D'Angelo Russell Future Star

D’Angelo Russell Future Star?

When young players enter the NBA, fans expect them to become stars immediately. If at 19,20 or 21 years old they aren’t dominating the game, many people start to think of them as busts. The fact is they need time to gain experience in the professional game. It requires patience that many fans don’t have.

Players must go through the long, draining NBA regular seasons that last from October to April. These players are still kids barely out of college and usually aren’t ready for full NBA seasons until they have experienced a few.

One of the players often mentioned as not living up to his potential has only been in the NBA two seasons. That player is Los Angeles Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell.

Laker Nation

D'Angelo Russell Future Star

(Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org)

The Lakers’ fanbase is one of the most impatient in all of sports, but for good reason. The Lakers franchise was founded back in 1947 in Minneapolis and moved to Los Angeles in 1960. In their franchise’s illustrious history, the Lakers have played in 31 NBA Finals and captured 16 championships, which is second most all-time.

Los Angeles is used to great players and winning teams. The team has had some of the most legendary players in the history of the game like Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Winning is all the Lakers have ever known, which is why they have such an impatient fanbase. From the 1948-1949 season until the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers had only missed the playoffs five times. It is absolutely incredible to think about that level of consistency over six decades.

The recent Laker seasons have had nothing to do with winning. Over the past four seasons, including this one, the Lakers have gone 84-225. L.A. will miss the playoffs four consecutive seasons after this one. In their first 65 years, they missed the playoffs five times and are now about to miss the playoffs four straight. It is understandable that Laker fans are frustrated.

The departure of Kobe Bryant has left the Lakers searching for a star to carry the franchise. They do not have to look far for that star because they have already drafted him.

star Point Guards in their early years

D'Angelo Russell Future Star

(Photo Credit: http://sportige.com)

D’Angelo Russell, also known as D-Lo, is already off to a great start to his young career. Russell is going to be constantly overshadowed by Karl Anthony-Towns, who was the first overall pick in the same draft class.

Towns has gotten most of the attention due to his unbelievable play so far. However, Russell’s first two seasons in the NBA are right on par with some of the NBA’s star point guards.

To really understand the projection Russell’s career should take, we must look at how he compares to these star guards in their first two seasons in the NBA.

The first comparison will be to Damian Lillard. Lillard averaged 19.9 points, 6.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 37.2 minutes per game in his first two seasons . Lillard is one of the best guards in the league now and was off to a great start due to the high minutes he was playing.

The next comparison is MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. After two seasons in the league, Westbrook averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. Just as Lillard averaged high minutes, so did Westbrook with 33.4 minutes per game.

The last guard for comparison will be Wizards star John Wall. Wall averaged 16.4 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. Wall’s minutes were right on par with Lillard’s as he averaged 37 minutes per game.

These three guards are all considered top guards and leaders of their respective teams. How close is D’Angelo Russell to following in their footsteps?

D’Angelo Russell: The Future Star

The first thing noticeable about how Russell stacks up with these other guards is in minutes played. D’Angelo Russell is playing far fewer minutes than the other guards mentioned above. Russell has averaged just under 28 minutes a game (27.8) in his first two seasons. Compared to Wall and Lillard, that is 10 minutes less per game.

D'Angelo Russell Future Star

(Gif Credit: http://thedoublescreen.com)

Considering he is playing far fewer minutes, his stats are still pretty similar to theirs.

This season, Russell is averaging 14.9 points, 4.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. Per 36 minutes, those numbers jump to 19.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.9 rebounds. If Russell was playing more, he would be averaging around the same numbers as these stars were in their second seasons.

Along with the solid numbers, Russell has proven he can hit big shots. He has made the saying “ice in my veins” famous all because he pointed to his arm when he hit a clutch 3-pointer as you can see in the gif to the left.

Russell not only has the pressure of living up to the hype of the second overall pick in the draft, but also has to follow the legendary Kobe Bryant. He is taking over a franchise that for the last 20 seasons was led by a man who won five NBA Championships.

There is a long list of stars to live up to in Hollywood, but Russell just needs more time. He is just 21 years old, but the future looks bright. The current star point guards in the NBA were once doing exactly what he is doing now so be patient and don’t worry Lake Show. D’Angelo is on his way to becoming the next Laker star.

 

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Who Should Play in the NBA All-Star Game?

The NBA All-Star starters have been released, but not without its share of controversy. Russell Westbrook will be coming off the bench this year despite his historic start.

In anticipation of the final all-star lineups, here’s who should be playing in the exhibition this year. Keep in mind, that the starting lineup allows for two guards and three frontcourt players.

Starters

Isaiah Thomas: Kyrie Irving has the starting spot this year, but Isaiah Thomas is more deserving. Thomas has been on a roll this year for Boston. He is currently third in the NBA in scoring (outscoring James Harden) while shooting at a .461/.384/.907 clip. Thomas is the star and best player of the third best team in the East. Without a doubt, he deserves this spot.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak made the All-Star game as a frontcourt player this year, but the stats say otherwise. According to Basketball Reference, he has played over 60% of his minutes at shooting guard. So, I’m putting him in as a guard. Either way, the Milwaukee Bucks star has undoubtedly earned his spot in the starting lineup this year.

In fact, he has solidified his spot as one of the premier players in the game right now. For one, he is the only player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Let that sink in. He is leading his team in every major statistical category. On top of that, he is top-25 in the league in every one of those categories, and top-10 in points, steals, and blocks.

Giannis has been doing a little bit of everything for one of the most exciting teams in the Eastern Conference this year, and he is well deserving of an All-Star starting spot.

