Making the case for every fringe playoff team

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

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

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

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

Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

Western Conference

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

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

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

NBA Playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

Utah Jazz (16-24, second team out)

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

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

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Biggest overreactions in the NBA so far

The NBA has now been in full swing for just over a week now, and there are already plenty of storylines. Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome injury in Boston’s first game against Cleveland. Ben Simmons is looking like a No. 1 overall pick. The Suns are already a mess. Then there is the Lonzo Ball talk, mostly from his dad.

A lot of the main headlines and early performances have caused major overreactions in the league after most teams have played just four games. Let’s break down some of the major overreactions that have occured after the NBA’s first full week.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is MVP

Fans and analysts were predicting LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden to be in the MVP race this season. However, Giannis Antetokounmpo is suddenly the frontrunner for MVP.

NBA overreactions

Giannis Antetokounmpo has received a lot of love so far this season. (Photo by Tom Lynn, AP)

Kevin Durant said in a YouTube video that Antetokounmpo could be the best player ever if he really wanted to. That is quite a prediction from the NBA Finals MVP.

The Greek Freak through four games is averaging 36.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game. He is definitely a top 10 player in this league, but let’s slow down on those MVP talks.

Anthony Davis also had a hot start like this last season. After the first four games, Davis was averaging 37 points, 13 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals and three blocks per game.

The MVP talks came then too. But remember, the NBA is a long season. Players go through hot and cold stretches. By the end of the season, Davis’ season averages were 28 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. Those are impressive numbers, but they aren’t like the ones he started off with. When it was all said and done, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard were the MVP finalists.

This is not made to be a knock on Davis or Antetokounmpo, but a lot can change through a season. DeMar DeRozan scored at least 30 points in his first 12 games last year with an average of 33 points per game during that stretch. He ended the season averaging 27.3. Lets see how the other 95 percent of the season goes for the Greek Freak, or just half of it.

Any Lonzo Ball reaction

Lonzo Ball went from being a Rookie of the Year favorite before the season started, to a bust after his first game, to owning the Phoenix Suns, to whatever his dad recently said about him.

It is crazy how much of a roller coaster the comments have been towards the Lakers’ point guard. He is currently averaging 11.5 points, nine rebounds and nine assists per game.

I’m going to stick with my prediction of Ball for now. We all know he isn’t going to lead the Lakers to 50 wins, a playoff appearance and make a run at MVP like his dad predicted for this season, but it is reasonable to believe the No. 2 overall pick can average 13 points and six assists and help the Lake Show to maybe 30 wins.

That was my prediction at the beginning of the season and I’m not changing my mind after three games. You shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions about Ball’s career either.

Kyrie Irving is overrated

Irving made headlines with his trade to the Celtics this offseason and all the drama that followed it. Irving also will be taking on a bigger burden than he may have realized now that Gordon Hayward is out.

NBA overreactions

Kyrie Irving’s Celtics career is not starting off like he hoped. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

It definitely hasn’t been a pretty first couple games for the new Celtic. His 20 points, six assists and 2.3 steals per game may seem nice, but he is shooting an atrocious 37.5 percent from the floor. In other words, he is shooting a lot for a little, but don’t give up on him yet.

Remember that Irving is learning to play with a new team in a new system. The fact that he is the point guard makes it that much more difficult. As mentioned before, he does not have Hayward to help him out either.

He is working with Al Horford and young guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. He is also still learning to be a main guy after working alongside LeBron James for the last several years.

We all know Irving can play. We have seen his performances in the NBA Finals the past two seasons. Irving is dealing with nothing more than a rocky start.

The Memphis Grizzlies are for real

After a 3-1 start with wins over the Warriors, Rockets and Pelicans, it appears that the Grizzlies were overlooked in the preseason.

A roster that features only two stars with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley has beaten some of the NBA’s best teams so far. The Warriors of course are favored to win the title again, the Rockets made noise with the Chris Paul trade and the Pelicans are expected to do damage with the duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Forward James Ennis III and second-round pick Dillon Brooks have both had nice starts to the season as well. The Grizzlies expect their hot start to continue with games against below-average opponents like the Mavericks, Hornets and Magic in their upcoming schedule.

Should we expect the Grizzlies to stay at the top of the might Western Conference? Probably not.

The Warriors, Rockets, Pelicans, Thunder and Nuggets are all off to cold starts this season. Those are all teams we expect to be in the playoffs this season. Those cold starts are definitely a fluke, just like the Grizzlies’ hot start is most likely one. Their lack of star power is going to make it difficult for them to compete with these kinds of teams down the stretch.

