NBA Playoff Races

NBA Playoff Races

There is only a month remaining in the NBA season, and the NBA playoff races are heating up. There are so many questions left to answer. Who will get the one seed in the West? Who will be the eighth seeds in both the East and West? There are so many seeds undecided and positioning is going to very important in who will make deep postseason runs. Here is what to watch for in the final four weeks of the season.

Western Conference: First Seed

NBA Playoff Races

(Photo Credit: Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

There is still much to be decided in the West. The race for the first seed has really picked up since Kevin Durant got injured. The Warriors lead has vastly shrunk.

Their lead for the first seed is down to just a game and a half over the Spurs with 14 games remaining. This is an important race for the path to the conference finals and then having home-court in the conference finals.

Neither team has to worry about their first round matchup as both should win in short, easy series. The team who gets the second seed would likely see a tough series versus Houston in the second round. That is what both San Antonio and Golden State want to avoid. Both teams want to go into the conference finals as rested as possible.

Golden State and San Antonio will meet on March 29. It will be a huge game in deciding who wins the number one seed.

The Spurs and Warriors both have nine home games remaining. San Antonio has six away games while the Warriors have five. Both teams’ remaining opponents have a win percentage of 53 percent.

It will be a close finish and will come down to the final days of the season. Golden State will hold on to that number one seed as the season ends.

Western Conference Race for 8th

The Denver Nuggets currently hold the spot for the eighth seed in the West with a record of 33-35. Portland (30-37), Dallas (29-38) and Minnesota (28-39) all still have a shot to get the eighth seed.

This four team race is really close to becoming a two-team race between Denver and Portland. Denver has been playing much better lately and looks like a playoff team. They only have five home games remaining and that could be the factor that costs them that playoff spot.

Portland, on the other hand, has 10 games remaining at home and their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of 49 percent. The Trailblazers will end up getting the eighth seed in the Western Conference with all those home games remaining against subpar teams.

The Rest of the West

NBA Playoff Races

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

Golden State and San Antonio are fighting for first and second. Denver or Portland will get the eighth seed. That leaves seeds three through seven.

The third seed is pretty much locked into Houston. Utah, Los Angeles (Clippers), Oklahoma City and Memphis mathematically can catch them, but it would take a total collapse by Houston to do so. Utah is the current four seed, but only four games separate Utah, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Memphis.

Russell Westbrook is close to breaking the single-season triple-double record and the Thunder are 29-6 when Westbrook gets a triple-double. Predicting he breaks the record means the Thunder will win at least eight more games. If that happens the Thunder will end up in the four or five spot.

Utah will get the spot the Thunder do not get, meaning they will also be the fourth or fifth seed. The Clippers will finish with the sixth seed and Memphis will remain as the seventh seed.

The East’s Top Half

The Eastern Conference is divided in half in terms of playoff seeding. Teams seeded one through four can end up in any one of those spots while teams five through eight will end up in the bottom half of the seeding.

The Cavaliers are in the top spot with a record of 45-22. The Celtics are two and a half back, the Wizards are three and a half back and Toronto is six and a half games back of the top spot. There should be a few changes in the top four seeds in the final weeks.

The Celtics remaining opponents have a win percentage of just 44 percent. They also have nine home games remaining while the Cavaliers have nine road games remaining. it is safe to predict the Celtics being only two and a half back will finish as the first seed and the Cavs will finish as the second seed.

The Wizards have 10 road games remaining and all that travel will catch up with them. The Raptors remaining opponents have a win percentage of just 47 percent. The top of the east will finish as follows: First Boston, second Cleveland, third Toronto, and fourth Washington.

The Rest of the East

NBA Playoff Races

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Teams seeded fifth through 10th are separated by just five games. There are four spots for six teams.

Currently, it stands as Atlanta as the fifth seed with a record of 37-31. They will make the playoffs without question.  The Pacers are 35-33 and being above a .500 win percentage will be enough to get in as well.

That leaves Milwaukee, Detroit, Miami and Chicago fighting for the seventh and eighth seeds. Chicago has lost Dwayne Wade for the remainder of the year with an elbow injury. They were struggling with Wade and won’t be able to win enough games without him in the final month to make the playoffs.

Milwaukee is an exciting team with a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will lead them to a playoff appearance this season. Their remaining opponents have a win percentage of just 49 percent.

That leaves Miami who is 33-35 and Detroit who is 33-36. Both are fighting for the final remaining playoff spot. Miami started the season 10-31 and has since been on fire. No pun intended, but they have been heating up.

These teams have one more meeting against each other and that could be the deciding factor. The Pistons do have the easier remaining schedule of the two teams. This race is hard to predict, but in the second half of the season, the Heat have been the much better team.

