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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Raptors

Toronto Raptors 2017 NBA Draft Profile

Day 21 of our 2017 NBA Draftmas special focuses on the draft needs and targets of the Toronto Raptors.

Summary

Raptors

Kyle Lowry may throw a wrench in Toronto’s plan to compete for a title next season. (Photo by Nathan Denette of The Canadian Press)

The Raptors have remained one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for the last four seasons. Their combined record during that time is 204-124. Under head coach Dwayne Casey, Toronto has a .548 winning percentage while ranking top 10 in points per game each year.

Their success has been overshadowed by the LeBron James era of basketball, as they have failed to reach the NBA finals despite finishing first in the Atlantic Division three out of the last four seasons. Due to the fact that overcoming the Cavaliers, as well as the super team in the west that shall remained unnamed, it seems as though Toronto’s championship window is slowly closing.

With star point guard Kyle Lowry, and newly acquired forwards Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker possibly leaving in free agency, the Raptors may have a multitude of needs to address in the draft.

Picks & Needs

First Round: No 23

With only one pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Raptors will need to find a diamond in the ruff with their 23rd pick. If Kyle Lowry leaves, they will have a huge hole at the point guard position, although Corey Joseph and Delon Wright could be enough to keep them competitive. If Serge Ibaka or P.J. Tucker were to leave, there would be a severe hole at the forward position, as Ibaka and Tucker, along with center Jonas Valanciunas, were the heart and soul of their defense this season.

Targets & Thoughts

Raptors

Semi Ojeleye has been overlooked due to playing in the AAC. (Photo by Centraltrack.com)

Option 1

Pick #23: Semi Ojeleye, Forward, SMU

Ojeleye, a former Duke Blue Devil, is a freak athlete who carried his SMU team to the NCAA tournament. He averaged about 19 points and seven rebounds per game, which was good enough to award him with the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year award (AAC).

Ojeleye is flying under the radar as the AAC has been labeled as having lesser talented competition. Also, he is considered a bit undersized at 6-foot-6, but his 240-pound frame and rebounding ability suggest he is more than ready for the jump to the NBA. The junior would be a great fit in Toronto, as he is an inside-outside scoring threat who is also no slouch on defense.

The Junior’s basketball IQ sets him apart. He did a great job of limiting turnovers and playing to his strengths. Even as the best player on his team, he rarely forced the issue, and simply did his job. I believe Ojeleye can be one of the most impactful players in this draft class, as he is extremely versatile, smart, and can be used as a mismatch against almost every NBA team.

Option 2

Pick #23: Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, Power Forward/Center, Kentucky

Another freak athletic specimen, freshman Adebayo has gotten incredible praise from his coaches, teammates and opponents alike. Kentucky coach John Calipari said that he projects Adebayo to “be kind of like Karl (Towns) and even Anthony (Davis)”.

Like Towns and Davis, Adebayo’s per 40-minutes stat line consisted of over 17 points and 10 rebounds on over 56 percent from the field. Although I do not project him to be anywhere close to the offensive or defensive star that Towns or Davis have become, I do project him to be a highly skilled forward with plenty of room to grow.

He struggled defensively, as he only averaged 1.5 blocks per game with a defensive rebounding percentage of only 17.2 percent, which are a bit underwhelming for his 6-foot-10 250-pound frame. Both Towns and Davis managed to average over two blocks per game, with Davis averaging an astounding 4.7, while they both had a defensive rebounding percentage of over 22 percent.

Since Adebayo is only 19, he has plenty of time to develop his defense, rebounding and low post play. The transition to the NBA could be difficult, but if he is put in the right situation, he could develop into quite the two-way player.

Raptors

Ike Anigbogu is being severely overlooked due to not starting in a single game in his freshman season. (Photo via Twitter)

Option 3

Pick #23: Christopher Ike Anigbogu, Center, UCLA

Anigbogu has flown under the radar as he did not start a single game in his freshman season at UCLA. His incredible athleticism, defensive ability and strength has drawn interest from multiple NBA teams. His per 40-minutes stat line includes 14.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game.