 

Featured image by by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

The Celtics’ season is not over

A tragic event occurred on Tuesday night. The Celtics new star forward, Gordon Hayward, suffered a brutal injury to his ankle.

Many people are counting this year as a complete loss for the Celtics, and while it is certainly not ideal, the Celtics could still make something out of this. Obviously, the Celtics rally in the second half was electric. Call me an optimist, but I saw enough from that second half team to be able to say they could yet be a top two seed in the Eastern Conference.

When it comes to personnel, I am only going to break down players I think will play an integral role in replacing Hayward in Boston.

Coaching

Brad Stevens

There is a legitimate argument to be made that this man is a better head coach than Steve Kerr, which would make him the second best head coach in the league. That exemplifies just how good he is at his job. While the GM’s of the league may think otherwise, I would say Brad Stevens is the best coach in the league at making adjustments, and he’s only getting started.

The team defense he has designed has even been able to hide Isaiah Thomas on that side of the ball, so Kyrie Irving’s lack of defensive skill should be no problem. With more offensive weapons at his disposal, it will be interesting to see what he comes up with on that side of the ball.

Personnel

Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart was the biggest surprise to me on Tuesday, as he stepped up on the offensive end once Hayward left. His post work looked very good, like a budget Chris Paul almost. Not to mention his high effort, high-level defense and pretty decent court vision. A stellar performance from the young man, the Celtics are gonna need a lot more where that came from.

Jaylen Brown

Welcome, Jaylen Brown. A fantastic performance from the second-year man, leading his team in scoring with 25 points. His outside shot still needs work, however, his athleticism really overshadowed his lack of an outside shot.

He looked fierce in this outing as he carved up the inside, with 14 of his 25 points coming off of layups or dunks. His defense was also pretty good in this one, as he was putting up a good fight on every possession, and came away with two steals. He can step and make a difference in Boston.

Marcus Morris

While Gordon Hayward is gone, Marcus Morris should be back soon. Morris is a solid defender, and decent 3-point shooter, with a career 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. He is a great asset, especially for a team like the Celtics, as floor spacing for Kyrie Irving is key. He also brings that toughness when defending on the low block that someone like Al Horford just doesn’t seem to have.

Jayson Tatum

His offense looked very good in the second half of this game after a shaky start. I hope he blossoms quickly, as he has a similar skillset to Gordon Hayward, and could be a great sixth man, or a decent starter.

Aron Baynes

He showed some real value on Tuesday, playing decent interior defense, and grabbing quite a few offensive rebounds. He could log some serious minutes.

This Celtics roster cannot take another injury. With one more hit, even to a role player like Aron Baynes, could be enough to kill them. Though at the moment, I think they still have all they need to seriously challenge for the East crown, even if they will almost certainly fall short.


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Hayward

Gordon Hayward fractures ankle in season opener

Tuesday night the Boston Celtics traveled to Quicken Loans arena to face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers. With less than seven minutes left in the first quarter of the season opener, Gordan Hayward suffered a horrific injury.

Hayward fracture

After attempting to catch an alley-oop from Kyrie Irving, Hayward collided with LeBron James and Jae Crowder. The small forward landed on his leg, which folded under his body.

The instant Hayward hit the floor the six-foot-eight guard slid over and grabbed his leg. With six minutes and 40 seconds left in the first quarter, players from both teams were showing immense concern for their fellow NBA brother.

The medical staff would place an air cast on his foot to secure the fractured ankle.  After the training staff and medical staff secured Hayward, he was carted off of the court where he was met by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and others.

Aftermath

Fans gave Hayward a standing ovation as he was carted off to the locker room for further evaluation.

Hayward’s injury sucked the energy out of the Quicken Loans Arena and from both teams. After the devastating injury, Celtics center Al Harford was encouraging Irving to keep pushing, while Jaylen Brown was caught with his mouth open searching for words.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens had to pull his troops together and encourage them to move on. Later you would see Irving huddling with Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum.

Moments later the former Butler Bulldog would receive X-rays from both team staffs. The Celtics arranged for the former Jazz forward to be flown back to Boston.

During the post-game interview, Boston coach Brad Stevens explained to the reporters that Hayward had a dislocated tibia and a fractured left ankle.

Despite a heroic comeback, the Celtics would lose to 102-99.

The 27-year-old signed a four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics during the summer. This is a horrific blow for the Celtics.