Jimmy Butler: The decision to put Jimmy Butler in my lineup was not an easy one. You can easily justify putting Demar Derozan in as a guard, and shifting Giannis to a frontcourt spot. Butler and Derozan have both been having monster seasons for their respective teams. On top of that, they have been having remarkably similar years.

Derozan has a slight edge in points, Butler has a small edge in rebounds, and they are almost exactly even in assists. Butler gets on my starting lineup, however, because of an edge in three point shooting and defense.

Butler has been a much better three point shooter than Derozan this year, which allows his team to spread the floor more when he is on the court. He also has a sizable edge in blocks and steals over Derozan. I wouldn’t say the voters made a horribly wrong choice in nominating Derozan, but Jimmy Butler gets the nod in my starting lineup.

LeBron James: LeBron is the best player in the league. He is top ten in the league in scoring and assists. What is a rather pedestrian year for one of the greatest players of all time still easily allows him a spot in the All-Star starting lineup. Oh, and he’s got a three point shot again.

Joel Embiid: The real All-Star game starting lineup has no true center. In fact, the lineup doesn’t even have a real big man. Yes, the game is changing and centers have become less and less important. But, Joel Embiid has been the best big man in the league this year, and possibly the most important player to his team’s success.

(courtesy of CSN Philly)

The Sixers have been on an absolute tear lately, and they can largely attribute that success to Embiid. They are a completely different team when he is on the floor. He leads the team in points, rebounds, and blocks; and on top of that he is playing with a minutes restriction. It has been a weak year for Eastern Conference big men, and Embiid has been the most impressive. Call me crazy, but he deserves this spot.

Bench

Demar Derozan: The Raptors have been great this year, and Demar Derozan has absolutely been on fire. Critics might say he is a relatively one-dimensional player, but man can this guy score. He’s sixth in the league in scoring, trailing only James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, Anthony Davis, and Demarcus Cousins. He has been one of the best guards in the league and absolutely deserves a spot on this team.

Kyrie Irving: The East is stacked when it comes to point guards, but Kyrie is a no-brainer for this year’s All-Star game. Isaiah Thomas makes my starting lineup over Irving simply because he has more of a load to carry, but both guards are having great years for their teams.

John Wall: The Wizards have been scorching hot lately, after a dismal start to the season, and John Wall has sparked their success. Wall has cracked the top-15 in scoring, is third in the league in assists, and first in steals. He is one of the best pure point guards in the league, and he’s having a career year. He’s earned this.

Kevin Love: After Embiid, Kevin Love has been the best big man in the East this season. He’s rebounding at a ferocious rate again, and he’s hitting threes at his highest rate in years. After a healthy offseason where he’s been able to rehabilitate, Kevin Love has returned to being one of the premier power forwards in the league.

Hassan Whiteside: Whiteside has been the classic “good stats on a bad team” player this year. His eye-popping stats are less meaningful because of how abysmal the Heat have been. Regardless, it’s hard to keep a player with 17 points per game and 14 rebounds per game out of the All-Star game. The weak big men in the East this year only further his case.

Kristaps Porzingis: Putting aside his injuries, the Latvian stud has seen no signs of a sophomore slump. He’s been the best player on the Knicks when he’s healthy, and has continued his dominance on both ends of the floor. Another beneficiary of the weak frontcourts in the east this year, Porzingis is deserving of one of the East’s spots.

Kyle Lowry: Behind Derozan’s great season, Kyle Lowry has become somewhat under appreciated for the Raptors. He has a slash line of .470/.429/.824 while averaging 22 points and 7 rebounds per game. He may not have the same recognition has Demar Derozan, but he is deserving of a spot in the lineup nonetheless.

Starters

Russell Westbrook: Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double. I’ll Repeat: Averaging a TRIPLE-DOUBLE. As in, Russell Westbrook is doing something that hasn’t been done in 40 years. He is first in the league in scoring. He is second in the league in assists. He is eleventh in rebounds. It is absurd that Westbrook won’t be starting in this year’s All-Star game.

(courtesy of Clutch Points)

James Harden: 28.7 points per game. 11.6 rebounds per game. 8.2 rebounds per game. Harden is having an equally (if not more) impressive season than Westbrook. Harden and Westbrook are having the two best seasons in the NBA this year and should be starting in the All-Star Game for the Western Conference.

Kevin Durant: KD is having an incredibly efficient season (.544/.400/.862) and has already become the go-to guy on the Golden State Warriors. He has shown no real signs of a big adjustment period with is new team and has continued to be one of the best scorers in the NBA.

Kawhi Leonard: Kawhi has somehow quietly had a ridiculously good season. So is life playing for the San Antonio Spurs. Obviously, he is one of the best defenders in the league. The difference this year has been in his continued improvement on the offensive end. He’s scoring more than he ever has and is absurdly close to a 50/40/90 season.

Anthony Davis: If not for the struggles of his team, Anthony Davis would most likely be right up there with Harden and Westbrook in the MVP conversation. Seriously. The Brow is continuing his ascension to the top of the league, and is single-handedly keeping this team relevant. He’s fourth in the league in scoring, and seventh in rebounding. At this point, it’s hard to say he’s not the best big man in the league. Despite the deterioration of his team around him, Anthony Davis has done as much as anyone to earn his spot as a starter this year.

Bench

Steph Curry: Last year, Steph Curry had the best season of anyone in the league. This year, he’s not even having the best season on his own team. His shooting percentage and three point percentage may be way down, but he’s still averaging 24.6 points per game. He’s nowhere near the level of the unanimous MVP we saw last year, but it’s impossible to leave him off this team.

