Brandon Ingram: Slowly Finding His Star

Brandon Ingram, the second overall pick in the draft, somehow has the privilege of being able to work through his rookie struggles quietly without the pressure of the “Right Now” conundrum. Coming into this season, many were comparing his game to that of Kevin Durant. His wiry frame, and scoring prowess led the comparisons. The two seasons couldn’t be any more different. Durant usage rate was much greater than that of Ingram. Additionally, the then Seattle SuperSonics drafted Durant to function as the franchise cornerstone.

via USA Today Sport Images

While unfair, the assumptions of what is game would be at 19 felt just in attribution. Why wouldn’t the player who averaged 17 points and shot 41% from three in his lone year at Duke be expected to have a Rookie of the Year campaign in the NBA? There was no reticence when discussing where Ingram would be taken in the draft – 2nd overall. It was what very intelligent individuals call a “no-brainer”.  Ingram showed all of the potential to become not only a great scorer, but a star.

The Los Angeles Lakers, after the departure of Kobe Bryant, were in prime position to capitalize on the budding promise of their youth movement. Hiring Luke Walton from the Golden State Warriors spearheaded that initiative. Bringing his repertoire, the front office made a heady move by hiring the former Laker. Walton wanted to play with pace and have the floor spread, something that an isolation scorer such as Ingram would thrive in.

Walton however, had different plans for the Duke product. By bringing him on slowly, namely off the bench, Walton has decreased the pressure of “Right Now”. Through the first 20 games of the season, Ingram started only three games – all three of which D’Angelo Russell sat out due to injury.

But even without being a part of the starting lineup, Walton made sure he integrated Ingram into the game-plan. In the month of November, Ingram averaged 27 minutes, second most on the team. Ingram did not produce on the court initially. In that same month he shot 34% from the floor per game, 30% from three, and only attempted a bit over two free throws a game ( a slight indicator of his level of aggressiveness on the court – or lack thereof).

Via USA Today Sports Images

Steadily though, the staff has increased his minutes. In turn so has is production, if only slightly. 30 minutes a game so far in January has pushed his overall minute average to 28 a game – most by any rookie in the league. 40% from behind the arc on three point attempts a game as his true shooting percentage has jumped from 45% in November to 53% in January. His free throw attempts have also increased – four attempts a game.  Getting to the line at a slightly greater pace has dropped his percentage. Which is probably nothing to worry about with a shooter of his potential.

Bringing the rookie along slowly and allowing him to find his place on the team has helped him tremendously. Not receiving the attention many thought he would, Ingram has progressively improved under the lights of Tinsel Town.

Eventually, he will break out and come onto the scene as the scorer and All-Star his college game foreshadowed. Until then, just watch him work.

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Russell Westbrook’s Triple-Double Season, Better Than The Big O’s?

Averaging a triple-double is no small feat. Oscar Robertson is known for being the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season. Russell Westbrook is trying to make history by becoming the second player ever to do it this season. Both are great players and deserve recognition, but Westbrook’s season is more impressive than Robertson’s. Here are the reasons why:

Minutes Per Game

The minutes played per game shows a huge gap between the two players. Robertson averaged a staggering 44.3 minutes per game during his triple-double season in 1961-1962. Westbrook is averaging about 10 less minutes per game at 34.6.

Russell Westbrook (Photo courtesy:thebiglead.com)

Scoring isn’t an issue for either player, as both could get to 10 points with ease in their allotted time (Robertson averaged 30.8 points, Westbrook averages 30.6 points). These extra minutes allowed Robertson to rack up his assist and rebound numbers that Westbrook doesn’t have the opportunity to (Robertson averaged 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists, Westbrook is averaging 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists). Give credit to Robertson for being able to play that much, but overall he produces less stats per minute than Westbrook (including turnovers sometimes).

NBA stat gurus look at what players can do per 36 minutes on the floor. Westbrook’s stats would go up and still be a triple-double with the extra time to get to 36 minutes. Robertson would have come up just short of a triple-double had he played 36 minutes per game. The Big O would have grabbed just enough boards at 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, but would have fallen short in his assist numbers with 9.2.

