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame (Photo from USA Today)

This past March in an interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated, Howard was asked about whether or not he thinks he will be the Hall of Fame. He responded by saying, “No doubt. It’s kind of got swept under the rug because the perception of all the things that happened in Orlando. All of the media stuff. If you look at basketball itself, and I don’t ever talk about myself, but winning three Defensive Player of the Year trophies has never been done. Leading the league in rebounding six straight years. All that kind of stuff, I think that deserves it.”

Although he actually has only led the NBA in five total seasons rather than six straight, the eight-time All-Star should walk into the Hall of Fame with ease. It’s so funny because he has had such an awkward career, from dominating in Orlando, to flopping with the Lakers and bouncing from the Rockets to the Hawks and now the Hornets.

Yes, he has probably underachieved, but Howard’s numbers will put him up with the all-time greats when all is said and done.

7. What is going on in OKC?

Of course it takes time to adjust to playing with other All-Stars, but this Thunder team is sketchy. They are 7-9, and Russell Westbrook is shooting worse from the field and free-throw line than last year. He also has less assists per game despite having more talent around him.

Carmelo Anthony is shooting 42.2 percent, which would be the worst field goal percentage of his career. They are constantly letting teams back into games after the first quarter, and have now lost two straight despite being ahead by 20 points in both contests. Hopefully this team figures it out and can compete with Golden State come June.

8. James Harden is the MVP at this point in the season

Harden leads the league in points and assists per game. He is shooting 45 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from deep and 86.4 percent from the line.

Houston leads the Western Conference at 13-4, and Harden was dominating without Chris Paul, the team’s second best player, who was dealing with an injury. He dropped 56 points against Utah, and another 48 against the Suns.

 

Featured image by SlamOnline.com

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Al Horford: The Celtics’ most important piece right now

The Boston Celtics have now successfully rattled off 15 straight wins. They are without one of their best players in Gordon Hayward and have had injuries to many rotation guys along the way. They just held the NBA’s best offensive team to 88 points in a 92-88 win over the Golden State Warriors and seem to be meshing well as a team.

The Boston Celtics have the longest win streak after a 0-2 start and are looking to extend it with each passing game.

Balanced play

Al Horford

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, (Thesource.com).

The Boston Celtics have had a balanced attack nearly every night. They have seven players averaging 9.1 points per game or above. They have only had one player score over 30 points in a game and that was Kyrie Irving against the Hawks on Saturday night. The Celtics continue to have a rotation of players who have all led the team in scoring this season.

The most important turn around for the Boston Celtics have been solving their rebounding woes. Last season the Celtics were one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. This season they are tied for second in the NBA in rebounding and average nearly 48 per game. The difference is drastic.

Last season they were getting out-rebounded by 2.3 rebounds per game. This season they are +5.6 on the boards. They average 7.9 more rebounds than their opponents this season compared to last. They clean up the highest defensive rebound percentage in the NBA at nearly 82 percent of all shots. The difference this season hasn’t necessarily been Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis like many thought. The rebounding battle has been Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford’s battle to win every night.

The three of them combine for 44 percent of the Celtics rebounds on average. Horford has increased his rebounding from 6.8 a game to 8.8 a game from last season to this one. Jaylen Brown in his increased role has jumped from 2.8 rebounds a game to 6.6 this season. There has been a continuous effort to cut down on giving teams extra possessions on offense. The Celtics have capitalized and in turn it is helping the Celtics win games.

Al Horford: The glue guy

Al Horford has had a career season this season and he has done it efficiently. Horford is averaging 14.9 points and 8.8 rebounds. He is also chipping in 4.5 assists and has a 20.1 player efficiency rating. Horford is shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. He is doing all this on just over 10 field goal attempts a game.

Every one of the statistics that was previously listed was either slightly or well above his career average. The most impressive statistic for to signify Horford’s importance is when he’s off the floor. The Boston Celtics are just a shade under 12 points per 100 possessions worse when Horford is off the floor. For comparison, when Kyrie Irving is off the floor the Celtics are three points worse when he is off the floor on average.