Demarcus Cousins: Behind Anthony Davis, Boogie has been the best big man in the league this year. Not to mention, he’s hitting threes at a 37.5% clip. Like Davis, he’s on an abysmal team and single-handedly keeping them relevant. No doubt, he makes the team.

Damian Lillard: Despite the Trailblazers’ fall from grace, Lillard has still had an All-Star-worthy year. His defense has been atrocious this year, but it’s simply too hard to keep a guy with 26 points and six rebounds per game out of the All-Star game.

Gordon Hayward: Gordon Hayward has been the most important and best player on the fifth-best team in the Western Conference. He has seen an uptick in scoring and in efficiency. Sure, he may not be a bona fide star in the league yet, but his season this year has been no joke.

Mike Conley: Conley has earned his max contract this year for the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies aren’t a true contender in the top-heavy West, but Conley has made them competitive and fun to watch with his great season. 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game to go along with solid efficiency numbers warrant a first All-Star game for the Memphis star.

Karl-Anthony Towns: Towns and the Timberwolves haven’t quite lived up to his incredibly lofty expectations for this season. Despite that, he has undoubtedly had a great season so far. 22 points and 12 rebounds per game warrants an All-Star game spot despite his teams immense struggles.

Draymond Green: This last spot was the hardest to fill on the roster, but I decided to reward Draymond and the Golden State Warriors. They have clearly been the best team in the league this year so far, and Green has been a key part of that. He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, and he has continued to do a little bit of everything for the Warriors. He scores when he needs to, he rebounds, he distributes, and he plays defense as well as anyone in the league. Draymond makes the roster based off of his contributions to his team over his stats.

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NBA Player Comparisons for NFL Playoff Teams

As the NFL regular season draws to a close and the NBA season starts to hit its stride, here are some NBA player comparisons for all of the NFL playoff teams.

AFC

1. New England Patriots- Lebron James: This one is obvious. Year after year Tom Brady and the Patriots are contending for the Super Bowl. Likewise, year after year, Lebron James is contending for the NBA Championship. For the past decade, they both have been consistent powerhouses in their leagues. For the two most dominant forces in their sports, look no further than Lebron and the Pats.

2. Kansas City Chiefs- Kawhi Leonard: The Chiefs and Kawhi Leonard are an unlikely pair, as the two silent killers of their leagues. They both fly under the radar. They don’t always receive the respect and recognition they might deserve. Make no mistake, they are deadly. Are you someone that loves high powered offenses? You may be in the wrong place. Like it or not, these guys are going to get the job done. Don’t sleep on the Chiefs and Kawhi.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers- Russell Westbrook: Russell Westbrook is an offensive force. He is one of the best scorers in the league and he’s seemingly afraid of nothing when he’s got the ball in his hands. This Steelers’ offense, is similarly one of the best in the league. When Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown have the ball, opposing teams had better watch out. Defense, however, is a different story. On their best days, Westbrook and the Steelers can play great defense. On their worst days, they are a liability to their team.

4. Houston Texans- Rajon Rondo: During the offseason, the Houston Texans PAID Brock Osweiler. Over the summer, the Chicago Bulls PAID Rajon Rondo. Expectations were high for the Texans and Rondo heading into the season. The results were a disaster. The Texans are the worst team in the playoffs this year, and perhaps even a historically bad playoff team. Rajon Rondo has been benched, and probably will be traded in the coming weeks. Sure, they’ve dealt with some injuries over the course of the season, but they both will surely be ending their seasons with disappointment.

5. Oakland Raiders- Anthony Davis: Injuries, injuries injuries. The Raiders and Anthony Davis are young and have a lot of firepower, but injuries have derailed them both. Anthony Davis and the Raiders have bright futures, but this season will almost certainly be a disappointment. Either way, it’s not bad to be a fan of the Raiders or Davis right now.

6. Miami Dolphins- Dwight Howard: The Miami Dolphins shouldn’t be good. They’ve been average for the past few years. They don’t have an amazing quarterback. They rank in the bottom half of the league in points and yards. This year they’re somehow getting it done. Thus, the wacky Dwight Howard comparison is born. Dwight Howard is having a throwback year for the Hawks, who look to be playoff bound. For the guys who defy expectations, Dwight and the Dolphins are a perfect match.

NFC

1. Dallas Cowboys- Kevin Durant: Outside of Dallas, nobody likes the Cowboys. Fittingly, newly anointed NBA super villain Kevin Durant is the perfect comparison for the soaring ‘Boys. Both have amazing offenses, questionable defenses, and are at the top of their respective leagues this year. The Warriors seem almost unbeatable with their group of NBA superstars, and the Cowboys seem unbeatable with their offensive superstars. Undoubtedly, it is a match made in sports villain heaven.

2. Atlanta Falcons- James Harden: The Falcons and Harden both have great offenses. That might be underselling it a bit. It’s more like, the Falcons and Harden both have historic offenses. They’re both breaking records left and right as they climb to the top of their leagues. Harden is a MVP favorite. The Falcons are one of the Super Bowl favorites. But both have a glaring weakness and it happens to be the same thing: defense. Will their offensive firepower make up for their lack of defensive prowess? Only time will tell.

3. Seattle Seahawks- DeMarcus Cousins: On his best day, DeMarcus Cousins is one of the best players in basketball. On their best day, the Seahawks are one of the best teams in football. The problem is the “Jekyll and Hyde” act that they both seem to embrace during any given game. Will we see Boogie put up 30 points and 15 rebounds or will we see him get ejected in the first quarter? Will we see the Seahawks manhandle an opponent like the Patriots or get manhandled by the Buccaneers? It’s anybody’s guess. That unpredictability makes the Seahawks the Boogie Cousins of the NFL.