Now, from what the average fan knows about Russ, he would play all 48 minutes if allowed to, but that isn’t how the NBA works anymore. If they played the same amount of time on the floor, so far, Westbrook has Robertson beat.

Shots Attempted Per Game

This stat is surprising. Shortly after the shot clock era started (1954), in the 1961-1962 season, more shots were attempted per game than are now. In that season there was a league average of 107.7 field goal attempts per game, per team. This season, teams are averaging 85.4 field goal attempts per game.

Oscar Robertson (Photo courtesy: cincinnati.com)

As mentioned, this doesn’t really matter in terms of their scoring, but again this gives Robertson more access to assists and rebounds. With over 20 more attempts per game, Robertson has more chances to have teammates make shots off of his passes and has a better chance to rebound more.

In Robertson’s era, he made a rebound on 5.8% of shots attempted per game (average shots per team attempted x2, rebound average per game divided by the first number). Westbrook has done better, rebounding on 6.2% of shots attempted per game, while playing less minutes (giving him less opportunity to rebound the complete number of shots attempted in a game).

For assists, Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals averaged 105.2 shot attempts per game, while he averaged 11.4 assists per game. He assisted on 10.8% of the Royals shot attempts. Westbrook on the other hand has 10.4 assists per game, with the Thunder averaging 86.3 shot attempts per game. His number comes out to 12.1% of assists out of the Thunder’s shot attempts. Considering the field goal percentages of the teams are very similar at around 45%, Westbrook again is outperforming Robertson.

The more shots per game affect how many possessions a team has. Once again Robertson would fall short of a triple-double if his team had 100 possessions per game with 9.9 assists averaged per game, while Westbrook’s stats would improve.

Average Height and Weight

It is really tough for guards to average more than 10 rebounds per game. Players’ heights and weights haven’t changed as drastically as a lot of people would think, but they have changed. The average height has gone up about two inches from the time Robertson had his magnificent season to now. As for average weight, it has gone up around 16 pounds in that same period. 

Robertson was listed at 6’5″ and 205 pounds during his playing days. Taking the average height in inches from the graph above (1961), the average height of an NBA player was 6’4″. He actually had an edge on most players in the league rebounding-wise. His 205 pounds was also above the league average, giving him an advantage.

Westbrook stands at 6’3″ and 200 pounds. With the average height of the league being around 6’6″ tall, he has to fight for his rebounds. He is also well below the average weight of NBA players in today’s game, meaning he has to rely on his freakish athletic ability to jump and fight for rebounds.

With Westbrook battling among the trees for rebounds and Robertson being taller than the average height of his era, Westbrook’s rebounding numbers, though smaller in number, are more impressive.

Conclusion

Westbrook has a long way to go, 38 games to be exact, but as his stats stand now, his season is more impressive than Robertson’s. If he can finish out the year healthy, he will go down in history as having the best all-around individual season of all time.

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Report: Minnesota looking to move Ricky Rubio to Detroit

Per ESPN’s Marc Stein, the front offices of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Detroit Pistons are discussing a trade that would essentially be a point guard swap. Stein reports that Ricky Rubio of the Timberwolves and the Piston’s Reggie Jackson are the focal points of the talks, along with a few auxiliary pieces.

For young teams like Minnesota, chemistry is very important – Reggie Jackson has a history of not being a conduit for great chemistry. As for the on-court repercussions, Reggie is averaging right around his career high in usage – 28.6 for the year. Rubio has a 13% usage rate, very conducive for a team a lots of young talent who need the opportunity to develop. The immediate development of Kris Dunn would be the natural order of things if Minnesota were to move on from Rubio, adding Jackson would be the antithesis of that.

Via USA Today Sports Images

As for the Piston’s, they predicate their offense on having four shooters surround the paint presence of Andre Drummond. Rubio is not what one would call a shooter – shooting a putrid 24% from three this season. Although, the auxiliary pieces reported in the trade would presumably be that of players with a shooting touch. Stein details the deal,

The Wolves have been openly trying to move Rubio for some time and reportedly are willing to attach swingman Shabazz Muhammad to offers featuring the veteran Spanish point guard.