Anigbogu has an incredible amount explosiveness for his 6-foot-10 250-pound frame. He managed to bring down 4.1 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes. His rebounding ability alone could be a huge asset to the Raptors who ranked 18th in the NBA in rebounding. His potential is through the roof as he is only 19-years-old. He has been a highly touted prospect since being ranked the number one high school center in California after averaging about 17 points and 10 rebounds in his senior season.

Conclusion

The Raptors have been one of the most successful teams over the last four seasons, although they clearly need to add a versatile difference maker in order to compete for a spot in the NBA Finals. If Kyle Lowry leaves, it will be interesting to see what the Raptors will do to fill the void, although with the assumption that he resigns, I expect the Raptors to add a versatile big man that can be an impact player off of the bench behind Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka.

Semi Ojeleye can impact a game very similarly to Ibaka, as he has a profound inside-outside offensive game, while also being an above average rebounder and defender. Bam Adebayo is a highly touted athletic freak who excels at facing up toward the basket on offense. Ike Anigbogu is another athletic freshman with tons of potential, who can immediately impact the game on the offensive and defensive boards.

 

Thanks for checking out the Toronto Raptors 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day 22 of our NBA Draftmas special to see what the Utah Jazz may do.

 

NBA Draftmas Day 19: Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA Draftmas Day 20: Brooklyn Nets

 

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2017 NBA Mock Draft

2017 NBA Mock Draft V. 3.0 (Post-Lottery)

The lottery has finally passed and the draft order is now officially set. As the Finals approach, so does the draft season. All but the final four teams are focused solely on the draft, which means The Game Haus is too.

This mock draft will take a look at where players may go in late June. Also, if you loved Draftmas for the NFL draft, be on the lookout for the hardwood version of Draftmas coming soon here at The Game Haus.

For now, here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA mock draft, version three.

1: BOSTON CELTICS (VIA BROOKLYN): MARKELLE FULTZ PG WASHINGTON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Boston is in great position after winning the lottery. It is also obvious the Celtics do not need a point guard. Isaiah Thomas has proven his worth time and time again in the NBA. Any player can be a bust out of college, but I.T. is a proven commodity. It is still unlikely that Fultz will be a bust, but he has not proven anything yet in the association.

Boston needs a second scoring option. They play great team defense and find themselves in trouble with Thomas being their only viable option on offense. Boston will take Fultz, but it could be because they plan on trading him for another scoring superstar. The pick here seems to clearly be Fultz, but it is unclear if he will ever play a game for Boston.

2: LOS ANGELES LAKERS: LONZO BALL PG UCLA

LaVar Ball and the rest of his family got exactly what they hoped for in the lottery. The Lakers came away with the second overall pick. LaVar has made it clear that he wants his son to be the next Laker great. He has even said that his son, Lonzo, will not work out for the Celtics. Lonzo is from L.A., and not only is it his dream, but he believes it’s his destiny, to rock purple and gold.

There are also rumors swirling that teams are putting together trade packages in hopes of acquiring D’Angelo Russell, who may be on his way to bigger things. You can read about how well he has actually progressed as a player here.

LaVar may be onto something when talking about how good his son can be. Sticking strictly to Lonzo and his basketball ability, it is clear that he is a consensus top-three prospect. Ball is a great playmaker and passer with a high basketball I.Q.

Ball will be a floor general capable of running an NBA team and becoming an on-court coach. He showed at UCLA that he can make everyone around him better and that will translate into the NBA.

Many scouts compare him to Jason Kidd, which is a pretty accurate comparison. Having a Kidd-like career would be an amazing accomplishment for anybody. The Lakers need a franchise player and that is exactly what Lonzo Ball will be. The Lakers have a difficult decision ahead of them, but pairing Ball with Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle could lead to more parades in Hollywood.

3: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: MALIK MONK SG KENTUCKY

Trusting the process hit yet another bump in the road this season. Joel Embiid suffered another injury after appearing in just 31 games. If that wasn’t enough, last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, didn’t make his debut this year either. The 76ers still believe those pieces will result in playoff appearances and maybe even titles.