Al Horford is the most valuable Celtic on offense because he affects the game more than just scoring. Horford is involved more in the offense and is benefiting from touching the ball more on a possession to possession basis. Horford is one of the longest tenured Celtics and is both a vocal leader as well as a guy who can lead by example.

 

Featured Image from Sportingnews.com.

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Joel Embiid and the rising 76ers

It’s pretty early in the season, but the Philadelphia 76ers are off to a good start. They are 8-6 and have been led by young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Ben Simmons has been showing that being a point forward is very possible in the NBA. Joel Embiid is showing that he can play with just about anyone. In a league that is shifting away from traditional centers, Joel Embiid is showing just how complete his game is.

Joel Embiid’s Early Career

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid, (Si.com).

I guess it would be fair to say that all of his career is also his early career due to him being in just his second playing year in the league. To be fair, Embiid has been a star for the 76ers in almost every game he’s played in.

Given he has only played 43 games in his NBA career Embiid notched a career high Thursday night against the Lakers. He had 46 points on 14/20 shooting, had 13 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks. He dominated a weak interiored Laker team and was extremely efficient while doing it.

He is also continuing to prove he can hurt a team in more ways than one. This season he is shooting 58 percent from inside the arc. That statistic is over eight percent better than last season and shows that he can hurt you from inside as well as from outside. Embiid has struggled with his outside shot as of this season. Last year he shot 34 percent from three and this season he is sitting right at 24 percent. If he can get back to his consistent shooting ways then he is in for an even bigger impact.

The Last Few Games

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid, (ESPN).

In his last two games, Embiid is averaging 39 points on 25-40 shooting which is good for 62.5 percent. He is 25-35 from the free throw line in that span and has grabbed 31 rebounds. He also has nine assists and eight blocks. Embiid has done a little bit of everything for his team and it has earned them wins in the last two games.

In wins this season Embiid has averaged 27 points and is shooting 59 percent. In losses this season, he has averaged 17 points and is shooting just 40 percent from the field. In translation, the versatile big man has been very important to this young teams success.

Team Outlook

As of right now, the 76ers only go as far as Embiid and Simmons take them. They have a lot of good role players to mix and match around them, but the NBA is all about star power. Until Markelle Fultz gets healthy and Dario Saric picks up his play a little, Simmons and Embiid have to carry most of the load.

One guy who does not get enough credit is Robert Covington. Covington is shooting 50 percent from three this season and he attempts seven a game. He’s averaged 17 points per game and he and J.J. Redick have helped open up the lane for both Simmons and Embiid to do their damage.

The 76ers are a very dangerous ball club. They have the ability to play with anyone and beat anyone on any given night. With Embiid and Simmons leading the way, the 76ers are in good position to make the playoffs. Barring any serious injuries, the 76ers should end up in the 5-7 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. With Embiid playing at borderline MVP quality, the 76ers could shake up the Eastern Conference playoffs.

 

Featured Image from Booshsports.com.

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Detroit Pistons

Are the Pistons back?

To this day, Detroit fans have a fond memory of the Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman days. Those were the days in which the Pistons won back-to-back titles, first sweeping the Magic Johnson and James Worthy led Lakers, then defeating Clyde Drexler’s Portland Trail Blazers in five games.

How about the early 2000s Pistons, who won a title in the 2003-04 season (we will touch on this later) while also making it to six straight Eastern Conference finals. From the 2002-03 season, all the way up to 2007-08, Detroit either won the championship, lost in the Finals, or was eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals.

Then, they dropped off. It has been nine years since the Pistons lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Of Detroit’s last nine seasons, eight of them have been years in which the team finished below .500.  In their one winning season, 2015-16, Detroit was swept in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The switch to Little Caesars Arena was actually what this team needed. It gives them a fresh start and some new life. After 13 games, the new-look Pistons sit at 10-3, tied for their fifth best start in franchise history.

DETROIT’S BEST STARTS THROUGH 13 GAMES

SEASONRECORDFINISH
1970-7112-145-37
1990-9111-2Lost E. Conf. Finals
1996-9711-254-28
2005-0611-2Lost E. Conf. Finals
1988-8910-3Won Finals
2002-0310-3Lost E. Conf. Finals
2017-1810-3?

