The Rise of The Miami Heat

The Miami Heat have somehow played their way into the NBA playoff picture. It seemed like the Heat were lottery bound after a dismal 11-30 start. They now sit at 34-36 and are in the thick of the playoff race.

The turnaround started in the backcourt. Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters have been dominant in the second half of the season, which has been a huge factor in the epic turnaround.

Dragic is now averaging 20.3 points and six assists per game, and Waiters is putting up 15.8 points and 4.3 assists. The Heat should continue to contend down the stretch even with Waiters’ injury. Tyler Johnson should be able to fill Waiters’ role nicely until he is able to return from his injury (which he anticipates will be before the end of the season).

Another key to their success has rested in the continual rise of Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside is averaging his career high in points and rebounds (16.7/14.2) and he leads the league in the latter category. Whiteside received a huge deal over the summer that many people were critical of. It seems as if the deal is paying off for the Heat.

Many were harshly critical of how disengaged Whiteside was last season. He was often accused of taking plays or even entire games off and not giving his full effort. That problem seems like it has been fixed, and his teammates claim that he is able to bounce back quickly and stay engaged in the game. He may be averaging less per game than he did during the Heat’s 11-30 start, but he has shot more efficiently from the field and improved from the free throw line. He also has a distinctly improved plus/minus.

Now sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, it is time for the Heat to make their final push for the playoffs. The final push, however, will be one of their toughest of the season. The March 28 matchup against the Detroit Pistons, who are the current eight seed, may prove to be crucial.

On top of that, they finish the season with games against the Celtics, Cavaliers, Raptors (twice), and Wizards (twice). It’s going to be tough for the Heat to make it to the playoffs considering the brutal final push. However, they can’t be counted out. Either way, it’s been an impressive feat that they’re still in the conversation this late.

 

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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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Who Should Start in the NBA All-Star Game

The 66th NBA All-Star game is set to be played Feb. 19 at 8:00 p.m. in New Orleans. Fans began voting for All Stars on Christmas day and can do so through NBA.com, the NBA app, Twitter, Facebook, or by Google search. Fans can submit one ballot a day on any of these platforms. Voting ends Jan. 16, so there is plenty of time for fans to cast their ballots.

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Sporting News

There is a lot of argument over how voting is done and which players should be playing. Every fan has heard from someone that the All-Star game is just a popularity contest anymore. It is all offense and no defense. It is full of high flying dunks, deep three-point shots, and entertainment for the fan.

This season, the NBA changed the voting process and will allow fans to account for just 50% of the All-Star vote. The other 50% will be from NBA players and the media, each accounting for 25%. Time will tell if this new method will change the way players are selected. In the mean time, these are the guys I will be voting for.

Eastern Conference Starting Lineup

Kyrie Irving

If Kyrie has not yet proven he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, I don’t know what more he can do. He has proven how clutch he is with game-winning shots over his last two matchups against Golden State. He is second among Eastern Conference point guards in points per game (24), first in field goal percentage (48%), and second in three-point percentage (42%). He is also averaging nearly six assists a game. He is incredible when it comes to playing iso and has the best ball handling in the NBA.

Demar DeRozan

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Yibada

DeRozan has shown a lot of improvement from last season. He is leading the East in scoring with just about 28 points a game. He has been a big part of the Raptors offense and is why they are second place in the Eastern Conference. His field goal percentage is also the highest it has been since his rookie season, and he is averaging almost three times the amount of shot attempts. No other two-guard compares to DeRozan in the East.

Lebron James

King James is the most obvious choice in the East lineup. The best player in the NBA is once again in the MVP talks like he is every season and his numbers back it up. Lebron is averaging 25 points, eight rebounds, and almost nine assists per game. He has the Cavs at the top of the Eastern Conference and that looks like it will not change anytime this season. Lebron is a sure lock in the All-Star game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Better known as the “Greek Freak,” Antetokounmpo is not only making a case as the league’s most improved player, but also an All-Star starter. The 22-year-old forward would be first in rebounds and assists for his position in the East if it wasn’t for Lebron James. He is also third in scoring for his position in the conference. With numbers like 23 points per game, nine rebounds, and nearly six assists, the Greek Freak should be seeing his first All-Star game action as a starter.

