NBA Rookie of the Year

2017-18 NBA rookies: Behind the numbers

Throughout the regular season, we have seen excellent performances out of the first-year players. Now in the playoffs, we are getting a taste of what these rookies are capable of under the bright lights.

In Game 1 against the Miami Heat, Sixers star Ben Simmons was a rebound shy of a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in his playoff debut. He joined Spud Webb as the only rookies to finish a playoff game with at least 17 points, 12 assists and five rebounds. He then followed up that performance with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in Game 2.

NBA Rookie of the Year

Jayson Tatum’s clutch plays helped injury-riddled Boston defeat the Bucks in Game 1. (Photo from CelticsLife.com)

Although his performance was not enough to overcome Oklahoma City and Game 1, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell put on a show in the loss. The 21-year-old had 27 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes of play. He is the first rookie since Tim Duncan to score at least 25 points on 50 percent shooting or better, while corralling 10 boards.

In an epic overtime thriller, Jayson Tatum stepped up big for the Celtics. The former Duke standout had 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals in Boston’s win over Milwaukee. Even OG Anunoby had a solid game off the bench for Toronto, finishing with 12 points in route to the Raptors victory over the Washington Wizards.

The league is getting younger, and these kids can really ball. The Rookie of the Year chase may be down to just Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell, but let’s take a look at the rest of the field and how they fared throughout the 2017-18 NBA season.

The Field

Let’s start with the future of the Lakers, Kyle Kuzma, and the face of the Big Baller Brand, Lonzo Ball. Possibly the most scrutinized rookie of all time, Ball, who had an up-and-down season, ended up with 13 double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles. Say what you want about the kid, but the only rookies to average 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds are Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Ben Simmons and Ball. Without Ball in the lineup, the Lakers went 11-19.

Saying Kuzma exceeded expectations would be an understatement. The 27th pick in the draft, Kuzma became one of eight rookies since 2001 (Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol) to average at least 16 points and six rebounds. He had five games with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds, which was the third-most by a rookie since 2011, behind Griffin and Towns.

NBA Rookie of the Year

Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, the future of the Lake Show. (Photo from NBC Sports)

Kuzma joined Jayson Tatum, Steve Francis and Shane Battier as the only rookies to score 1,100 points, 400 rebounds and 100 threes. Speaking of Tatum, the Celtics rookie finished second among rookies in win shares. Tatum was the complete package for Boston, and joined Towns, Dave Greenwood, Christian Laettner, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Larry Johnson as the only rookies to finish the season with 1,100 points, 400 rebounds, 100 assists, 80 steals, 50 blocks and a free-throw percentage greater than 80 percent.

What about the big men? Lauri Markkanen started the year on fire from deep. He set the rookie record for most threes in his first three career games. Only eight players this season ended the season with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 100 threes: LeBron James, Towns, Nikola Jokic, Dario Saric, Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol and Markkanen. Atlanta’s John Collins was the fifth rookie since 2012 (Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Nerlens Noel, Anthony Davis) to finish with 700 points, 500 rebounds and 80 blocks.

How about some standout individual performances? Against the Toronto Raptors, Miami’s Bam Adebayo finished with 16 points on 57.1 percent shooting, 15 rebounds and five blocks. The only rookies to do that since 1998 are Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol and Towns.

The 2016-17 Horizon League Player of the Year, Valparaiso’s Alec Peters, had quite the stat line in Game 82 for the Phoenix Suns. The former Crusaders star, who averaged 23 points and 10.1 rebounds his senior year, became one of eight players in NBA history to score 36 points with at least eight threes, while shooting less than 15 from deep and also adding nine rebounds. That list includes Ray Allen, Kevin Love, Vernon Maxwell, Jason Kidd, Russell Westbrook, Jason Richardson and James Harden. While most people have never heard of this kid, that is quite a list to be on.

Let’s take a look at the top two rookies from this past season.

Donovan Mitchell

If we were to re-draft the 2017 NBA Draft, Donovan Mitchell would go No. 1 overall, as he was clearly the best player in his draft class. Mitchell set the rookie record for most three-pointers made in a season (187), passing Damian Lillard (185) and Steph Curry (166). He led the Utah Jazz to a 48-34 record, averaging 20.5 points per game. He is one of seven rookies, joining Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Walter Davis, Pete Maravich, and Mitch Redmond, to average 20 points, three rebounds and three assists with a free-throw percentage better than 80 percent.

Mitchell’s seven 30-point games were the most by a rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011. In a game against the Suns, Mitchell caught fire, finishing with 40 points, six assists and five rebounds, becoming one of 14 rookies in NBA history to post a game with at least 40 points, five rebounds and five assists. This was Mitchell’s second 40-point game of the season, which put him in elite company with Griffin and Allen Iverson as the only three rookies since 1985 to have multiple 40-point games in their rookie season.

Ben Simmons

In all honesty, this is a one-man race. All respect to Mitchell, who clearly had a tremendous rookie season, but Ben Simmons is a once-in-a-generation type of player. Barring injury, this guy is a lock for the Hall of Fame. While that may sound crazy, Simmons’ rookie season was one of the best we have ever seen. The Australian finished with the third-highest win shares as a rookie since 2005, behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

NBA Rookie of the Year

Ben Simmons has arrived and is ready to takeover the league (SI.com)

Simmons led all rookies in rebounds, assists and steals. He became the first rookie in history to finish with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, 50 blocks and 50 steals. His 12 triple-doubles were second most in NBA history by a rookie, ahead of Magic Johnson, who had seven. Simmons joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to do average 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists during their rookie seasons.

He also had a few legendary performances. Against LeBron James and the Cavs, the 6-foot-10 point guard collected 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists. He did this while shooting 70.6 percent from the field. The only players to put up those numbers in a game are Wilt Chamberlin and Nikola Jokic.

Simmons also had four 15-assist games, including one against the Hornets in which he scored 20 points and added eight rebounds. He joined James, Westbrook and Jokic as the only players since 2014 to have a game with at least 20 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds while shooting over 55 percent.

Can Simmons carry the Sixers all the way into the NBA Finals? Time will tell.

 

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NBA Rookie of the Year

Race for Rookie of the Year

It seems like every NBA season is “the best rookie class we have seen” or “the young guns that have a future.”  Many would argue that the 2003 class, which included players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, was the best. But it is quite hard to predict which class was the best, especially since the last few draft classes have not even reached their full potential yet.

