2017 NBA Mock Draft

2017 NBA Mock Draft 1.0 (Pre-Lottery)

This mock draft will factor in team needs heavily rather than who is the best player. The draft order won’t be set in stone until the lottery takes place, but the talk is already starting on who will go number one overall.

Many scouts and experts are picking Markelle Fultz to go first, but it depends on who wins the lottery. Right now these predictions will be based solely off current standings and will continue to be until the draft lottery takes place. Here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA mock draft.

1: Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Josh Jackson sG Kansas

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

The Boston Celtics do not need a point guard. Fultz may be the best player in the draft, but Isaiah Thomas isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thomas is also a proven player while any player coming out of college is unproven.

Fultz may be the best player in the draft but doesn’t fit what the Celtics need. The Celtics play great team defense and need a scorer to take the load off of Thomas.

Josh Jackson could prove to be a valuable scoring option for Boston as he averages 16.7 points per game. Jackson in a two-way player capable of becoming a superstar. Boston would be smart to add him to their core.

2: Los Angeles Lakers: Markelle Fultz pG Washington

Picking what the Lakers will do is extremely difficult. They just spent the 2015 second overall pick on a point guard. The Lakers issue is veteran leadership. They have a core of young players who just need time to develop. L.A. could trade this pick for a star player, but if they do keep it expect them to take the best available player.

That would be Washington guard Markelle Fultz. Fultz is averaging 23.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and six assists per game. Fultz also has a player efficiency rating (PER) of 28.6 and is clearly the best player in the draft. The Lakers can not pass on that just to fill a position of need.

3: Phoenix suns: Jayson Tatum Sf duke

Jayson Tatum has a well-polished iso game that is NBA ready. The Suns have a star in the making with Devin Booker and need to find a player to grow alongside him.

Tatum could grow to be a solid second option in the NBA. 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 the Suns may be able to find a Robin for their Batman.

4: Orlando Magic: Lonzo Ball Pg UCLA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

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

Everyone is talking about LaVar Ball’s opinions rather than the play of Lonzo Ball. Ball can ball. It is as simple as that.

His father may be onto something when talking about how good his son can be. However, talking so openly may hurt his son’s draft stock.

Sticking strictly to Lonzo and his basketball ability, it is clear that he is a top prospect. Ball is a great passer with a high basketball I.Q. In the NBA Ball will be a floor general capable of running the team from the court.

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. Orlando needs a franchise player and that is exactly what Lonzo Ball will be.

5: 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, will not make his debut this year either. The 76ers still believe those pieces will result in playoff appearances and maybe even titles.

Interestingly enough, reports came out that Philadelphia brass believes Simmons will be the point guard. That is why they will use this top-five 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.

6: New York Knicks: Dennis Smith Pg N.C. State

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: William Howard/Icon Sportswire)

The Knicks need a young explosive point guard who will grow alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony is on the back half of his career and will most likely be out of the picture soon. Derrick Rose has been very respectable in New York, but he is not the same player that won the league MVP.

Dennis Smith is a top-five talent who will fall a bit due to some of the other needs teams have. Not all are looking for a point guard.

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

Smith would be a great pick here if the Knicks want to take steps towards becoming a playoff team.

7: Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Issac PF Florida State

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.

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

8: Sacramento Kings (Via Pelicans): De’Aaron Fox PG Kentucky

The Kings can afford to be risky with one of their two top-10 picks. Buddy Hield will need a backcourt partner in crime, and Fox could fit that mold.

Fox is unique because he is left handed. It is sometimes hard to defend left-handed players because defenders are used to right handed defenders. He is also extremely quick and defenders may have trouble keeping up with him.

Fox will need to work on shooting with more consistency. With Hield alongside him, all Fox needs to do is run the offense.

9: Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen PF Arizona

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu)

Dallas got their center when they traded for Nerlens Noel. The guard positions seem to be held down as well with the emergence of Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry. That makes Lauri Markkanen a perfect option for the Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki will be going into his final season and the Mavericks need to find his future replacement. Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to replace the greatest European player in NBA history.

Drafting Markkanen will allow him to develop in his first season before Dirk rides off into the sunset.

10: Minnesota Timberwolves: Harry Giles PF Duke

The Minnesota Timberwolves are right on the cusp of becoming a great NBA team. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are continuing to grow and will be one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA in the coming years. They have already begun to show signs of it. Point guard is not an issue as they have Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. Picking Giles would be a shock here at number 10, but could be a huge steal.

Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the number one overall 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 under Tom Thibodeau.

This pick could be a bust, but it will more likely create a young core in Minnesota capable of winning championships.

11: Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges SF Michigan St.

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

The Hornets need a solid wing player and Miles Bridges would be a good fit.

Bridges is a dunking machine and plays with an extremely high motor. One of Bridges’ weaknesses is that he has no true position. Shooting guard, small forward and power forward are all in play for Bridges. Charlotte would likely play him at small forward.

Bridges has also shown consistent improvement in his shooting since high school.