4. Green Bay Packers- Steph Curry: Everyone knows that Steph Curry and the Packers are in the elite when it comes to their sports. After a rough start to their seasons, they’ve started to get their mojo back. The Packers ripped off six straight wins to end their season and make the playoffs. Curry is starting to heat up and find his role in the new offense. When it comes down to it, nobody can dispute that they are one of the best in the business. They can hang with anyone.

5. New York Giants- Avery Bradley: The Giants are the 3-and-D player of the NFL. Defensively, they are maybe the best in the league. However, offensively they are far from perfect. They are capable of making a big splash at any time thanks to the presence of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Making big plays on offense and a strong defense are the keys to the Giants success this season, making them a threat to compete with any team in the league.

6. Detroit Lions- Damian Lillard: Clutch in the fourth quarter. King of the comebacks. End of story.

 

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Seven Stats or Less: Damian Lillard and Portland

Before we get into this week’s stats, I just want to rave about Damian Lillard. Previous seasons of his have impressed, but this season has been remarkable so far. He isn’t just another point guard in the era of point guards any longer, he has become one of the preeminent point guards in the league.  Dame’s success derives from his understated patience and poise on the court. Along with his shooting, athleticism, and ability to score in the paint at a prolific rate, there is a calm storm about him. He has control in a chaotic environment unlike anything we’ve seen outside of superstar players.

Against the Denver Nuggets on October 29, 2016, with the game tied and clock at 12 seconds, Lillard waved off an initial attempt at a screen. He knew exactly what he had to do. With power forward Kenneth Faried matched up with him on the perimeter, Lillard had a clear quickness advantage. The game clock read three seconds, Lillard made the right read and instantly took Faried off the dribble and got all the way to the paint to nail a floater that iced the game with .03 seconds left. Blank stare, accompanied only by the recognizable “Dame Time” signal, he walked back to the bench, game in hand. On to the next one. The professionalism and electric stoicism propels his Portland Trailblazers in games won and games lost. Let’s get into some stats.

 

  1. Damian Lillard is averaging six drives to the basket and hitting at 56%. That more than touted “Paint Guards” Derrick rose and Russell Westbrook. Lillard’s excellent outside shooting and getting to the rim opens up the offense significantly with him on the floor. Pick and roll situations are particularly hard to defend because of the option to get off a shot or score at the rim.
  2. The Portland Trailblazers rank in the bottom five in the league in fast break points allowed at 15 per game. Transition defense is key in the league as teams are trying to play faster and games have more possessions. Fast break points can kill an offense and defense in very real ways.
  3. The lineup of Ed Davis, Evan Turner, CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, and Allen Crabbe has an offensive rating of 112 and a defensive rating of 78. That’s a net rating of approximately 34. This is the best lineup sans Damian Lillard that has logged more than 10 minutes. This lineup has seen limited floor time and has appeared in only three of the Blazers eight games. Coach Terry Stotts should try letting this combination see a bit more daylight when Lillard takes to the bench. Small sample size noted.moe-and-ed
  4. Through nine games the Portland Trailblazers are top in the league at points from the ball handler and field goal percentage. Second and seventh in the league respectively. The players handling the ball on this team are usually the guards and wings, as their pivot-men aren’t big back-to-the-basket players. Hence the team being bottom three in points off post ups. The NBA game is about exploiting the things you do well just as much as it is about avoiding getting stuck in situations where your weaknesses can conversely be exploited. The Blazers have found their niche and are pretty darn good at it.
  5. CJ McCollum is leading the team in three point percentage with 47-percent on five attempts a game. This is what makes that backcourt one of the most difficult to guard.  It is a tough task deciding who to guard when they are both shooting above 35% from beyond the arc.cjmccollumshootingedit_768_432_c1
  6. Mason Plumlee is fifth in the league in screen assists.  According to NBA.com, a screen assist is when an “Offensive player sets a screen for a teammate that directly leads to a made field goal by that teammate.”  Plumlee is also an underrated traditional assist man.plum
  7. Damian Lillard very rarely looks rattled over the course of a game. When he is on the court, 26% of his shots come between 15 and seven seconds. Play development and reading the defense is what makes Lillard so good.

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Seven Stats or less : The New York Knicks

Four games into 2016-2017 NBA season and we know one thing for certain: the teams that we saw won’t be the same teams in six months. Heck, they won’t be the same teams in late December. The NBA season is about watching teams evolve and eventually evolve come the playoffs.

With that said, let’s have some fun with seven stats that will totally define this season for the New York Knicks.

This week it’s the Knicks because of the waves President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson made in the offseason. Are the moves paying off? Can we glean anything from the stats below? Maybe, or maybe the season is young and these aren’t cemented into the team yet.

  1. Kristaps Porzingis is shooting 37% from the three-point line on four attempts through four games. That’s pretty good. It’s no secret that Porzingis has the ability to shoot from beyond the arc, but its accuracy that makes the shot a weapon. He shot 33% last year. If he can somehow keep up that percentage, it will be big for the Knicks.
  2. Through four games, 73% of Derrick Rose’s shots have come in the paint. Rose also averages the third most points in the paint among point guards. He trails only Russell Westbrook, and Damian Lillard. This is good for a player that shot less than 30% from three. Scoring easy points will only help this bottom five offense.
  3. Rose is averaging a little less than two free throw attempts per game.  For context, Carmelo Anthony is averaging seven attempts. This isn’t something that is going to be a trend for the season. If Rose can maintain a healthy field goal percentage with such a high percentage of shots coming from the paint, defenses will load up on his bulldozing style of play. He’s sure to feel some contact.
    points-in-paint