The franchise was expecting to implement a one-two punch with Irving and Hayward. The two would lead a team with young talent.

Despite this injury, it’s nice to know that the league supports one another. Throughout the coverage of the injury, other players sent well wishes, thoughts, and prayers for the small forward.

Cleveland head coach Tyron Lue tweeted his well wishes to Hayward.

Featured image taken by Gregory Shamus 

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Duke Blue Devils

Five former Duke Blue Devils who are poised for big NBA seasons

Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

With Gordon Hayward now in Boston, Rodney Hood has the chance to take a major leap during the 2017-18 NBA season. Hood can score from anywhere on the floor and now will have the opportunity to be the primary playmaker in Utah’s offense. The soon to be 25-year-old is coming off a career best 37.1 3-point percentage.

Duke Blue Devils

Will Hood put up similar numbers to Gordon Hayward? (Photo from Bleacher Report)

Hood is an elite pick and roll player, whose usage rate will skyrocket this year. This is a guy who could average around 18 points per game. In a 3-point league, Hood can thrive, as he shot 44.7 percent on all corner 3-pointers. He also lowered his turnover percentage

Through three preseason games, Hood is shooting 65.4 percent from the field and an exceptional 75 percent from long range.

Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Last season, Winslow appeared to be on the verge of a coming out party, until a bruised left wrist and shoulder surgery caused him to be sidelined for the majority of the season. In the 18 games he played in, Winslow looked good, averaging just about 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds in 34.7 minutes per game. The biggest question mark is whether or not Winslow can shoot, as he shot 35.6 percent from the field last season.

Winslow is still just a kid. He will turn 22 in March, and still has plenty of time to develop his shot. In his one season at Duke, Winslow shot 48.6 percent from the field and 41.8 percent from three. Obviously, college and pro numbers cannot be compared, but Winslow has shown he has the ability to shoot at a high level.

Winslow is also down 10 pounds from last season and has been spending extra time getting shots up in the gym to round out his game. He is an elite defender and outstanding rebounder. If his shot develops, he has the chance to be a major factor in getting the Miami Heat back to the postseason.

Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks

Last season, Curry started 42 games and averaged 12.8 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting. His 42.5 percent shooting from three was good for eighth best in the league. Curry is an absolute sniper, who will be starting at shooting guard once he is fully recovered from his recent left tibia injury.

Duke Blue Devils

One of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA, Seth Curry. (Photo from Bleacher Report)

Curry is tired of being “Steph’s little brother” and is ready to make a legit name for himself. He is in a contract year, so look for Curry to prove all the doubters wrong and work towards a major contract. While a max deal is probably out of the question, this is still a player, who in the right system, could average around 20 points a game.

Per 36 minutes, Curry averages about 16, and that is through only 118 career games. He is an underrated defender and an extremely efficient free throw shooter.

The addition of Dennis Smith Jr. will be very beneficial for Curry’s game. An insanely athletic point guard, Smith will be able to get into the paint and open the floor up for Curry to knock down shots.

Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Not only did Ingram grow to 6-foot-11, but he also changed his shooting mechanics and improved his leg strength. In his only Summer League game before getting injured, Ingram tallied up 26 points in 32 minutes. Although he could have played once he recovered from his leg cramp, Magic Johnson had seen enough. Magic told Ingram that he would be disappointed if he didn’t average 20 points per game. Post All-Star break, Ingram averaged 13.2 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting.

The sky is the limit for Ingram. Once he starts hitting shots, he could emerge as a top talent in this league. While off to a slow start in preseason, his teammates are by no means concerned. Brook Lopez, who was acquired this offseason via trade, said they know what Ingram is capable of and are confident in his abilities.

With a rather thin frame, Ingram looks a lot stronger than he did during his rookie season. Playing with Lonzo Ball, one of the most gifted passers we have seen since Jason Kidd, will only boost Ingram’s potential. Ingram told reporters that his confidence is sky high and so is Magic’s. The president of basketball operations believes Ball and Ingram will have great chemistry, comparing them to himself and James Worthy.

Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers

A highly criticized guard, mostly due to his father coaching him, Austin Rivers is ready to show that he is a legitimate starter at the NBA level. Whether it’s true or not that Doc Rivers showed favoritism by not trading Austin to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony, all we know is one thing: Chris Paul is gone and it is Austin’s turn to make plays for the Clippers.