12: Portland Trailblazers: Robert Williams PF Texas A&M

Robert Williams can jump out of this world. He can put anyone on a poster and loves to do so. There are countless highlights of him dunking on opponents.

Williams has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, and he knows how to use it. That wingspan allows him to excel as a rebounder and shot blocker.

One thing going against Williams is that he is raw as a big man. He lacks consistency like many raw prospects. The better competition gave him trouble, but with development from NBA coaches, he can turn into a solid NBA starter.

13: Miami Heat: Isaiah Hartenstein PF Germany

The Heat have been 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. The Heat need a power forward that can stretch the floor since Whiteside is the inside presence.

Isaiah Hartenstein would be a great fit in Miami. He is a versatile left-handed player who can not only score inside, but outside as well. 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.

14: Chicago Bulls: Frank Ntilikina Pg France

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: https://hardwoodhoudini.com

One thing is clear in the NBA: teams need a franchise point guard. The Bulls do not have a franchise point guard on their roster and will be looking for one in this year’s draft. Drafting at the end of the lottery does not leave them with many options, but it will allow them to take Frank Ntilikina out of France.

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 the franchise point guard the Bulls desperately need.

15: Denver Nuggets: John Collins Pf Wake Forest

Denver has a lot of young talent, and Collins is a bit of a project. If the Nuggets take a year or two to develop Collins, then he can become a valuable asset.

16: Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton C Creighton

There have been a lot of problems with Greg Monroe in Milwaukee. The Bucks have found a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo and need a big man inside to feed off of him. Justin Patton from Creighton can be that guy.

17: Detroit Pistons: Ivan Rabb C Cal

There have been swirling rumors that Andre Drummond was going to be traded just before the deadline. That still may happen in the offseason, and the Pistons need to prepare for that. Ivan Rabb would be a great fit with Stan Van Gundy.

18: Indiana Pacers: Luke Kennard SG Duke

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Kennard has been unbelievable in the second half of the season for Duke. Paul George is rumored to be on his way out of Indiana via trade or free agency in two years. Kennard may not become a franchise player, but will come into the NBA as a scoring machine.

19: Atlanta hawks: TJ Leaf PF UCLA

Drafting a power forward may not make sense with Paul Millsap around, but TJ Leaf is a bit of a project. Millsap will want to be on a contending team as his career unwinds. Everyone knows the Hawks are not winning a championship. Drafting Leaf now gives him time to develop until Millsap leaves.

20: Portland Trailblazers (Via Memphis): Justin Jackson SF North Carolina

Justin Jackson would be a great fit in Portland alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards can focus on the scoring and Jackson can be the team’s wing defender. Jackson is capable of guarding multiple positions and would be a solid pick by the Trailblazers.

21: Oklahoma City: DILLON BROOKS SF OREGON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

22: TORONTO RAPTORS: DWAYNE BACON SF FLORIDA STATE

Toronto has one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Bacon can come in and be a solid rotation player allowing the Raptors to deepen their bench as they continue to chase a championship.

23: ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS): TYLER LYDON PF SYRACUSE

Orlando is a tough team to gauge and need a lot. Lydon would be a head-scratching pick, but something they would do. Lydon won’t become an All-Star but will be a solid rotation player in the NBA.

24: Brooklyn Nets (via Washington): JOSH HART SG VILLANOVA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP)

Brooklyn needs anything and everything and is nowhere close to being a good NBA team. Josh Hart could bring a culture change to the franchise. He is a leader and a winner and the Nets could use some of that in their locker room.

25: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): BAM ADEBAYO PF KENTUCKY

Adding Bam Adebayo to pair up with Hart could be the start of turning things around. They won’t win many games, but the rebuild has to start somewhere. Adebayo is a solid prospect with lots of potential.

26: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN PF PURDUE

The Jazz are in as good of a position as the Celtics. They will finish as the fourth or 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.

27: 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. Kurucs is versatile and can be a valuable scoring option in the NBA.

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

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: By Pat McDonogh, The CJ)

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: 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.

30: SAN ANTONIO SPURS: THOMAS BRYANT C INDIANA

The Spurs are like the Patriots. They know what they are doing and you don’t question them. LaMarcus Aldridge’s future is in jeopardy due to health concerns. With Kawhi Leonard being a two-way star, the Spurs need a big man who can protect the paint.

 

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D'Angelo Russell Future Star

D’Angelo Russell Future Star?

When young players enter the NBA, fans expect them to become stars immediately. If at 19,20 or 21 years old they aren’t dominating the game, many people start to think of them as busts. The fact is they need time to gain experience in the professional game. It requires patience that many fans don’t have.

Players must go through the long, draining NBA regular seasons that last from October to April. These players are still kids barely out of college and usually aren’t ready for full NBA seasons until they have experienced a few.

One of the players often mentioned as not living up to his potential has only been in the NBA two seasons. That player is Los Angeles Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell.

Laker Nation

D'Angelo Russell Future Star

(Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org)

The Lakers’ fanbase is one of the most impatient in all of sports, but for good reason. The Lakers franchise was founded back in 1947 in Minneapolis and moved to Los Angeles in 1960. In their franchise’s illustrious history, the Lakers have played in 31 NBA Finals and captured 16 championships, which is second most all-time.