The other six times this franchise won at least 10 of their first 13 games, they ended up in solid spots come playoff time. On four occasions, the Pistons made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, and of course won the title in 1988-89.

Obviously, this does not mean that the 2017-18 Detroit team is a lock to go deep into the playoffs, but do not sleep on them.

How is this happening?

A year ago, Detroit ranked 28th in 3-point percentage. On the defensive end, they were not forcing any turnovers, finishing 27th in that department. This season, Detroit is currently eighth in 3-point percentage, and forcing almost four more turnovers per game. They are continuing to dominate the offensive glass, and committing far less fouls than the league average.

Detroit Pistons

Tobias Harris is quietly averaging 20.1 points per game (Photo from ESPN.com)

At this point, Detroit’s MVP appears to be Tobias Harris. Harris, who was traded by the Magic for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings in February, 2016, is absolutely balling out in his second full season with the Pistons. After averaging 16.1 points per game during the 2016-17 season, Harris, through 13 games, is averaging 20.1 points, and 5 rebounds. He is shooting 48.1 percent from the field, and an outlandish 50.6 percent from three. Not to mention the 6-foot-9 forward is shooting 90.5 percent from the charity stripe, a place where Harris has succeeded his whole career.

Andre Drummond, who is the only Piston to have played in an All-Star game, is averaging 15.6 rebounds per game, which leads the NBA. Drummond also leads the league in offensive rebounds per game with 5.3 and has nine double-doubles in 13 games.

Their big offseason addition, Avery Bradley, appears to be exactly what Detroit needed. Bradley, a former All-Defensive First Team member, is dominating both sides of the floor. Not only has he continued to be a lockdown defender, but Bradley is averaging 17 points per game. He is a key reason for Detroit’s jump in 3-point efficiency, as he is shooting 41.4 percent from long range. Reggie Jackson is also looking like the Jackson from two years ago, averaging 16.3 a game.

Detroit’s bench has been quite special. Anthony Tolliver ranks first in defensive rating of players who have played at least 10 games. While averaging just under 10 points per game, Ish Smith is shooting 54.6 percent from the field. Of players who have played at least 8 games, Reggie Bullock ranks second in assist-to-turnover ratio.

While Detroit may be an underdog in the East, having to deal with teams like Boston and Cleveland, they look like they can play with anyone. Being considered an underdog is nothing new to Detroit, as their 2003-04 championship team was one of the biggest underdogs in the history of the NBA Finals.

Remembering the 2003-04 Pistons

After a conference finals loss, the Pistons brought in a new coach, Larry Brown. In that year’s draft, with the second overall pick (from the Grizzlies), Detroit selected Darko Milicic. Milicic would go on to play a few minutes off the bench, and is widely considered as a bust.

Detroit Pistons

One of the best starting fives of recent times. (Photo from History Locker)

Under the great Coach Brown, the Pistons, a strong defensive team, rallied off 13 straight wins between December and January. After hitting a bump in the road in February when they lost six straight games, Detroit needed a major acquisition to get them back on track. At the midway point in the season, the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace from the Atlanta Hawks.

The starting five of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and All-Star Ben Wallace was absolutely electric down the stretch. Detroit would go on to win 16 of their final 19 games. They ended the season at 54-28, good enough for the third seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

After defeating the Bucks and Nets in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Detroit faced off against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. The Pacers, led by Jermaine O’Neal and Defensive Player of the Year, Ron Artest, were defeated in six games by Detroit. Into the Finals they went, squaring off against the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers.

UNDERDOGS PREVAIL

Since the 2004 playoffs, no team has been more of an underdog when the opening odds dropped for the NBA Finals since the Pistons. Even Lebron James’ 2007 Cavaliers, who were made up of a bunch of scrubs while facing the Spurs, were given a better shot to win. The Lakers opened up at -550 and had a total of 37 All-Star selections on their roster. Their coach, Phil Jackson, already had nine championships under his belt. Detroit had four All-Star selections, and Larry Brown was seeking his first title.

Detroit Pistons

Pistons in 5. (Photo from Twitter.com)

Both Karl Malone and Gary Payton, two Hall of Famers, signed with L.A. for the minimum salary in hopes of winning a ring. Not to mention the fact that the Lakers were also were coming off three championships in four years. The combo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal is considered one of the best duos of all-time.