Duke Blue Devils

Austin Rivers is ready to prove the doubters wrong. (Photo from NBA.com)

Because of the fact that his father is his coach, Austin Rivers is often overlooked. This was a kid who was the player of the year in high school. He was also the top-rated player in the country by Rivals.com in 2011. At Duke, he made first team All-ACC.

In 29 games as a starter last season, Rivers averaged 16.1 points per game, shot 45.8 percent from the field and an elite 42 percent from three. If he starts this year, it is because he earned the right to.

Rivers wants the haters to know that if he scores 20 a game and locks down on defense, it is his doing and not his dad’s. No J.J. Redick and no Chris Paul means Rivers could shine in the Clippers’ offense.

 

Featured image by SI.com

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NBA regular season change: Will it work?

The NBA schedule has been changed for the 2017-18 season, and the main theme seems to be rest.

The regular season has been expanded by a week and the preseason has been cut short by a week. Ideally the NBA is trying to have stars playing in more games in general and play in more televised games.

By expanding the NBA season, there won’t be as many harsh road trips, or back-to-back games on short rest. With the NBA season shifting slightly, stars will get to play in meaningful regular season games with more rest.

There is also a new rule penalizing teams for sitting healthy star players. What if a star is listed as injured with “shoulder tightness” when in reality, he is just a healthy scratch due to wanting rest? Commissioner Adam Silver is going to have a tough time actually enforcing the rules he is doctoring up this off-season.

The NBA regular season issue

NBA regular season

Resting Cavaliers bench, Photo Courtesy of bcsn.tv.

Players across all sports have been doing it for years: being healthy scratches with bogus injury titles as an excuse. Now that there is a penalty for being a healthy scratch, there could be even more illegitimate injuries.

Obviously throughout last season there were many problems with resting stars. The Cleveland Cavaliers finished in the two spot in the East, but beat the one seeded Boston Celtics in five games in the Eastern Conference finals. Most people knew the Cavaliers were significantly better, but chose to rest stars and prepare for the postseason versus playing out every game.

The NBA has tried to solve the problem of teams playing back-to-back games. LeBron missed eight games in the 2016-17 season, five of them were due to back-to-backs.

The problem is the media partnership with the NBA. Money is being put into the NBA because fans want and expect to see superstars play in primetime games. Ultimately, many playoff teams have made it clear that they would rather coast through the regular season and be healthy and rested for the playoffs than have home court advantage for certain series.

With the new rules, teams will be forced to rest players a lot less.

Will it work?

Honestly it might deter resting players for the most part, but everyone needs rest. If a team knows they can coast through the regular season and still win in the playoffs, there’s no reason to not rest players.

The solution

The NBA season is long and grueling. If the best competition is coming in the playoffs, all the players should be healthy. The mutual agreement should be that stars are rested gradually and not all at once. For instance, if Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward all want to skip a game to rest up, they should sit out different games so that fans can still get to see stars in every game.

That would also mean that there is still a very competitive product on the court for primetime games. The solution to resting is to spread it out and make it less immediate.

Fans will always complain no matter who they get to see, but if they get to see the majority of their favorite players, they will be more happy than seeing none of them.

The idea of limiting rest makes sense for the league, but if Silver doesn’t enforce his rules right, he could lose some credibility league-wide. If the NBA wants to put strict restrictions on resting players, then there’s a chance some of the best players will be hurt come playoff time.

Extending the regular season will help improve the condition of the players, but if Silver puts in place a gradual resting for stars and starters, not only the players will be happy, so will the league and the fans.

 

Featured Photo Courtesy of Carolinablitz.com.

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biggest moves nba offseason

Most impactful moves from the NBA offseason

NBA free agency is just about in the books. There are still a few unsigned players on the market like Nerlens Noel and Ty Lawson, but for the most part all the biggest names are signed.

Some teams majorly improved their roster and playoff chances. Others sat back and watched it happen.

Today we will look at which teams made the most impactful signings. What I mean by impactful is how much better their additions and losses make them.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota is not messing around this offseason. They have gone out and signed Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague. Their biggest move was trading for Jimmy Butler. These guys will join Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for a scary roster.

To acquire Butler, they had to give away Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. However, Butler and the other free agent signings have made this roster a playoff team. They could easily finish as a fourth or fifth seed in the competitive Western Conference after finishing 13th this past season.

Minnesota is by far the most improved team in the NBA. Just wait until Towns and Wiggins reach their full potential.