Reports came out that the Philadelphia brass believes Simmons will be the point guard. That is why they will use this pick on Malik Monk.

Monk has proven to be a flat-out scoring machine and that will translate to the NBA. Drafting Monk will allow the Sixers to develop Simmons as their point guard while putting a scorer in the backcourt beside him.

Creating a powerful backcourt could be the key to a deep postseason run. They already have a great frontcourt player in Embiid.

4: PHOENIX SUNS: JOSH JACKSON SF KANSAS

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Josh Jackson could prove to be a valuable wing alongside Devin Booker. Jackson averaged 16.3 points per game at Kansas. He is a two-way player capable of becoming a superstar. Jackson has a good feel for the game and is dangerous on offense. He can score both inside and out and is a very underrated passer.

Pairing him with a future superstar like Booker is only going to lead to success for Phoenix. Having a core of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson will make the Suns a threat in the West in two to three years.

Jackson doesn’t have to be a franchise player in Phoenix. He just has to be Robin to Batman, which makes him a perfect fit in the desert.

5: Sacramento Kings: JAYSON TATUM SF DUKE

The Kings need to start from scratch. Buddy Hield seems to be the guy that Sacramento will build this team around. It looks like Willie Cauley-Stein will be the man up front with DeMarcus Cousins now out of the picture.

Jayson Tatum could grow to be an NBA superstar. Tatum has a well-polished iso game that is NBA ready.  He can score anywhere on the floor due to his ability to create off the dribble.

One of his biggest weaknesses is his shot selection. Due to his height and ability to shoot over defenders, Tatum tends to settle for difficult shots. Shot selection will improve over time and he could become a nice addition to the team in Sacramento.

6: Orlando Magic: DE’AARON FOX PG KENTUCKY

The Magic seem to have an unclear direction. Orlando hasn’t made the playoffs for five straight years in a very weak Eastern Conference. Frank Vogel has improved the team, but they need more talent outside of Aaron Gordon. At this point, the best thing the Magic can do is pick the best available player, which in this position would be De’Aaron Fox.

Fox doesn’t get the hype that Fultz or Ball get, but is definitely going to be a force in the NBA. Fox did nothing but help his stock in the tournament, especially when he dropped 39 points against Lonzo Ball and UCLA in the Sweet 16.

Fox is left handed, which is sometimes hard to defend because defenders are so used to right-handed players. He is also extremely quick, and defenders may have trouble keeping up with him. Fox will need to work on shooting with more consistency, but has proven he can control a game.

7: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: LAURI MARKKANEN PF ARIZONA

Minnesota has a franchise center and small forward in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. They have young guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. The Timberwolves need experience and veteran leadership more than anything, so it is tough to predict what they will do with this pick. Lauri Markkanen would be a perfect option for the Timberwolves.

Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to become a power forward like Dirk Nowitzki. He can stretch the floor or go inside.

Markkanen can also play the center position to spell Towns. Markkanen needs to add some weight, but could really help the Timberwolves become a playoff team.

8: New York Knicks: Dennis Smith JR PG N.C. State

2017 NBA Mock draft

(Photo Credit: WILLIAM HOWARD/ICON SPORTSWIRE)

The Knicks badly need a franchise point guard to pair with Kristaps Porzingis. Dennis Smith is a top-five talent who will fall a bit due to some of the other needs teams have since not all are looking for a point guard.

The Knicks would get a player like Russell Westbrook by drafting Smith. He can score, pass and rebound with the best of them in college. He also has the insane athleticism that allows him to posterize defenders.

The Zen Master needs to make the most out of this pick to win back the love of the Knicks’ fan base, and Dennis Smith could bring that love to the Big Apple.

9: DALLAS MAVERICKS: ISAIAH HARTENSTEIN PF GERMANY

From one German to the next.  Isaiah Hartenstein would be a great fit in Dallas. He is a versatile, left-handed player who can score inside and outside. Hartenstein is a great passing big man with a high basketball I.Q.

The downside with Hartenstein is his immaturity and lack of experience against tough competition. However, his potential makes him a lottery pick.