The Heat will end up making the playoffs and Detroit will be the odd team out in the Eastern Conference Playoff race.

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NBA eLeague

The NBA and Take-Two Are Changing esports

The NBA and Take-Two (Makers of NBA 2K) are teaming up to change esports in a major way starting in 2018. The NBA and Take-Two have partnered to create a professional, competitive NBA eLeague.

Traditional sports games have fallen behind in the world of esports. Games like League of Legends, Pokemon, Halo, Counter-Strike and Dota2 have had been dominating competitive gaming and are already paying gamers million of dollars.

The NBA is trying to take a piece of that pie. There is so much money to be made from gaming that traditional sports need to innovate before they get left behind.

The NBA and Take-Two are trying to set the trend for these traditional sports. This bold leap could change the gaming industry like never seen before.

So what exactly will this NBA eLeague be and how will it run?

How Will it work?

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: https://geekiversedotcom.com)

The eLeague, as Adam Silver has called it, will be a professional gaming league run by the NBA and its franchises. Each NBA team will be in control of their own 2K virtual basketball team.

For example, the Chicago Bulls will have the eBulls and the team will manage its roster just as they do for the on-court basketball team. There will be general managers and a salary cap.

All 30 NBA teams will be involved and this season will mirror the real season. Gamers will be paid a salary to practice, train and compete for their respective teams and the only difference is they will be training with a controller instead of their body.

These teams will be through a real draft, similar to the traditional NBA draft. Each team will have five professional gamers on its roster. They won’t be playing with LeBron James, Steph Curry or Kevin Durant but instead they will play with their custom created avatars that they work on to improve.

One area of concern most people come up with is how can they do this if everyone is going to just be a 99 overall player who can do everything? NBA2K has already fixed this issue in their latest version of the game.

archetypes and badges

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit:https://www.youtube.com)

NBA 2K17 really wanted to make sure that each player had their own specialty. In previous years a player could make a point guard who could be 6-foot-7 and earn all badges to become the most unstoppable player of all-time.

There are three solutions they came up with to halt this.

The first is with archetypes. For all examples in how this works, we will stick to looking at point guards.

When you create your player you can pick a position. Once you select the position you wish to play, you must pick an archetype. The archetypes for point guard are the following: playmaker, sharpshooter, lockdown defender, shot creator and slasher.

Depending on the type of point guard you decide to become, you will have only five badges you can upgrade. That is the second part of the solution: the number of badges one can upgrade. In NBA 2K there are dozens of badges a player can get that makes them better.

One of those badges is the pickpocket badge. To unlock the pickpocket badge, a player must get a certain amount of steals within a season. The pickpocket badge makes a player more effective at stealing the ball.

As you can see in the picture with the sharpshooter, pickpocket is not one of these upgradeable badges for that archetype. What that means is that the pickpocket badge must stay at the bronze level.

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: YouTube)

If the sharpshooter archetype gamer unlocked the limitless range badge then they could upgrade it from bronze to silver then to gold. Once a player has a gold badge they can upgrade it to the hall of fame level. Hall of fame badges allow a player to be great at that skill.

By allowing gamers to only have five upgradeable badges, they have stopped people from becoming players that are great at everything and 99 overall.

The third way NBA 2K17 has made it difficult to become 99 overall is by including park reputation.

Park reputation is a tier system in which can only be aquired by playing at MyPark. There are five levels to each tier. The tiers are as follows: rookie, pro, all-star, superstar and legend.

A player can only get to 95 overall before the game will not let them upgrade anymore. To earn more upgrades, one must reach levels one, three and five of the superstar tier at MyPark. The amount of games and time it takes to reach those tiers is extremely straining and does not come easily.

These three additions have really helped NBA 2K level the playing field and made a game that requires multiple different skill sets, rather than just a bunch of players who can do all. This is something NBA teams will have to look at when constructing teams for their NBA eLeague.

2K HAS ALREADY TESTED THIS

There is a mode in NBA 2K called Pro-Am that allows all these different gamers to take their custom players play in five on five games similar to an NBA contest. These teams become really competitive and are an example of how an NBA eLeague team would look. NBA 2K have already held two major tournaments over the past two years to test how this would work in a legitimate format.

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit:http://www.usatoday.com/sports/)

The first one was called the Road to the Finals which took place in 2016. This year NBA 2K held the All Star Tournament which would gave 250 thousand dollars to the winning team Still Trill.

Over two million people streamed the final game, according to NBA 2K, proving that there is a market for competitive traditional sports games. The tournament showed is that these skilled players are capable of drawing a lot of viewers.