Houston Rockets

impactful moves nba offseason

The Houston Rockets now have the most talented backcourt in the NBA with James Harden and Chris Paul. (Photo by SEAN M. HAFFEY / GETTY IMAGES)

The Rockets went out and grabbed Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute from the Clippers. However, they had to give up key contributors like Patrick Beverly, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams to get them.

The team now has a roster that features James Harden, Eric Gordon, Chris Paul, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Mbah a Moute and Nene. If Paul stays healthy, they won’t miss Beverly and Williams too much.

On paper, it looks like the Rockets have clinched the No. 2 seed in the West. If they can add another player this offseason they will for sure have it. Their backcourt of Harden and Paul is going to be impossible to stop.

Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles did not really make a bunch of big signings, but they were involved in one of the biggest trades this offseason. They have also gone through a lot of changes in their roster and for that reason are included in this list of most impactful offseason moves.

To recap, they added Patrick Beverly, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, and Danilo Gallinari. They also lost Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Raymond Felton, Luc Mbah a Moute and Paul Pierce.

The Clippers will more than likely struggle to make the postseason after losing Paul. However, they added a bunch of key role players. The star power is not really there, but I could see them finishing with the seventh or eighth seed despite their losses.

Oklahoma City Thunder

impactful moves nba offseason

Paul George will take a lot of pressure off Russell Westbrook. (Photo from SLAM Online)

Oklahoma City is looking like a threat again.

Their trade for Paul George gives Russell Westbrook a star teammate to work with. Now Westbrook will not have to do all the work himself, and the Thunder now look like a potential fourth or fifth seed in the West.

They lost Victor Oladipo and Taj Gibson this offseason, but the addition of George makes them too good to worry about those losses.

OKC needs to do everything they can to keep Westbrook and George together in the next offseason. For now, lets see how this duo performs.

Denver Nuggets

A lot of people think Denver can make the playoffs now with the addition of Paul Millsap to their young roster.

The team has a lot of young talent with Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic, Wil Barton and Kenneth Faried. They also added promising guard Trey Lyles to the roster. Millsap is a veteran these young guns can learn from and do great things with.

After missing the playoffs by one game last season, the Nuggets are now a playoff team, possibly a fifth or sixth seed in the west.

Boston Celtics

impactful moves nba offseason

Brad Stevens and Gordon Hayward are reunited again. (Photo from Butler Athletics)

The Celtics made a lot of great moves this offseason. They added one of Brad Stevens’ former players at Butler with Gordon Hayward and also acquired Marcus Morris. They also added Jayson Tatum in the draft with their third overall pick.

The team did lose Avery Bradley in the trade for Morris though. They also lost Kelly Olynyk, another one of their role players.

However, the additions make Boston look like they can keep the top seed in the Eastern Conference this season. Of course that all depends on what the Cavs do with Kyrie Irving and how much Cleveland actually cares about their performance in the regular season.

 

Featured Image by AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

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2017 season preview: Top five NBA backcourts

Many teams have All-Star guards, however few have two of them in the same backcourt. In today’s position-less NBA, most point guards and shooting guards are cut and dry.

Having two guards that can coexist with each other is unique, and can form a potential championship combination. Recent free agent signings and offseason trades have shaken up the list of top NBA backcourts.

Here are the top five guard duos going into the start of the 2017-18 NBA season.

Number Five: Toronto Raptors

top five NBA backcourts

Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry, Photo Courtesy of Fox Sports.

DeMar Derozan: 27.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.9 apg. Player efficiency rating: 24.1

Kyle Lowry: 22.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 7.0 apg. Player efficiency rating: 22.9

It almost seems like year in and year out the Raptors backcourt gets overlooked.

Production wise, the numbers are extremely impressive. The Raptors averaged 106.9 points per regular season game this year. Derozan and Lowry combined for 49.7 of those points.

Both of the two were All-Stars in their 2016-17 campaigns and took advantage of a top heavy Eastern Conference.

Both Lowry and Derozan have a true shooting percentage of above 55 percent, which shows that they are both efficient scorers as well as volume scorers.

On a team that sometimes struggles offensively, the two needed to score as efficiently as they did. Scoring nearly 47 percent of their team’s points last year notches the Raptors’ backcourt at number five league wide.

Number Four: Portland Trail Blazers

top five NBA backcourts

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Photo Courtesy of NBA.com.

Damian Lillard: 27.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 5.9 apg. Player efficiency rating: 24.2

CJ McCollum: 23.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 apg. Player efficiency rating: 20.0

One of the youngest backcourts in the league is also one of the most impressive.