Sitting him behind Dirk for a year would be the perfect step in developing Hartenstein. He could easily relate to Dirk. He could really learn how to become a great pro.

10: SACRAMENTO KINGS (VIA PELICANS): JONATHAN ISaAC PF FLORIDA STATE

Jonathan Isaac would be a great fit with this team. Isaac is a great rebounder and can run the floor well for a big man. He also shoots well from all areas of the floor. Isaac could play at small forward or power forward in today’s NBA. The Kings would find a great player with lots of potentials, who could grow into a solid NBA starter.

11.CHARLOTTE HORNETS: JUSTIN JACKSON SF NORTH CAROLINA

The G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan, loves him some Tar Heels. Justin Jackson would be a terrific fit in Charlotte. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has never lived up to the hype of a second overall pick. Jackson would be the piece to help get the Hornets back into the playoffs.

He has great length and can stretch the floor. Jackson played great for most of the tournament. He had a subpar performance in the title game, but can still become a good NBA starter.

Jackson needs to add weight, but is a versatile defender capable of guarding multiple positions. His mid-range jumper is well-polished. Charlotte would improve by drafting Jackson.

12: DETROIT PISTONS: HARRY GILES PF DUKE

Detroit needs a big man alongside Andre Drummond. Picking Harry Giles would be a shock here, but could be a huge steal. Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the No. 1 pick before he began having injury problems.

We have not seen what Giles is fully capable of, but his potential is through the roof. He is an athletic finisher who can be molded into a great defender.

13: DENVER NUGGETS: Zach Collins F Gonzaga

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

Denver is really close to becoming a playoff team in the tough Western Conference. Their young guards just need more experience and will continue to develop.

Collins is a real good rebounder and shot blocker. Pairing him up with Nikola Jokic could create one of the most dangerous frontcourts in the NBA. Collins needs to mold his offensive skills, but because Jokic is so skilled offensively, Collins’ defensive skills would create a perfect combination.

14: MIAMI HEAT: T.J. LEAF PF UCLA

The Heat were amazing in the second half of this season. Hassan Whiteside is a franchise centerpiece at center. Their guard play has been tremendous, and Justise Winslow is really coming into his own. That leaves the power forward position as their biggest need.

T.J. Leaf has a high motor and can play both inside and out. Miami would get a player who could be molded into a star by Erik Spoelstra.

15: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS: JOHN COLLINS PF WAKE FOREST

John Collins could be a valuable piece around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Collins has a good offensive game that would help take pressure off their guards to score. He has a post-up game that most bigs don’t have. His impressive footwork allows him to beat even the best of defenders. If he develops his defense, he could become a top power forward in the NBA.

16: CHICAGO BULLS: JUSTIN PATTON C CREIGHTON

Building around Jimmy Butler seems to be the top priority for the Chicago Bulls. Robin Lopez is serviceable, but he is not a center that will help a team reach a title.

Justin Patton may be one. He is a 7-foot monster that averaged 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as a freshman at Creighton.

NBA coaching could turn Patton into a dominant center in an era of outside shooting. There will be few players capable of defending him once he grows into his own. The Bulls would be lucky to get Patton.

17: MILWAUKEE BUCKS: BAM ADEBAYO PF KENTUCKY

The Milwaukee Bucks are building something special. Giannis Antetokounmpo is looking like a future MVP and Khris Middleton is a stud. Drafting Adebayo will give Milwaukee a presence inside to make the Bucks even more dangerous.

18: INDIANA PACERS: FRANK NTILIKINA PG FRANCE

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit:http://www.draftexpress.com)

One thing is clear in the NBA: teams need a franchise point guard. The Pacers have Jeff Teague, but he has not really proven to be a franchise point guard.

Ntilikina has excellent size for a point guard. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. Ntilikina is a pass-first point guard with a high I.Q. He has developed a mid-range game and excellent floater, but is a really inconsistent shooter. Ntilikina also has great lateral quickness that makes him an elite defender.

All the skills are there for Ntilikina to become a franchise point guard.