There are over 110,000 teams on Xbox alone in the Pro-Am game mode. The teams and players are already around waiting to be picked up by NBA franchises.

Why This Will Change eSports

NBA eLeague

(Photo Credit: Matthew Hagan)

The potential of this idea is unlimited. Currently, getting the NBA to be involved is monumental for the growth of NBA 2K as an esport. The NBA is the first professional league in the United States to create their own esports league.

The success with the two tournaments that NBA 2K have already run proves that there is huge interest in this game. Eventually the NBA eLeague could expand to more teams than just 30. There could be hundreds of teams in each region of the world. Eventually there could be regional championships that lead to a world championship.

An eLeague allows people who could never play in the NBA a chance to become NBA stars. This includes people who have disabilities and are unable physically play the sport. It doesn’t matter your size, weight, or gender, anybody who is good enough on the sticks can end up being drafted to an NBA eLeague team. That is something that no other professional sport can offer.

This is just the beginning for the NBA and Take-Two. Once the money begins to flow they will realize they need to expand the field. Before you know it there will be an NBA2K Hall of Fame and a list of new NBA eChampions.

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Injuries are Shaking up the NBA

Injuries always end up taking its toll on the NBA season. The 2016-2017 season is no exception. As the season comes to a close, injuries are taking an even bigger toll on teams. They are giving a better idea of what the race for the championship might look like.

Key NBA Injuries This Season

Rudy Gay

NBA injuries

Rudy Gay (Photo courtesy: slamonline.com)

Rudy Gay was the first to fall to the injury bug. Gay was beginning to look like a prime trade target for a lot of teams who needed perimeter scoring. The Raptors and Thunder both looked like teams that could use his scoring presence on the outside. Gay fell victim to a season-ending torn Achilles in the midst of another solid season.

The Kings were never going to be a serious title threat, but Gay looked like a piece that could completely transform a fringe team. His presence could have vaulted the Thunder into another level, or made the Raptors contenders in the East. Nevertheless, his season is over.

The Gay injury was seemingly the first domino in the NBA injury season. Zach Lavine tore his ACL and ended his season shortly after.

Zach Lavine

Lavine took a serious leap this season and was another potential trade asset at the deadline. He became a deadly scorer for the Timberwolves this season and remained one of the most explosive and athletic players in the league. The Timberwolves title hopes were almost nonexistent even before the injury to Lavine, but the injury was still a serious blow to the young team.

Jabari Parker

Jabari Parker was the next to fall. Parker’s injury is perhaps the most disheartening of any of the injuries we have seen this year.

After missing much of his first season due to a torn ACL, Jabari started to show some of the potential that he had promised in college. He looked as if he was a blossoming star next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Another ACL injury means Parker will likely miss the next 12 months and possibly set back the progress he’s made since his first injury.

The injury to Parker is especially disheartening to the Bucks. Shooting guard Khris Middleton missed most of the year due to an achilles tear and just recently returned to the lineup. The combination of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Parker would have been something to behold. Perhaps it would have been enough to vault the Bucks into the playoffs. Now their playoff hopes are much more up in the air.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid

The Sixers have a pair of young stars that have been plagued with injuries this year. Just a month ago the Sixers were turning their season around and looked like they might have a chance at the playoffs. Since then, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have both been ruled out for the rest of the year.

Like the Timberwolves and Bucks, the injuries to young stars have taken a huge toll on the Sixers. They have struggled to pick up momentum without Embiid, and they will lose time that they could have developed chemistry.

The final three, and possibly most significant, injuries are to stars at their conferences. Namely, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Kyle Lowry. These injuries are bound to have massive implications on the playoffs hunt.

Kevin Love

The Kevin Love injury leaves the Cavaliers in a unique position. They still have the best player in the world in Lebron James and a star point guard in Kyrie Irving, but they have to decide whether it is still worth chasing the number one seed. Resting Lebron and Kyrie down the stretch might be a good move for the playoffs, but they could slip in the standings because of it.

If Love misses time in the playoffs, a strengthened Eastern Conference could give them trouble. The Celtics, Raptors and Wizards have all significantly improved this season. Even though the Cavs are still huge favorites, any one of those teams could give them a run for their money if injuries plague them down the stretch.

Kyle Lowry

NBA injuries

Kyle Lowry (Photo courtesy: grantland.com)

The Lowry injury is also a huge blow to the Raptors. The Raptors went all in on solidifying their starting lineup at the deadline. Losing their starting point guard for the rest of the season hurts. Even making the Eastern Conference Finals will be incredibly difficult if they don’t have Lowry in the playoffs.

