LeBron James new team

Weighing LeBron’s most likely landing spots

LeBron James’ contract is up at the end of the season. He’s officially fulfilled his commitment to Cleveland. He delivered a championship to the long-suffering city in the most exciting NBA Finals of the past 10 years.

So that begs the question of where is his next stop?

The most interesting thing about this debate is that many teams are in limbo until James narrows down his list. Some teams are trading away players to guarantee the cap space, while others are loading up to lure him to their city. Still, others are gauging his interest to make the most calculated moves to prepare for either eventuality.

The entire league is waiting with bated breath to see where The King wants to take his talents next. No matter where he goes, the move will shake up the foundation of the NBA for the length of his new contract. He’s been tied to many teams through the rumor mill, but here are the most interesting propositions.

Los Angeles Lakers

Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news yesterday that the lakers are “shifting their focus to the 2019 free agent class.” That could mean a few things.

The most likely explanation is that James wouldn’t want to go to the Lakers without any bona fide stars on the roster. He’s carried teams to the playoffs and finals by himself before, and all signs indicate he’s on the quest for more rings.

LeBron James new team

LeBron James and Lonzo Ball share a postgame hug. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

If he signs there at the seasons’ end, James will be alone with Lonzo Ball and Larry Nance Jr., who are not huge draws. James might want the team to bring in some talent before he commits. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson are all names that appear to be on Magic Johnson’s shortlist.

It could also mean that Johnson isn’t positive he can reel in James at all, and that he doesn’t want to trade away assets and clear massive cap space to pull in someone who may not be interested.

Leaving the cap open also allows them to go in a different direction. The Lakers could pull two or maybe even three stars after next season, letting James go his own way.

James owns homes in Los Angeles, and it’s well-known that he wants to make a transition to Hollywood after his NBA career is over. Pair that with the Lakers’ storied history and their ability to draw in free agents, and it’s hard to believe the team would not go after him with everything they’ve got.

But consider the possibility that James goes to another team on a max deal, with an opt-out clause after the first year. If things don’t go according to plan in his new city, he could exercise that option. Assuming Johnson can pull in a superstar, then the door is open for James to put on the purple and gold.

It’s messy and complicated, but Magic Johnson has the star power to get this done.

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio’s championship window is closing. The team is old, and their three best players’ contracts expire after next season.

There is one sure-fire way to get them to re-sign, possibly even for less money. That way includes signing LeBron James.

LeBron James new team

Gregg Popovich and LeBron James congratulate each other after Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

A team including LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, coached by Gregg Popovich, is an instant title contender. Age and bench players be damned, that team could compete with any team in the league. Pau Gasol will be pushing 40 by the time his contract is up, but just ask Manu Ginobili how Coach Popovich can keep up old players’ efficacy.

Keep in mind that James has never had a coach anywhere near as good as Popovich. As he gets older and has to start becoming more of a system player rather than a one-man wrecking crew, coaching goes a long way.

This all hinges on the idea that James can draw in some young talent to one of the least exciting basketball cities in the country. Leonard and Aldridge would also have to re-sign. But their tradition of excellence makes it hard to completely count the Spurs out of contention.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are a very interesting dark horse candidate to land LeBron James. They have a breadth of young talent and the most cap space in the NBA at over $75 million.

The potential to be very good for a long time could be a huge draw for James. It also would allow him to be a leader and a mentor to the young guys on the team. That would be a complete 180 degree turn from his current situation with the Cavaliers.

The problem here is that none of the players are established enough to prove to him that Philadelphia would put him in a position to win more titles. Ben Simmons is firmly in contention for Rookie of the Year, but he has an injury history, and the sample size is tiny.

The same goes for Joel Embiid. He’s been injured constantly and just played in back-to-back games for the first time on Feb. 2 and 3. Markelle Fultz is also injured and has seemingly forgotten how to shoot the basketball.

Again, the key here is the 76ers’ cap space. The contracts there are extremely manageable, and if the young players can stay healthy, they can be doubly useful, either as trade bait or pieces of the team’s success moving forward. The ability to sign players that James likes to play with has been a huge part of his decisions in the past. However, Philadelphia is still a couple of years away from being true contenders in the East.

New York Knicks

James has been in the Eastern Conference since he entered the NBA. Staying in the East would more than likely set him up for the most success moving forward. He knows every team in the league inside and out, but playing with a similar travel schedule will be more important as he gets older. The Knicks check that box.

LeBron James new team

James shoots over Kristaps Porzingis. (Photo by: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

New York City is the Mecca of basketball. Playing at Madison Square Garden 41 nights out of the year would be beyond compare for someone who as aspirations to become the greatest NBA player of all time. Delivering a championship to New York could very well solidify that position.