Despite the Lakers’ greatness, Detroit was not phased. In fact, the series only went five games, as the Pistons defeated the Lakers 4-1. Billups was named Finals MVP, averaging 21 points per game in the series. The Lakers, who averaged 98.2 points per game during the regular season, were held to just 81.8 points against Detroit. Defense wins championships. Coach Larry Brown became the first coach to win both an NCAA national championship and an NBA title.

While many will not give Detroit a shot at winning it all, mainly because of the super teams, just don’t sleep on them. Nonetheless, they are off to one of their hottest starts in franchise history and look to be back to their winning ways, which is dope for the city of Detroit.

 

Featured image from Bleacher Report

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Lauri Markkanen

Why is nobody talking about Lauri Markkanen?

We all knew there was something special about this draft class. This group was just loaded with talent, so much so that Malik Monk fell to No. 11. A player of his caliber is almost always a top five selection.

Throw in Ben Simmons playing his first NBA season and the “rookie” class gets that much better. Simmons is the frontrunner for rookie of the year now, but there are so many other rookies having exciting seasons.

Jayson Tatum has stepped up in Boston to fill the hole left by Gordon Hayward. The third overall pick is averaging 13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds a game and been a key part of why the Celtics have the best record in the NBA.

De’Aaron Fox is also looking impressive so far this season. The fact he is on the Kings has not kept fans from seeing his production. With averages of 12.3 points and 5.5 assists per game, it is a wonder he has only started two games. He also just hit a game-winning shot to beat Simmons and the 76ers.

Fox’s former teammate, Malik Monk is also looking nice. He started off slow, but is now averaging almost 10 points per game with the Hornets. He has had some explosive performances like his 25 points in 23 minutes against the Bucks and 21 points in 27 minutes against the Knicks.

The most talked about rookie in this class has definitely been Lonzo Ball, but not because he has been one of the top rookies in this class. Sure, the No. 2 overall pick has had some nice games like his almost triple-double in his second game, but he only has topped 10 points once since then.

Ball’s fellow rookie teammate, Kyle Kuzma, is also looking good. Kuzma is third amongst rookies in scoring at 14.8 points per game and is also grabbing 6.5 rebounds.

Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell, Mike James, John Collins, Josh Jackson and Bogdan Bogdanovic are also averaging double figures in points per game. This class has been truly amazing.

I purposely left a name out of that list though, and you may not have noticed because of how little he has been talked about. That name would be Lauri Markkanen.

Quietly dominating

If you remember the draft, Markkanen was picked seventh overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but then was traded along with Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for Jimmy Butler.

Lauri Markkanen

Markkanen has quietyly been the most successful player from this year’s draft. (Photo by Getty Images)

In his one season at Arizona, Markkanen averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from behind the arc.

He has put up similar stats in his 10 games with the Bulls, as he is averaging 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers are both good for second amongst rookies behind, you guessed it, Ben Simmons.

With all the hype surrounding Simmons, the struggles by Ball and Markelle Fultz and Tatum and Boston being so successful, Markkanen’s production has seemed to go unnoticed.

It more than likely has something to do with the fact that he is playing with the Bulls. With so little star power in Chicago, why would anyone talk about them? They also are second to last in the Eastern Conference. It is hard enough to get talked about in the East with all the stars playing in the West and getting all the attention.

Scouting report

Let’s take a look at what Markkanen’s draft profile said about him. According to Draft Express, Markkanen’s biggest strengths were his shooting ability and size.

He’s definitely a good shooter. Known as a stretch big at 7-feet, 230 pounds, Markkanen’s field goal percentage is 42.6 and his 3-point percentage is 36.1. Not bad numbers for a rookie big.

For comparison, Kristaps Porzingis had a 39.8 field goal percentage and 21.4 3-point percentage through his first 10 NBA games. Porzingis has obviously improved since then. But in today’s game, you have to be able to shoot around 40 percent from deep, and that percentage should only improve for Markkanen as his career progresses.