    USA-Today Sports

  4. The Knicks are averaging 26 pull-up jumpers, which is good for fourth in the league. They are making them on a 35% clip. That’s not a stat that can stand. For those who don’t know, NBA.com defines a pull jumper as a shot that is taken with one or fewer dribbles. Clearly a result of the roster, but it would probably be best to pass and get better looks than hoisting up low percentage shots.
    dunkk

    USA-Today Sports

  5. Joakim Noah is averaging five assists. Derrick Rose is averaging two. Surprise, surprise, Rose isn’t a “set-up” point guard. That’s not a knock against him, but fans shouldn’t freak out about that. For one, it’s been four games. Secondly, he averages almost six assists for his career. Once he gets comfortable with the offense, he’ll be able to make the right reads and his passes will lead to scores.
  6. Porzingis is 4th in the league in contested shots at 14. This isn’t a surprise considering he’s 7’3 with a 7’6 wingspan. However, it really isn’t helping the overall team defense.
    kriataps-contest

    USA-Today Sports

  7. The Knicks have a 108.6 defensive rating, which ranks bottom three in the league. Obviously, the defense is going to have to get better if they want to have a chance to win close games. That’s something that they are going to get familiar with if they want to compete in the Eastern Conference.

 

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NBA Season Preview Series by Danny w/the J: Northwest Division

The 2016 NBA season is rapidly approaching and with the wild offseason over, the time has arrived for assessing the status of teams heading into training camp and predicting what fans can expect out of their respective teams. Disclaimer: We in no shape or form claim to know everything about basketball, but we do confess our love for the game and will make statements for each team built on sound arguments. With that in mind, let us begin…

Portland Trailblazers

  • Offseason: Having lost to the Warriors in the playoffs, the Blazers were busy in free agency and added some nice pieces. Evan Turner, ex-Warrior Festus Ezeli, and Shabazz Napier (via trade) were the biggest additions to the Portland squad. The team was also able to re-sign Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard. Portland also acquired draft rights to Maryland SF Jake Layman from the Magic in the Napier trade.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: The Blazers look to repeat the result of last year’s regular season; a playoff berth. With the additions they have made, perhaps they won’t have to get hot towards the end of the season or put the onus Lillard and McCollum.
    USA-TODAY

    USA-TODAY

Jay:  The Portland Trailblazers are well-coached and play with a lot of heart. I expect them to make the playoffs in the 6-8th seed range. Napier will be a good backup to Lillard and Turner a good scorer off the bench so Aminu, Crabbe and others can focus on the defensive side of the ball.

Daniel: The Trailblazers may have played over their heads last season.  Its going to be tough to repeat last season’s success with teams having had all off-season to figure them out. A 37-45 season wouldn’t be much of a surprise. I say that with the utmost respect.

Denver Nuggets

  • Offseason: The Nuggets weren’t too busy in free agency, but they used their draft picks on Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Spanish import Juan Hernangomez, and French import Petr Cornelie. However, the Nuggets only have signed Jamal Murray at this point.
    via sircharlesincharge.com

    via sircharlesincharge.com

  • 2016-17 Outlook: The Nuggets were poor last year so the only way to go is up. Emmanuel Mudiay seemed much more mature in the NBA Summer League this past summer so it is assumed he will take another step in his development. Kenneth Faried has to look to erase last season’s poor performances and dominate with the energy and tenacity that he knows he possesses.

Jay: Nuggets won’t make the playoffs but Mudiay and Faried will be something to keep an eye on throughout the season. I don’t expect Murray to do much this year as a rookie, but in the latter half of the season, he’ll be someone to look at and see where his development is heading.

Daniel: The Denver Nuggets, like a lot of teams in the league, are in a purgatory of sorts. They’re not good enough to make the playoffs or bad enough to compete for a high lottery pick. The only thing for them to do is make sure Mudiay continues his growth and development. Whether it be veteran players or playing time. It’d be in their best interest to also take the time and find an identity as a team as well. 30-52.

Minnesota Timberwolves 

USA-Today Sports

USA-Today Sports

  • Offseason: End of an era in Minnesota and the NBA; Kevin Garnett has retired along with Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. But it is also the dawn of a new age in Minnesota. The Twolves hired Thom Thibideau and drafted point guard Kris Dunn out of Providence to add to the team’s young and talented roster.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: Thibs has a young and hungry team that has three first round picks on it. Granted, they are still young, but Thibideau is a coach that has proven to get the most out of his players and speed up their development. The wolves re face in the first round.

Jay: I like the Wolves this year. Playoffs is my expectation for the young team and everything else is a bonus.

Daniel: The playoffs would be overachieving I think. Young and talented are apt descriptions of the Wolves. Are they mature enough to handle the grind of competing for a spot in the playoffs? Probably not. That’s OK because I have faith that Thibideau will plant the right seeds, so that when their time comes they’ll be able to take full advantage.

Utah Jazz

  • Offseason: The Jazz were somewhat busy this offseason, acquiring Joe Johnson in free agency, Boris Diaw and George Hill via trade (separate trades), and rookie draftees Joel Bolomby, Marcus Paige, and Tyrone Wallace, although none of the draft picks have been signed yet. Trey Burke now plays for the Washington Wizards.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: The Jazz missed the playoffs barely last year but were respectable for a team that was eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the season. They will be in a similar situation this year, pushing for playoff contention. Hard to say whether or not they will make it.

Jay: I don’t see the Jazz making the playoffs this season. Yes, they’re competitive, but they don’t have the players to make a run at or in the playoffs.

