NBA All-Star Game format a hit

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

The Draft

2018 NBA All-Star Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Effort and motivation

2018 NBA All-Star Game

Photo by: fatmouthsports.net

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

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

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

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

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

The Finish

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

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

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

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

 

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NBA All-Star

NBA All-Star Game predictions

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

NBA All-Star

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

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

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

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

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

Rosters

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

NBA All-Star

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

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

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

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

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

Team Curry

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

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

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

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

Team LeBron

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

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

NBA All-Star

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

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

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

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

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

Effort

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

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

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

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

NBA All-Star

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

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

Prediction

Team Curry wins, 163-148

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

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

Featured image by Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

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New Orleans Pelicans threat in the West

Are the Pelicans a real threat in the West?

With a decent record at 28-23, the New Orleans Pelicans have been able to hold onto a spot in the ultra-talented Western Conference playoff picture. However, the DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis experiment is on hold with Cousins out for the year with an Achilles injury.

Because of this injury, the Pelicans have become very active at the trade deadline and have acquired Nikola Mirotic in a four-player trade with Chicago. Let’s break down all of their recent actions surrounding NOLA and their move to bolster their lineup for a potential postseason run.

Losing DeMarcus Cousins

New Orleans Pelicans threat in the West

The Pelicans big 3 of Holiday, Davis and Cousins have combined to averaged over 70 points a game this season. (Photo by NBA.com)

Cousins’ injury is devastating, cutting his career-year short. Cousins was voted an All-Star starter and was a underrated MVP candidate averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.

Unfortunately, It’s worth noting that many players who’ve suffered Achilles injuries haven’t been the same player after their injury. The list of players includes Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor, Patrick Ewing, Dominique Wilkins and Wesley Matthews. While current Achilles operations are likely better than the procedure Baylor had in 1970, players continue to struggle after this injury. There is a very real chance Cousins won’t be the same player he was before his injury.

To make matters worse, Cousins is a free agent. While the 1-2 Combo with Davis has been great, there is a chance Cousins will want to go to a bigger market like Los Angeles or Boston.

Cousins’ injury does hold a huge red flag, and teams should really be careful if they want to sign him to the long-term max deal he will command this summer.

Trading for Nikola Mirotic

The Pelicans needed another strong player before Cousins went down, but now they desperately needed someone to help carry the load with Anthony Davis. It’s likely Mirotic will play the 4 and Davis can be moved to center. With Mirotic’s strong perimeter play, he could form a great combo with him on the outside and Davis on the inside. If they can keep Cousins after this year, Mirotic can play behind the two of them as a great sixth man or at small forward in small spans. However, playing him at the 3 exclusively seems unlikely.

In addition, this trade shows Davis, the face of the franchise, that they want to compete and win now. The sense of urgency of the franchise demonstrates that they are building around Davis, and the trade rumors will die down at least until this summer.

Trading away their first-round pick and Omer Asik

New Orleans Pelicans threat in the West

Asik has been very disappointing in New Orleans and extremely overpaid. (Photo by hoopsrumors.com)

While getting rid of their first-round pick is tough to swallow, especially in the talent-stocked draft class this season, the Pelicans are forgoing building for the future and are going to try to compete now. With that being said, their pick wasn’t going to be within the top 10 picks, so it’s questionable how valuable the pick is. 

Davis is still only 24 years old and hasn’t hit his prime yet. Mirotic is 26 years old, Jrue Holiday is only 27 years old and Cousins (if he re-signs and can return fully healed) is only 27 years old. The Pelicans do not need to build for their future, because their future is now.

As well as getting Mirotic, they were able to unload Omer Asik’s terrible contract onto the Bulls, which has been a major clog for their payroll. Asik may be the most overpaid player in the league, with three years left of a five-year, $57 million deal. He has averaged 1.3 points per game in the 8.6 minutes he plays.

To be blunt, Asik, is terrible and getting rid of his contract while receiving an efficient player like Mirotic is like trading garbage for gold. They threw in backup guards Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen, who are both way past their prime and weren’t really helping the team reach the playoffs.

Final Thoughts

The Pelicans’ front office has been very active at the deadline, and while missing out on Greg Monroe hurts for a team that could now use another center, they can seek solace knowing that Mirotic, Holiday and Davis should be enough talent to keep them in the playoffs this year.

If they can hold all the pieces together, they could be a real force as their core develops better chemistry and heads into their prime. They aren’t a real threat in the West this year, but they could be in the coming years.

 

Feature image from ClutchPoints.com

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NBA Western Conference contenders

Ranking biggest threats to the Warriors in the West

It isn’t news that the Western Conference is absolutely stacked.