Markkanen’s size puts him right up there with guys Porzingis, Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki. Obviously they aren’t exact in height and weight, but they are all big men that can stretch the floor and open lanes for their teammates. You have to respect their shot because they all can hit 3-pointers.

One of the bigger weaknesses in his draft profile was his defense. His lack of weight and length prevents him from being physical inside and blocking shots. Guys like Porzingis and Anthony Davis got a whole foot of length more than him with their 8-foot wingspans.

This is not as big of a concern to me though. A lot of the rookies coming in had question marks about their defensive abilities. This is also something that can be improved over time.

I’m also not going to let something like length determine if a guy can be good in this league or not because Love and Nowitzki also don’t have significant length.

Of course you can’t make assumptions this early on in a rookie’s career. Fans love to declare guys future Hall of Famers or busts early on in the season. But you cannot judge a guy that early. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged less than seven points per game in his rookie season. Now he is the leading candidate for MVP in his fifth season.

Maybe Markkanen peaks at his rookie season. Maybe he continues to improve. Maybe we will see him in the 2020 All-Star game playing in front of his home crowd in Chicago. What we know for sure is he has exploded onto the NBA scene faster than his fellow members of this draft class.

So why is no one talking about Lauri Markkanen? I have no clue, but the numbers speak for themselves. This guy is ballin.

 

Featured image by Getty Images North America

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NBA summary so far

NBA Preview:

Well every team has played from 10-12 games so far this season so it’s time to make some reflections on the start to the season.

Whether it’s championship caliber teams struggling, star players off to rough starts or rookies under performing here’s a look at the start of the 2017-2018 NBA season.

Eastern Conference:

I’m going to go out on limb and say no one had the Magic and Pistons in the top 3 in the east through 10+ games. The Pistons have benefited from Tobias Harris’ spectacular play on both ends.

Other teams have shocked the Eastern Conference with their struggles. Luckily for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the season doesn’t end today or they would be out of the playoffs. Not having a second scoring option to go with Lebron has hurt them.

The Milwaukee Bucks have struggled despite MVP level play from Giannis Antetokounmpo. With the addition of Eric Bledsoe, the team should turn it around moving forward.

The Celtics have rattled off 10 straight wins even without their second best player. Brad Stevens has put together great game plans and has transformed a roster full of youth into the best defensive team in the NBA.

Players Worth Noting:

NBA

Kyle Lowry, (Raptors Republic).

Ben Simmons has practically led the way for the Philadelphia 76ers. Once a front runner for the rookie of the year, Simmons has lived up to his anticipated hype. In his last 10 games, Simmons is nearly averaging a triple double. He has 17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game as well as a 19.8 player efficiency rating. Simmons is leading a 76ers team through the point-forward position.

Kristaps Porzingis has been incredible for the New York Knicks. In his last 10, Porzingis is averaging 29.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. He is also at an astounding 29.2 for player efficiency rating which is one of the tops in the entire NBA.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the tops in the NBA in player efficiency as well. He sits at 32.7 and is averaging 32 points per game. Giannis is one of the only reasons that the Bucks have been competitive through 10 games.

Kyle Lowry is one of the players who has struggled out of the gates for the Raptors. Lowry is shooting 32 percent from three and 39 percent from the field. He is averaging 12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists as the secondary option for the Raptors. All of those per game stats are well below his career averages.

Western Conference:

There isn’t too many surprises in the Western Conference. Some of the bigger ones have been the Thunder, Grizzlies and Clippers.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have struggled to win games. They are getting over 60 points per game from Westbrook, Anthony and George. They are 4-6 and have gotten great play from their big three.

One of the shocking things is how well the Memphis Grizzlies have played. They managed to knock off the Warriors and Rockets already and those two teams are the best in the Western Conference so far. They come out at 7-4 and have gotten help from a rested and ready Chandler Parsons who has just under a 17 player efficiency rating.

Even though the Clippers are 5-5, they have had glimpses of great play. They won their first four and have hit a skid as of late. Obviously their strength of schedule hasn’t been too heavy, but the Clippers are a fringe playoff team and they are only going to get better as the season moves forward.