Hassan Whiteside

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of ESPN

Whiteside is probably the least likely of these selections to make the starting lineup. In this new small-ball era, popularized by Golden State, centers are a dying breed in the NBA. Last season no player over 6-foot-9 made the starting lineup. If this trend continues to grow, Whiteside may never get a chance to start. Whiteside is also better known for his defense rather than his offense, which is not popular amongst All-Star voters. Here is the argument for Whiteside.

His numbers per game are 18 points, 15 rebounds (first in the NBA), and just over two blocks (fourth in the NBA). The points are a career high for Whiteside, whose field goal percentage is also fourth in the east at 55%. Whiteside has the range to shoot jumpers, can catch lobs, and block shots as he said earlier in the season. He is no doubt the best center in the East and should earn a spot in this lineup.

Western Conference Starting Lineup

Russell Westbrook

The triple-double king and league’s leading MVP candidate should be as sure of a lock as Lebron James is in the East. The NBA’s leading scorer at nearly 32 points a game is also averaging 11 assists (second in the NBA) and 10 rebounds. No player has put up numbers like this since Oscar Robertson. Not much more to say about Westbrook, who knows how to put on a show for the crowd as well.

James Harden

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Sporting News

Harden is showing this season that he is an All-NBA caliber player. Being left off the teams last season must have been all the motivation he needed. Harden is putting up MVP-like numbers with 27 points per game (fifth in the NBA) and is first in assists with 12. He is also averaging eight rebounds a game. Perhaps the most improved aspect of Harden’s game is his defense. You can tell from watching him that he is putting a lot of effort on both sides of the ball.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is pretty much just picking up where he left off last season. After moving over to Golden State, he quite possibly became the league’s most hated player. The same thing happened to Lebron James when he moved to Miami and it didn’t keep him out of the All-Star lineup. It should not keep Durant out either. He is averaging 26 points per game and nearly nine rebounds, which is a career high. Durant is still at the top of his position in the Western Conference.

Anthony Davis

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of USA Today

The league’s leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year is playing the best season of his life. Davis is averaging almost 30 points (second in NBA) and 12 rebounds (seventh in NBA) per game. Not to mention he is leading the NBA in blocked shots. Davis should also be hearing his name in the MVP talks, but the incredible players like Westbrook, Harden, and James have overshadowed him. Not to mention the fact he is on the Pelicans, one of the worst teams in the NBA. Nevertheless, Davis is a lock in the West lineup.

Demarcus Cousins

Unsportsmanlike conduct and bad attitude often overshadow the fact that Cousins has been the best center in the NBA for the last several years. This year he is no doubt at the top again. Cousins is third in the NBA in scoring (29 points per game) and also averaging just over 10 rebounds a game as well. No other center compares.

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Second Round Predictions Part II

Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel

Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks- This is a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Championship in which Cleveland swept Atlanta. The Cavaliers have had tons of rest and are the better team. The loss of DeMarre Carroll does not make the Hawks better or give the Hawks a better chance than last year. Last year it was so much of a cake walk for the Cavs that I don’t think the Hawks have a real shot at winning unless the Cavs run into injuries. With that being said it would take four perfect games from Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Jeff Teague to win this series. The Cavaliers will win this series and the only question is in how many games.

Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers in 5

Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat- Let me be the first to say it is fun to watch Dwayne Wade again. I see the old Wade, the Wade pre-LeBron. He is a much more exciting player without LeBron. He is the unquestioned leader for the Heat. He provides so much experience, heart and leadership for a team that is mostly young and talented. Luol Deng has lots of playoff experience as well that has been very beneficial to the Heat. It has given them a reliable all around player. Hassan Whiteside has been a beast defensively as well. The Heat look poised to win the series but the Raptors will not go down without a fight. It took them longer than expected to eliminate the Pacers but after a superstar performance from Demar DeRozan and a surprise performance from Norman Powell in game seven the Raptors advanced and will look to knock off the Heat. This could be a long series as well but an exciting and intriguing one. This series has a chance to be the best series of the second round. It is definitely a difficult series to pick. Sorry Toronto, I really want to see LeBron go to battle against Wade and the Heat.