Lillard and McCollum came from Weber State and Lehigh University and have continued their climb ever since.

McCollum is coming off a season in which he earned the NBA’s Most Improved Player, and Lillard is a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year.

Keep in mind that the average player efficiency rating for the 2016-17 season was around 14.9. Both McCollum and Lillard continue to prove themselves year in and year out, keeping their team treading above water.

The Trail Blazers struggle defensively, especially in the playoffs when teams tend to pay more attention to detail. When opposing teams lock down defensively, both Dame and CJ continue their scoring consistently. Unfortunately, the Trail Blazers lack of consistent defense is what keeps them from winning come playoff time.

Number Three: Washington Wizards

top five NBA backcourts

John Wall and Bradley Beal, Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

John Wall: 23.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 10.7 apg. Player efficiency rating: 23.3

Bradley Beal: 23.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.5 apg. Player efficiency rating: 20.2

This past year’s playoffs are enough to argue that both Beal and Wall belong in the three spot or even higher.

Wall is a consistent double-double performer. Beal is a very good shooter who can catch fire at any moment and stay that way for a whole game.

Wall has become one of the top offensive threats in the Eastern Conference due to his change of pace and fearless ability to get to the rim.

Wall and Beal both turned in their second highest career plus/minuses which was over plus five for both of them.

They fought off elimination and were just a few minutes away from taking the Wizards to the Eastern Conference finals. Barring any physical setbacks, the Wizards led by this backcourt tandem should be right there at the top of the Eastern Conference yet again.

Number Two: Houston Rockets

top five NBA backcourts

Chris Paul and James Harden, Photo Courtesy of Business Insider.

Chris Paul: 18.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 9.2 apg. Player efficiency rating: 26.3

James Harden: 29.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 11.2 apg. Player efficiency rating: 27.4

They have yet to play a single minute together (not counting Olympic ball and All-star games). They are two ball-dominant guards and it very well might take a while to work.

But Chris Paul and James Harden could even be the best backcourt in basketball this upcoming season.

With the two highest player efficiency ratings in 2016, Paul and Harden are the best backcourt on paper. They have 14 All-Star seasons between the two of them.

Obviously games aren’t played on paper and the two have to figure out their playing style together. Harden has to go back to his old shooting guard role and Paul has to get accommodated to his new teammates.

The Rockets may not have put themselves on the same level as the Warriors by putting these two together, but they certainly closed the gap. Houston will skyrocket into a title contender with good play from a strong backcourt.

Number One: Golden State Warriors

top five NBA backcourts

Klay Thompson with Steph Curry in the background, Photo Courtesy of FoxSports.

Steph Curry: 25.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.6 apg. Player efficiency rating: 24.7

Klay Thompson: 22.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg 2.1 apg. Player efficiency rating: 17.5

Anytime you have two league MVPs and six All-star appearances between a backcourt, it’s pretty impressive. Ultimately it comes down to success with these two.

The Splash Brothers are so electric that they draw attention and in turn make their teammates better. Klay has scored 37 points in a quarter and Steph seems to be open even when he isn’t.

Kevin Durant took a little bit of shine away from Klay Thompson this year, as you can see by his player efficiency rating, but success helps overcome that.

Both are automatic from behind the 3-point line, free throw line and make a team pay if they don’t lockdown defensively. The Splash Bsrothers will continue to torch opposing defenses for many years to come.

Honorable mentions

Most of you are probably wondering about Boston or Oklahoma City. Both Paul George and Gordon Hayward are small forwards that will play some shooting guard this year.

In fact Hayward might be the starting shooting guard for Boston all year. With Jae Crowder less versatile, Hayward could land himself in the backcourt with fellow All-star, Isaiah Thomas, which would be a strong argument for a spot on this list.

Oklahoma City is a little less likely of a backcourt. Andre Roberson is a solid shooting guard who plays excellent defense and has value being on the floor. If the Thunder went with a bigger lineup, then Russell Westbrook and Paul George would have a chance to share a backcourt together. If that happened consistently, the two would also find their way on this list.

Conclusion

Strong backcourts can be a winning formula in leading a team. If both guards are versatile and play well together, then there is no reason a backcourt can’t be lethal. The top five backcourts in the NBA have led their teams to deep playoff runs and have taken home many other accolades.

The 2017-18 season will be filled with close games and great teams. We will see how far some of the best backcourts lead their teams come playoff time.

 

Featured Photo Courtesy of SI.com.

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