However, many would argue that this year’s rookie class really could be one of the best, and why not? It is absolutely loaded with raw talent, some expected and some not so much. And with such talent comes a tight race for the Rookie of the Year Award, which will be given out later this summer.

Let’s break down some of the top rookies from this season, their performance and some ROTY possibilities.

Kyle Kuzma

NBA Rookie of the Year

Photo from www.silverscreenandroll.com

Season averages: 15.9 points on 45 percent shooting, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 3-pointers

Taken 27th overall, Kuzma has been the steal of the draft by a long shot. He has shown flashes of greatness and already has a lot of weapons in his arsenal right now.

He really does not look like a rookie this year, and he could be one of those Brandon Ingram-esque guys both in terms of playing style and in the sense that the Lakers will absolutely do anything they can to hold onto him for the future.

While he won’t win the award, he has had some amazing moments in Los Angeles, including an impressive 38-point performance against the Houston Rockets back in December. He has also had some ample opportunities lately without Brandon Ingram, averaging about 21 points and eight boards over the past two weeks. And it is just the beginning.

Lonzo Ball

Season averages: 10.2 points on 35.9 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals

The other rookie in Los Angeles was taken second overall and has had some moments to say the least. He missed a good chunk of time due to injury, but despite inconsistency and the weirdest looking shot, has all the potential in the world to bring to this team. The numbers are already there, and as soon as he gets used to the NBA style of play and boosts his efficiency, he could be very good.

Dennis Smith Jr.

Season averages: 15.2 points on 39.3 percent shooting, 3.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.0 steal

Similar to Ball, Smith’s main issue is efficiency, and there is almost no doubt that this will improve over time as he gets more time under his belt. There was a lot of hype surrounding him before the start of the season, and while he has not really lived up to it, the numbers are not bad at all for such a young guy. The sky is the limit for this kid.

NBA Rookie of the Year

Photo from www.chicago.suntimes.com

Lauri Markkanen

Season averages: 14.9 points on 42.8 percent shooting, 7.5 rebounds, 2.0 3-pointers

Finally, we get to evaluate a big, but Markkanen is not your average big man. He is known more so as a shooter than a post-threat, and very quickly proved how effective he is from behind the arc. He was the fastest player in history to hit 100 3-pointers, which is even more impressive considering he is a big.

Like the others before, there is too much potential in this rookie class for him to win the award, but he could be a really important piece to a franchise’s puzzle.

Jayson Tatum

Season averages: 13.7 points on 47.8 percent shooting, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 3-pointers

Tatum has something that most other rookies this year do not have: efficiency. He has been shooting it well all season from all spots on the floor, including a 3-point percentage over 42 percent.

The numbers do not stand out, but playing with established veterans like Kyrie Irving and Al Horford has helped Tatum make a name for himself. Just watching him is impressive in itself, as some of the things he has done make him look like a seasoned veteran.

Most years he would probably win this award, but the next two players are realistically the only two who could win the award.

Donovan Mitchell vs. Ben Simmons

NBA Rookie of the Year

Photo from www.slcdunk.com

Mitchell season averages: 20.3 points on 43.5 percent shooting, 3.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.4 3-pointers

Simmons season averages: 15.8 points on 53.6 percent shooting, 8.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks

Here are the only two contenders for this year’s ROTY award, and they could not be much more different.

Donovan Mitchell is a pure scorer with not much else going on, but boy is his gameplay impressive. He has taken the Utah Jazz and turned them into a playoff team, often being labeled as that one team no one wants to face in the first round of the playoffs. He has had plenty of highlights, insane dunks and clutch moments when it mattered most for the team.

A huge plus for the rook is that he actually plays defense as well, which is so important to a team like Utah. He might be one of the best scorers the league has seen taking age into consideration, and it can only go up from here.

While there is much to love about Mitchell, Ben Simmons is this season’s Rookie of the Year. He is a 6-foot-10 point guard and a triple-double threat, notching 10 already at 21 years old. Simmons and Joel Embiid have led this very young Sixers team to a playoff berth, and they are another team that could go further than anyone thinks.

In a league where shooting has been the only thing that matters since Steph Curry has been playing, Simmons is a breath of fresh air for old-school fans. He drives, drives and then drives some more. It is a rare occurrence for Simmons to get into the paint and not get some points on the board by the end of the possession.

He is truly a special talent. Simmons is your ROTY, and his potential is actually terrifying. Watch out, NBA.

 

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Lakers fantasy basketball

Lakers fantasy implications the rest of the season

For all of the fantasy basketball nuts out there, this is arguably the most exciting part of the year. As fantasy playoffs approach for head-to-head leagues and things are finally starting to fall into place for those doing rotisserie, player performance becomes just as important as ever.

Let’s dive into the fantasy values of the Los Angeles Lakers, who you might want to hold on to and who you might want to deal.

Holds

On a young team technically still fighting for a playoff spot, the Lakers have plenty to offer in terms of fantasy upside. Here are the Lakers that should be held onto for the remainder of the season.

Brandon Ingram 

Averages in the last week: 19 points, 57.1 percent shooting, five rebounds, five assists, one steal, one block, one 3-pointer

Lakers fantasy basketball

Photo from www.gramunion.com

We should take this one with a grain of salt, because these averages come from just one game. Since then, he has been battling a groin strain and will be reevaluated in a week.

Regardless, one game can show just how much Ingram can contribute to the box score. Assuming the injury isn’t serious, Ingram should be a stud the rest of the way and demand the ball more than anybody on the team.

The young Kevin Durant comparison has a lot of weapons to offer. Unless an owner needs production immediately, riding out the injury and deploying him when healthy will definitely be advantageous.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 

Averages in the last week: 17.3 points, 54.3 percent shooting, 8.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 2.7 3-pointers

Pope is known for his streaky play, but has actually been ridiculously good lately. While the rebounds and percentages won’t be this good the rest of the way, everything else should hover around what it is right now.

There were plenty of rumors that he would get less playing time in order to develop the younger guys, but considering he’s only 25 years old and the departure of Jordan Clarkson, he has been getting big minutes.

He should be a solid source of steals and triples the rest of the way, with a dash of inconsistency.

Julius Randle 

Averages in the last week: 23.7 points, 54.8 percent shooting, seven boards, 1.3 steals

The departure of Larry Nance Jr. has helped Randle in a big way. He has been as dominant as ever lately.

After a slow start to the season, he should be in for a big finish and will definitely help out anyone’s fantasy team.