Kristaps Porzingis is out for the year, and ACL tears are a notoriously difficult injury. But given his skill set, there is no reason to believe he won’t come back 100 percent. Porzingis would be a huge draw to James if he does indeed come back strong.

Apart from The Unicorn and the city, there is little else to convince anyone that James will be a Knick. The front office is a mess, and the team has little to no direction at the moment. James could fix the latter, but this move is unlikely at best.

Los Angeles Clippers

Another Los Angeles team has LeBron James sized aspirations.

Dumping Blake Griffin’s contract off of the payroll was a major first step towards landing The King. If the Clippers deal DeAndre Jordan as well, the cap space will be wide open for a max deal. Plus, the organization also just announced that they are re-signing Lou Williams. Williams and Patrick Beverley could create a sneaky-good backcourt, although the team would still lack talent.

But still, they are a Los Angeles team. The city alone guarantees people will want to play for the Clippers. If Paul George truly does want to play in Los Angeles, who is to say he has to play for the Lakers? George and James would more than fix the frontcourt issues. Also, delivering a championship to a team that’s never seen the Western Conference Finals could cement the status James is chasing.

However, as with the Lakers, trading away assets on the promise of potential signings might not be the way to go. James wants to win now and often. Jockeying to sign him may have just taken them out of the conversation.

Houston Rockets

Now for the most likely candidate. Houston may very well have the pieces to beat Golden State right now. Add LeBron James to the team and you have a competitive Western Conference again. The problem for the NBA, however, is that the NBA Finals would be little more than a formality.

LeBron James new team

James Harden guards LeBron James. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

Regardless, playing with James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela would be huge for James. After all, playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh alone worked out well for him. The pieces the Rockets have are better than that Miami Heat team.

Some NBA fans, however, think playing with stars tarnished James’ legacy. He has made it clear he is uninterested in those opinions, but it could play a part in deciding not to play on a super team.

Also, to clear the cap space, the bench would more than likely suffer immensely. James won’t be able to average 36.8 minutes a game forever. Harden and Paul could lighten the load, but not significantly.

But James wants rings, as many as he can get. The move to Houston would give him the best chance to win more of them.

 

Featured image by Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

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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.

 

Featured image from basketinfo.com.

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Donovan Mitchell

Why everyone is talking about Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell was truly torn between staying at the University of Louisville and declaring for the draft. It seems as if he’s made the right choice.

The rookie sensation is on his way to a special first season. He is a go-to scoring option, and he can hold his own on defense. There aren’t very many things he hasn’t shown the NBA he cannot do, and the season is not quite halfway over.

Here are some of the reasons why the NBA is officially on notice.

Rookie of the Year candidacy

Mitchell is tentatively in the top spot for Rookie of the Year. But why?

Ben Simmons collects more rebounds and dishes out more assists at a guard position. Jayson Tatum is shooting 45.3 percent from three and turns the ball over less in the exact same amount of time on the floor. In fact, the only category of note in which Mitchell safely leads his top two challengers is points per game at 18.2.

Defense

Donovan Mitchell

Mitchell steals the ball from Nance Jr. (Photo by Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

Part of it might have to do with his commitment to improving his game on the defensive end of the court. He has commented on his own “perfectionist” nature when it comes to his defense and has said ex-Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s defensive expectations were one of the things that drove him to pick Louisville.

That commitment may not show up on the stat sheet, as his 1.5 steals per game and 0.5 blocks per game are not gaudy numbers. But they are only going to get better if Mitchell’s is as dedicated to improving as he says he is.

Also, it’s hard to deny when watching him play that he isn’t exerting the effort it takes to be a great defensive guard. Coach Quin Snyder has even lauded Mitchell’s ability to deny an offensive player the ball when they are racing to their spot. Keep in mind that anyone’s first year playing against the best scorers in the world is going to be an adjustment, period.

Offense

What will probably impress ROY voters even more, however, is Mitchell’s electric offense.

Again, he has 18.2 points per game, which leads all rookies at the halfway point on the season. He already has 16 games with 20 or more points, which puts him within spitting distance of the Jazz rookie record, currently held by another former Louisville Cardinal, Darrel Griffith. He’s sinking 3-pointers at an almost 36 percent clip, which is decent enough. Plus, his 43.8 field goal percentage is impressive considering he takes more jump shots than either of his top competitors.

The real story here, though, is his athleticism around and above the rim. He can get up, catch the ball in traffic and most importantly, slam it home. This brings us to our next point.

Dunk Contest

Donovan Mitchell’s dunks are fantastic. If he isn’t in the dunk contest this year, then the NBA might as well cancel it.

There’s no real way to describe a dunk using only words, so suffice it to say, he is exhibiting in-game feats of athleticism that one must see to believe.