The Warriors are far and away the best team in the league, let alone the West. But as we saw in the 2016 NBA Finals, even the best team in NBA history can go down swinging. All it takes is four bad games in May or June and all the regular season success is a complete wash.

So let’s rank the biggest threats to Golden State’s dynasty before the All-Star weekend.

Honorable mention: New Orleans Pelicans

Until recently, the Pelicans could have ranked as high as No. 2 on the list of potential problems for the Warriors.

NBA Western Conference contenders

Cousins tore his achilles tendon Friday night against the Rockets. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

But with DeMarcus Cousins out for up to 10 months after his brutal achilles tear against the Rockets Friday night, those hopes are all but dashed. In fact, not many would be surprised if they miss the playoffs entirely.

 

Their strengths against Golden State were squarely rooted in Cousin’s and Anthony Davis’ ability to team up and take over the paint on both sides of the floor. A four-game series against those two could at least wear almost any team down, if not eliminate them. The Pelicans also have the second best shooting percentage in the league. That’s a potent combination.

Davis and open looks won’t be enough to take down the Warriors’ four All-Stars. Couple that with the team’s lack of playoff experience and fourth-worst turnover margin per game, and it’s a long shot at best.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are perhaps the best story in the Western Conference.

They have a gritty head coach who rose up through the ranks despite not playing a minute in the NBA. Jimmy Butler is a top-tier trash-talker and can back it up with his play. Karl-Anthony Towns continues to emerge as a premiere offensive weapon. Taj Gibson is finally stretching the floor, Andrew Wiggins has insane potential and Jamal Crawford is one of the best sixth men in the history of the game.

As exciting as all of that is, it’s probably only good enough to steal a game or two away from Golden State.

Towns being able to stretch the floor will give Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee fits, but the depth of the Warriors bench is nothing short of historic. Minnesota’s bench has potential, but it won’t be able to keep Golden State in check. This squad has potential, and they will definitely make the Western Conference playoffs. But it is most definitely a few years away from dethroning the champs.

3. San Antonio Spurs

Counting out the San Antonio Spurs is like counting out the New England Patriots. Anyone who has watched the NBA since 1999 will tell you that. The NBA’s version of Bill Belichick can outcoach anyone in the league, seemingly at will.

NBA Western Conference contenders

Leonard, Diaw and Popovich gameplan against the Warriors. (Photo by Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports)

The Spurs’ problems are obvious. First of all, losing Kawhi Leonard is a massive blow to any title aspirations. He might be the most balanced two-way player in the league. At 100 percent, he is easily one of the NBA’s top five players. There is no set timetable for his return, but it’s entirely possible that he comes back in time for the playoffs.

 

The other things standing in the way are age and pace of play. The Warriors like to speed up the pace offensively and get in transition quickly on defense. That should not at all inspire confidence, considering the Spurs slower, more deliberate style of play. This was entirely too obvious when they were swept by Golden State in the Western Conference Finals last year.

But the playoff experience on the team is hard to ignore. Manu Ginobili is still playing well off of the bench at age 40, and Tony Parker can still contribute at age 35. The younger talent is stepping up, and, as previously stated, Leonard is an absolute game changer if he can make it back in time for the playoffs.

Gregg Popovich isn’t done until he’s done.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

An underachieving Thunder team is still a possible issue for Golden State.

The biggest discrepancy between the two teams is the coaching. At 29-20, a lot of the blame for OKC not living up to its full potential is falling on third-year head coach Billy Donovan. Some of it is for his unwillingness to shake up the starting lineup, but also because of his inability to break Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony of their ball-hogging habits.

NBA Western Conference contenders

Oklahoma City’s big three. (Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)

We already know Steve Kerr can handle four All-Stars on one team, and has his team’s full support. Another thing he does exceptionally well is convince his players to move the ball. Golden State is first in the league in assists. The Thunder are 25th. That will undoubtedly swing the score in the Warriors’ direction.

 

However, Oklahoma City is first in steals, led by Westbrook and Paul George. Robbing Golden State of possessions is a massive key to beating them. Even though the “OK3” haven’t set the league on fire, it’s still hard to count out these players in any given game.

We all know Westbrook can take over a game at any given moment. George is shooting well and is a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Anthony can still score with the best of them, he just needs to be willing to play off the ball more.

The second half of the season will be the real litmus test for this team. Don’t get excited, but don’t leave them for dead, either. As long as they get a decent seed in the Western Conference, they have an outside chance to pull off an upset.

1. Houston Rockets

This was an obvious choice.

The Rockets are first in both 3-pointers attempted and 3-pointers made. They’re third in free throws attempted and second in free throws made. They boast the NBA’s third-highest assist per game average. They are also second in points per game to, you guessed it, the Warriors.