Los Angeles is used to great players and winning teams. The team has had some of the most legendary players in the history of the game like Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Winning is all the Lakers have ever known, which is why they have such an impatient fanbase. From the 1948-1949 season until the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers had only missed the playoffs five times. It is absolutely incredible to think about that level of consistency over six decades.

The recent Laker seasons have had nothing to do with winning. Over the past four seasons, including this one, the Lakers have gone 84-225. L.A. will miss the playoffs four consecutive seasons after this one. In their first 65 years, they missed the playoffs five times and are now about to miss the playoffs four straight. It is understandable that Laker fans are frustrated.

The departure of Kobe Bryant has left the Lakers searching for a star to carry the franchise. They do not have to look far for that star because they have already drafted him.

star Point Guards in their early years

D'Angelo Russell Future Star

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

D’Angelo Russell, also known as D-Lo, is already off to a great start to his young career. Russell is going to be constantly overshadowed by Karl Anthony-Towns, who was the first overall pick in the same draft class.

Towns has gotten most of the attention due to his unbelievable play so far. However, Russell’s first two seasons in the NBA are right on par with some of the NBA’s star point guards.

To really understand the projection Russell’s career should take, we must look at how he compares to these star guards in their first two seasons in the NBA.

The first comparison will be to Damian Lillard. Lillard averaged 19.9 points, 6.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 37.2 minutes per game in his first two seasons . Lillard is one of the best guards in the league now and was off to a great start due to the high minutes he was playing.

The next comparison is MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. After two seasons in the league, Westbrook averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. Just as Lillard averaged high minutes, so did Westbrook with 33.4 minutes per game.

The last guard for comparison will be Wizards star John Wall. Wall averaged 16.4 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. Wall’s minutes were right on par with Lillard’s as he averaged 37 minutes per game.

These three guards are all considered top guards and leaders of their respective teams. How close is D’Angelo Russell to following in their footsteps?

D’Angelo Russell: The Future Star

The first thing noticeable about how Russell stacks up with these other guards is in minutes played. D’Angelo Russell is playing far fewer minutes than the other guards mentioned above. Russell has averaged just under 28 minutes a game (27.8) in his first two seasons. Compared to Wall and Lillard, that is 10 minutes less per game.

D'Angelo Russell Future Star

(Gif Credit: http://thedoublescreen.com)

Considering he is playing far fewer minutes, his stats are still pretty similar to theirs.

This season, Russell is averaging 14.9 points, 4.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. Per 36 minutes, those numbers jump to 19.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.9 rebounds. If Russell was playing more, he would be averaging around the same numbers as these stars were in their second seasons.

Along with the solid numbers, Russell has proven he can hit big shots. He has made the saying “ice in my veins” famous all because he pointed to his arm when he hit a clutch 3-pointer as you can see in the gif to the left.

Russell not only has the pressure of living up to the hype of the second overall pick in the draft, but also has to follow the legendary Kobe Bryant. He is taking over a franchise that for the last 20 seasons was led by a man who won five NBA Championships.

There is a long list of stars to live up to in Hollywood, but Russell just needs more time. He is just 21 years old, but the future looks bright. The current star point guards in the NBA were once doing exactly what he is doing now so be patient and don’t worry Lake Show. D’Angelo is on his way to becoming the next Laker star.

 

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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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The Battle For the Eight-Seed In the West

As of now, it looks like the top seven seeds in the Western Conference are set. The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit in the seven seed. They have seven more wins than the Denver Nuggets, who currently hold the eighth seed.

The seven top seeds in the West also are the only Western Conference teams with positive point differentials this year. It seems like the top seven seeds in the West will be, in some order, the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Jazz, Clippers, Grizzlies and Thunder.

That leaves one spot up for grabs in the playoffs this year. This is already an unusual position for teams to be in in the Western Conference. According to Tom Haberstroh on Twitter, the projected record of the eight seed in the West would be the worst since 1997.

So with a plethora of teams fighting for that final spot, what teams have the potential to make a strong push in the final months of the season?

The Contenders

The Denver Nuggets currently hold the eighth spot. Although their lead is still slim, they have a good chance of keeping that spot in the final few months.

(courtesy of Denver Stiffs)

For starters, Nikola Jokic has been on a tear recently. In his last 10 games Jokic has put up 22.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. Those are elite numbers coming from the young big men. The emergence of Jokic as a truly elite big man put the Nuggets in good position to keep their playoff hopes alive this spring.

Their deep bench has also been a huge asset this season. The young backcourt of Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray has been performing well so far this season. Murray or Mudiay have been featured in four out of the five most efficient lineups for the Nuggets. Their young talent has given them depth off of the bench that could make them a threat down the stretch.

Their trade earlier this week makes it clear that they are trying to make the playoffs this year. Mason Plumlee will be a big help for the Nuggets and has been having a great season so far. They also eliminate the somewhat redundant skill-sets of Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic that has been plaguing them all season. The Nuggets have to be the favorite to take the eighth seed at this point.