Kevin Durant

As for Kevin Durant, there is little information about the severity of his injury. If he misses significant time, it could be devastating to the Warriors who don’t have much bench depth.

Editor’s note: Kevin Durant will miss at least four weeks due to a bone bruise and sprained MCL in his knee according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. Durant could return before the end of the regular season, but his return is in question.

The injury bug will continually be something to watch down the stretch as we find out how some of these injuries shake up the league.

 

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All Star Weekend 17

NBA All-Star Weekend 2017

NBA All-Star Weekend is finally upon us.  New Orleans will be hosting the annual event that captivates basketball fans all over the world. Friday’s events include the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on ESPN at 7 p.m. EST and the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge at 9 p.m. EST.

Saturday is the best day of events beginning with the D-League All-Star Game at 2:30 p.m. EST on NBATV. Later that night at 8 p.m. EST starts the three main events of the day. First is the Taco Bells Skills Challenge, followed by the JBL 3-Point contest, and finishing up with the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest.

Sunday will of course feature the 66th NBA All-Star Game.

NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Pintrest)

This year the celebrity coaches will be ESPN’s Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. Smith’s team has the following celebrities: Miles Brown, Tom Cavanagh, Mark Cuban, Baron Davis, Andy Grammer, Jiang Jinfu, Anthony Mackie, Romeo Miller, Hasan Minhaj, Master P, Candace Parker and Aaron Sanchez.

Jemele Hill’s team includes the following celebrities: Brandon Armstrong, Win Butler, Nick Cannon, Rachel DeMita, Ansel Elgort, Marc Lasry, Caleb McLaughlin, Peter Rosenberg, Oscar Schmidt, Lindsay Whalen, Jason Williams and Kris Wu.

Both teams seem evenly matched and this year’s game doesn’t seem to have as big of names as past years. Rachel DeMita will surprise some people, but most people will be looking forward to seeing former NBA players Baron Davis and Jason Williams.

MVP Prediction: Jason Williams

Winning Team Prediction: Jemele Hill’s

 

Rising Stars Challenge

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

This annual Friday night game features first and second year NBA players and can be seen on TNT at 9 p.m. EST. It is a United States versus World format in which 10 players for each team were selected by NBA assistant coaches.

The U.S. team features Devin Booker (Suns), Malcolm Brogdon (Bucks), Marquese Chriss (Suns), Brandon Ingram (Lakers), Frank Kaminsky (Hornets), Jahlil Okafor (76ers), D’Angelo Russell (Lakers), Jonathon Simmons (Spurs), Karl Anthony-Towns (Timberwolves) and Myles Turner (Pacers)

The World team has Alex Abrines (Thunder), Dante Exum (Jazz), Buddy Hield (Pelicans), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Trey Lyles (Jazz), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks), Domantas Sabonis (Thunder) and Dario Saric (76ers).

Last year the U.S. won the game 157-154. The United States team is even more talented this year and will look to get another victory.

MVP Prediction: Devin Booker

Winning Team Prediction: United States

 

Skills Challenge

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The skills challenge is always an exciting event to get the fans ready for the 3-point competition. Last season a big man won: Karl Anthony-Towns. Unfortunately he won’t be defending his crown.

This year’s participants are Devin Booker (Suns), DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Gordon Hayward (Jazz), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks), Isaiah Thomas (Celtics) and John Wall (Wizards).

These competitions are hard to predict, but what makes them fun is seeing lightning quick guards go up against some of the more skilled big men.

This event would have been more entertaining if Joel Embiid didn’t have to pull out, but the big men in this competition are still talented, just not talented enough to win it. This year will be the year of the guard.

Prediction Winner: Isaiah Thomas 

 

3-Point Contest

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit:Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports)

In this competition, last year’s winner will be defending his crown. Klay Thompson should be the favorite again this year, but is in for some tough competition. The 2013 champion Kyrie Irving will also be on the court. The remaining participants include Eric Gordon (Rockets), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Wes Matthews (Mavericks), C.J. McCollum (Blazers), Kemba Walker (Hornets) and Nick Young (Lakers).

The final three participants will most likely be Thompson, McCollum and Walker. Klay’s experience will really help him, but it won’t be enough to repeat.

Prediction Winner: C.J. McCollum

 

 

 

 

Slam Dunk Contest

The dunk contest is usually the most exciting and most popular event of the entire All-Star weekend. Nobody wants to be that one person who missed an epic dunk. There was a short period where fans and journalists believed the dunk contest was lacking in excitement. Thanks to Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine’s showdown last year, the hype is real again.