Players Worth Noting:

Clint Capela has provided a low post threat and has been the second option for the Houston Rockets. Capela is averaging 12.7 points and 10.6 rebounds as well as 2 blocks and 2 assists. He is manning the middle for the Rockets and has helped them to a 8-3 record.

Lamarcus Aldridge has benefited from Kawhi Leonard being out. He is averaging 22.6 point and 8.3 rebounds and has helped a team without one of their stars jump out to a 7-4 record.

A final statistic that is interesting for the league as a whole so far is that Shabazz Muhammad is averaging 10.3 minutes in the seven games the Timberwolves have won this year. He is also averaging 22.3 minutes in the four losses they have this season.

 

Featured Image from Slamonline.com.

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Who is the next best player in the NBA?

On Tuesday night, we saw the underachieving Cleveland Cavaliers face off against the exciting and intriguing Milwaukee Bucks. More importantly, we saw the undisputed best player in the league, LeBron James, square off against potential MVP finalist, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Behind Kevin Love’s 32 points, 16 rebounds and LeBron’s 30 points, Cleveland defeated the Bucks 124-119. Despite the loss, Antetokounmpo poured in 40 points, knocking down 16 of his 21 attempts. The Greek Freak also added nine rebounds and four blocks.

Still, Antetokounmpo’s plus/minus was -7. He also turned the ball over eight times. With that said, even at age 32, LeBron James remains the best player in the NBA. With Father Time being undefeated, it is obvious that James will eventually be dethroned, most likely in two to three years.

Ben Simmons is coming for the top spot (CBS Sports)

Once LeBron stops being the best player on the planet, will Antetokounmpo take over as the sport’s biggest star? What about The Unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, over in New York? Another case could even be made for the emerging Sixers star, Ben Simmons, who through 10 games is averaging 17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 8 assists.

Simmons already has seven games of at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists. Through their first 10 games, both Jordan and LeBron only had four. If he keeps his averages up, he will join Oscar Robertson as the only other player to average 17 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists in a rookie season.

The following is an NBA timeline of the greatest players since 1970. This list of names was originally created by Nick Wright, co-host of FS1’s First Things First. While this list is obviously up for debate, it is, in my eyes, an extremely accurate timeline of who was the best player in the league over the last 47 years.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-71) – (1977-78)

Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., is probably the most accomplished players in the history of basketball, absolutely dominated the seventies. During this eight-year timespan, Kareem won five MVPs, was a two-time scoring champion, and had four seasons in which he averaged at least 27 points and 15 rebounds.

In just his second season (1970-71), the Bucks, behind Kareem and Oscar Robertson, swept the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals. Kareem, who at the time still went by Lew Alcindor, was named Finals MVP. Throughout the 1970-71 playoffs, Alcindor averaged 26.6 points and 17 rebounds. During his 1974 MVP season, Abdul-Jabbar finished in the top five in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage.

Moses Malone (1978-1979) – (1982-1983)

Form 1978-83, Malone won three MVPs, and led the NBA in rebounding five times. For his career, Malone ranks seventh in points and third in rebounds. Malone is the offensive rebounding king, as he currently sits as the all-time leader in that department.

Moses Malone, one of the best rebounders we have ever seen (ESPN.com)

In the 1977-78 season, Malone missed 23 games due to injury, yet still led the league in offensive rebounding, and finished second in total rebounds per game. The following season, after gaining 15 pounds, Malone led the league in minutes, and averaged 24.8 points with 17.6 rebounds per game.

During the 1982-1983 season, his first year with the Philadelphia 76ers, Malone averaged 24.5 points and a league-best 15.3 rebounds per game. He was named All-NBA first-team, as well as first-team All-Defensive. He became the only NBA player to win back-to-back MVPs on two different teams, and his Sixers would go on to win the championship, in an easy four game sweep over Kareem and the Lakers. Malone was named Finals MVP, and outscored Abdul-Jabbar 72-30 in the four games.

Larry Bird/ Magic Johnson (1983-1984) – (1989-1990)

It’s hard to decide who was the better of the two, but Larry and Magic ran the 80s. In the 1983-84 season, Bird’s Celtics defeated Magic’s Lakers in the NBA Finals. The following year, the Lakers beat the C’s in six. In 1985-86 Boston reclaimed their spot on top, only to be defeated the following season by, you guessed it, the Lakers. From the ’79 playoffs, up until 1988, the Lakers and Celtics combined for eight NBA championships.