The Sacramento Kings could also contend for that final spot. The Kings have one thing that the Nuggets lack. They put one of the top players in the league onto the court every night.

(courtesy of Deadspin)

Demarcus Cousins has been having yet another great season for the Kings this year. He is averaging 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, and has improved his three point shot significantly. The injury to Rudy Gay will make it difficult to win enough games down the stretch however. They have been keeping their head above water without Gay, but his scoring threat is dearly missed on the team.

If the Kings are able to make a deal at the deadline that brings them more scoring, they have a shot at making the playoffs. Otherwise, the playoffs may be a pipe dream. With their supreme lack of talent outside of Cousins, it may be better to have a lottery pick this season anyways.

The Portland Trailblazers have been somewhat of a disappointment this season, but remain in contention for the eight seed. The Blazers are another team that desperately needs a trade before the deadline if they want to contend.

(courtesy of Hoops Habit)

The acquisition of Nurkic will certainly be helpful, but it’s unlikely that he is enough to turn the team around. Regardless, they now have three first round picks in the stacked 2017 draft. That removes any motivation for the team to tank down the stretch. That increased motivation may be enough to push them by their competition.

Additionally, they now have to make up for the lost production of Mason Plumlee. It’s hard to see the Blazers having an actual shot at the playoffs this season with the way things have gone. With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum anything is possible though, and they will continue to be a threat this year.

The rumors connecting the New Orleans Pelicans to Brook Lopez and Jahlil Okafor make the Pelicans a threat this spring. Okafor may not be enough to tip the scales on the Pelicans season, but the addition of Brook Lopez would certainly give this team a new breath of life.

(courtesy of Yibada)

Anthony Davis has been having a ludicrous season while averaging 28.0 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. Jrue Holiday has also been having a great season for the struggling Pelicans. The addition of Lopez would make them the favorite for getting the eighth seed.

Anthony Davis is one of the most talented players in the league. He has shown he is capable of dragging subpar teams to the playoffs as he did in 2015, and if he stays healthy this spring the Pelicans will remain contenders. He is just that good.

The Pretenders

Despite their recent success, the Dallas Mavericks won’t be making the playoffs this season. Harrison Barnes has been great this season, and Yogi Ferrell has been a revelation off of his 10-day contract. This team simply doesn’t have enough depth and talent to push them past some of the other Western Conference contenders.

(courtesy of NBA.com)

Their recent losses to Portland and Denver reinforce that position. The Mavericks are pretenders, and won’t be making the playoffs this year.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are an incredibly talented team. They have a ton of potential and young stars. This, however, is not their year. They’ve lost Zach Lavine for the rest of the year. It’s time for them to try and put themselves in the best position possible for the 2017 draft.

The Timberwolves also have the toughest remaining strength of schedule in the entire league. It will be too hard for them to overcome their injuries and tough schedule this year.

Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns have absolutely no chance at the playoffs. The Lakers need to be trying to lose as many games as possible this season, as they only keep their top pick if it falls in the top-three.

The Suns are simply terrible. They have only won six games in-conference this season, and have shown almost no signs of life this season. They have young pieces, but it is time for them to tank.

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Brandon Ingram: Slowly Finding His Star

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

via USA Today Sport Images

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

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

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

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

Via USA Today Sports Images

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

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

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

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The NBA Five Years From Now

The NBA is a constantly changing league. Besides the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA hierarchy has been nothing if not fluid.

Just four years ago, the Heat and Pacers dominated the Eastern Conference. Four years before that, the Cavaliers, Magic, Pistons and Celtics were the class of the conference. The Western conference has been similarly volatile despite the Spurs’ constant success. The Lakers dominated the West during Kobe’s prime before the Warriors took over as the most dominate force on the Pacific Coast.

It’s likely that we will see a similar shift in power over the next few years. Five years from now, the league will likely have changed considerably.

Eastern Conference

In five years, Lebron James will be 37 years old. There’s no ruling out that he’ll still be dominating the league into his late thirties. Most likely, however, his days as a world-beater will be done. The power vacuum in the East could be filled by a number of teams, but these teams have the best chance at rising to the top.

Cleveland Cavaliers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Grantland)

The Cavaliers have set themselves up well for the next few years. LeBron won’t stay at this level forever, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love can keep them a contender into the future. Kyrie will be in his prime in five years and will most likely still be one of the best point guards in the game. He can be the best guy on a championship team.

Lebron’s game will most likely adapt well as he loses athleticism. His vision and playmaking will withstand father time and compliment Kyrie perfectly. The powers of David Griffin will most likely keep the team contending well into the future.

Best Case: Kyrie turns into a superstar and Kevin Love turns into the Kevin Love of old. LeBron turns into a distributor and the Cavs continue to dominate the East year after year until his retirement.

Worst Case: Kyrie stays at the level he’s at now. Kevin Love regresses and loses some of his rebounding prowess. LeBron loses his midrange touch and struggles with injuries. The Cavs are a fringe playoff team.