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: www.draftexpress.com)

Lavine won’t be defending his crown, by runner-up Aaron Gordon is looking to capture the title against an interesting field of competitors. Also competing against Gordon are DeAndre Jordan (Clippers), Glenn Robinson III (Pacers) and Derrick Jones Jr. (Suns).

Derrick Jones Jr. is the most controversial participant this year. Jones is a rookie out of UNLV, who has played in the D-League this season and has little experience in the NBA. Some people believe he shouldn’t be allowed to participate.

When they see the show he puts on during the competition, they will soon forget that. Jones can jump out of the gym and is a real threat to win this competition.

Prediction Winner: Derrick Jones Jr.

 

66th NBA All-Star Game

The main event of the weekend is the All-Star Game. The Eastern Conference starters are DeMar DeRozan (Raptors), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Jimmy Butler (Bulls), LeBron James (Cavaliers), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks).

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The Western Conference starters are Steph Curry (Warriors), James Harden (Rockets), Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Kevin Durant (Warriors), and Anthony Davis (Pelicans).

One of the biggest storylines of the game is that Russell Westbrook was not named a starter and how he will handle being on the same team as Durant and the rest of the Warriors after what transpired this summer. Their recent match-up was heated and lots of words were exchanged. It should make for an extremely intriguing and exciting contest.

The West has won the last two games and five of the last seven. The West is considered the tougher and deeper conference, which is why they are going to be the favorites in this game.

MVP Prediction: Russell Westbrook

Prediction Winner: West 176-170

 

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February NBA MVP Rankings

It’s February, which means there are only about two months left in the NBA season. It’s been one of the strongest seasons in terms of individual performances in recent memory.

With so many outstanding performances this year, it’s important to try and sort out who is in the front running for the 2017 MVP award.

Tier 1: The guys who actually have a shot

1. Russell Westbrook: James Harden is currently the most popular pick for MVP in the eyes of many fans, but Westbrook has a small edge here for a few reasons.

For starters, Westbrook is essentially a lone wolf in terms of scoring on the Thunder. Their starting lineup consists of Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Steve Adams. No one besides Westbrook is a serious help on offense.

Westbrook is carrying this team to the playoffs right now.February NBA MVP Rankings

James Harden has a team built to score around him. The proficiency of their three point shooters also spaces the floor and gives him enough space to score and distribute the way he does.

Nothing against Harden and the incredible season he has been putting up, but Westbrook’s season is just more impressive. Additionally, the historical precedent is enough to justify putting Russell Westbrook in the top spot.

He would be just the second player in the history of the NBA to average a triple-double. How can someone having that unprecedented of a season not get the MVP?

Understandably, the guy below him on this list is having a historic season of his own. The gravity of averaging a triple-double over a season simply cannot be understated. The fact that he has been a much more formidable defender than the other two point guards in tier 1 helps his case immensely.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of NBA)

2. James Harden: What have we been missing all these years with Harden not playing point? The race is so close between Harden and Westbrook right now.

Harden is leading the league in assists and is third in points per game. Westbrook is leading the league in scoring and third in assists per game. Harden’s Rockets having a far superior record to the Thunder will most likely be used as reasoning for putting Harden ahead of Westbrook.

Harden’s superior team around him is impossible to ignore however.
It would be unsurprising if either of these players won the award this year. A strong argument can clearly be made for both. Right now, the season long triple-double give Westbrook the slightest of advantages. Let the stretch run begin.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

3. Lebron James: Voter fatigue is a real thing. LeBron has been dominating the league for so long now, that he can put up ridiculous stats without attracting much attention.

He is averaging more than 25 points per game this year while adding more than eight assists and rebounds. Those would both be tied for his career high. He’s also boosted his 3-point average and is hitting at his best rate since 2011. His play has been a notch below Harden and Westbrook, but you can’t ignore what the King has been doing in Ohio this year.

It’s likely that the recent debacle with Charles Barkley will negatively impact his standing with MVP voters as well. Lebron would have to go on a tear to catch up with the two guys in front of him. Unlikely? yes. But impossible? No.

Tier 2: Guys with an outside shot

4. Isaiah Thomas: The last pick in the 2011 draft continues to impress this year. Not to mention, he has been the undisputed belt-holder of the “best in the fourth quarter” award.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of The Boston Globe)

19 of his 44 points came in the fourth on Wednesday. That was in the midst of a ferocious fourth quarter comeback. He has been a man possessed for the last few months and he has lead the Celtics to the second spot in the East.

Only one thing keeps Thomas from vaulting into the top tier. His defense is some of the worst in the league. According to ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus ratings, it is in fact the worst among point guards.