Simply speaking, they are an incredible offensive group. Houston is the epitome of what the NBA has become in the 2010s. Led by one of the NBA’s best offensive minds, this team is easily the Warriors’ biggest roadblock.

During its first game this season, they beat Golden State by one point. On Jan. 20, the Rockets beat the Warriors by eight points. They were quick to tout their confidence in being able to overtake them in the playoffs. This may have been just a tactic, but one can’t deny it’s certainly possible. They are, after all, the only team that can keep up with the amount of threes Golden State can hit.

Until Friday night, the Rockets were unbeaten when Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela all suit up. Now 19-1 with its best players on the court, Houston knows what it has to do to win, and what they can adjust when they’re being overtaken.

Golden State does have a couple things on Houston, however.

Houston has to play Golden State’s game, which usually ends up being a disaster for anyone who tries it. Although they can probably match the Warriors for most of the game, if the shots stop falling, that spells disaster for the Rockets.

They also can’t rely on defense like the Warriors can. Since Houston plays so quickly, defense is essentially an afterthought. They can outscore most teams, so that’s not usually a problem. Golden State, however, is a completely different animal. Especially considering its bench depth.

It will be difficult. If they do take down Golden State, it will almost definitely have to be in seven games, meaning Houston will have to play the winner-take-all game in Oakland. But it is much more likely for them than the other 15 teams in the Western Conference.

With no more regular season matchups to watch, we’ll all just have to wait and see.

 

Featured image by Nathaniel Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

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NBA All-Star game snubs

2018 All-Star Game snubs and surprises

The 2018 All-Star game starters and reserves are set. We don’t know what color jerseys the players will be wearing, but we do know who will be wearing them.

So it’s time to cue the profanity-laced tweets and cries of “popularity contest.” Let the fans’ opinions on how to fix this defense-free contest both somehow simultaneously be heard and spectacularly ignored. Let’s bask in the interminable glory of four Warriors starters making the roster for the second year in a row. At least they might be playing on different teams this time.

The newly implemented draft system was meant to be an exciting way of adding an air of competitiveness to the game. Ask the NFL how that worked out for them.

What’s more is the fans won’t even get to watch the draft. The rosters will be announced on Thursday on an extended edition of TNT’s Tip-Off program.

Regardless of anyone’s feelings, the stage is set. So after we take a look at how voting is counted, let’s break down the biggest snubs and surprises from the All-Star game selections.

All-Star game voting

The voting for starters is split between fans, players and media. The fans votes make up 50 percent, while the players and media both account for 25 percent.

NBA All-Star Game snubs

Leaked All-Star Game jerseys are drawing bad reviews from fans (Photo by Conrad Burry)

The three frontcourt players (regardless of small forward, power forward or center designations) and the two guards with the highest combined vote totals in each conference are selected as the starters.

 

Starters: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, James Harden and Kyrie Irving

The All-Star game reserves are chosen by the NBA coaches. They are asked to choose three frontcourt players, two guards and two more players at any position. These players have to be in the coach’s conference, and cannot be players on their own team.

The backcourt and frontcourt players with the highest vote total are selected. Then, the two extra players are chosen by votes, and position preference stated on the coaches’ ballots.

Reserves: Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, John Wall, Victor Oladipo, Kevin Love, Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green and Karl-Anthony Towns

Biggest snubs

Paul George

NBA All-Star game snubs

Paul George snubbed from All-Star game despite his great defensive season (Photo by Russ Isabella/USA TODAY Sports)

Paul George has been a part of a rocky experiment in Oklahoma City. At 27-20, the Thunder are currently the fifth seed in a tough Western Conference, but with their big three, one can’t help but think they are underachieving.

 

George is having a monstrous defensive season. While defense is not quite at a premium during the All-Star game, it isn’t like his offense is suffering because of it either. George is leading the league in steals at 93, and is still averaging almost 21 points per game. He’s also shooting the 3-pointer well at 42.2 percent.

In an offense dominated by two ball-hogs, that’s not bad. And many people, Russell Westbrook included, think it should have been enough to earn him a spot on the reserve roster.

Lou Williams

Lou Williams has been a revelation off the bench during the first half of the season. He’s shooting 45.1 percent from the field, and hitting 40.5 percent of his 3-pointers (of which he takes a lot). He’s averaging about 32 minutes, again, off the bench, and has had 14 games scoring over 30 points. That includes a 50-point game against Golden State, a team known for its defense as much as its offense.

Some claim that playing starters’ minutes off the bench was actually a mark against him during All-Star voting, but it also speaks to his willingness to be a team player. Those intangibles coupled with those numbers are the makings of an All-Star.

Chris Paul

Chris Paul has been pretty famously banged up this season. What most people may not realize, however, is that Paul has played in over half of the Rockets’ games this season.