Donovan Mitchell

Mitchell throws down a dunk. (Photo by Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

Mitchell told Michael Rapaport on his podcast that he would “love” to participate in the dunk contest over the All-Star break, but would be prepared to lose to Derrick Jones Jr. of the Miami Heat, if Jones were to participate. He went on to say that he’s probably lost to Jones in 12 out of the 13 dunk contests he’s been a part of, as they have competed against one another since they were young.

At only 6-foot-3, Donovan has already thrown down some dunks that will undoubtedly be in consideration for Dunk of the Year honors. This is helped by his tremendous jumping ability and having one of the most seasoned passers in the league, Ricky Rubio, at the point guard position.

Earning respect

Along with earning his spot in ROY consideration, Mitchell is also earning high praise from some of the very best players in the NBA.

After a workout with Chris Paul and Paul George, Paul told David Gardner of Bleacher Report that Mitchell was “going to be good for a long time,” while also commenting on his obvious love of the game.

The biggest story here, however, comes from an Instagram comment of all things.

On Dec. 16, the Jazz visited Cleveland. Mitchell scored 26 points in Utah’s losing effort, while LeBron James notched his 60th career triple-double. After the game, Mitchell posted on Instagram about how excited he was to be able to play against the players he grew up watching. In a comment on the post, James called Mitchell “young king.”

Donovan Mitchell

Mitchell tries to score against Wade. (Photo by: Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune)

This is significant. James has respect for all rookies, but he appeared to name Mitchell as a potential successor to his throne. That doesn’t happen every day. Regardless of whether it was in a press conference or on Instagram, this is James telling the world to keep an eye on this one.

Also, after that same game, Dwyane Wade lined up after LeBron and patiently waited his turn to give Mitchell a word or two of encouragement. Wade, one of the best shooting guards of all time, and a dynamic finisher around the rim in his prime, wanted words with Mitchell. Neither Wade or James had to to do these things. They were paying their respects to a first-year player. Make no mistake, that’s a big deal.

That is three potential Hall of Fame basketball players already touting Mitchell’s abilities and capacity to improve. And that’s without mentioning all the things that great players have said about him in press conferences after games against the Jazz.

All in all, Mitchell has the ability to be a true all-around player in the league. At the shooting guard position, that’s very impressive. He’s also managed to fill a Gordon Hayward-sized hole in the Jazz’s offense. It probably will not be enough to propel the Jazz to a playoff berth, or even a winning season, but he provides hope for a storied NBA franchise.

And no matter what team you may root for, the potential for another LeBron James should inspire that same hope.

 

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Five things to be thankful for in the NBA

Everyone has something to be thankful for come holiday season. With Thanksgiving passing yesterday it’s time to reflect on the things we are thankful for in sports.

The NBA season has been filled with twists and turns. Many teams and players have created a different narrative to this year’s NBA. The teams that have dominated both conferences are not the ones on top. Players have both emerged and fallen from last season. However we are thankful for many things that make the NBA entertaining. Here are five of the things that have made the NBA the most interesting this season.

The 76ers’ young guys

If you haven’t watched Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington play you should. The three of them are making the 76ers more than exciting to watch. They are something to be thankful for due to the elevated play in the East. Having a team emerge with great young talent to compete every night with the top teams in the East is definitely something to be thankful for.

Simmons is averaging 19, 9 and 7 and Joel Embiid is averaging a double-double. Covington is shooting 46 percent from three while shooting just under eight a game. The 76ers are 10-7 and are sitting in the sixth spot in the East. Simmons has been terrific, taking defensive rebounds and turning them into points.

The Sixers have been off to a good start and are just a couple games back in the East. They should continue their pace and be a tough out for a top team in the East come playoff time.

The Gordon Hayward-less Boston Celtics

Well now the Cavaliers don’t like the superior team in the East. Gordon Hayward went down in the first quarter of the season and the Celtics rallied around that. They have the best record in basketball and have beaten the Warriors already this season.

Many thought the season was lost for the Boston Celtics without Gordon Hayward. Instead, they are continually proving they belong. They have the best defensive unit in the league right now and previously held the best offense in the NBA to 88 points. Finally the best team in the East doesn’t look like the Cavaliers, it only took a few years.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant

Everyone loves a little conflict and soap opera. What Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have created is flat out chippy and fans can’t take their eyes off of it. Many cheer against Kevin Durant for his choice to join the Golden State Warriors and Russ has “poked the bear” in a sense.

Russell Westbrook has felt disrespected due to Kevin Durant’s decision and has made it an on the court conflict. It has made games that are normally not as interesting and turned it into prime time television.

A new villain has been created

NBA

Lonzo Ball, (Thewinningtake.com).

Lonzo Ball is a villain. Like it or not LaVar Ball has made fans not like his son but in a way it has made the NBA better. Teams look forward to playing the Lakers to watch the opposing point guard play him tough.