Honorable mention: Kyle Kuzma

Drops and Deals

Depending on the size and competitiveness of your league, these are the players that could possibly be dropped or dealt in the near future:

Lakers fantasy basketball

Photo from ClutchPoints

Brook Lopez 

Averages in the last week: 12.7 points, 51.7 percent shooting, four boards, one steal, one block, 1.7 3-pointers

While these numbers are not horrible by any means, this is sadly some of the best of Brook Lopez that we have seen this season. His days of knocking down multiple triples per game and consistently contributing to the blocks category have come to an end in Los Angeles, and the maintenance days are inevitable for one of the older Lakers.

If you can sell high on him after a decent week, it wouldn’t be the worst idea.

Isaiah Thomas 

Averages in the last week: 23 points, 38.6 percent shooting, 6.7 assists, 2.7 3-pointers

While the points appear to be nice, the percentages and lack of defensive stats are not a whole lot to write home about. Thomas has not accumulated a single steal in his past five games. His defensive efficiency is hurting fantasy owners more than helping.

Unless you are taking percentages and only need points and a handful of assists for your team, Thomas probably isn’t your guy.

What about Lonzo?

Lonzo Ball 

Averages in the last week: 12 points, 46.2 percent shooting, five rebounds, 6.7 assists, three steals, 3.7 3-pointers

Lakers fantasy basketball

Photo from The Undefeated

Don’t worry, Lonzo Ball has not been forgotten.

Ball seems to lie somewhere in between the two categories listed above, as he is truly a surprise on most nights. Against the Blazers, for example, he was underwhelming with 10 points and not much else. However, he had an 18-7-11 line with six 3-pointers a few nights before against the Spurs.

As a rookie, inconsistency may as well be his middle name, and that is why he may be tough to hold onto. On the other hand, the upside is there and he can usually be treated as a poor man’s Russell Westbrook (inefficient with lots of stats across the board).

The 3-pointers are not sustainable, but everything else could definitely increase slightly. If you are a risk-taker in need of lots of stats across the board who can deal with inefficiency and inconsistency, Ball is the perfect player for you.

Conclusion

A lot can happen in the basketball world, especially on a streaky team like the Los Angeles Lakers. Every fantasy owner is different and has certain needs for their particular team.

But as a whole, the above analysis is a fair prediction of what the rest of the season could look like for each of the mentioned players. For those entering playoffs soon, best of luck, and may the best baller win.

 

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Lonzo Ball Isaiah Thomas

Can the new Lakers coexist?

An individual player’s talent and performance on the court is one thing, but being able to work together with other stars is a whole different topic. This is something that Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball has been faced with, as the arrival of Isaiah Thomas has put him in a place where he is forced to play with someone who was in the MVP conversation just a season ago. But how are two point guards on the same team supposed to coexist with each other?

Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball Isaiah Thomas

Photo from ClutchPoints

Before the arrival of Isaiah Thomas, Lonzo Ball had seen plenty of ups and downs in his first NBA season with the Lakers. He started off quite inconsistent, and many overreacted when thinking if he was the right choice for the future of the franchise.

Others realized that it had only been a few games for the rookie and that there is a learning curve, and as a result, gave him a chance. For the most part, the people in this category were right.

Sadly for Ball, however, he caught the injury bug and was sidelined for over a month. It was bad timing, but better safe than sorry for the oldest Ball brother.

He returned after the All-Star break, and has played four games since. While three of these games were around his average performance, Ball came alive against the Spurs on Saturday with 18 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists, one steal, two blocks and a career-high six 3-pointers. He padded the stat sheet in a big way, and one can only hope this is a sign of things to come for the youngster.

Isaiah Thomas

Lonzo Ball Isaiah Thomas

Photo from Inquisitr

Ball’s performance was highly impressive, but what made it more impressive was that he was able to be successful next to Isaiah Thomas’ great play.

In the same game against the Spurs, Thomas notched 21 points and seven assists in 29 minutes. He played a solid amount of minutes next to Ball, and this game was evidence that their coexisting success is possible.

It’s been a hot topic since returning from injury, but it’s unbelievable that Thomas has already been on two different teams this season after such a phenomenal season with the Celtics. Slightly ironic, the Celtics’ rivals received Thomas for two young players, and many felt he was disrespected in the trade.

He has the ability to play at an elite level, but just has not been able to do so consistently this year. Being the likable guy that he is and someone who is able to prove a point to the league, it is no secret that Thomas wants to find a home to play in. In addition, he isn’t in his early years. The 29-year-old has no time to be on two teams per season.

Thomas’ primary position has been at point guard, so the Lakers bringing him in with a supposed franchise-piece in Ball was an interesting move. However, the speculations about moving him before next season and basically all other possible rumors have been circulating since the point of the trade.

There is truly no knowing what jersey Isaiah Thomas will be wearing next season, but right now, he only has one thing to worry about: his play next to Lonzo Ball.

Is it a fluke?

Now of course, we are looking at a single game where both Ball and Thomas managed to play well. While we do know it is a feasible thing to occur, it must be taken into consideration if it is a sign of things to come, or rather just something that happens once or twice a month.  Statistically speaking, it is virtually impossible to predict this, as the two players have played a total of four games together so far.

As the season goes on, the sample size will be much larger, and it will be easier to determine how these two play together. Will they take turns going off and performing well while the other takes a backseat, or will we see solid and consistent play from them both on most nights?

Conclusion

It’s hard to envision both players having lines as they did against the Spurs on most nights. Yes, they did it against a defensively-focused team, which is quite impressive. But consistency from a young player and someone who just got traded is truthfully a lot to expect.

The most likely scenario is that fans will see big nights like this from both guys on occasion, but expecting one of them to perform at lower standards than the other should not be out of the ordinary. Of course, there are a lot of other things to depend on, but all in all, one should expect one of these guys to take a slight front seat in each given game, forcing Luke Walton to ride the hot hand.

 

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rivalry

Ranking today’s best NBA rivalries

Rivalry, whether friendly or not, is integral to every sport. Duke vs. UNC. Packers vs. Bears. Frazier vs. Ali.

The 2010s have brought on a new era of NBA basketball. And with a new NBA come new rivalries.

Essentially gone are the days of low-post elbow throwing and using the three-pointer as a last ditch effort. Assists and 30-foot shots are the order of the day for the best teams in the league. Feeding the post is an afterthought.