Prediction: Miami Heat in 6

NBA Mid-Season Awards

kris

There has been plenty of rookies tearing it up this season. Photo by USA Today

It’s that time of year again everyone, the All-Star break. It is a little past the halfway point of the season but the All-Star break has always been looked at as the mid-season and for those teams who make deep postseason runs it still is. So catch your breath, gather yourself and lace your sneakers for the second half of the season.

There has been great basketball so far and it is only going to get better as teams fight for seeding and prepare for the road to the NBA Finals. Here are my mid-season awards.

Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)- Last year Boston finished with a sub .500 record and only had 40 wins. At the All-Star break Boston is currently the 3 seed in the East and has 32 wins. Many believed they would be better but nobody expected them to be this good. Brad Stevens is doing a phenomenal job and has made the jump from college to the pros better than most.

Honorable Mention: Dwane Casey (Toronto Raptors)- The Raptors are currently the 2 seed in the East and improved some from last year. If they can catch the Cavaliers, Dwane Casey would deserve to be the Coach of the Year over Brad Stevens.

Most Improved Player: CJ McCollum (Portland Trailblazers)- CJ McCollum has seen a 20 minute per game increase in his minutes and he is flourishing because of it. His scoring has improved and he went from 6.8 points per game (ppg) to 20.7 ppg which is nearly a 14 point improvement. A big reason for that scoring improvement is, in part, due to his work ethic to improve his free throw shooting by nearly 10%  from 69.9% last year to 79.7% this year. Along with his scoring he has improved his assists per game by 3.2 per game, and his rebounds are up by 2.1 per game. Nobody has come close to improving as much as McCollum.

6th Man of the Year: Enes Kanter (Oklahoma City Thunder)- Enes Kanter could start for most teams in the NBA but has found a role with the Thunder as the 6th man. He is averaging 11.9 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game. He is the best player coming off the bench this season and if the Thunder want to knock off the Warriors Enes Kanter has to continue being a dominant force off the bench.

Defensive Player of the Year: Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat)- Hassan Whiteside is the one of the very few players in the NBA capable of getting a triple double with blocks.  The only other player who is capable is Anthony Davis. Hassan Whiteside is a terror inside and is blocking nearly four shots per game. What his stats don’t show is the amount of shots he alters. His presence on the interior is unmatched and he is the best rim protector in the NBA.

Honorable Mention: Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)- Anthony Davis is close to becoming a superstar. Everyone loves how he plays and the potential he has but what a lot of people forget is that he is just as fun to watch on defense. He suffocates defenders and makes it miserable for whoever he guards. He could easily win this award but Whiteside has the edge.

Rookie of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)- Want to know what makes Towns the unanimous Rookie of the Year? When you watch him play you think he is a long time veteran. As a rookie he is averaging a double double with 17.1 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game. He joined Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James and Chris Webber as the only players to have a game with 35 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in a game under the age of 21. This is probably the easiest award to hand out.

Honorable Mention: Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks)- Porzingis was booed mightily on draft night and almost everyone said he would be a bust. Phil Jackson was ridiculed but is actually looking like a genius. Porzingis is already getting nicknames like Godzingis for his stellar play. He started off hot but has cooled down lately which is understandable due to the fact that he is 19 years old and only played in Europe. The NBA season is long and grinding and he will learn how to keep his body in shape for a full 82 game season. If he can find magic in the second half of the season he can close the gap between himself and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Most Valuable Player: Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors)- Reigning MVP, and NBA champion Steph Curry has nothing to prove and nobody to compete against for the MVP Trophy. There is no competition, the race is over. At the All-Star break the Warriors are an unfathomable  48-4. They are cruising towards the record set by the 1995-96 Bulls of 72 wins in a season and being the best player on the best team that breaks that record is guaranteed the MVP trophy. Along with his team accomplishments, Steph Curry leads the league in scoring with 29.8 ppg, which is even more impressive when he sits out of a lot of fourth quarters. He is also averaging 6.6 assists per game, 5.3 rebounds per game and his player efficiency rating (PER) is 32.18 which would be a new NBA record. The current record is held by Wilt Chamberlain with a PER of 31.82 in the 1962-63 season. No player holds a candle to this resume, nobody else is in the running.