19: ATLANTA HAWKS: IVAN RABB C CALIFORNIA

Dwight Howard is no longer a top center. Atlanta needs to think about the future, and Ivan Rabb is the future at center.

He has lots of potential to grow offensively. Rabb is already a good defender, and even though he only averaged about one block per game in his career, he altered plenty of shots. His inconsistency at Cal is what hurts him, but he has shown flashes of brilliance.

20: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA MEMPHIS): TYLER LYDON PF SYRACUSE

Tyler Lydon has improved vastly from his freshman season to sophomore season. Lydon improved his points, rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. At 6-foot-9, Lydon can stretch the floor and he would be a great fit in Portland.

21: OKLAHOMA CITY: DILLON BROOKS SF OREGON

It is clear that Russell Westbrook needs help. He is an animal but can’t do it on his own.

Dillon Brooks is one of the most underrated players in all of college basketball. Brooks is capable of being the second option to Westbrook and a true sidekick that Westbrook desperately needs. Filling the small forward spot is of utter importance to the Thunder.

22: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA WASHINGTON): LUKE KENNARD SG DUKE

Luke Kennard is a scoring machine. Brooklyn needs a lot of help, even though they played better late in the year.

Kennard isn’t going to be a guy who changes a franchise, but he can be a 20-point-per-game scorer in the NBA. Every team needs that type of player, and the Nets can’t get a franchise-changing player in the early 20s. They will have to settle for finding solid role players until they can get a franchise changing player.

23: TORONTO RAPTORS: DWAYNE BACON SF FLORIDA STATE

If Kyle Lowry is truly leaving, then Toronto is going to need a point guard. At this point in the draft, there aren’t any point guards capable of starting.

The Raptors may have to let Cory Joseph be the guy and draft a wing player here. Bacon can come in and be a solid rotation player, allowing the Raptors to deepen their bench as they continue to chase a championship.

24: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN PF PURDUE

The Jazz are in almost as good of a position as the Celtics. They finished as the fifth seed in the tough Western Conference and have two first-round draft picks.

Swanigan can come right into the NBA and contribute off the bench. Depth is what the best teams have, and that is what Utah is going to get in picking Swanigan.

25: ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS): JOSH HART SG VILLANOVA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Josh Hart could bring a culture change to the franchise. He is a leader and a winner, and the Magic could use some of that in their locker room.

Hart improved his scoring each season at Villanova, and that should translate into the NBA. If they put together a backcourt with De’Aaron Fox and Josh Hart, the Magic could make the playoffs as early as next season.

26: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA CLEVELAND): RODIONS KURUCS SF LATVIA

Kurucs is a project, and Portland can afford to draft a developmental player this late in the first round, especially with it being their third pick in the first round. Kurucs is versatile and can be a valuable scoring option in the NBA off the bench. Anything more than being a role player would be a huge win for the Blazers.

27: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): JORDAN BELL PF OREGON

Jordan Bell was a second-round pick before the tournament. Bell was a huge reason Oregon reached their first Final Four since 1939. The Nets would get a solid rebounder who brings in a heavy motor and will give you everything he has. The Nets need these high energy type of players to change the culture in Brooklyn.

28: LOS ANGELES LAKERS (VIA HOUSTON): DONOVAN MITCHELL SG LOUISVILLE

The Lakers have youth on their side and drafting Mitchell will allow them to continue to build assets as trading blocks so that they can get superstars back in Hollywood. Mitchell is a solid shooting guard who can be a solid sixth man in the NBA.

29: SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Jarrett Allen C Texas

The Spurs are like the Patriots. They know what they are doing and you don’t question them.

LaMarcus Aldridge has been average at best since signing with the Spurs. With Kawhi Leonard being a two-way star, the Spurs need a big man who can play as Robin to Leonard. Jarrett Allen is a beast on the boards and has the potential to become a solid post-up big man.

30: UTAH JAZZ (VIA GOLDEN STATE): JOHNATHAN MOTLEY PF BAYLOR

Utah needs some frontcourt athleticism. Derrick Favors has only had one really productive season and looks to be on the decline. Motley’s offensive I.Q. makes him a perfect fit in Utah to be a solid role player on a solid playoff team. The Jazz continue to build depth at hopes of a deeper postseason run.