Boston Celtics: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Boston Herald)

The Celtics are already a top three team in the East. Besides that, GM Danny Ainge has set them up for future success as well.

Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford will be 31,32 and 35 respectively. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown will each entering their primes rounding out a solid five man rotation.

The picks they have stashed from Brooklyn will help round out their lineup as well. They look to have a couple of lottery picks over the next two years that should work as assets or turn into solid young talent.

Best Case: If they can land a superstar in the draft they could become a powerhouse and the top seed in the East. Similarly, If they trade some picks to land another superstar, they could elevate themselves into the top spot. Only time will tell, but they look to be a lock as a contender for the next couple of years.

Worst Case: They strike out on their lottery picks over the next two years. Their aging talent becomes injury prone and fails to produce at the same level. They stay a playoff threat, but drop to a five or six seed in the East.

Milwaukee Bucks:

Future of NBA

(courtesy of USA Today)

 To be a top team in the NBA, you need a superstar. It’s becoming more and more clear that the Bucks have that role filled. Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as one of the brightest stars in the NBA and looks ready to lead this team for the next decade.

The Bucks have a depth of other young stars as well. Jabari Parker and Malcolm Brogdon look like great pieces and Khris Middleton is set to return next year. The Bucks could be set to dominate the league for the next few years.

Best Case: The Greek Freak becomes the best player in the league. He, Parker and Middleton become a Big Three and they become a perennial championship team in the East.

Worst Case: The Greek Freak continues on his trajectory, but the pieces around him don’t develop. He becomes a good player on a bad team and they are exit the playoffs early.

Philadelphia 76ers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Getty images)

The Sixers could be the biggest unknown in the NBA. They have made huge strides with Joel Embiid this year, but the team’s future is still up in the air.

Like the Bucks, the Sixers have the most important piece of the puzzle. If Joel Embiid can stay healthy he is going to be a star. The question is whether the Sixers can surround him with talent.

Hopefully, Ben Simmons can be another star for the team. And with two potential top ten picks this year, they could add more star power to their lineup. The Sixers have the potential to be a super-team, but also stay at the bottom of the East.

Best Case: They get two more stars in the draft this year. Ben Simmons turns out to be another star, and Joel Embiid turns into the best center in the league. The Sixers contend for the championship every year and dominate a strong Eastern conference.

Teams that will drop:

Toronto Raptors

Atlanta Hawks

Chicago Bulls

Verdict: The Bucks are the most likely team to rule the East in five years. With a few future superstars and proven role players, they are set up best for the future. The Sixers have the second best chance. With their injury risks domination is anything but definite, but they have too much talent to rule out. The Cavaliers and Celtics are dark horse candidates to remain on top of the conference as well.

Western Conference

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Bleacher Report)

Golden State Warriors: 

The rich get richer. The Warriors will most likely take a similar path to the Heat after they signed Lebron James. Although they lacked cap space in the first year, they added depth in James’ second year with the team. Although they lack depth this year, the Golden State Warriors will most likely continue to get better as their four stars hit their prime. They will most likely continue to be the class of the West.

Best Case: The Warriors gain depth to surround their stars. They remain the one seed for the next five years and win championships along the way.

Worst Case: The Warriors can’t retain their superstars. They’re stuck with a middling team that sits in the middle of the conference every year.

San Antonio Spurs: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Bleacher Report)

The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge and a knack for never missing on a free agent signing or draft pick. They will continue to build around Kawhi and remain at the top. As long as they have a star player and the best coach in the league they will continue to contend.

Best Case: They make a splash in free agency. With two superstars and a great supporting cast, Popovich continues to keep this team at the top of the West.

Worst Case: The team struggles to contend, and Kawhi is the only star on the team.

Los Angeles Lakers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of USA Today)

The Lakers have a depth of budding superstars, led by Deangelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. The team is set for the future and have a great young coach in Luke Walton. Whether or not they can contend depends on the progression of Brandon Ingram, but if their stars pan out they could easily turn into one of the best teams in the West.

Best Case: Deangelo Russell and Brandon Ingram turn into superstars and lead the Lakers to championships over the next few years. Luke Walton becomes one of the best coaches in the league and they become the powerhouse of the West.

Worst Case: Brandon Ingram can’t put on weight. Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle don’t live up to their potential. The Lakers can’t execute their turnaround and remain a borderline playoff team.

Minnesota Timberwolves: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Sporting News)

The Timberwolves have a coach, two stars and a depth of pieces that can contribute or be traded. They will also most likely have a top pick in this year’s draft. Although their timetable has already been pushed back, it is matter of when not if they will be the class of the west.

Best Case: Towns and Wiggins become superstars at the level of Durant and Westbrook, but the team succeeds and wins championships. They become a perennial one seed.

Worst Case: The Wolves fall into a trap of becoming a great team, but never an elite team. They never develop the pieces around Towns and Wiggins, and stagnate around the 2 or 3 seed.