He’s become somewhat of a revolving door for opposing offensive players as they blow by him to get easy buckets. Quite simply, Isaiah Thomas does not have much of a chance at grabbing an MVP award this year. His scoring isn’t quite at the level of Harden’s and he has been playing some of the worst defense in the league. It won’t be this year for Isaiah Thomas.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of JordanDaily)

5. Kawhi Leonard: In typical Spurs fashion, Kawhi Leonard has been quietly dominating the league. He’s not the flashiest guy in the league. He doesn’t make the headlines that other superstars do. At this point, it’s pretty clear that he is the best two-way player in the league.

Offensively, he has taken a huge leap. He is now averaging 25.5 points per game with 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He’s the perfect player for that system as well.

The Spurs lost a lot of leadership and talent with the departure of Tim Duncan, but Kawhi has evidently filled that role. They’re clearly one of the three best teams in the league this year, and Kawhi has let them remain a contender.

Perhaps most impressive is his 3-point shooting. He came into the league as a poor shooter, but is shooting 40 percent from down town. He is scoring more that he ever has while remaining a huge defensive force.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of Sporting News)

6: Kevin Durant: Kevin Durant recently talked about how he would start to let Steph Curry run the offense and take a step back. Durant’s season, however, has been one of the best of his career. It has certainly been his most efficient as a result of having Klay Thompson and Steph Curry spread the floor around him. Despite his cold streak recently, he is sporting a slash line of .541, .377 and .875.

He hasn’t had to shoot as much as he had to in OKC, but he is doing more with his touches than before. Not to mention, he’s averaging more than eight rebounds and eight assists. If he didn’t have another MVP candidate on his team, Kevin Durant would be much higher on this list.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

7. Stephen Curry: Just one year removed from being the unanimous MVP, Steph has seen diminished production with his diminished touches. Not to mention, he has been heating up lately and has been taking control of the offense.

Since Durant’s comments about letting Steph play his game, Curry has put up 43 and 39 points, while adding five and nine rebounds, and six and eight assists.

If Steph can continue to play at that level, he will undoubtedly rise up the ranks. It will be impossible for him to even come close to his astronomical numbers that he put up last season, but Curry can certainly make his way into the conversation for MVP. As of now, he finds himself on the fringes with a long shot.

Tier 3: Great seasons, but no shot

8. Anthony Davis: Anthony Davis deserves to be on a better team. For the fifth straight year, Anthony Davis is on a subpar team. He is also putting up ridiculous numbers for the fifth straight year.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of For The Win)

Davis is putting up career highs with 27.9 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. He is tying his career high in assists with 2.2 per game as well.

There have been four players in NBA history who have put up 28 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Shaquille O’Neal did it three times, Bob McAdoo did it three times, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it once. That’s some elite company.

There’s absolutely no chance that Davis is going to win the MVP award based on the fact that he’s on a terrible team. Even if the Pelicans are able to play their way into the eighth seed in the West, it’s unlikely that The Brow will get serious MVP consideration. It is a shame. Get this man on a better team!

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of CSN)

9. John Wall: John Wall has been on an absolute tear lately. Of the 16 games in 2017, John Wall has nine double-doubles. He now has 28 double-doubles on the season.

Wall has been the engine on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. He’s done so by averaging a career high in both points, assists, and steals. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career and he has established himself as one of the best point guards in the league.

His uptick in production hasn’t effected his efficiency either. He is scoring at the best rate of his career while taking more shots per game.

John Wall has earned this spot on the list this year by turning the Wizards into a contender in the East. He is solid on both ends of the floor and continues to improve in his bigger role.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of AP)

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak has made it clear that he is going to be a force in the league for years to come. He is the only player leading his team in every stat category, and has dazzled all year with freakishly athletic highlights.

Giannis, like Anthony Davis, has no shot at winning this award simply because of the team that he plays on. The Bucks have a chance at getting one of the lower seeds in the Eastern Conference, but it’s not likely to give him a chance at the award.

It’s not likely it will matter. Giannis will see his name on many top-ten lists in years to come and might just have his name engraved on an MVP trophy someday. This is not his year though.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Brandon Ingram: Slowly Finding His Star

Brandon Ingram, the second overall pick in the draft, somehow has the privilege of being able to work through his rookie struggles quietly without the pressure of the “Right Now” conundrum. Coming into this season, many were comparing his game to that of Kevin Durant. His wiry frame, and scoring prowess led the comparisons. The two seasons couldn’t be any more different. Durant usage rate was much greater than that of Ingram. Additionally, the then Seattle SuperSonics drafted Durant to function as the franchise cornerstone.

via USA Today Sport Images

While unfair, the assumptions of what is game would be at 19 felt just in attribution. Why wouldn’t the player who averaged 17 points and shot 41% from three in his lone year at Duke be expected to have a Rookie of the Year campaign in the NBA? There was no reticence when discussing where Ingram would be taken in the draft – 2nd overall. It was what very intelligent individuals call a “no-brainer”.  Ingram showed all of the potential to become not only a great scorer, but a star.