 

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Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Potential Destinations for Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry may have just had the best season of his career. The 31-year-old point guard finished this season with averages of 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and seven assists per game. He also shot a career-high 41.2 percent from 3-point range.

The three-time All Star announced earlier this week that he would be opting out of his deal with Toronto to become a free agent this summer. This has raised several questions of where Lowry will be playing next season.

Lowry said his biggest priority for the future is getting a ring, according to Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic. If that is the case, that narrows down the search to only a few possibilities.

Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Kyle Lowry just had a career year in Toronto. (Photo by Tip of the Tower)

Lowry was due to make $12 million next season, but with his opt out he can receive a max contract. That may have been another factor in his decision to opt out. The Raptors can offer him the biggest contract, approximately five years for $205 million. Anyone else can only offer him four years for about $152 million.

The biggest rumored destination for Lowry so far is the 76ers. Lowry went to high school in Philadelphia and stayed in the state of Pennsylvania by playing college ball at Villanova. 76ers’ president Bryan Colangelo also made the trade for Lowry from Houston when he was the Raptors general manager. Many have reported that Philly will offer him a huge contract this summer.

Based on Lowry’s comment about winning a ring, this move makes no sense. The Sixers are young and in a rebuilding process. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are all young talent with plenty of potential. They also will be adding another lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

However, these guys are no match in the East. LeBron James and the Cavs are always the favorites. The Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards serve as the biggest threats to the Cavs. If the young Philly core stays healthy with Lowry in the lead, they would most likely make the postseason as a low seed and be eliminated in the first round.

Lowry will also be 32 next season during the postseason, so he does not have much time to waste with a rebuilding process. However, no matter where Lowry goes, he is always going to have to deal with either Cleveland or Golden State.

The Spurs may be one of the best fits for Lowry. Lowry would be a great replacement to Tony Parker at point guard. Parker had surgery for a ruptured quadricep tendon and could be out up to eight months. With an injury like that at his age, he will most likely never be the same player he was.

Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Could Lowry be teaming up with Kawhi Leonard this summer? (Photo by Air Alamo)

The Spurs also have the best chance at challenging Golden State for a spot in the Finals. Since the 2010-11 season, the Spurs have finished first in the West three times, second three times and sixth just once. They are consistently contending and adding another All Star to their team would only help. Lowry along with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge would be a scary big three.

In order for the Spurs to make this work, they would need to clear a bit of cap room. They most likely wouldn’t be able to resign backup point guard Patty Mills and they would need to hope Pau Gasol declines his player option for next season. The team had to clear a lot of room to sign Aldridge back in 2015 and they made it work without losing a beat.

The Pelicans are another team that could be enticing to Lowry. New Orleans made noise at the trade deadline with their deal for DeMarcus Cousins, but things haven’t quite worked out the way they planned yet. The Pelicans finished the season 11-14 after acquiring Cousins after having postseason expectations.

Lowry could help get the Pelicans into the postseason. The status of their current point guard, Jrue Holiday, is still uncertain. Holiday is also a free agent and averaged 15.4 points and 7.3 assists per game this season. Lowry would be an upgrade from Holiday should they let him walk. Lowry also would provide veteran leadership to the younger Anthony Davis and Cousins.

Money is going to be another factor in this decision as well. Right now New Orleans is paying a lot to Davis and Cousins and does not have much cap space to pay Lowry. They could let some guys go of course to make room like San Antonio would have to. Lowry also may have to take a pay cut if he wants to go to a big contender in the West.

Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Lowry and DeRozan have made Toronto a winner. Will they actually split? (Photo by Toronto Star)

Lowry could also just stay in Toronto. Assuming he stays, they still have the potential to be a top-five team in the East. He also could make the most money with the Raptors. He would be making the max and playing for a playoff team. He helped make Toronto a winner along with fellow star DeMar DeRozan and is loved by the Raptors’ fan base.