When he plays, they win. Period.

When Paul has suited up this season, the Rockets have gone 23-5. When Paul, Clint Capela and James Harden are all in the lineup, the Rockets are 17-0. That’s a testament to his leadership and court vision.

Paul is averaging 19.1 points per game and 8.9 assists per game. He is also averaging a career-high 5.9 rebounds per game.

Of course, his assist numbers would be higher if the Rockets could stay healthy, but 8.9 isn’t too shabby for a team that takes as many jumpers as Houston does.

Andre Drummond

NBA All-Star game snubs

Drummond is upset he was left out of the All-Star Game reserves (Photo by Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Finally, Andre Drummond was left out of the All-Star game reserves. He is averaging 14.3 points and 15 rebounds per game, with the rebounds being the league’s best.

 

His free-throw shooting percentage is also up an incredible 24.3 percent, which is significant for one of the NBA’s worst at the line. His 3.9 assists per game are also up from his career average of one. Not too bad for a true center.

Drummond has been pretty vocal about his displeasure towards being left out of the All-Star roster. You can see exactly what he thought if you visit his Twitter page, as long as you’re not at work, that is.

Biggest surprises

Al Horford

The Celtics’ center Al Horford somehow made it on to the All-Star game reserve roster averaging just 13.3 points, and less than eight rebounds per game. Although his assist totals are slightly higher than Drummond’s, he’s also more of a stretch player than Drummond is.

He ventures outside the 3-point line much more than some other centers, which could have been seen as an asset. That opens the door to more passing lanes than living under the basket does.

He’s also playing almost the exact same number of minutes as Drummond is on a better team. That alone lends itself to not really having to lean on Horford as much as Detroit has had to lean on Drummond.

This isn’t a completely unwarranted All-Star game appearance. It perhaps is just an example of bias towards a more complete team.

Guards over forwards

As stated in the voting section, the two “wild card” spots on the reserve roster are given to which ever kind of player the coaches would prefer to have on the teams. Those spots in both conferences went to guards.

It’s not totally shocking, seeing as how the league has changed to rely on quickness and 3-pointers. But if the fans are supposed to believe that NBA coaches are all as committed to defense as they say they are, that should probably show up in the All-Star game. You would expect them to be favoring blocks and paint presence over quick hands and pull-up jump shots.

Watchability

In conclusion, 2018’s All-Star game just might be more watchable than previous iterations. The draft is a fun experiment, even if it doesn’t quite work out. And it’s already proven itself useful if all four Warriors don’t end up on the same side.

Even though the jerseys may be terrible, and the draft is not televised, it’s important to remember that the league is trying new things. The NBA isn’t ever going to make everyone happy with the All-Star game, especially the players. No matter how selection is done, there will always be players who are vocal about not being on the roster.

There will always be fans claiming that none of it matters anyway, or about how their voice is not heard enough. But it’s a tradition, and it is the very nature of traditions to be divisive.

Either way, N.E.R.D is playing the halftime show. That should be enough of a reason to tune in.

 

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NBA trade deadline moves

Five players who desperately need a new team

With the trade deadline less than a month away, it’s time for teams to assess their rosters and make a plan for the future. While some teams like the Cavaliers, Trail Blazers and Bucks are looking to add talent to their roster and gear up for the playoffs, other teams need to deal their players and begin to look to the future. Here are the players who need to move on to a new team.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

NBA trade deadline moves

Gasol has had a great career in Memphis, but his time as a Grizzly could be over soon. (Photo from Sports Hub)

While Marc Gasol has tons of ties to the city of Memphis, including attending high school there while his brother Pau played on the Grizzlies, it’s time for the front office to trade him away and start to rebuild. Gasol was consistently one of the best centers in the NBA, but he’s turning 33 this month. While he’s added a lethal 3-point shot into his repertoire, he is not the player he once was.

The Grizzlies do not have the young talent to challenge for a playoff spot. While their 13-28 record would’ve been a lot better if Mike Conley stayed healthy, their best case scenario would’ve been sneaking into playoffs at the eighth seed, only to lose in the first round to the Golden State Warriors.

The Grizzlies need to let Gasol play for a contender and start building for the future.

Potential Teams: Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis has played for the Pelicans for six years, averaging at least 20 points per game and 10 rebounds every year except his rookie season. The Pelicans have not won a playoff game since he’s been on the team, and it’s time to make a big move. Davis has also proven to be injury-prone, as he’s only played over 70 games in a season once.

Davis is a top-10 talent in the NBA, and he’s only 24. The reluctance to trading such a talent is understandable. However, the team is barely a playoff team (currently at the eighth seed) and are nowhere near competing with teams in the top of the Western Conference.