The Los Angeles Lakers, after the departure of Kobe Bryant, were in prime position to capitalize on the budding promise of their youth movement. Hiring Luke Walton from the Golden State Warriors spearheaded that initiative. Bringing his repertoire, the front office made a heady move by hiring the former Laker. Walton wanted to play with pace and have the floor spread, something that an isolation scorer such as Ingram would thrive in.

Walton however, had different plans for the Duke product. By bringing him on slowly, namely off the bench, Walton has decreased the pressure of “Right Now”. Through the first 20 games of the season, Ingram started only three games – all three of which D’Angelo Russell sat out due to injury.

But even without being a part of the starting lineup, Walton made sure he integrated Ingram into the game-plan. In the month of November, Ingram averaged 27 minutes, second most on the team. Ingram did not produce on the court initially. In that same month he shot 34% from the floor per game, 30% from three, and only attempted a bit over two free throws a game ( a slight indicator of his level of aggressiveness on the court – or lack thereof).

Via USA Today Sports Images

Steadily though, the staff has increased his minutes. In turn so has is production, if only slightly. 30 minutes a game so far in January has pushed his overall minute average to 28 a game – most by any rookie in the league. 40% from behind the arc on three point attempts a game as his true shooting percentage has jumped from 45% in November to 53% in January. His free throw attempts have also increased – four attempts a game.  Getting to the line at a slightly greater pace has dropped his percentage. Which is probably nothing to worry about with a shooter of his potential.

Bringing the rookie along slowly and allowing him to find his place on the team has helped him tremendously. Not receiving the attention many thought he would, Ingram has progressively improved under the lights of Tinsel Town.

Eventually, he will break out and come onto the scene as the scorer and All-Star his college game foreshadowed. Until then, just watch him work.

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Kyle Korver Trade Gives the Cavs Much Needed Depth

Somewhere in the depths of suburban Ohio, David Griffin will be sleeping a little bit easier tonight. This is of course due in no small part to his signing of Kyle Korver today.

Griffin is no stranger to big signings. Two season ago Griffin traded for Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Timofey Mozgov in the offseason. After signing Lebron, Griffin traded Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love. Last season, Griffin acquired Channing Frye.

The litany of moves made by the GM over the past few years have transformed the Cavaliers into the dominant force they are today. His latest acquisition of Kyle Korver, for what is reportedly Mike Dunleavy and a first round pick, could make them the outright favorite to repeat for the NBA Championship.

Kyle Korver

Kyle Korver should have many open looks in his new offense. (Photo: Zimbio.com)

Korver has been one of the best three point shooters in the league since he was drafted in 2003. He’s hit 41% of his looks this year from beyond the arc. More importantly to the Cavaliers, he’s hit 48% of his looks when he’s open. When it comes to playmaking, the Cavs have a once-in-a-generation talent in Lebron James. Needless to say, Korver is going to get his looks this year.

In the bigger picture, this solidifies Cleveland’s chances of representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Championship. The Raptors pose a threat, especially if they can obtain Paul Millsap by the deadline. The Celtics also pose a threat if they can strengthen their team with a deadline trade. Ultimately though, the Cavaliers should ride their star power and depth to an Eastern Conference Finals victory and a third straight Finals appearance.

The most likely scenario remains a rematch with the Warriors. Ever since the signing of Kevin Durant, the Warriors have been the heavy favorites to take the championship. The Warriors’ biggest weakness however, continues to be a strength for Cleveland. Simply, their lack of depth.

Despite what is most likely the strongest starting lineup in basketball, the Warriors bench is the weakest of any contender. Andre Iguodola has struggled compared to last year, and they have minimal depth in the frontcourt.

The Korver trade strengthens the Cavaliers bench and makes them even deeper than they were before. Mike Dunleavy was barely playable for the Cavs, and Korver can immediately bring a scoring presence to this lineup.

The Cavaliers already had Channing Frye, Kyrie Irving, J.R Smith and Kevin Love raining threes. On top of that, Lebron is having one of his best seasons from beyond the arc at 37%. The addition of Korver makes them one of the deadliest teams from long range in the entire league.

This trade makes the potential Warriors-Cavs rematch even more interesting as the amount of offensive firepower continues to grow between the two teams. The deal should boost the Cavs odds of taking the title, all with another deal on the horizon. The Cavs are reportedly in the market for a backup point guard, which could give them an edge on the Warriors. Either way, this will hopefully kick off one of the more eventful trade deadlines in recent years.