Throughout this extraordinary run, both Bird and Magic won three MVPs apiece, and the two legends combined for five Finals MVPs. Magic winning three, and Bird with two.

Michael Jordan (1990-1991) – (1992-1993)

To sum it up, the Bulls won three championships in a row, Jordan was named Finals MVP in all three of them. During this three-year span, “His Airness” also won a pair of MVPs, and led the league in scoring each year.

Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-1994) – (1994-1995)

Because of Jordan’s hiatus (Minor League Baseball), the NBA needed a new star. In stepped Hakeem, who led the Rockets to back-to-back titles. In 1993-94, “The Dream” averaged 27.3 points and 11.9 rebounds on 52.8 percent shooting. That same year, he became the first player in NBA history to be named MVP, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year awards all in the same year.

The following season, on a mission for his second championship, Hakeem averaged 33 points in the 22 playoff games. In the Eastern Conference Finals, up against MVP David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs, Olajuwon put on a show. During that series, he averaged 35.3 points a game, and outscored Robinson by 40 points in the final two contests. In the Finals, Hakeem dominated a young Shaquille O’Neal, outscoring him in all four games.

Michael Jordan (1995-1996) – (1997-1998)

Just another three-peat, and three more Finals MVP trophies to add to his illustrious career. Again, Jordan led the league in scoring all three seasons, and tallied up two more MVPs.

Shaquille O’Neal (1998-1999) – (2001-2002)

“The Big Diesel”, Shaq was an absolute monster. Each year from 1998-2002, O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage. He only won one MVP, but helped the Lakers win three straight titles. Shaq averaged at least 25 and 10 in his first seven years with the Lakers. The guy was flat out incredible.

Tim Duncan (2002-2003) – (2004-2005)

In 2002, Duncan won his second consecutive MVP trophy, while also notching his second ring. In this particular three-year span, Duncan won a pair of titles, and earned Finals MVP honors in both. He averaged at least 20 points and 11 rebounds, while easily shooting over 50 percent in all three seasons.

Lebron James (2005-2006) – (??)

The King. (Billboard.com)

Who knows how long this run will last, but boy has it been special. LeBron has been an All-Star in 13 straight seasons, and has made the NBA Finals seven years in a row. It might as well be called the LeBron James Invitational at this point. LeBron is clearly the most talented player this game has ever seen.

To this point in his career, King James is a 4x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 3x NBA Champion, 6x All-Defensive, and also the 2007-08 NBA scoring champion. Keep in mind that when LeBron originally left the Cavs, they had the first pick in the draft. When Jordan left, the Bulls went from 57 wins, to 55.

Who is next?

 

Featured image by SI.com

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Timberwolves

To beat the Warriors: Timberwolves

Right now the NBA is seen as the Warriors, and everyone else. Despite a rather sluggish start, nobody thinks there will be a contest come playoffs time. Quite frankly, there are a lot of teams a move or two away from being able to compete, and these moves aren’t unrealistic. So here are a few moves that certain teams could make, to really be able to compete with the Warriors.

Minnesota Timberwolves

A lot of people would argue the Wolves are too young to really compete for a title; however, I look at the level of play to determine who can compete, rather than using lazy narratives such as ‘they need to learn how to win’. The fact of the matter is that the Wolves are looking scary, without a point guard who can really create. Jeff Teague is a very solid guard, but I think he would be most effective as a sixth-man, like Derrick Rose. The Wolves big three has been looking scary. While at the moment they are ranked 29th in fast break efficiency, with the way these guys have been able to run the floor, once they get used to each other, they could be one of the best teams on the break in the league. Tom Thibodeau’s magic has begun to work already, as the Wolves defensive rating is slowly climbing.

The reason I think the Timberwolves can compete with the Warriors, Karl Anthony-Towns, has not been as good as advertised. He isn’t scoring as often (21.8 PPG in 2017-18 compared to 25.1 PPG in 2016-17), which would be forgivable, considering the Wolves have more offensive options; However, he isn’t significantly more efficient (59.1 eFG% this season vs. 57.6 eFG% last season). My personal problem is when watching him he doesn’t look like the dominant center everyone was saying he would be. Of course, the season is still very young.