“Hero Ball” hasn’t completely disappeared, though. We see people like James Harden and Anthony Davis come up with 50-point performances seemingly at will. But as we saw with Allen Iverson during his time with the 76ers and LeBron James during his first finals run with the Cavaliers, that kind of play can’t hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

So in the spirit of recognizing that we are living in a new era, here are the NBA’s most prominent rivalries as they stand today.

5. Joel Embiid’s Twitter account vs. Everyone

It’s no doubt that every era of NBA basketball has had its fair share of huge personalities. With the advent of social media, fans are treated to the intricacies of player personalities in a way they’ve never been.

Joel Embiid embodies this in a way few other pro athletes could ever hope to. The 23-year-old uses his social media presence to hit on celebrities, grow his personal brand and, of course, get under other players’ skin.

rivalry

Joel Embiid hyping up the crowd during a game. (Photo by Steven M. Falk/Philly.com)

He has tweeted asking Ben Simmons to dunk on Lonzo Ball so hard that his dad (LaVar Ball) will run on the court to save him. During the preseason, he started beef with Hassan Whiteside, saying that they had to take him off the floor so he wouldn’t foul out trying to guard him. After a win against the Timberwolves, he effectively destroyed Karl-Anthony Towns in the comment section of his Instagram post.

Embiid has a backlog of tweets asking Rihanna out on dates. He manufactured a fake retweet of President Donald Trump voting for himself to be included on the All-Star roster. TJ McConnell, his own teammate, said he’ll never play PlayStation with Embiid again, due to his trash talk. McConnell said it was so brutal that he wanted to throw his controller.

No one is safe from Embiid’s crosshairs in this rivalry. Not even his own teammates.

And these are just some highlights of Embiid’s young, but already prolific, trolling career. If practice does indeed make perfect, then Joel Embiid may end up being the best NBA trash-talker of all time.

4. Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors

Daryl Morey, GM of the Rockets, has made no bones about what their goal for the 2017-2018 NBA season is. He said on a December 21st appearance on ESPN’s The Ryen Russillo Show that the team was, “basically obsessed with [the question] ‘How do we beat the Warriors?'”

The Warriors knocked the Rockets out of the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. That, alone, is enough to give birth to a rivalry. But an explicit statement by one of the most powerful people in the organization that his team’s main goal is to beat one specific team is a thrown gauntlet.

Seeing as Houston won the season series against Golden State 2-1, the plan is coming into fruition. Of course, it doesn’t mean much until the teams meet in the playoffs. But by adding Chris Paul, the Rockets have a fantastic offense that looks built to hang with the vaunted Golden State attack. James Harden seems to be on a mission, as he’s running away with the MVP race. The role-players on the team fit the system perfectly, and the addition of a veteran like Joe Johnson bring an air of confidence to their play.

It’s safe to say that, whatever happens in the playoffs, this rivalry is here to stay. Win or lose, the Rockets will still have the Warriors in their sights while trying to dominate the Western Conference.

3. Zaza Pachulia vs. Everyone’s ankles

It may seem silly to count this as a rivalry, but with the evidence mounting, it has to be discussed.

On May 14, 2017 during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Pachulia fell on Kawhi Leonard, causing him to aggravate an existing ankle injury. Leonard would miss the rest of the series as the Warriors swept the Spurs in four games.

rivalry

Kawhi Leonard lies down in pain directly after the infamous Pachulia closeout. (Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

During February 24th’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Warriors center executed another questionable fall on top of Russell Westbrook. He claimed his leg was hooked by Nick Young, but it seemed as if the fall was aimed as he landed on the reigning MVP’s legs.

Stephen Curry, Zaza’s own teammate, had to leave Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks after accidentally stepping on Pachulia’s foot, causing him to injure his ankle.

Now, that last one obviously wasn’t intentional. Who in their right mind would want to hurt their own teammate? Especially considering Curry is one of the three best players in the league. It seems to fit the narrative that Pachulia puts forth, of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But true accidents aside, one cannot deny that Zaza has a reputation of being one of the dirtiest players in the league.

Reputation and the “Pachulia Rule”

Zaza used his back to slam Nikola Mirotic to the ground during a playoff game during his time with the Bucks. He tried to trip Udonis Haslem while playing for the Atlanta Hawks. Pachulia even got into a heated exchange with his current teammate, David West, after some questionable elbow movement while he was a Maverick. And those are just some of the transgressions in which he’s been implicated during his 14-year NBA career.

It’s hard for someone to truly deem every one of these actions “dirty.” Most of us have never played a minute in the NBA. So how could we speak to his intentions during every questionable play?

For fans of the sport, the old adage of “I know it when I see it,” applies here. Since every conceivable angle of every play is covered, it is easy to make a judgement call from the couch. But watching them over and over, and in slow motion, solidifies whatever opinion one may have already formed. But, again, with this mountain of evidence, it’s a no-brainer to think his intentions are questionable at best.

The NBA has even instituted a rule, dubbed the “Zaza Pachulia Rule,” which allows referees to call a flagrant foul if a closeout during a jump shot is deemed too extreme. This was due to the aforementioned Kawhi Leonard controversy. The Westbrook fall, however, did not fall under that purview. The NBA deemed the fall legitimate, and no action was taken.

This didn’t stop people like Kyrie Irving from calling the play “unacceptable.” His teammates stood behind him, but it seems as if most NBA players and fans agreed that it was unnecessary. And thus, a rivalry between a mediocre center and the rest of the league rages on.

2. Players vs. Officials

The relationship between NBA players and officials has never been as contentious as it is this season. Players are constantly berating the officiating, regardless of whatever fines may incur. Officials are exasperated with the constant barrage of claims that they aren’t doing their job well enough.

Technical fouls have experienced a massive spike during the 2017-2018 season. Draymond Green leads the league with 14, while other hard-nosed players like Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook aren’t far behind. A surprising stat, however, is that Kevin Durant currently sits at third-most in the NBA with 12 technicals. He’s certainly a competitive, fiery player, but he’s not known for behavior worthy of a technical.

rivalry

Shaun Livingston of the Golden State Warriors butts foreheads with a referee on his way to an ejection. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Associated Press)

Over the All-Star weekend, there was a summit between NBA referees and players, intended to patch relations between the two parties. Although there is no official transcript of the meeting, it is said that frustrations by both sides were vented.

The “Respect the Game” rules instituted by the NBA about eight years ago were mentioned heavily. In-game communication was also a focal point, as some officials felt as if explaining certain decisions would only make things rougher on them. Fans will never know everything that was discussed, or how heated the exchanges were, but as the season goes on, we will see how effective the meeting was.