 

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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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10 Things to Watch For in the NBA in 2017

2016 comes to a close as one of the most exciting basketball years in the history of the NBA. From Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan’s last seasons, to Russel Westbrook’s triple doubles, to the ridiculous Finals series, this year was full of memorable moments that will go down in NBA history. However, a new year brings new possibilities. Here are the ten best things to look forward to in the NBA in 2017.

10. Trust The Process?: Will Joel Embiid win Rookie of the Year? Can Ben Simmons make his long awaited return? Will the Sixers end up with two top ten picks? Can Dario Saric make the leap to consistent NBA starter? The New Year brings loads of questions for the NBA’s perennial doormat and not many clear answers. It will be interesting to see whether the 76ers will be able to escape the NBA’s cellar in 2017.

9. 2017 NBA Draft: This draft is considered to be one of the most talented ones in recent years. Markelle Fultz remains the prize at the top of the draft, and names like Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson highlight an unusually deep lottery pool. The lottery looks to be a mix of familiar teams (Philadelphia) and newcomers (Miami and Dallas) as teams try to find a future superstar. Summer league will no doubt be a spectacle this year as well.

8. 2017 Trade Deadline: The trade deadline this year will be full of stories, especially with the loaded draft coming up. Greg Monroe looks to be a possible big-name trade candidate. Portland, a team with a weakness in the frontcourt, may look to target Monroe or one of the big men from Philadelphia. Rudy Gay remains a big name for teams in need of a three-and-D wing presence. For teams with a need a guard, Goran Dragic and Will Barton look to be high end options on the market. With a talented draft class this year, teams may be less likely to part with picks. But the plethora of young talent around the league makes this deadline an especially interesting one.

7. MVP Race: This year brings one of the best MVP races we’ve seen in years. Right now, James Harden and Russell Westbrook look like the favorites. However, the award usually goes to a player on either the one seed or the two seed. Can the Rockets or Thunder grab that distinction? If not, voters may be compelled to look to former winners Lebron James and Kevin Durant, who have each put together noteworthy seasons. This MVP race is one of the most wide open in recent memory and looks to go down to the final weeks of the season.

6. The Greek Freak’s Takeover: Giannis Antetokounmpo has been incredible this year as his astronomical rise to stardom has continued. He’s taken the NBA by storm over the past calendar year by showing a Magic-esque ability to play every position on the court. He’s a freak athlete, a superb defender, and a great distributor. If he can develop a jump shot, the league better watch out. The Greek Freak’s continual rise to superstardom will no doubt be something to marvel at in the coming year.

5. Free Agency: This summer an exploding cap, combined with stars hitting the market, will make for an eventful free agency. Steph Curry is the biggest name as he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, and many other players have player options that they can exercise to become free agents this summer. Madness will no doubt ensue as free agency opens this summer and teams have a historic amount of money to spend. Watch for a shakeup of the power balance in the league.

4. New All-Stars: 2017’s NBA All Star Game could play host to a slew of first time All-Stars. Second year guys Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis look like they have a decent chance of making their first appearance. More established league stars such as Giannis, Kemba Walker, and Hassan Whiteside have a chance at making their debuts. All-Star weekend should be a blast to watch as some young guys get a shot at making their NBA All Star Game debut.

3. Golden State Warriors in the Playoffs: The new-look Warriors are capable of putting out a lineup that looks seemingly impossible to stop. Meanwhile, their Western conference foes seem to have taken a step back compared to last year. This Warriors team lacks rim protection and depth, and it’s fair to wonder whether that will come back to haunt them in the playoffs. The Warriors will need their superstars to step up if they want to make it through to the Finals again this year.

2. Russell Westbrook Chases History: Russell Westbrook is currently averaging a triple double, a feat nobody has accomplished in over 40 years. Can the Oklahoma City star continue his dominance in 2017? With a motor that seems to never stop, the answer could be yes. A triple-double season may even be enough to secure the MVP on a low-seeded playoff team. Westbrook has truly been something to behold, and his dominance of the NBA will be something to watch in 2017.

1. The Cavaliers Title Defense: Lebron James and Kyrie Irving kicked it up a notch on Christmas Day. They outperformed the Warriors in the stretch and buried them on a Kyrie buzzer beater. Is the trio of Lebron, Kyrie and Kevin Love enough to beat the juggernaut in Golden State? Well, having the best player in the world doesn’t hurt. The NBA playoffs will no doubt be a appointment television as Lebron tries to win his fourth title for Cleveland.

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