Although he’s in just the second year of a five-year, $80 million contract, Jackson is widely believed to be available via trade in the wake of Detroit’s recent 9-14 struggles. ‎The Pistons went 11-10 to start the season while Jackson was out with a left knee injury.

Rubio has two seasons left on his contract after this season — valued ‎at $29.2 million — compared to Jackson’s three remaining seasons.

However the deal unfolds, if at all, there will be a major period of adjustment as both teams would be inheriting players with veritable flaws. The fit for either player is questionable. In the NBA, teams leverage their assets in the form of trades to get better, this seems like two teams aiming to rid themselves of players that have outstayed their welcome.

 

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

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

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

 

Oklahoma City Thunder:

Rudy Gay

Ben McLemore

Sacramento Kings

Alex Abrines

Kyle Singler

Andre Roberson

Cameron Payne

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

 

Sacramento Kings:

Goran Dragic

Miami Heat:

Rudy Gay

Ben McLemore

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

 

Portland Trailblazers:

Marcus Smart

1st Round Draft Pick (From Philadelphia)

 

Philadelphia 76ers:

CJ McCollum

 Boston Celtics:

Nerlens Noel

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

Sacramento Kings:

Amir Johnson

Marcus Smart

1st Round Pick

Boston Celtics:

Demarcus Cousins

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

 

Charlotte Hornets:

Brandon Knight

 Phoenix Suns:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Frank Kaminsky

1st Round Pick

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

 

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

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Seven Stats or Less: Atlanta Hawks

This 2016-2017 season for the Atlanta Hawks has been a bit of a roller coaster. After the events of the offseason, there has been some expected trauma. Now in the middle of an 8-1 stretch in their last nine games, things have seemed to settle down for the team that sits fourth in the jumbled Eastern Conference. Today, we’ll go over some Atlanta Hawks stats that help illustrate the team’s structure.

The team is sure to be a major player at the trade deadline, or then again maybe not. That’s how it has gone for the Hawks this year, a hard team to grasp a handle on, but very entertaining to follow. On to the stats.

  1. This season for the Atlanta Hawks sees them 21st in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency. Losing Al Horford and Jeff Teague undoubtedly hurt the offense, but the defense has remained steady. Trading Kyle Korver a couple of weeks ago will have its effects. However, Mike Dunleavy has showed he should be able to contribute the team in his two showings for the Hawks. Coach Mike Budenholzer and his staff are making sure that even if the team isn’t scoring, the opponent isn’t either. The team also adept at forcing turnovers and creating offense out of the oppositions’ mistakes – 17 points off of turnovers.
    Atlanta Hawks Stats

    Via USA Today Sports Images

  2. Atlanta is long and rangy on the defensive end and they know it. When the team is engaged, they use that length and energy to become a terror on that end. Top ten in deflections and recovered loose balls, getting in the passing lanes and or poking balls away is and easy way to disrupt what teams are doing on offense. Out-hustling the other five guys on the court for loose balls is a great to build momentum and keep possessions alive.
  3. Before the home loss to the Boston Celtics, the Hawks were on a seven-game winning streak and playing well. Someone who went a tad bit under the radar was Dwight Howard, specifically his rebounding. During the win-streak, Howard posted 2 games of 20+ rebounds. Over the last five games he’s averaging 14 rebounds. Grabbing boards at such a rate is still excellent to see from the 31 year-old big man.
  4. The lineup of Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, and Thabo Sefolosha per 100 possessions has a 27.6 net rating. The offensive rating of 120 is an elite showing. Although the lineup has seen limited floor time, this is clearly a five man deployment that has shown prodigious results for Coach Bud.
  5. Dennis Schroder is third in the league in drives to basket, ahead of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, albeit only by a few percentage points. Peculiarly, Schroder is only attempting a little over a free throw per game in such instances. For context Jimmy Butler attempts four free throws.
    Atlanta Hawks Stats

    Via USA Today Sports Images

  6. The endowment of the starting point guard responsibilities has given a jump to the touches of Schroder. With 71 touches a game, Dennis has 12 more touches than the next player. Schroder has played well enough in his new role, knowing that there would be an adjustment period for the third year guard from Germany.This significant of a jump in load has shown the ups and downs of Dennis, but hopefully in the years to come as he becomes more comfortable his game will catch up to his role.