The addition of DeMarcus Cousins was a great move on paper, but the on-court performances haven’t been enough, and the dynamic duo of Cousins and Davis has been a failed experiment. Some reports believe that members of the front office prefer Cousins over Davis as the face of the franchise, and they should bring in pieces to build around Cousins.

With the threat of Cousins bolting to the Lakers in free agency this offseason, the Pelicans can’t keep the status quo.

Potential Teams: Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

Kemba Walker has done everything he can to keep the Hornets afloat. However, the Hornets are not going to compete in the East with the roster they currently have. Walker is now 27 and is in his prime. He doesn’t want to be apart of a rebuild.

Walker is a star in this league, and he needs to be on a team that has talent to surround himself with. His talent is being wasted on a below-average team, and the Hornets need to accumulate draft picks and young players. Walker would be a perfect fit for a team desperate for a point guard, like his hometown team, the New York Knicks.

Potential Teams: New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets

Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls

NBA trade deadline moves

Mirotic will be a great addition to any playoff team this trade deadline. (Photo by NBC Sports)

The Bulls have launched into rebuild mode trading away Jimmy Butler this past offseason, and it’s time for them to trade Nikola Mirotic for more draft picks and young talent.

While Mirotic is having a great season as the No. 1 option on offense, the team is in full tank mode with a record of 16-27. The Bulls needs to start getting draft picks and young players to develop.

Mirotic has also expressed interest to moving to a contender, with reports this week that he still wants to be traded before the deadline.

Mirotic was punched in the face by Bobby Portis, a teammate, during a practice before the season started and was out for 2 weeks with a broken nose. The report exploited what appears to be a dysfunctional roster with lots of unhappy players. The growing feeling around the organization was that a trade was imminent after the incident. While they have yet to deal Mirotic, both sides would benefit from a deal.

Potential Teams: Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

Probably the most available player on this list, Jordan’s impending free agency and potential trade has been very publicized by the media this season. Jordan has been a great defensive center and vertical threat for the Clippers the past couple years and has spent 10 seasons as a Clipper. During his time, he’s made three All-NBA teams, one All-Star game and two All-Defensive teams.

Jordan has been dominant and is apart of a dominant interior duo with Blake Griffin, when he is healthy. Nonetheless, it’s time to move to Jordan because he will not stay with the Clippers past this season, and the market for quality centers is very scarce. Jordan almost left the Clippers for the Dallas Mavericks a few years ago, but the Clippers players locked him in his house and made him sign the contract.

A deal before this trade deadline would benefit both sides. The Clippers can address other needs and rebuild after an injury-riddled season. Jordan wants to go to a contender, and there’s multiple Eastern Conference teams that could desperately use his interior presence.

Potential Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors

 

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Making the case for every fringe playoff team

The NBA season is halfway over, which means it’s time to start evaluating potential playoff teams.

The top four seeds in each conference are virtual locks, due to overall talent and coaching. The fifth-seventh seeds will do some changing around as teams jockey for their playoff seeding. Although, close followers of the NBA probably wouldn’t be surprised if the Pistons or the Trailblazers fell out of the playoff picture after overachieving slightly in the first half of the season.

As with any sport’s playoff, however, the most interesting storylines are the ones involving the teams on the bubble.

With that in mind, let’s look at each conference’s eighth seed and first two teams on the outside looking in.

Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers (21-19, No. 8 seed)

The Pacers have been just fine without Paul George. Victor Oladipo has been playing close to his ceiling, although they’re still overpaying for him. The other piece of the trade that sent George away, Domantas Sabonis, has also been playing nicely. He’s two rebounds shy of averaging a double-double, and will probably end up setting career-high averages in every meaningful category.

While their offense has been clicking, their defense is some of the most below average in the Association. Not awful, just very mediocre. Their offense alone can win the Pacers enough games to keep them in the 8th spot. Lack of defensive consistency will have been their downfall if they fail to make the cut.

Philadelphia 76ers (19-19, first team out)

Philadelphia is one of the most exciting stories in the NBA this season. The “process” seems to have finally come to fruition, and we are finally seeing glimpses of what this long and arduous rebuild has wrought.

Even though the 76ers are a .500 team, don’t be fooled. They’re currently first in the league in rebounds per game, second in assists resulting made field goals, and sixth in points. A rested and re-energized team could ride that kind of momentum to a playoff spot after the All Star break. Plus, their first overall draft pick hasn’t even played five games yet.

NBA Playoffs

Embiid scores on Whiteside. (Photo by: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

What will keep them out of the playoffs is their youth and inconsistency in their game to game performances. As the season drags on, the young players might start to slow down, which will only exacerbate their inconsistency issues. Those red flags usually mean a .500 team will stay a .500 team, but playing in a weak conference will definitely help.