Teams that will drop: 

Houston Rockets

Los Angeles Clippers

Memphis Grizzlies

Verdict: The Timberwolves are the most likely team to dominate the West in five years. They have two future superstars in Wiggins and Towns, and they have the young pieces around them to build a great team. The Warriors are the second most likely, as they already have the proven stars, but their stars will be aging in five years. The Lakers and Spurs will be dark horse contenders because of their star power and their respective coaching prowess.

NBA Game Preview: Lakers vs. Clippers

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers are set to deck halls this Christmas.

The 11-22 Lakers are playing the 22-9 Clippers for the second year in a row on this vaunted holiday event. Last year, the Clippers triumphed over the Lakers 94-84 in a relatively ho-hum game. This year, however, should present watchers with a more palatable contest.

Haus-Specialty: The team that’s being highlighted in today’s Matchup

Lakers vs. Clippers

Luke Walton (Photo courtesy: landoflakers.com)

In Luke Walton’s first year as head coach the Lakers have gotten better as far as on court product, are still a ways away from true playoff spot contention. However, they are a team that is beginning to find the joy in basketball again, something seemingly missing under Byron Scott.

The Lakers have had a tumultuous December, going 1-12, the only win coming against the Philadelphia Seventy-sixers who – let’s just say are not the class of the NBA. The young talent on the team is going to have to be given time to find their niche and what they can be good at as a squad. It should probably start with defense. This team is in the bottom two of the league in defensive efficiency. They allow 110 points per 100 possessions. That is going to get you beaten every night – as it has the last four of their games. The Lakers’ opponents the last four games have, on average, scored 115 points per game.

Even worse, this is a team bereft of rim protection averaging only 3.6 blocks per game. A number good for 26th in the league. Fortunately for the Lakers, the Clippers are surprisingly near the bottom of the league in points in the paint.

Nick Young (Photo courtesy: Dailymail)

Nick Young (Photo courtesy: Dailymail)

What the Lakers can hang their hat on is that Lou Williams and Nick Young seem to be having career years as far as the numbers are concerned. Lou Williams is shooting a career high percentage from beyond the arc per game on the 2nd highest attempts in his career. Nick Young is also having a career year from deep, shooting 41% on almost 7 attempts per game. The “Kids” also have some things to be proud of. Julius Randle is averaging a healthy 12 points, 3 assists and 8 rebounds per game. D’Angelo Russell is second among sophomore players is assists per game and top five in scoring. Jordan Clarkson also pitches in 1.3 steals per game, second on the team.

The Lakers have a lot of developing to do to get to the level of their Christmas Day opponent. The front office has made sound moves and seem to have found a formula has a few years of making questionable moves.

Haus-Work: Things the Lakers and Clippers must address if they want a chance to leave with a win.

Lakers

  • Get stops. Play in the open court. The Lakers are 8th in the league in transition points. The NBA game is about playing to your strengths – transition play is a strength of theirs.
  • Keep the Clippers out of the paint. This is a task easier said than done with the Lakers being 29th in the league in opponent points in the paint, allowing 48 points per game.
  • Start the game well. The Lakers are 22nd in the league in first quarter scoring. If they can match the Clippers’ almost 29 points in the first quarter that should bode well for team morale the rest of the way.

Clippers

  • Get to the free throw line. With Blake Griffin out, and Chris Paul a game time decision, the number one free throw attempting team in the league may be without two of its top three free throw shooters. Against Dallas, the Clippers shot a total of 11 free throws –four coming from Jordan
  • On the same note of Chris Paul’s health, Raymond Felton is likely to start. This means the team will have to adapt to. Felton isn’t the playmaker Paul is – obviously as he only had two assists last game. Sharing the ball and playing with a team concept will be ideal.
  • Respect the game. The Lakers may seem inept at the moment, but this league does not guarantee wins. Never play down to your opponent.

* All stats are current based on Stats.nba.com and basketball-reference.

Notable Injuries

Lakers

Tarik Black (ankle) Gametime Decision

Jose Calderon (Hamstring) Game Time Decision

Clippers

Blake Griffin (Knee) Out

Chris Paul (Hamstring) Game Time Decision

 

 

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2016-17 NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division

NBA Season Preview Series by Danny w/the J: Pacific

Division

Daniel Richardson

Jay Louden

The 2016 NBA season is rapidly approaching and with the wild offseason over, the time has arrived for assessing the status of teams heading into training camp and predicting what fans can expect out of their respective teams. Disclaimer: We in no shape or form claim to know everything about basketball, but we do confess our love for the game and will make statements for each team built on sound arguments. With that in mind, let us begin…

Los Angeles Lakers

(Photo courtesy: losangeles.cbslocal.com)

(Photo courtesy: losangeles.cbslocal.com)

  • Offseason: The offseason of the much-maligned Lakers was very promising. The team selected Brandon Ingram with the second overall pick.  Ivica Zubac was taken in the early second In a surprising move, Timofey Mozgov was given a multiyear contract this past offseason. Jose Calderon joined the team through a trade that sent the draft rights of Ater Majok along with two future second round picks. Tarik Black, Jordan Clarkson and Marcelo Huertas all signed multiyear deals to stay in Tinseltown. Luke Walton, former assistant coach of Pacific division rival Golden State Warriors, now mans the ship for the Lakers.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: D’angelo Russell looked very good in the preseason. He showed off his scoring prowess and passing as well. Ingram and Clarkson both impressed in their own rights. Mozgov has seemingly bounced back, athletically, after a down and disappointing season with the Cleveland Cavaliers last year due to injury. The team as a whole is going to go through some growing pains. If Walton wants to implement what he helped create in Golden State, then patience is going to be his best friend.