Seeing as how players and officiating are the two most important parts of the game, how this rivalry shakes out will have an impact on the sport at every turn.

1. Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

How about a good, old-fashioned team rivalry for the number one spot?

Of course this is the best rivalry in the NBA. These two teams have met in the last three NBA Finals, which is a record. We all know this history behind this historic three year stretch. It’s not news to anyone except the completely uninitiated.

With Cleveland’s struggles and midseason roster shake-up, it seems as if the Eastern Conference might be up for grabs again. While, in the West, the Rockets have their aim firmly on halting the dynasty.

rivalry

Cleveland and Golden State in a heated mid-game exchange (Photo by Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

If these two teams meet again in the 2018 NBA Finals, it will be because they both earned it. Not because they coasted through the playoffs like they have the previous three years. That will automatically make it more exciting than last year’s finals. The Cavaliers might have a chance to even up the finals series, which would completely alter how we view this juggernaut Warriors team in the future.

Cleveland cannot seem to get it together against the Warriors in the regular season. In their eight tries since 2015, they have only pulled out one win against Golden State. But that seems irrelevant viewed through the prism of another potential finals matchup.

The Warriors have something to prove, too. Signing Kevin Durant was, and still is, seen as the rich getting richer. Winning two titles in a row, and three of the last four, will hush (but not silence) these sentiments.

NBA pundits spend so much time talking about Cleveland and Golden State because they are the league right now. No matter what fans think, it quite literally cannot be covered enough, because, until further notice, they are the reigning conference champions.

This is the most exciting rivalry in sports right now. And now, with new layers and new challenges, things can only get more exciting from here.

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Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Will Isaiah Thomas be on the move again?

The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired former All-Star and crafty scorer Isaiah Thomas, but plenty of question marks lie in the chance of his return next season, his fit next to Lonzo Ball and most importantly, the future of the Lakers.

It is the morning of Feb. 8, 2018, and NBA fans all around the world are constantly navigating through various social media devices to see who is about to end up on a new team by the middle of the day. Plenty of surprises came our way, but arguably none more intriguing, to say the least, than the Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Isaiah Thomas.

What was this trade all about?

The trade involved sending Jordan Clarkson and high-flying act Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in return for Thomas, Channing Frye and a pick. While this did throw off many NBA fans, the Lakers are doing nothing except preparing themselves for the future.

Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Photo from silverscreenandroll.com

The Lakers stood at a record of 23-31 before Thomas stepped foot on the floor for LA, clearly closer to tanking than playoff contention as expected from a young team. The potential is there though. Brandon Ingram is supposedly the next Kevin Durant. Kyle Kuzma has shown flashes of brilliance all season. And of course, there is the one and only Lonzo Ball.

They are young, talented and have the potential to be studs in just a couple years. So why get rid of two other young players when they are already developing the youngsters this season anyway?

Well, it had nothing to do with the talent levels of the newest Cavaliers. In fact, they were some of the best players to come off the bench in the whole league, and the defense (especially Nance’s) will definitely be missed from a defensively-weak Lakers team.

With this trade, Magic Johnson and the Lakers are making it clear that they are doing something that other teams like the Sixers and Timberwolves have already started doing quite well: preparing for the future.

What can Los Angeles do next season?

Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Photo from youtube.com

With this trade, Los Angeles now has enough cap space to sign two free agents to a max deal for the 2018-19 season. This is absolutely huge for the Lakers, as they have been eyeing players like Paul George, LeBron James and seemingly countless other big names since even before this season. Now all of the talk about a couple big signings could become a reality.

The most ambitious (and bandwagon) of Lakers fans are all dead set on James and George both coming to Los Angeles next season. Regardless of the rumors and speculations, there is truly no way of knowing what Los Angeles will do until they announce it themselves. Stay tuned for what should be a wild offseason.

Now what?

For right now, many of us are curious how the rest of the season will go for the Lakers. It’s a huge question mark if Isaiah Thomas will stay or not, but so far not so good for the former All-Star.

After a debut of 22 points and six assists in purple and gold, he has flopped since then, playing just five minutes against the Pelicans and shooting 3-for-15 against the Timberwolves. The biggest takeaway from all of this? All three games since Thomas’s arrival have been losses.

Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Photo from thesource.com

Unfortunately, the issues don’t stop there. No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball is on the verge of returning from an MCL injury, and just so happens to play the same position as Thomas. There’s no doubt that Magic knows this and has ensured fans that Ball would be starting when he returns.

This leaves us with Thomas, who was an All-Star and third in the league in scoring last season, to come off the bench of a slightly below average Los Angeles team.

I know what you are probably thinking. Just a minute ago, I said I liked the trade for cap space purposes, but now I’m giving reasons why it doesn’t make too much sense.

To be crystal clear, the future of the Lakers absolutely benefited from this deal. However, despite many sources saying Thomas plans to stay in Los Angeles, it just does not seem likely. He has the talent and skillset to be a starter on so many teams, and backing up an inconsistent rookie like Ball is probably not where Thomas wants to be after averaging 28.9 points per game.

Prediction

If I had to make some not-so-bold predictions about the Lakers’ roster next season, I would say it is one that lacks guys like Julius Randle, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Isaiah Thomas, but adds at least one superstar with Paul George being a feasible and likely candidate. What the Lakers have done with this trade was a very intelligent way to prepare for next season and beyond, but there is almost no doubt that Thomas will once again be wearing a different jersey.

It’s only speculation at this point, but we could see a whole new group of guys wearing purple and gold next season, and I’m already intrigued to see how everything falls into place.

 

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Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Evaluating Isaiah Thomas’ new role with the Lakers

On Feb. 7, Isaiah Thomas said in a postgame interview with ESPN that he was “tired of being traded.” Hopefully he wasn’t too tired of it, because one day later, the Cleveland Cavaliers shipped him off to Los Angeles.

In the most surprising trade of the deadline, Cleveland sent Thomas and Channing Frye to the Lakers. In return, they received dunk contest participant Larry Nance Jr. and expensive point guard Jordan Clarkson. Cleveland also traded away its first-round pick (not the Brooklyn pick), which should be relatively low.

Thomas has been underperforming in his contract year, coming off of a hip injury. It is now the Lakers’ job to figure out the best way to utilize him.

Bench player

Thomas began his Lakers tenure coming off of the bench against the Mavericks. Los Angeles utilized a backcourt made up of Brandon Ingram and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, two players familiar with the system, instead of starting Thomas.