New York Knicks (19-21, second team out)

The Knicks are a force to be reckoned with in the paint on both ends of the court. They are ninth in points in the paint and second in points allowed in the paint. Yes, we’re talking about the New York Knicks.

The team is huge, size-wise. Porzingis, O’Quinn, Kanter and Noah are all either over or close to 7-feet. That length pays dividends over a long regular season, but could actually be a problem if they sneak into the playoffs. The East is full of jump shooting teams, which will stretch New York’s strengths too thin to make them truly effective.

Western Conference

New Orleans Pelicans (20-19, No. 8 seed)

New Orleans might very well be a better team than their record indicates. They’re second in points in the paint thanks to Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins. They’re also second in the NBA in assists per game thanks to some great guard play both from starters and off the bench. Not to mention they have the second toughest schedule in the NBA (according to 2016-2017 team records).

Team defense leaves a lot to be desired for the Pelicans. Bottom five in opponents points in the paint per game doesn’t make a lot of sense considering the front court they have. They also give up the third most points in the league per game.

NBA Playoffs

Davis and Cousins during a game against the Spurs. (Photo by: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

It’s an especially strange case on New Orleans’ part. The chemistry and coaching is clearly there, as evidenced by the assist totals. But the defense is nowhere near where it should be, in spite of Cousins and Davis. Remember that Alvin Gentry was brought on to be a defensive mastermind, and the roster has only gotten better since he came to town. Maybe look for a coaching shake-up if the Pelicans miss the playoffs.

Los Angeles Clippers (18-21, first team out)

Doc Rivers’ team is hurting out west. The Clippers have been a staple of the Western Conference playoffs for the past six years, but the days of Lob City have finally come to an end. Chris Paul’s departure marked a culture change for the Clips, and the team has not found its stride just yet.

Los Angeles still has a great 3-point game. Beverley, Williams, Rivers and even Griffin can all pull up from distance. They also have great personnel for man-to-man defense. Those two things are golden in NBA playoff basketball. But, yet again, team defense is going to be the main hurdle between them and their playoff streak.

Utah Jazz (16-24, second team out)

The new look Jazz are in a soft rebuild. After losing their number one scorer in Gordon Hayward, the Jazz were almost certainly take on a new identity. But picking up Ricky Rubio and finding a steal in Donovan Mitchell should have stopped the bleeding more than it has.

Their defense is some of the best in the NBA, all around. In fact, the Jazz are top 10 in almost every meaningful defensive category under Quin Snider. Against the trend, the offense is what will probably keep Utah out of the playoffs this year. Although, again, this is a new look team. And offense almost always comes together more quickly than defense. If they can keep up the defensive dominance, they won’t be out of the playoff picture for long.

 

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2018 NBA All-Star game starters

Predicting the NBA All-Star starters

NBA All-Star weekend is a great time for players to get some rest, have fun and entertain. Being the best at your job is always sought after, just like being an All-Star in the NBA is.

This season, there are many different combinations that are worthy of being starts for the All-Star game on both the East and the West. With the Western Conference having the majority of last year’s All-Stars, the Eastern Conference could potentially have some new faces in their starting lineups.

Eastern Conference

2018 NBA All-Star game starters

2017 NBA All-Star game (Photo from Clutchpoints.com)

There is a little bit of difference here.

2017 starters: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler.

Obviously Butler is now a member of the Western Conference, so he will be replaced. Like every year, the big man has been taken out of most starting lineups due to the NBA trying to increase scoring and excitement. The five that seem most likely to get the call include a new face who was previously in the Western Conference.

Irving, DeRozan, James, Antetokounmpo and Victor Oladipo seem to be the most deserving. This would obviously put Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the outside looking in, but they would be reserves.

Oladipo has proven that he can be a No. 1 for a surprising Indiana Pacers team. Oladipo’s numbers read as 24.8 points, 4.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. He is averaging well over his career average in every statistic previously listed. He is shooting nearly six percent better than his career average and has a player efficiency rating over 24. He is more than deserving of a starting spot in a weak Eastern Conference.

Oladipo is the second leading scoring guard in the East only behind DeRozan. Oladipo is shooting the exact same from the field per game as Steph Curry. Oladipo is shooting just over 49 percent on almost 18 attempts, which is the same as Curry exactly.

Oladipo is having his best statistical season of his career. His stats match up against all other Eastern Conference guards. In comparison to someone like Joel Embiid, Oladipo has played in more games, averaged more points, played more minutes and as of right now, the Indiana Pacers have a better record than the Philadelphia 76ers. The Pacers have overachieved based on rankings, and that is why Oladipo’s been so important.

Western Conference

The Western Conference is home to the league’s best big men.