Jay: The Lakers will be fun to watch as far as development goes. New coach, young talent and Mozgov will be more appreciated than he was in Cleveland last season. No playoffs this year again for La-La. I like what I saw from Russell in the summer league and Ingram has the talent so those two will be the guys to watch grow this year in my opinion. Bottom fourth of the west is where I predict they finish.

Daniel: This squad will be an exciting one for sure. Watching Ingram develop through the year will be interesting. The backcourt of Russell and Clarkson will assuredly gain some chemistry and make for some entertaining and competitive basketball. There is star quality in Los Angeles, but the wins won’t come as easily as fans would like. Vegas has the over/under at 24.5 games. That seems like the safe route to take. 25-82.

Golden State Warriors

(Photo courtesy: foxsports.com)

(Photo courtesy: foxsports.com)

  • Offseason: The runner-ups in last season’s NBA Finals, won the off-season by a huge margin. The Warriors selected Damion Jones with the 30th overall pick, and acquired the draft rights to Patrick McCaw in exchange for cash. Andrew Bogut was traded to the Dallas Mavericks; Harrison Barnes also joined the Mavericks, albeit in free agency. The Dubs sured up the frontcourt by adding veterans David West and Zaza Pachulia. Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights were all lost in free agency. The biggest deal was the free agent signing of Western Conference Final opponent Kevin Durant.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: adding arguably the preeminent scorer of the league to a team with historically great shooters, one of whom reigns as the first unanimous MVP, seems like overkill to some fans. In all fairness it shows the incredible guile and shrewdness of the Warrior front office. It should all but wash away the foulness of surrendering a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Watching them play is going to be a mandatory assignment for all. Even with media outlets searching for any thread that can unravel the very fabric of the team, it shouldn’t slow down the onslaught. While some bench depth was lost, there are still some pieces that can alleviate some of the pressure off of the stars. One player in particular is Patrick McCaw. There is a serious buzz around the rookie and fans equally love him after a highlight-filled preseason.

Jay: Golden State is the new “most-hated” team since LBJ’s Miami days. Anything less than a trip to the Finals will be considered a failure, as it should. They won’t shoot for 74 this season, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility they stomp through the league to achieve 67 wins with ease. I’ll be keeping my eyes on the role players like Kevon Looney and rookie Patrick McCaw to provide the spark that was lost by Speights, Barbosa and Ezeli. Can’t wait to watch this team.

Daniel: What can be said about this powerhouse of a team. Eclipsing last year’s wins total isn’t on the mind of any of the players. However, one can predict them easily sliding their way to a 66-16 season.

Phoenix Suns

(Photo courtesy: cbssports.com)

(Photo courtesy: cbssports.com)

  • Offseason: The Suns drafted Dragan Bender with the 4th overall pick, Tyler Ulis in the 2nd round and added rookie Marquese Chriss via a draft day trade. Leandro Barbosa returned to the team after six years away, the two previous were spent in Oakland. three point ace Jared Dudley also signed a deal with the team.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: This Suns team has gone through some flux the past few seasons. Three years ago they seemed destined for the upward trajectory. Injuries, trades and chemistry issues derailed all of it. However, with a healthy Eric Bledsoe, an up and coming star in Devin Booker and two promising rookies, the situation in the desert looks a lot less bleak. Not to mention a collection of talent on the bench. It’s up to second year head coach Earl Watson to continue to create and nurture an environment that’s conducive for winning basketball.

Jay: I like Ulis out of Kentucky; plays with energy and leadership. I also like Bender. They will have to play scrappy in the loaded West, but I have them as my sleeper pick to make the playoffs as the 8th seed. Bold prediction of the year.

Daniel: The West is still too stacked for this Phoenix team. They’ll be scrappy and will play fast. They played with the fastest pace in the league this preseason. With that being said that had a near-bottom of the league offensive rating. The teams in the West can score and score effectively, especially in this division. It should prove too much of an obstacle for them to make the playoffs this year. 36-46

Sacramento Kings

(Photo courtesy thebiglead.com)

(Photo courtesy thebiglead.com)

Offseason: The Kings kept it simple with their off-season business, players were added but no real splashes. They drafted Isaiah Cousins and Marquese Chriss. Chriss was traded to the Suns on draft day for the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic, Skal Labissiere and Georgis Papagiannis. Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple and Ty Lawson were notable free agent additions.