Daniel:  The additions of George Hill, and Joe Johnson will bring that veteran presence to this young, gifted squad. Hill also brings talent at the guard position to the table. The consensus is that the Jazz will be a top seed in the west and that’s a terribly presumptuous prediction.  However, they could indeed sneak in as a 7th to 8th seeded team.

USA-Today Sports

USA-Today Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offseason: The Oklahoma City Thunder made splashes this offseason, regardless of whether or not they were negative or positive, they made splashes. Durant went farther west, Ibaka was traded east for depth in Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and a young rookie draftee in Domantas Sabonis. The Thunder, however, also lost Dion Waiters to free agency. The Thunder also drafted shooting guard Daniel Hamilton. OKC has yet to sign either rookie, but has signed Russell Westbrook to a contract extension that gives them more time to appease the superstar into staying rather than leaving like his former partner in crime did.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: Westbrook is one of the favorites to win the MVP as he will most likely carry the Thunder to the playoffs, averaging near triple-double figures. Fans cannot expect the team to make a deep run in the playoffs however, due to the lack of talent.
    USA-Today Sports

    USA-Today Sports

Jay: Westbrook will be MVP, the Thunder will get in the playoffs as a 4 or 5 seed. The team and Russ will be fun to watch this season.

Daniel: Kevin Durant took his transcendence elsewhere, but in his wake he left Russell Westbrook and 14 other hungry and eager players. The goal of the season has to be trust. Trust has been a talking point for the team, but hardly practiced among the Thunder. The idea that Westbrook is going to run roughshod over the league is a fun one, but not ideal. Incorporating the talents of his teammates into a concrete scheme that is no doubt the better option. Although, this current Thunder squad is no doubt going to go through some changes going forward.

Why Choosing a School Does not Affect NBA Aspriations

Ben Simmons took a lot of heat for his decision to attend LSU for his mandatory year of service after high school. He pledged himself early and the promise was solidified with the hiring of his godfather as an assosciate head coach. Due to the NBA regulation, one-and-done situations like that of Simmons, have become common for top recruits. Frequently, players are committing to schools that would not be considered among the best in the nation. The 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes are no exception. Washington has grabbed two 5-stars in those classes and Western Kentucky landed 5-Star Center Mitchell Robinson. Analysts have criticized players like Simmons for making the decision to go to a non-powerhouse basketball program. The truth is that it does not matter what people say, the results matter.

The main goal of almost any athlete in basketball is to reach the pinnacle of the sport: the NBA. Any decision that a player makes could be an impact one. In any other career path where you choose to attend school can certainly make all the difference. Are young men in the sport making a poor decision by choosing a less than spectacular program? While it is a big decision, the fact is that a player’s college choice is not as impactful as we make it out to be in terms of professional progression.

Past NBA Examples

There have been dozens of precedents for players coming from smaller schools and programs being successful in the NBA. Their success is one piece of evidence that college is not the leading factor in professional development in the sport.

One of the better examples would be four time all-star and four time Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Wallace. Wallace went undrafted out of Division II Virginia Union, and previously was at Cuyahoga Community College. Ben Wallace had an NBA aspirations, NBA drive and NBA talent. Players in his situation slip through the cracks for being extremely raw at recruitment time or undersized for their position.  He went from being a 6 foot 9 under recruited center to one of the leaders on the 2004 Detroit Pistons NBA Finals squad.

There are plenty of examples like that of Wallace from the past: Steve Nash (drafted 15th overall, Santa Clara), Karl Malone (dafted 13th overall, Louisiana Tech), John Stockton (drafted 16th overall, Gonzaga), and many others.  These are not role players in the Association. Rather, these are current or future Hall of Famers. However the league has changed over even the past decade. With a dilution of talent, does this assertion hold up currently?

Current NBA Examples

While the league is, in fact, filled with may players from powerhouse schools, some of the league’s best have come from small, mid-major, and power conference schools not exactly well known for their NBA talent production.

Kawhii Leonard was a 4-star recruit before selecting San Diego State.  Granted he did have Steve Fisher as his guide through the years, the results of his career thus far have been astounding. After being selected 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers and traded to the San Antonio Spurs he became Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016. All-NBA First team and NBA Finals MVP also rank among the best of his accomplishments thus far.

Paul Millsap’s combination of power and finesse led to him being drafted out of Louisiana Tech. (Photo Courtesy of draftexpress.com)

Paul Millsap has put together an overwhelming NBA career. He was not a highly touted recruit. He did shine at Louisiana Tech, but was still only drafted in the middle of the second round. Millsap is a three time NBA All-Star.

Damian Lillard is one of the best examples out there. He was a 3-star recruit and was not even ranked among the top 50 point guards of his class. Portland took him 6th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. After a stellar first season with the Trailblazers he became the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2013. The two time All-Star shows much promise for the years to come in his career.

The league contains a plethora of other examples. Two play on the same team in Stephen Curry (drafted 7th overall, Davidson) and Klay Thompson (drafted 11th overall, Washington State). Paul George (drafted 10th overall, Fresno State), James Harden (drafted 3rd overall, Arizona State) and C.J. McCollum (drafted 10th overall, Lehigh) also all went to smaller schools or non-traditional basketball powers.

The 2016 NBA All-Star Rosters fully embody the notion presented here.  The East Roster has 14 members, with Chris Bosh and Jimmy Butler unable to play due to injury.  50% of the East’s roster went to non-traditional basketball powers or smaller schools (Fresno State, USC, Louisiana Tech, Washington, Georgia Tech, and two from Marquette). Marquette made the Final Four with Dwayne Wade, but that actually proves the point further.  Wade made that run for the school, along with help of course, and did not end up at a more traditional basketball power.  He is now a perennial All-Star.