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s on the Haus: Chargers Logo Sucks, Rams Hire Coaches, Carmelo Anthony Airball

It’s on the Haus is a daily installment of sports and esports news from the past day. Rather than waiting an entire hour to see the big news on a television program, or going to multiple stories on multiple websites to get your sports fix, It’s on the Haus gives you the biggest sports and esports happenings, all in one place. You may feel guilty for reading this concise article that gives you everything you need to know, but don’t worry, It’s on the Haus.

Wut U Doing, Chargers?

Chargers los angeles rams coaches carmelo anthony airball

Ugh. (Photo: chargers.com)

The Chargers franchise that has lived in San Diego for 55 years is moving to glamorous Hollywood. The decision is ill-received by those who live in or around San Diego, and rightfully so.

The Chargers franchise sucks. They wasted Philip Rivers’ prime that included Ladainian Tomlinson, Shawne Merriman, Antonio Gates, and others. Now they move to a city that doesn’t need nor want them.

To make matters worse, the logo the Chargers created is terrible. It appears the franchise spent 99% of its available funds on relocating, and the other $14 on its graphic design team. The image is awfully bland, and it looks like the logo just combined the Dodgers’ logo with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s logo.

There’s a lot of unhappy fans, whether they be fans of the franchise or not. I understand the hate. I would be crushed if one of my favorite teams relocated, and it’d be worse if they gained a putrid new brand in the process.

Rams Hire Everyone

The Los Angeles Rams are handing out coaching jobs like Oprah hands out free gifts. The team made Sean McVay the youngest head coach of all time (30), and hired former Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to the same position.

Good for McVay for being ambitious, but I don’t see why anyone would take the dang job. The Rams don’t have a first or third-round pick for the 2017 NFL Draft. They also traded away the kitchen sink for Jared Goff, and he’s been about as impressive as one-ply toilet paper.

And Wade Philips, what the heifer are you doing? Philips is more crazy than McVay in this situation. The Broncos are a quarterback away from being real contenders again. So Philips moves to one of the worst franchises in the sport for the same position? Whatever old guy. Do you then.

Melo Does Bad, Gets Booed

Hot take: If you’re going to pay a man millions of dollars to throw a sphere into a circle, you should at least come close to doing so. Carmelo Anthony disagrees, as you can see in this technologically sound looping video below.

Look, “Melo”, don’t smile about sucking. Sucking isn’t funny, it’s actually bad. The Knicks have sucked for a while, and chuckling about your fans’ displeasure is cruel. Going iso and throwing up an airball is an atrocity, and if laughing is Anthony’s way of dealing with the pain, so be it. But it’s still not okay to do it.

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Run or Stay DMC: Should DeMarcus Cousins remain in Sacramento?

 

For Sacramento Kings fans, their saving grace from years of relative turmoil has been DeMarcus Cousins. The 26 year old All-Star center has had his qualms with the media, and has even had conversations with past greats in an effort to help Cousins either gain or maintain focus. Whatever rift has formed between the old guard of players and Cousins or between he and the media, one question has emerged – is DeMarcus Cousins destined to languish in Sacramento?

Since Cousins was drafted out of the University of Kentucky in 2010 after only one season, there hasn’t been much to cheer about in Sactown. The team has won 34% of it’s games since then. With questionable draft picks – six of the teams’ first round picks are no longer with the team, and offseason moves that have the left the team bereft of any real players that can push the team into contention, fans are restless and rightfully so.