Thomas’ agent vehemently stated that he will not be a bench player for the Lakers. He even went as far as to say that Thomas would “demand” a buyout if Los Angeles made him a bench player for a significant amount of time.

All of this is understandable for a player who is trying to get paid in the offseason. Of course he wants to be seen as a franchise player, rather than a bench scoring option.

But considering his lack of production since his injury, it’s also understandable that the Lakers want to hedge their bets. In his 15-game sample size as a Cavalier, he averaged 14.7 points and 4.5 assists. That’s a huge drop-off from the 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game he contributed last season in Boston. It’s reasonable to question whether he’ll ever be the same player as he was in the 2016-17 campaign.

Defense

In his career year last year, Brad Stevens and the Celtics successfully hid Isaiah Thomas’ defensive shortcomings. This was due to the coaching and the overall defensive talent and commitment in Boston.

The Cavaliers, however, could not. In his time with Cleveland he posted the worst defensive rating for any player in the last 25 years. Being historically bad at defense is not a good look, even in a league that doesn’t put a premium on defense.

Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Darren Collison blows by Isaiah Thomas during his time with the Cavaliers. (Photo by Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports)

Whether or not he can improve this area of his game will have massive impact on Thomas’ new role. The Lakers are not in contention for a playoff berth, and it’s unlikely that they would sign him after the seasons’ end. Dumping Clarkson’s salary and receiving a pick positions Los Angeles to get two stars in the upcoming offseasons. Signing Thomas to the rich contract he’d likely ask for would work directly against that plan.

However, if he can somehow return to last year’s form and improve his awful defense, the Lakers’ focus could shift slightly. He could even be seen as a piece of their future. It’s all very doubtful, though.

Crowded backcourt

Although Lonzo Ball is currently out with an MCL sprain, the Lakers have all but committed to him as their point guard of the future. That doesn’t bode well for Thomas’ starting point guard aspirations.

Isaiah Thomas Lakers

Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope during a game against the Wizards. (Photo by Nick Wass/Associated Press)

Los Angeles also has Tyler Ennis, Gary Payton II and Brandon Ingram, who can play the position. Couple that with the three shooting guards on the roster, and that makes for a very crowded field. Thomas will very much have to win his starting spot.

Thomas does have his potential going for him though. And the Lakers have enough young talent to mask his struggles somewhat. He also has veteran status, which is invaluable on such a young team.

Again, though, since the Lakers are not in playoff contention, they will be doing their best to give their young players time on the court.

Prediction

Thomas will probably be a spot-starter for the Lakers moving forward. Walton will throw him in the starting rotation in games where offense will be the order of the night.

It makes perfect sense to bring him off of the bench for his first game as a Laker. He’s unfamiliar with the system, and will need an adjustment period before starting him is justified.

Thomas obviously needs more games removed from the hip injury before NBA teams and fans can judge him fairly. But during a contract year on a team where he is a luxury, Los Angeles can do whatever they want regarding his playing time.

Magic Johnson is a former point guard that has a reputation of building relationships with his players. That alone means Thomas will get some starts so he can try to improve his value as he attempts to lock up a new contract.

 

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LeBron James new team

Weighing LeBron’s most likely landing spots

LeBron James’ contract is up at the end of the season. He’s officially fulfilled his commitment to Cleveland. He delivered a championship to the long-suffering city in the most exciting NBA Finals of the past 10 years.

So that begs the question of where is his next stop?

The most interesting thing about this debate is that many teams are in limbo until James narrows down his list. Some teams are trading away players to guarantee the cap space, while others are loading up to lure him to their city. Still, others are gauging his interest to make the most calculated moves to prepare for either eventuality.

The entire league is waiting with bated breath to see where The King wants to take his talents next. No matter where he goes, the move will shake up the foundation of the NBA for the length of his new contract. He’s been tied to many teams through the rumor mill, but here are the most interesting propositions.

Los Angeles Lakers

Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news yesterday that the lakers are “shifting their focus to the 2019 free agent class.” That could mean a few things.

The most likely explanation is that James wouldn’t want to go to the Lakers without any bona fide stars on the roster. He’s carried teams to the playoffs and finals by himself before, and all signs indicate he’s on the quest for more rings.

LeBron James new team

LeBron James and Lonzo Ball share a postgame hug. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

If he signs there at the seasons’ end, James will be alone with Lonzo Ball and Larry Nance Jr., who are not huge draws. James might want the team to bring in some talent before he commits. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson are all names that appear to be on Magic Johnson’s shortlist.

It could also mean that Johnson isn’t positive he can reel in James at all, and that he doesn’t want to trade away assets and clear massive cap space to pull in someone who may not be interested.

Leaving the cap open also allows them to go in a different direction. The Lakers could pull two or maybe even three stars after next season, letting James go his own way.

James owns homes in Los Angeles, and it’s well-known that he wants to make a transition to Hollywood after his NBA career is over. Pair that with the Lakers’ storied history and their ability to draw in free agents, and it’s hard to believe the team would not go after him with everything they’ve got.

But consider the possibility that James goes to another team on a max deal, with an opt-out clause after the first year. If things don’t go according to plan in his new city, he could exercise that option. Assuming Johnson can pull in a superstar, then the door is open for James to put on the purple and gold.

It’s messy and complicated, but Magic Johnson has the star power to get this done.

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio’s championship window is closing. The team is old, and their three best players’ contracts expire after next season.

There is one sure-fire way to get them to re-sign, possibly even for less money. That way includes signing LeBron James.

LeBron James new team

Gregg Popovich and LeBron James congratulate each other after Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

A team including LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, coached by Gregg Popovich, is an instant title contender. Age and bench players be damned, that team could compete with any team in the league. Pau Gasol will be pushing 40 by the time his contract is up, but just ask Manu Ginobili how Coach Popovich can keep up old players’ efficacy.

Keep in mind that James has never had a coach anywhere near as good as Popovich. As he gets older and has to start becoming more of a system player rather than a one-man wrecking crew, coaching goes a long way.

This all hinges on the idea that James can draw in some young talent to one of the least exciting basketball cities in the country. Leonard and Aldridge would also have to re-sign. But their tradition of excellence makes it hard to completely count the Spurs out of contention.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are a very interesting dark horse candidate to land LeBron James. They have a breadth of young talent and the most cap space in the NBA at over $75 million.

The potential to be very good for a long time could be a huge draw for James. It also would allow him to be a leader and a mentor to the young guys on the team. That would be a complete 180 degree turn from his current situation with the Cavaliers.