This is exactly what his dad wanted to do by making a below average Lakers team relevant and putting his son in the forefront because of it. People now are drawing attention to an 8-11 team with a point guard who is shooting under 32 percent.

I still find myself thinking about how thankful we are to have a person to cheer against every night. It’s like fantasy sports because it makes fans care about games that they wouldn’t normally. So in a way, LaVar deserves a thank you.

The Timberwolves in playoff position

Obviously it’s very early in the season but the Timberwolves look very good. They have a big three in Karl Anthony-Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. They are competitive every night and look poised to finally make the playoffs. We always cheer for things that don’t happen often right? Well the Timberwolves have been absent from the playoffs for a while.

It would be good for basketball to have a shake up in playoff teams. It gets boring seeing the same teams make the playoffs year in and year out. The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season. This could be the season that they finally break that extremely long drought. The Timberwolves round out the Thanksgiving list because they are finally relevant and create a tough playoff opponent for anyone they face.

 

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NBA takeaways

Eight thoughts about the NBA season minus LeBron James

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

1. Is Lonzo Ball going to be good?

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

NBA takeaways

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

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

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

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

2. Ben Simmons is super talented

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

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

3. Joel Embiid is so fun for the NBA

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA takeaways

16 and counting (Photo from NBA.com)

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

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

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

5. Victor Oladipo looks like an All-Star

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

6. Dwight Howard is a Hall of Famer

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

NBA takeaways

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

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

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

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

7. What is going on in OKC?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Featured image by SlamOnline.com

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Joel Embiid and the rising 76ers

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

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

Joel Embiid’s Early Career

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid, (Si.com).

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

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

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

The Last Few Games

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid, (ESPN).

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

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

Team Outlook

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

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

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

 

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Lauri Markkanen

Why is nobody talking about Lauri Markkanen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quietly dominating

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

Lauri Markkanen

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

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

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

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

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

Scouting report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Featured image by Getty Images North America

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NBA summary so far

NBA Preview:

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

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

Eastern Conference:

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

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

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

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

Players Worth Noting:

NBA

Kyle Lowry, (Raptors Republic).

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

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

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

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

Western Conference:

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

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

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

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

Players Worth Noting:

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

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

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

 

Featured Image from Slamonline.com.

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Who is the next best player in the NBA?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Duncan (2002-2003) – (2004-2005)

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

Lebron James (2005-2006) – (??)

The King. (Billboard.com)

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

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

Who is next?

 

Featured image by SI.com

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Betting on basketball: Oct. 28

Another great lineup of games for tonight with three guaranteed best bets. All the lines are pretty low tonight so lets make some $.

 

Best Bet’s:

 

Celtics @ Heat (Celtics -1):

It feels like these teams always have close games when they play for some reason, probably because the Celtic’s can’t rebound and Whiteside is a monster.

Al Horford is coming off one of his best performances of his Celtics career scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 boards against the Bucks. Whiteside is scheduled to be out for this one so the Celtic’s should be able to control the glass.

Image result for al horford (CBS Boston)

Chi’s Pick: Celtics -1

 

Cavaliers @ Pelicans (Cavs -2.5):

Image result for Lebron vs the pelicans (Big Easy Believer)

Lebron has been taking things into his own hands this season, literally. He has been on a tear since he has started at point guard the last few games. This will be an interesting game because the Cavs do not really have the height to matchup with Anthony Davis and Cousins.

I don’t think we will be seeing point guard LeBron tonight because the Cavs are going to need him down low on the glass and in the post. I still like the Cavs for tonight. The bench in Cleveland is just too much for the Pelicans to compete with.

Chi’s Pick: Cavs -2.5

 

76ers @ Mavericks (76ers -1.5):

Nerlens Noel gets to go for revenge tonight when Joel Embiid and the gang come into Dallas. Philly has gotten off to a rough start considering all the hype around this young team.

The 76ers need to turn it around now if they want to keep the playoffs in reach and tonight I think they will. Ben Simmons is going to take over this game and the 76ers are going to show they made the right choice sticking with Embiid over Noel.

Chi’s Pick: 76ers -1.5

 

The Other Guys:

Thunder @ Bulls (Thunder -8.5):

Chi’s Pick: Thunder -8.5

 

Rockets @ Grizzlies (Grizz -1.5):

Chi’s Pick: Rockets +1.5

 

Lakers @ Jazz (Jazz -10.5):

Chi’s Pick: Lakers +10.5

 

Suns @ Trailblazers (Blazers -12):

Chi’s Pick: Blazers -12

 

Pistons @ Clippers (Clippers -8.5):

Chi’s Pick: Pistons +8.5

 

Featured Photo By USA Today

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