The Kings Organization

via USA Today Sports Images

The front office has made safe moves that ultimately seem shortsighted and hardly ever bear any fruit. The heavily dissected relationships between Cousins and his head coaches are one example of the barren moves. The Kings management hired Mike Malone in 2013, shortly after Vivek Ranadive purchased the team.

There was clear evidence that, at last, Cousins had found someone whom he could let his guard down for. Malone thought the he was the guy that could help Cousins channel his supreme talents and help make his teammates better.

Per Blake Ellington of SB Nation’s SacTown Royalty:

I’m myself. Be true to yourself and I was real. In a weird way, DeMarcus and I are very, very similar – both highly competitive, can be a little emotional at times and as I told him many times, I never wanted to change DeMarcus, I just wanted him to

via USA Today Sports

harness all that competitive fire and use it in a positive way… 

The front office fired Malone 24 games into the 2014-2015 season after having reported “philosophical differences.”

Management then decided to hire George Karl. At the time, the league saw Karl as a respected NBA coach. However, his very public discord with Cousins was very hard to ignore.

In the 2015-2016 offseason, the Sacramento Kings signed Rajon Rondo to a 1 year 9.5 million dollar contract just one season removed from his disastrous stint with the Dallas Mavericks. The move in a vacuum wasn’t detrimental to the season for the team – they only won 33 games that year. The motivation behind it, is what confusing. To trade away an asset in Ray McCallum for a second round pick, that essentially turned into a non-rotational piece, when Darren Collison is still on the team seemed disjointed. Not to mention the matter of trading away Isaiah Thomas so Collison could start a couple of seasons earlier.

DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins

With all that has gone wrong the team, DeMarcus Cousins has still managed to make two All-Star games and is an excellent community activist in the city. And that’s the thing, DeMarcus still maintains that’s he loves the city and the fans and would love to remain in town. The fans adore him and understand exactly what they have is arguably the best center in the game. Among centers that qualify Cousins is second in scoring, fifth in steals and assists and second in 3 point attempts while hitting them at a respectable 38%.

Via USA Today Sports

Only three players have posted 55+ 10+ rebound games since 1985. Cousins has one of them. He is however, the only one of those players to shoot 5-8 from three in the game. I’m also sure that he’s the only one of those players to get ejected and then un-ejected in such a game.

That’s the type of player Cousins is —  supremely talented but equally as visceral. The same intensity that fans attribute to Draymond Green and players alike is what makes them go, it’s what drives them to burn a few extra gallons of fuel that few around the league possess. That extra fuel sometimes gets Boogie into trouble as leads the league in technical fouls with 12.

Once again, is the tumult and disarray of the front office the perfect accompaniment for Cousins’ overt, harried temperament? The front office thinks so as they are reportedly planning to offer Cousins the new “MegaMax” extension worth a reported $200 million per ESPN. From Marc Stein’s column:

The Kings, as you surely know by now, are openly desperate to bring their 10-season playoff drought to a halt. Those who know Sacramento best continue to say that, as long as the West’s No. 8 seed remains within the Kings’ sights, they’ll be increasingly reluctant to part with their All-Star ‎center.

But sources also say that the Kings, at season’s end, want to pitch Cousins on a long-term partnership in the summertime, knowing he’s going to be eligible in July for a Designated Player Extension that ‎could make him one of a handful of $200 million players league wide.

The latest signals suggest it would take a monster offer to get the Kings to tweak those plans.

CSN California reports that the front office  has reason to believe that he would accept the extension.

Via USA Today Sports

There is no way to determine how Demarcus feels about the team this summer, or if he declines the extension, how he’ll feel in 2018. If he decided to leave the team in free agency or inquire the front office about a trade, there’s a good chance he ends up with a contending squad or a team that’s on the verge of contention and possess competent management.

Would that be the best outcome, to have his gifts on a world stage where all is out for the world to see. Or is the quaintness of his current situation just destiny? His flaws and valor accepted alike, hoping that one day the chips will fall and the success will come.