The problem here is that none of the players are established enough to prove to him that Philadelphia would put him in a position to win more titles. Ben Simmons is firmly in contention for Rookie of the Year, but he has an injury history, and the sample size is tiny.

The same goes for Joel Embiid. He’s been injured constantly and just played in back-to-back games for the first time on Feb. 2 and 3. Markelle Fultz is also injured and has seemingly forgotten how to shoot the basketball.

Again, the key here is the 76ers’ cap space. The contracts there are extremely manageable, and if the young players can stay healthy, they can be doubly useful, either as trade bait or pieces of the team’s success moving forward. The ability to sign players that James likes to play with has been a huge part of his decisions in the past. However, Philadelphia is still a couple of years away from being true contenders in the East.

New York Knicks

James has been in the Eastern Conference since he entered the NBA. Staying in the East would more than likely set him up for the most success moving forward. He knows every team in the league inside and out, but playing with a similar travel schedule will be more important as he gets older. The Knicks check that box.

LeBron James new team

James shoots over Kristaps Porzingis. (Photo by: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

New York City is the Mecca of basketball. Playing at Madison Square Garden 41 nights out of the year would be beyond compare for someone who as aspirations to become the greatest NBA player of all time. Delivering a championship to New York could very well solidify that position.

Kristaps Porzingis is out for the year, and ACL tears are a notoriously difficult injury. But given his skill set, there is no reason to believe he won’t come back 100 percent. Porzingis would be a huge draw to James if he does indeed come back strong.

Apart from The Unicorn and the city, there is little else to convince anyone that James will be a Knick. The front office is a mess, and the team has little to no direction at the moment. James could fix the latter, but this move is unlikely at best.

Los Angeles Clippers

Another Los Angeles team has LeBron James sized aspirations.

Dumping Blake Griffin’s contract off of the payroll was a major first step towards landing The King. If the Clippers deal DeAndre Jordan as well, the cap space will be wide open for a max deal. Plus, the organization also just announced that they are re-signing Lou Williams. Williams and Patrick Beverley could create a sneaky-good backcourt, although the team would still lack talent.

But still, they are a Los Angeles team. The city alone guarantees people will want to play for the Clippers. If Paul George truly does want to play in Los Angeles, who is to say he has to play for the Lakers? George and James would more than fix the frontcourt issues. Also, delivering a championship to a team that’s never seen the Western Conference Finals could cement the status James is chasing.

However, as with the Lakers, trading away assets on the promise of potential signings might not be the way to go. James wants to win now and often. Jockeying to sign him may have just taken them out of the conversation.

Houston Rockets

Now for the most likely candidate. Houston may very well have the pieces to beat Golden State right now. Add LeBron James to the team and you have a competitive Western Conference again. The problem for the NBA, however, is that the NBA Finals would be little more than a formality.

LeBron James new team

James Harden guards LeBron James. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

Regardless, playing with James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela would be huge for James. After all, playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh alone worked out well for him. The pieces the Rockets have are better than that Miami Heat team.

Some NBA fans, however, think playing with stars tarnished James’ legacy. He has made it clear he is uninterested in those opinions, but it could play a part in deciding not to play on a super team.

Also, to clear the cap space, the bench would more than likely suffer immensely. James won’t be able to average 36.8 minutes a game forever. Harden and Paul could lighten the load, but not significantly.

But James wants rings, as many as he can get. The move to Houston would give him the best chance to win more of them.

 

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Five things to be thankful for in the NBA

Everyone has something to be thankful for come holiday season. With Thanksgiving passing yesterday it’s time to reflect on the things we are thankful for in sports.

The NBA season has been filled with twists and turns. Many teams and players have created a different narrative to this year’s NBA. The teams that have dominated both conferences are not the ones on top. Players have both emerged and fallen from last season. However we are thankful for many things that make the NBA entertaining. Here are five of the things that have made the NBA the most interesting this season.

The 76ers’ young guys

If you haven’t watched Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington play you should. The three of them are making the 76ers more than exciting to watch. They are something to be thankful for due to the elevated play in the East. Having a team emerge with great young talent to compete every night with the top teams in the East is definitely something to be thankful for.

Simmons is averaging 19, 9 and 7 and Joel Embiid is averaging a double-double. Covington is shooting 46 percent from three while shooting just under eight a game. The 76ers are 10-7 and are sitting in the sixth spot in the East. Simmons has been terrific, taking defensive rebounds and turning them into points.

The Sixers have been off to a good start and are just a couple games back in the East. They should continue their pace and be a tough out for a top team in the East come playoff time.

The Gordon Hayward-less Boston Celtics

Well now the Cavaliers don’t like the superior team in the East. Gordon Hayward went down in the first quarter of the season and the Celtics rallied around that. They have the best record in basketball and have beaten the Warriors already this season.

Many thought the season was lost for the Boston Celtics without Gordon Hayward. Instead, they are continually proving they belong. They have the best defensive unit in the league right now and previously held the best offense in the NBA to 88 points. Finally the best team in the East doesn’t look like the Cavaliers, it only took a few years.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant

Everyone loves a little conflict and soap opera. What Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have created is flat out chippy and fans can’t take their eyes off of it. Many cheer against Kevin Durant for his choice to join the Golden State Warriors and Russ has “poked the bear” in a sense.

Russell Westbrook has felt disrespected due to Kevin Durant’s decision and has made it an on the court conflict. It has made games that are normally not as interesting and turned it into prime time television.

A new villain has been created

NBA

Lonzo Ball, (Thewinningtake.com).

Lonzo Ball is a villain. Like it or not LaVar Ball has made fans not like his son but in a way it has made the NBA better. Teams look forward to playing the Lakers to watch the opposing point guard play him tough.

This is exactly what his dad wanted to do by making a below average Lakers team relevant and putting his son in the forefront because of it. People now are drawing attention to an 8-11 team with a point guard who is shooting under 32 percent.

I still find myself thinking about how thankful we are to have a person to cheer against every night. It’s like fantasy sports because it makes fans care about games that they wouldn’t normally. So in a way, LaVar deserves a thank you.

The Timberwolves in playoff position

Obviously it’s very early in the season but the Timberwolves look very good. They have a big three in Karl Anthony-Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. They are competitive every night and look poised to finally make the playoffs. We always cheer for things that don’t happen often right? Well the Timberwolves have been absent from the playoffs for a while.

It would be good for basketball to have a shake up in playoff teams. It gets boring seeing the same teams make the playoffs year in and year out. The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season. This could be the season that they finally break that extremely long drought. The Timberwolves round out the Thanksgiving list because they are finally relevant and create a tough playoff opponent for anyone they face.