2017 starters: Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.

This year there doesn’t seem to be too much difference.

This year’s starters could have some parody. There are three point guards in the West all deserving of a spot. Curry, Harden (I guess we can officially call him a point guard now) and Russell Westbrook.

Durant seems like a sure thing, and the final spots seem to be between the Pelican big men. In the end, I think the lineup for the West has to be Curry, Harden, Durant, Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Last year, in Russell Westbrook’s MVP season, he didn’t start in the All-Star game. This season, he has less impressive numbers and has more help. He is still the third best guard among that trio. It does not help that the game is being held in L.A., which means that Curry is put ahead of him.

It’s hard to pick between the two Pelican big men. They both have solid numbers and compliment each other well. In the Western Conference, the two are fourth and fifth in the voting, and they are both more than deserving for a spot in the frontcourt.

The argument for getting both of the Pelican big men to the starting lineup starts with this: DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 25.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Anthony Davis is averaging 25.8 points as well and 10.3 rebounds per game. The two are averaging double-doubles in the same frontcourt. They both have a player efficiency rating over 23.7. A guy like Kawhi Leonard being hurt opens the door for both big men.

Karl-Anthony Towns is another guy averaging a double-double and is up over 23 in his player efficiency rating. He plays the exact same minutes as Cousins. The only difference is he is averaging just over 20 points per game which is nearly 20 percent less than both Cousins and Davis, and they are on the same team.

Ultimately, the last two spots in the Western Conference starting lineup are likely two of the three previously listed players. Davis and Cousins have made strong cases as All-Star starters, and they share the same frontcourt.

The hometown guy

Kyle Kuzma will find his way on a roster here. He has put up great numbers and at times has been the most important piece for the Lakers. It seems like the voters love to have a hometown guy, and Kuzma, at this point, seems to be the most deserving.

 

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NBA Southwest Division preview

NBA season preview: Southwest Division

The Southwest Division has gained a superstar. Chris Paul joins the Rockets and James Harden to make the top of the division even better.

The San Antonio Spurs get a whole offseason to get Kawhi Leonard healthy, as well as having the best coach in the history of the NBA.

The Mavericks received a lottery pick and added Dennis Smith Jr. to a Dirk Nowitzki led team.

The New Orleans Pelicans get more time to have Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins mesh. They also added a pass-first point guard in Rajon Rondo, who hopes to help the two.

Finally, the Memphis Grizzlies look to improve on a solid season last year, but lose a few veterans who have contributed in the last few years.

Here are the win predictions for all five teams in the Southwest Division this upcoming season.

Dallas Mavericks

2016-17 record: 33-49

2017-18 prediction: 36-46

The Mavericks have pretty quietly put together a solid starting lineup. Dennis Smith Jr. will solve one of the major problems that the team had.

The starting lineup of Smith, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Nerlens Noel is a solid starting lineup. Smith is showing that he has big potential and can be a good point guard in the league.

Building with a core of Barnes and Smith could be lethal moving forward, but for the immediate future the Mavericks will be a fringe playoff team.

Houston Rockets

NBA Southwest Division preview

James Harden, Photo Courtesy of NBA.com.

2016-17 record: 55-27

2017-18 prediction: 56-26

The Houston Rockets gave up a lot, but they have another star to team up with James Harden. The west seems to be all about star power, and the Rockets have added some to their roster.

The west has been very strong and that is why they will hang around the same wins that they had last season.

Having good guard play is one of the many keys in having success in the NBA, and the Rockets have one of the best backcourts in the whole league.

Memphis Grizzlies

2016-17 record: 43-39

2017-18 prediction: 33-49

The Grizzlies didn’t add a bunch this offseason, but their main offseason move was the loss Zach Randolph.

With Chandler Parsons supremely underperforming comparatively to the contract that he signed, there is reason to believe that they have not gotten better this offseason.

Whether Randolph and Vince Carter leaving is a 10-win difference remains to be seen, but Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are basically the only options on offense now.

New Orleans Pelicans

NBA Southwest Division preview

Photo Courtesy of SB Nation.

2016-17 record: 34-48

2017-18 prediction: 43-39

The Pelicans finally get a whole season of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, which is enough to raise their win total from last season.

The big addition is Rajon Rondo. Rondo adds the ability to facilitate to the two big men and add to their output. They also added former Warrior guard Ian Clark to a very young bench.

Jrue Holiday is a solid guard as well. The Pelicans will rely heavily on their frontcourt and will potentially find their way to the playoffs because of them.

San Antonio Spurs

2016-17 record: 61-21

2017-18 prediction: 52-30

The west is a gauntlet and there’s no way around it.

The Spurs have nearly moved on from Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and have handed the keys over to LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Dejounte Murray.