 

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It’s Time to Take the Washington Wizards Seriously

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

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

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

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

(courtesy of Washington Post)

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

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

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

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

(courtesy of Washington Times)

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

 

 

 

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The NBA Five Years From Now

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

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

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

Eastern Conference

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

Cleveland Cavaliers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Grantland)

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

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

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

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

Boston Celtics: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Boston Herald)

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

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

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

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

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

Milwaukee Bucks:

Future of NBA

(courtesy of USA Today)

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia 76ers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Getty images)

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

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

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

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

Teams that will drop:

Toronto Raptors

Atlanta Hawks

Chicago Bulls

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

Western Conference

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Bleacher Report)

Golden State Warriors: 

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

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

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

San Antonio Spurs: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Bleacher Report)

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

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

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

Los Angeles Lakers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of USA Today)

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

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

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

Minnesota Timberwolves: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Sporting News)

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

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

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

Teams that will drop: 

Houston Rockets

Los Angeles Clippers

Memphis Grizzlies

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

Isaiah Thomas: The Superstar We Nearly Overlooked

Isaiah Jamar Thomas. The  60th pick in the 2011 NBA draft is having a season that no NBA fan would call irrelevant. The 5’9” guard is showing the world why executives who drafted players such as Kyle Singler, Jon Leur and Shelvin Mack before him were erroneous picks.

Isaiah Thomas

The Boston Celtic hasn’t had the easiest road to where he is now – among the league’s elite. Traded twice in his now five-year career, it seemed as though Thomas would never be valued as an elite talent.

The Sacramento Kings reportedly wanted Darren Collison to possess the starting role over Thomas, and Thomas was averaging 20.3 points and 6.3 assists at the time of the trade. Isaiah was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Alex Oriakhi and a 7.3 million dollar trade exception in a sign-and-trade deal. For context, Oriakhi has never played a game in the Association, and now has a career in the Euro League.

Isaiah Thomas

Why would any team trade a player like Thomas? Clearly he had the potential to be something special. That is a question many would ask again at the 2014-2015 trade deadline.

Shortly after signing a four-year, 27 million dollar contract in the desert, the diminutive guard was on the move again, this time to the Boston Celtics. Amidst reports of derision among the crowded backcourt in Phoenix, the Suns front office sent Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat in a separate deadline deal.

Finally, Thomas landed on a team that appreciated his services and reaped the benefits of that trust. This relationship has propelled the Celtics to be a force, not only in the Eastern Conference, but the entire league.

During that 14-15 season, Boston won 40 games and squeaked into the postseason as the seventh seed. Isaiah finished second in Sixth Man voting that year. In his first playoff series, Thomas led the team in scoring with 17.5 points and assists with seven per game. He didn’t start a game that series. The team however, lost in four to the eventual conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

In his first full season with the team, Thomas had 24.8 points almost seven assists per 36 minutes, while shooting 46% from the field and 35% percent from three. He went on to start a career-high 79 games. The team won 48 games, and secured a fifth seed in a log-jammed conference. Thomas, deservedly so, played in his first All-star Game.

This season has seen the point guard take his game to even higher heights. He’s fourth in scoring at 28 points per game, and one of only seven players to score 50+ points this season. Elite players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry have yet to record a 50-point game this season. He is also in the top ten in free throw attempts at nearly nine a game. Additionally, he’s hitting them at a career high 90% rate.

Isaiah Thomas

It’s not all about individual success either. With the addition of Al Horford in the offseason and the emergence of Avery Bradley, this Celtics team currently sits third in the East and is on pace for a 50-win season.

Isaiah saw 59 other players taken before him that talent loaded 2011 draft. Of players drafted in 2011, Thomas ranks fourth in minutes played this season and leads that draft in scoring. He’s well on his way to his second All-Star appearance as he is leading his team to a great season.

For Isaiah, he relishes the opportunity he has and thoroughly enjoys it per Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

…I’m like, man, I play for the Boston Celtics. I’m the franchise player for the Boston Celtics. Like, it doesn’t make sense.”

Isaiah may not have been appreciated for what he was early on, but now we see him for what he is — the superstar we don’t deserve, but are as grateful as anyone to have.

 

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