 

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NBA takeaways

Eight thoughts about the NBA season minus LeBron James

The NBA is off to a wonderful, yet somewhat surprising start. The Celtics have won 16 straight games, the Pistons are third in the Eastern Conference and the Oklahoma City Thunder are under .500 despite building a super team in the offseason. Here are a few early season takeaways.

1. Is Lonzo Ball going to be good?

Going into the draft, the Lakers knew they were not drafting Lonzo Ball for his scoring ability, but his shot has been just awful. On shots from 0-3 feet from the basket (essentially layups), Ball is shooting 45.5 percent. His abysmal 22.8 3-point percentage is the worst in the NBA.

NBA takeaways

Hopefully Lonzo can figure out the whole shooting thing (Photo from ClutchPoints)

Instead of panicking, let’s look at some other famous guards. Russell Westbrook shot 47.6 percent from 0-3 feet, and 27.1 percent from three during his first year with the Oklahoma City Thunder. John Wall shot 40.9 percent from the field as a 20-year old in Washington, which is not as poor as Lonzo’s 31.3 percent, but is still weak.

Now for the positives. His assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty solid, and he already has two triple-doubles. Only 12 other guards have eclipsed multiple triple-doubles during their rookie seasons. That list consists of Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, Chris Paul, Walt Frazier, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Johnson. It also includes Michael Carter-Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Art Williams and Elfrid Payton.

Long story short, he could be great, but he also could be a major bust. He appears somewhat passive, and walking away from a fight that involved his teammates makes me question his toughness. Only time will tell, but in BBB we trust. Through 17 games, Ball is averaging 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The only other rookies to average at least seven boards and seven assists were Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

2. Ben Simmons is super talented

You can already tell that, barring injury, Ben Simmons will be in the Hall of Fame. He is a lock for NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging a ridiculous 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. The only other rookie to average at least 18-8-7 was the great Oscar Robertson. He is the modern day Magic Johnson, and NBA fans should be ecstatic.

The kid can do it all. He is special in half court, full court, open court, heck, he would probably be good in a court of law. The best part is a guy who has no jump shot is shooting 52.3 percent from the field. Simmons dominates inside, shooting 73.5 percent from 0-3 feet. I pray each and every day that he stays healthy for the remainder of the season.

3. Joel Embiid is so fun for the NBA

On Monday night, we watched Embiid swat Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, then proceeded to talk trash while Mitchell was down. This prompted Mitchell to shove Embiid, who flopped and drew a technical foul as he fell down to the floor.

In a game against the Clippers, Embiid had 32 points and 16 rebounds, while taunting Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The following night, Embiid put up his historic 46-15-7-7 stat line and proceeded to taunt Lonzo and LaVar Ball on social media.

Embiid is a national treasure, and like his teammate Simmons, needs prayers every night to stay healthy. He has a chance to be an all-time great, both on and off the court.

4. Brad Stevens is a magician and Kyrie Irving is special

The Celtics are off to an amazing start at 16-2, but the MVP of their team is not on the court. He is patrolling from courtside and calling out the plays.

Head coach Brad Stevens is the obvious choice for Coach of the Year and rightfully so. Without Gordon Hayward, Boston is riding a 16-game winning streak, and sits atop the Eastern Conference. Their defense has been phenomenal, ranking second in opponent field goal percentage, third in opponent threes allowed and fifth in total steals. Offensively, Boston is first in total rebounds and third in free throws made.

NBA takeaways

16 and counting (Photo from NBA.com)

When the Celtics were sitting at 14 straight, Stevens, in a postgame interview, noted “We gotta play a lot better.” That is a clear sign of an elite coach.

Kyrie Irving is shooting worse from the field, from three and from the line compared to last season. Luckily, Irving looks to be back on track after two dominating performances. Against the Hawks, Irving had 30 points while shooting 10-12. On Monday, Uncle Drew had his best game as a member of the Celtics. In an eight-point win against Dallas, Irving had 47 points (16-22), six assists and was +21 for the game.

He is also the most clutch player in the NBA. In the final five minutes with the score within five, Irving, in 38 minutes, has 65 points (24-39), 10 assists, zero turnovers, and a plus-minus of +40. Momma there goes that man.

5. Victor Oladipo looks like an All-Star

After being the punchline in the Paul George trade, the former No. 2 overall pick is having quite the season in Indiana. Oladipo is averaging 22.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, while shooting 44.7 percent from long range. All of a sudden, Oladipo is an offensive threat, and has the Pacers above .500.

6. Dwight Howard is a Hall of Famer

On Monday night, Howard had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. This was his 49th 20-point, 20-rebound game, which is the most of any player since 1983. Yes, that is more than Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal.

NBA takeaways

Dwight Howard will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame (Photo from USA Today)

This past March in an interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated, Howard was asked about whether or not he thinks he will be the Hall of Fame. He responded by saying, “No doubt. It’s kind of got swept under the rug because the perception of all the things that happened in Orlando. All of the media stuff. If you look at basketball itself, and I don’t ever talk about myself, but winning three Defensive Player of the Year trophies has never been done. Leading the league in rebounding six straight years. All that kind of stuff, I think that deserves it.”

Although he actually has only led the NBA in five total seasons rather than six straight, the eight-time All-Star should walk into the Hall of Fame with ease. It’s so funny because he has had such an awkward career, from dominating in Orlando, to flopping with the Lakers and bouncing from the Rockets to the Hawks and now the Hornets.

Yes, he has probably underachieved, but Howard’s numbers will put him up with the all-time greats when all is said and done.

7. What is going on in OKC?

Of course it takes time to adjust to playing with other All-Stars, but this Thunder team is sketchy. They are 7-9, and Russell Westbrook is shooting worse from the field and free-throw line than last year. He also has less assists per game despite having more talent around him.

Carmelo Anthony is shooting 42.2 percent, which would be the worst field goal percentage of his career. They are constantly letting teams back into games after the first quarter, and have now lost two straight despite being ahead by 20 points in both contests. Hopefully this team figures it out and can compete with Golden State come June.

8. James Harden is the MVP at this point in the season

Harden leads the league in points and assists per game. He is shooting 45 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from deep and 86.4 percent from the line.

Houston leads the Western Conference at 13-4, and Harden was dominating without Chris Paul, the team’s second best player, who was dealing with an injury. He dropped 56 points against Utah, and another 48 against the Suns.

 

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