The West All-Star roster mimics the trends of the East.  58.3% of the West’s roster attended a smaller school or non-traditional power (Davidson, San Diego State, Arizona State, Wake Forest, and two from Texas). Some would argue that Texas and Wake Forest players do not belong in this category, however, neither school has a championship and Kentucky has more Final Fours this decade than either program has in its history.  They are hardly basketball powerhouses. However, the All-Star rosters indicate that players do choose these schools and still end up amazing professional talents. Therefore, a trip to UK, UCLA, Duke or North Carolina is not the only path to NBA excellence.

Schools that Guarantee a Draft Spot

Granted that all eligible UK players in the past year entered their names in the draft, there is plenty of proof that powerhouse schools do not guarantee being drafted or NBA success. There is a laundry list of players that enrolled at big schools with their sights set on the pros yet did not blossom for one reason or another.

Marquis Teague is a prime example, being the top point guard in his class in 2011. Teague played a roll in Kentucky’s 2012 National Championship run. Since entering the league in 2012, he averages less than ten minutes per game. Accruing a pedestrian stat line of 2.3 points per and 1.4 assists, he is leagues from the promise that his recruitment showed.

Cheik Diallo did not fill the promise that he had coming into Kansas. (Photo Courtesy of kusports.com)

Even though he has not debuted in the NBA yet, Cheik Diallo (Kansas) is another example. Coming in as a top ten recruit, scouts and coaches thought only the best for him. In his one season at Kansas he averaged a whopping 3.0 points per game in 7.5 minutes of floor time per game. The Pelicans selected Diallo in the 2016 NBA Draft, but it was not until the second round of the draft.

Dozens of other names fit the criteria of players enrolling at a big school that did not work out for one reason or another. Cliff Alexander (Kansas) had academic issues, but did not even come close to expectations. Rasheed Sulaimon (Maryland) was a top 15 recruit but Duke dismissed him and after that no team drafted him. The list goes on and on. Top recruits just do not get a guaranteed pass for attending basketball powerhouses.

The Reality behind the Myth

So why does it not always work? Why do guys come in highly touted with all of the promise in the world but exit without fulfilling expectations? The simple answer would be that players are just overrated as recruits. There is more to it thank that, though.

To begin, NBA talent is NBA talent.  This may seem like a simple assertion, but it has broad consequences. Some players do come in raw and due to their college experience, develop into NBA greats. Even then, that usually has little to do with what school they select. Occasionally a coach takes on a protege and turns them into something that they were not before. This is extremely rare and does not come without the player putting in the effort anyway. Most times a player’s work ethic is what ultimately turns them into a star, if they come in with untapped potential.

Additionally, players’ talent can be diluted in programs where there are many a star. At a program with less talent, there is less keeping a player from standing out head and shoulders above the competition as a superstar. At a bigger program, players can take a back seat post injury or to new blood. The next man up mentality is much easier to believe in when there is another five star recruit to fill a void.

So there are several reasons why going to a powerhouse can actually hinder a player from their NBA dreams. In fact, perhaps the best thing for them to do to enter a league full of isolation play is to isolate themselves from other stars.

A Mid-Summer Dream: Watch the NBA Summer League

 

Courtesy of USA Today Sports

Courtesy of USA Today Sports

After the confetti has fallen and the champagne showers have completed it’s on to the NBA draft. The Woj bombs, the draft day trades, and the “anticipation” of the number one overall pick keeps us engaged for about 30 minutes of the two-hour showcase.

The free agency frenzy can be entertaining. Everyone is glued to Twitter and the ESPN affiliates just to find out what sources has to say next.

But the real summertime gem is the NBA Summer League. This is usually reserved for basketball junkies to have something to chew on. It takes a certain amount of convincing to get a casual fan to tune in. Here are five reasons that you should.

Ummm, It’s Still Basketball

The summer league allows the uber basketball fan to enjoy some competition. The games usually lack sustenance. And the games at times can be unpalatable. However, what the games lack in nuance they make up for in enjoyment. There’s something about watching otherwise unknown NBA players sense their opportunity and having the desire and competitive drive to go out and take it. Oklahoma City Thunder Guard Cameron Payne is far from an unknown. Hitting a game-winner in this fashion is sure to boost his confidence. This wasn’t just a lucky shot after a last minute heave. That was a shot that was beget from sublime execution in crunch time from the players. To a basketball puritan there is nothing greater. Exciting right?

First Look at Special Potential 

The NBA Draft Lottery is always an intriguing part of the draft. Days, even weeks before the draft each pick is scrutinized and debated. The expectation of course is on the top picks, but there are some later lottery picks that can steal the show. Whether it’s a record setting three-point barrage or a total obliteration of the competition, summer league is your first chance to see a player present the prologue to his career. Last year in the Las Vegas Summer League, 14th overall pick Devin Booker put on an absolute show with 31 points and nine rebounds. His well-documented shooting ability was on full display. Once he got his chance during the regular season, all that witnessed his breakout had no choice but to think back to that performance.

Exciting Finishes

Per NBA.com, the rules of Summer League are as follows: Two minute overtime period, each team is allowed one timeout, each team is allowed one advance, penalty begins on the second team foul, the second overtime period is sudden death (first team to score a point wins). Sudden Death.

Can this be moved to the NBA? The very idea of Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard with the ball in their hands in such a situation is something hoop-heads can only dream of. Watching it play out in Summer League is the next best thing, and it doesn’t take way from the excitement.

Close-knit Environment
One of the best things about summer league is the intimacy of the event, specifically the Orlando Summer League. It’s just pure unadulterated basketball. The pomp and circumstance of a regular season NBA game is amazing, but the setup of summer league matches the time of year.