The Spurs seem to always be good with Gregg Popovich at the helm, and I don’t see it changing this season. A healthy Kawhi Leonard will be dangerous with solid pieces built around him.

The Spurs will be very good this season and will trade blows with the Houston Rockets at the top of the Southwest Division.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of philstar.com.

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Can Davis and Cousins lead the Pelicans to the postseason?

When the Pelicans initially made the blockbuster trade that brought All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans, the playoffs became a big topic of discussion.

New Orleans was 11th in the West at the time with a 23-34 record. Surely the All-Star duo of Anthony Davis and Cousins would push the Pelicans into the playoffs, right?

Not quite. The Pelicans only moved up one spot in the conference standings after the trade and finished with a 34-48 record. They only went 11-14 after Cousins arrived.

It is crazy looking back at the playoff talk. The Pelicans were supposed to reach the eighth seed and challenge the Golden State Warriors with the mismatches their frontcourt had created. How would Golden State’s backcourt deal with this obstacle?

Anthony Davis DeMarcus Cousins

The addition of Cousins did not go as planned last season. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

The question we should have been asking ourselves is how are these slow-paced big men going to deal with the tempo Golden State plays at? Yes, the Pelicans no doubt have the best frontcourt in the NBA. However, they still lacked production from the rest of the roster and had some team chemistry issues.

They got 52 points, 24 rebounds and three blocks per game from the dynamic duo, but didn’t get much from the rest of the team.

Jrue Holiday is a former All-Star, but put up a mediocre 15 points and seven assists last season as the Pelicans’ starting point guard.

The next highest scorer on the team was Jordan Crawford at 14 per game.

As a team, the Pelicans scored 104.3 points per game (18th) and allowed 106.4 (17th). With Cousins on the roster, they scored 106.5 and allowed 106.3 per game.

Besides the fact that those numbers are below average, Cousins did not seem to do too much for the team.

Davis and Cousins’ resumes

What has Cousins done in his seven seasons in the league? He’s a three-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA team member and has averaged a career 21.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. Something is missing though, and that is a playoff appearance.

Now I know Cousins has not had much to work with as far as teammates go in his career, but the most games the Kings ever won with him on the roster was 33.

The same can be said about Davis. He is a four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA team member and has averaged 22.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks over his five NBA seasons. Davis has led New Orleans to one postseason appearance when they finished 45-37 in a very competitive Western Conference and were then swept by the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors. Other than that, Davis has only helped the Pelicans reach 34 wins in a season.

However, like Cousins, he also has not had much talent surrounding him. During the year they went to the postseason he had Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday as his supporting cast. It is by far the most talent Davis or Cousins has had around themselves.

Their circumstances are similar and have been difficult, but could Davis and/or Cousins just not have it in them?

Davis and Cousins are a whole lot of star power to be going 11-14 and missing the playoffs. The fact that they have one postseason birth in 12 years of combined experience is also interesting to think about. The fact that so many teams in the Western Conference boosted their talent is not going to make things any easier for the Pelicans.

The Warriors, Rockets and Spurs seem to be a lock for the top three seeds. The Thunder, Timberwolves and Nuggets will most likely finish four through six. That leaves teams like the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Grizzlies and Pelicans will be battling for the last two seeds.

How the Pelicans have improved

What has New Orleans done to get better? They resigned Holiday to a five-year contract and also added veteran Rajon Rondo. Rondo is by no means the player he used to be, but he did average almost 12 points and 12 assists per game two seasons ago when he was with Cousins in Sacramento. He assisted Cousins 237 times, which is the most he has had to one player in a season according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Anthony Davis DeMarcus Cousins

Davis and Cousins have been working out this summer in hopes of improving their team chemistry. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Davis and Cousins have also been working out together with a focus on team chemistry. The Pelicans definitely were not all on the same page considering their record after Cousins arrived. Davis told local reporters that chemistry is the biggest thing the former Kentucky Wildcats have been working on.

“He knows the things that I like to do, I know the things he likes to do, where he likes to score from, where I like to score from,” Davis said. “We know that we’re going to be two big focal points on every team’s scouting report, so we just wanted to get together and work out together and just figure out things we like to do.”

What if they can’t?

Will these moves be enough to push the Pelicans into the playoffs? They sure ought to.

If Davis and Cousins can’t gel together, that is going to be a big problem. Holiday and Rondo are also need to contribute and figure out how to get Davis and Cousins opportunities.

I’m not the type of guy to knock a player for never winning the Finals or even if they never play in the Finals. However, if Davis and Cousins can’t work together and lead this team to a postseason birth, that is a problem and going to put a damper on their legacy should they continue to miss the playoffs.

 

Featured image by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

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