However, that is all the Raptors will be: a playoff team. Not a big contender, not a Finals team and no threat to James and the Cavs.

Serge Ibaka is also another free agent Toronto will have to consider resigning. It is going to be tough for Toronto to pay them both. Losing Ibaka would hurt some, but losing Lowry would be a big blow to the team.

It will be interesting to say the least. This summer is going to be a huge for free agency with names like Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Lowry all potentially on the move.

If a ring is what Lowry truly wants, San Antonio or New Orleans may be his best bet. He may also have to be willing to take a pay cut. That is a price he must be willing to pay if he wants a championship.

Featured Image by Sports Illustrated 

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Who Can Knock Off Cleveland

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Threats in the Eastern Conference

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear-cut favorites to win the Eastern Conference and make it to the Finals. It makes you think: Who can knock off Cleveland in the East? Most assume that the Warriors and Cavaliers will meet for a third-straight Finals but that assumption could be dangerous. There are teams who could beat the Cavs and mess up everyone’s dream matchup.

The first version of this short series looked at who could knock off Golden State. If you haven’t read it you can check it out here.

LeBron James has led his team to the Finals for six straight years. It is safe to say the road to the Finals goes through Cleveland. Because it has been so long since a team not featuring LeBron has been to the Finals, it is hard to see anyone beating Cleveland in the East. Here are a few teams with the shot to dethrone the Eastern Conference Champions.

Boston Celtics

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Boston is just three games back of the Cavaliers for the number one seed and have one more game remaining against the Cavs. Getting that first seed could be the all-important factor in the Celtics’ chances of upsetting Cleveland as the home team has won every game this season. The Cavs have won two of the three games but all have been close contests.

In all three games, Isaiah Thomas has scored 30 points or more. They match up well all along the wing with valuable minutes coming from Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown. Boston’s depth gives them a shot at the upset.

To beat Cleveland in a seven game series, Boston will need its frontcourt to play well. It is the weakest area of the team and they have the fourth worst rebounding differential (-3.6) in the NBA. In their recent win over Cleveland, they won the rebounding battle 47-41.

Getting home court can be helpful but the key to Boston upsetting Cleveland will be in the frontcourt play and they will have to win that rebound battle with a healthy Kevin Love who did not play in the last matchup.

Toronto Raptors

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Like a few other teams in the NBA, the Raptors are dealing with injuries. Kyle Lowry is a key player for Toronto and without him the Raptors have no shot at upsetting the Cavs. With that said, Lowry should be back in time for the playoffs.

Last season the Raptors faced the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals but lost the series 4-2. The Raptors struggled in the front court in that series.

The addition of Serge Ibaka was one of the most important in-season deals this year. Ibaka not only gives the Raptors a presence in the frontcourt, but he can stretch the floor on offense. He is a shot blocker on the defensive end and has lots of playoff experience.

Another addition that will help the Raptors chances of upsetting the Cavs is the addition of P.J. Tucker. Tucker provides a spark off the bench and impacts the game in multiple ways. It remains to be seen where this team will finish in the standings but this team should not be taken lightly. DeMar DeRozen needs to be a superstar for them to win a series against Cleveland as well.

They got off to a horrible slump against the Cavs last year but with those two additions they are a better team then they were last season. The Cavs cannot take them lightly or this season the Cavs will be sent home early.

Washington Wizards

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

John Wall and Bradley Beal are both having their best seasons of their careers. It can be argued that they have the best backcourt in all of basketball. Yes, as good as Golden State’s backcourt. Wall is second in assists per game with 10.9. Both guards average 22 points per game. These two stars carry the Wizards but the role players are they key to upsetting the Cavs.

Marcin Gortat is a veteran who plays big inside the paint. He could give the Cavs problems in a seven game series. Along with Gortat, the Wizards get big contributions from Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, and Kelly Oubre Jr.

The Wizards are also getting a career year out of Otto Porter who is averaging a career-high in minutes (33.8), field goal percentage (52.6%), three-point percentage (45.7%), free throw percentage (80%), rebounds (6.6), steals (1.6), blocks (0.6), and points (14.1).