Devin Booker (1) put on a show in the 2015 Las Vegas Summer League. Courtesy of USA Today Sports

Devin Booker (1) put on a show in the 2015 Las Vegas Summer League. Courtesy of USA Today Sports

The exceptionally low-key environment augments that the focus is all on the players and the action of the game. When the ball-handler calls out an offensive set, you can almost see the wheels turning as the players are trying their best to execute. The audibility of defensive coverages gives you an inside track of sorts.  You can’t get much closer to the game than in summer league.

Even if they lose, Teams still have a chance at the Championship 

The Summer League at its heart is still a competition. Each player on a team is competing for, not only a roster spot, but also a championship. The two previous champions have been the Sacramento Kings in 2014 and the San Antonio Spurs in 2015 of the Las Vegas Summer League.

Each team has the opportunity to accrue points as the tournament goes along. There are 8 points available from each game. Four points for winning the game, and 1 point for each individual quarter won. The two teams that have accumulated the most points will play in the championship game. This adds to the drama of the tournament in nail-biting fashion. Winning a matchup doesn’t guarantee a place in the championship game.

All in all the Summer League is the biggest basketball event of the summer outside of USA Basketball. It’s something to look forward to when the headliner games run dry. But I’m sure you don’t need much convincing by now.

Top 5 Upcoming NBA Games (Week of 3/14-3/20)

(Photo: Derick E. Hingle, Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo: Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports)

The playoff races in both the Western and Eastern Conference are heating up. The last day of regular season games is April 13th, which is only a month away. Four weeks from now 16 teams will be battling it out to claim the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Warriors are the favorite but can still miss out on the number one seed in the west. The last month of the season is going to be great, so fasten your seat belts and get ready for a wild ride and here are the five best games with playoff implications for the upcoming week.

#5- Chicago Bulls @ Toronto Raptors (Monday 3/14): The Bulls have been bitten by the injury bug this season. One of their starting five is always hurt and many of the bench players have been in and out as well. It will be interesting to see how good they would be under first year head coach, Fred Hoiberg, as a healthy team but the fact of the matter is they are currently the ninth seed and one game behind Detroit for the eighth seed. If they find a way into the playoffs and become healthy they could be a dangerous team with a lot of postseason experience.

The Raptors on the other hand are having one of the best seasons in franchise history and are currently the second seed in the east. The Raptors are not seen as big threat to win the title but are quietly waiting for the playoffs in order to prove themselves among the elite.

Another aspect that makes this game interesting is the Bulls are 3-0 against the Raptors this year. Can the Raptors avoid being swept in the season series? I don’t think so.

PredictionBulls 106-101

#4- Portland Trailblazers @ Oklahoma City Thunder (Monday 3/14): The surprising Trailblazers are going into Oklahoma City with something to prove. These two teams would be opponents if the playoffs started today as the Thunder are the three seed and the Trailblazers are the six seed. Portland would gain a lot of confidence by going on the road and winning this game. Oklahoma City has much to prove as well because they can’t beat the Warriors or Spurs and they seem like an after thought on contending for a title because of it. Each win could give them a boost of confidence but they must learn how to close out games which is their kryptonite this season. The Trailblazers will give them another opportunity because this will be a tight game. Not to mention the fun match-up of Lillard versus Westbrook. I believe Oklahoma City gets some much needed confidence and closes out this game in a thriller.

Prediction: Thunder 112-110

#3- Boston Celtics @ Toronto Raptors (Friday 3/18) : Most thought the Celtics would make the playoffs but few saw them as high as the third seed in the east. They are in this position because Brad Stevens can flat out coach. It also helps that Isaiah Thomas loves silencing the people who thought he was too small to play in the NBA. The Celtics sit just six games back of Toronto and with a strong closeout to the season they may even catch the Raptors and take over that two seed. The Raptors look to make a statement and prove they are the team that can dethrone LeBron in the east. This game will be a tone setter for the final month and even may be the game that decides who gets the second seed. I think Boston is getting better and more confident as the season goes on and may be a threat to the Cavaliers.

Prediction: Celtics 98-94

#2- Los Angeles Clippers @ San Antonio Spurs (Tuesday 3/15): Chris Paul hit the game winning shot to eliminate the Spurs in the playoffs last season. The Spurs have not forgotten that and have made sure that if they meet the Clippers in the playoffs this year, and there is a game seven, it will take place in San Antonio. San Antonio is doing what they do every year and is impossible to beat at home. The Spurs are 32-0 at home this season and have a 41 game winning streak dating back to last year. The Clippers are trying to get over the hump in the playoffs and beating the Spurs at home would give them the confidence they would need to make it to the finals in a complete surprise. I know they have very slim chances but anything can happen on any night. It won’t happen on Tuesday and the Spurs will stay undefeated at home and extend the home winning streak to 42.

Prediction: Spurs 108-100

#1- Golden State Warriors @ San Antonio Spurs (Saturday 3/19): The two best teams in the NBA with a combined 16 losses between the them will play on Saturday, with it being a possible preview of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors beat the Spurs by 30 on January 25th, but this time the Spurs are at home and are undefeated with a 41 game winning streak that could be up to 43. Is it Saturday yet? There aren’t many words needed to hype this game up. The Saturday Night Showcase has become the equivalent to Monday Night Football in value of entertainment and exciting match-ups and they are going to outdo themselves with this game. There is a lot that can happen in this game but I think the Spurs pull this one out at home because the Warriors will be on the second game of a back to back without Iguodala.

Prediction: Spurs 114-113