Assuming everything else comes together, they really only need a point who can defend, and create on the offensive end.

Trades:

The only person the Wolves should go after is Eric Bledsoe, as the Suns are basically forced to move him at this point, and there really are no other starting caliber point guards on the block.

Wolves receive:

PG Eric Bledsoe

2018 second round pick (via Toronto)

Suns receive:

C Cole Aldrich

PG Tyus Jones

SG Marcus Georges-Hunt

2018 first round pick (via Thunder)

Overall the Suns would probably feel pressured into making this deal; considering they would get a decent enough replacement guard in Tyus Jones, that has some potential. The pick is also a nice addition, and Cole Aldrich has shown potential to be a decent backup center and has a good amount of experience under his belt. The Suns would certainly lose on this deal. However, I’m not too sure what better offers they would really get.

The Wolves have one of the scariest young duos in the league in KAT and Andrew Wiggins, both are electric offensively, and have the tools and length to be dominant defensively. So even if they decide to wait and not try to compete with the Warriors, barring any sort of major front office collapse and/or heartbreaking injury, it’s likely the Wolves will be NBA champions within the next decade.


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Best team Eastern Conference

The best team in the East

The Boston Celtics have the best record in the NBA at 8-2 after a huge win against the Thunder with an insane 18-point comeback. The Celtics have the perfect team to perform well in the regular season with a core of young talent that will finish atop the Eastern Conference.

The new-look Celtics

The Celtics currently hold the best record in the entire NBA. With the favorite Cleveland Cavaliers falling apart, it’s hard to see another team challenge the Celtics for the No. 1 seed.

One of the biggest reasons for the Celtics’ success is how Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier have been playing. These three are all playing with fire this season, averaging more than 20 minutes per game, which is only going to help them improve in the long run.

Best team Eastern Conference

Photo from NBC Sports

The bench is filled with solid impact players, especially big guys like Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis, which is something they have been missing in the last few seasons. While Baynes is an established player who the Celtics cooped up in free agency, Theis is a rookie from Germany that has been a pleasant surprise, averaging 5.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and almost a block per game.

Kyrie Irving is getting it down on both ends of the floor and showing all the critics how good his defense really is by leading the entire league in steals this season. Irving has found himself in Brad Stevens’ constant ball movement offense. He’s been able to create so many different looks compared to his time in Cleveland.

Have the Celtics figured out their rebounding problem? Currently, the Celtics are fifth in the league in rebounds, which has been a weak point in recent years. It seems like there is a sense of urgency in defensive rebounding, especially with Tatum and Brown.

Al Horford has been picking up his game as of late, consistently finishing with around 15 points and ten rebounds per game. He just looks like he has more drive than last season. I feel like he’s attacking the paint way more than settling for his patent free throw jumper.

Overall, the entire defense looks really strong. They have held their last eight opponents to under 95 points in each game. If the Celtics keep up this defensive intensity, they might even be able to finish with the best record in the league.

What’s up with Cleveland?

The oldest team in the League is struggling early to secure wins in the early part of the season. The Cavaliers made a bunch of different acquisitions this offseason, but none of them seem to be paying off in regular season play.

Best team Eastern Conference

(Photo from Cavs Nation)

The Cavaliers have been battling through a few injuries this season as well, most recently losing Tristan Thompson to a calf injury that should keep him out for a month. This is a devastating loss for a team that already struggled in rebounding and interior defense.

Currently, the Cavs are 4-6, losing five of their last six games. They rank in the bottom four of the East and just lost to the Atalanta Hawks, the worst team in the entire Eastern Conference.

The team has so many old flashy names, but that doesn’t necessarily make a good team. You need to have roles filled, and the Cavs are lacking in a lot of key areas right now.

I do think once Isaiah Thomas comes back, the team will have more structure and chemistry, but that won’t be until around the All-Star break possibly. Can the Cavs figure it out in time and stay around the top of the East where they belong? Or will they fall to the bottom and have to claw back in the second half of the year?

 

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