This team has been playing well, especially at home were they are 25-9. Washington also signed veteran point guard Brandon Jennings will have a big impact off the bench when giving Wall some rest. They also traded for Bojan Bogdanovic who has played in five games with Washington and most recently dropped 27 points on the Raptors. As he finds his role with the Wizards he will become a valuable player. These two additions together will be huge in their pursuit of the Eastern Conference Championship.

It will take a team effort but with how well the Wizards play at home all they need to do is steal a game on the road. If they steal a game in Cleveland and John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter continue their amazing season they will upset Cleveland.

 

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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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Who Should Play in the NBA All-Star Game?

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

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

Starters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(courtesy of CSN Philly)

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

Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starters

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

(courtesy of Clutch Points)

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

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

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

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

Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NBA New Year’s Resolutions: Eastern Conference

The NBA season is inching closer and closer to the All-star break, meaning the painting of the 2016-2017 season is almost complete.

Teams now have to look at their respective seasons and determine if the direction they’re heading in is the one they planned for prior to the season starting. There have been surprises and disappointments throughout this still early part of the season.

However, the NBA season is a long one. For prospering teams, success is fleeting. It’s not a wise choice to rest on early accomplishments; always continue to grow. Conversely, a bad season can turn with one hot streak putting a team directly in the thick of the playoff race.

With the new year beginning, some teams may want to make resolutions in the new year as the competition begins to heat up. There’s no time like the present to shore up some deficiencies that can be exploited in the playoffs. When the game slows down, coaches and their staffs have time to game plan, and the will to win escalates.

Let’s take a look at three Eastern Conference resolutions.

Boston Celtics- Get physical on the glass

The Boston Celtics are sitting pretty at third in the conference, but almost every game played seems to be a close one. The Celtics are a plus 19.5 net rating in the clutch this season in 24 such games. Isaiah Thomas is in the top five in scoring with almost 28 points per game and should be a lock for an All-Star spot in the East. Avery Bradley is having a career year across the board, along with the rest of the team contributing in positive ways.

Rebounding happens to not be one of those things that Boston is needing help in. They are bottom three in the league, grabbing 41 rebounds per 100 possessions.

In December, the Celtics were outrebounded in 13 of their 14 games, going 7-6 in those games. Opponents grab 11 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions, which is the fifth most in the league. Additionally, the leading rebounder on the team is Bradley at seven per game. This squad has played in a lot of close games, and has performed well. Gaining a rebounding advantage against opponents can be the difference in wins and losses.

Toronto Raptors- Shoot more from behind the arc

With a 113 offensive rating, the Raptors are only percentage points behind the Golden State Warriors who have a team made up of hyper-efficient players. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are leading this team every night. Lowry is another Eastern Conference All-Star lock and having an incredibly efficient offensive season. His defense has also been up to the task. The Raptors are in the top five in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and three-point percentage.

This is team that does everything in its power to get the ball in the hoop. Even with a stellar three-point rate, the team north of the border doesn’t take many.  Only 28% of the team’s total points come from three-point land. Cleveland and Golden State sit at 39% and 35% respectively. What’s even more perplexing is that Toronto has six players that shoot 36% or above from distance – only one of those players average more than five attempts – Lowry at 7.6 attempts per game.

Charlotte Hornets- Limit opponent open threes

Steve Clifford’s team is one of the rising teams in teams in the East. The Hornets do a lot of things very well, particularly on defense. They are seventh in defensive efficiency, have an incredible defensive rebound percentage, and their opponent free throw rate that ranks 1st in the league.

Charlotte allows 30 three point attempts a game. The Hornets allow 12 open threes a game. Opponents aren’t hitting their open shots, startlingly. Teams are only shooting 33 percent on the open threes that Charlotte provides. This could be based on the teams that they’re up against, or less likely, luck. Either way, this is one of those regular season trends that could come back to haunt them in the postseason.

After giving up a rare offensive rebound, Charlotte failed to recover to the open Nikola Mirotic — waiting for the pass. No one fully commits on the closeout and Mirotic drains an open three in important time in the game.

 

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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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

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