  • Outlook 2016-17: All in all, the Kings have their flaws as a team and organization. Rudy Gay wants out, with his name being associated with multiple trade rumors. Lawson is still dealing with his own troubles. The one bright spot seems to be DeMarcus Cousins, who’s coming into the season with a Gold Medal. Dave Joerger could possibly bring some stability to bench and connect with the team, specifically Cousins.

Jay: Kings need to trade Cousins before the deadline for a pot of gold in picks. No playoffs. They won’t be a .500 team. Prepare for some drama.

Daniel: No playoffs for the Kings. They have to get things fixed with the roster. It’s devoid of any real perimeter threats and instead of getting younger they seem to be getting older and less talented. Hopefully Joerger can inject some principles and standards for them to at least reach .500.

Los Angeles Clippers

(Photo courtesy: sbnation.com)

(Photo courtesy: sbnation.com)

  • Offseason: With a roster that’s ready to contend and challenge the Warriors in a potential Conference Finals matchup, there wasn’t much for them to do except create some depth. The Clippers took Brice Johnson with the 25th pick in the first round. Cheick Diallo was also drafted, but was traded on draft night for the rights to David Michineau and Diamond Stone. Alan Anderson, Raymond Felton, Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass all joined as free agents. Wesley Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Luc Mbah a Moute all re-signed this offseason.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: With a deeper bench than last year, there is no reason the Clippers don’t have the talent and teamwork to make it to the Western Conference Finals. “Can Doc Rivers and CP3 get the team there” will be the question on everyone’s news feed and minds.

Jay: Clippers need to make the Western Conference Finals. The window is closing and I say this is the year they do it. 56-26

Daniel: The Clippers HAVE to stay healthy this season. With the fall of the Oklahoma City Thunder, LAC has real shot at finally getting past the second round in the playoffs. They have the talent and the coaching to make a push at the Larry O’brien trophy. 55-27.

The Dichotomy Of The NBA Player

As fans of the NBA, we’re constantly taking in the product via commercials, ads, and video games. The players and their faces are inescapable. Their faces, however are not all we see.

We also want to see ourselves in them. We want them to be like us and eat the same things eat and wear the same shoes we do. We want them to be decent people who walk the straight and narrow. Mothers and fathers allow these athletes to raise their children.

But we so often overlook the human aspect of the NBA star. Before they were omnipresent multi-millionaires, they were people just as inflicted with the human condition as the next man. Greed, anger, happiness, and depression affects them the same way as the consumer. This doesn’t excuse any level of indiscretion, it only masks it and presents it in a more palatable package.

The transgressions of NBA athletes often go unnoticed to fans because of the overwhelming suspension of disbelief. We allow ourselves to build up an unconditional affection for them and in doing so we grant them a pardon and overlook the mistakes.

Take Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba. NBA champion, MVP. The many adjectives that are used to describe Bryant do not involve charged with sexual assault. We find ourselves in awe of his 81 point performance or his perceived clutch gene. The Black Mamba was a killer on the court who saw everyone as enemy that needed to be vanquished. We applauded this and held it in reverence. We used Mamba in the same way that Bryant did: to separate real life from basketball. We refused to clutter our minds with the actions of Bryant and those of The Mamba.

USA Today

USA Today

In NBA life things may become cluttered with both sides of their respective worlds. And with this cluttering may come a diminished performance on the court. This would not stand well with the fans and God forbid that the fans are unhappy. Players feel that they have to separate the various aspects of their lives often citing the court as a “sanctuary”.  The fans only judge what they feel is appropriate. The on court performance. Anything beyond that feels taboo and invasive.

And there lies the irony. We allow them into our homes every night and we want them to know that we appreciate and care for them, yet we almost instinctively turn our eyes and interests away the minute the idol becomes one of us.

Yet, the reverence that we hold these athletes is very selective. We choose who is allowed to do what and whether we accept it or not. We want the clean cut athlete not because we want to protect the sport that we care so much about, but to insure that we don’t have to stop and defend against their actions.

The perfect example of this selective reverence exists in how we view Steph Curry and conversely J.R. Smith. It’s a classic case of winning cures all. We forget and overlook all of the bumps in the road a player may face if he holds the hardware. If Smith had been successful earlier in career maybe we see his antics differently. Curry, while well earned, has curried the favor of all who witness his success. If Curry wasn’t a champion and MVP twice over, would we see him as just a more accurate Smith? An elite walking heat check?

J.R. Smith vs. Steph Curry is a comparison that shows how we subconsciously choose who we allow to be the so called face of the league. Smith was always a supremely talented, athletic player but his choices and lack of discipline kept him from reaching his true potential. This has led us to judge J.R. as a player who you wouldn’t want on your team because he could never help a true contender. He could never contribute anything positive.

USA Today

USA Today

In 2015-16 season, Smith shot 40% from 3 in the regular season for the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. In the NBA Finals, Smith played to his strengths, mostly shooting, and overall in the playoffs averaging 12.4 ppg.

The year earlier Smith played a pivotal role in defeating the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. After the winning in the finals, Smith, in his post-game press conference, let us inside a little bit. He showed us emotion that moved some of us to tears. In that moment he stopped being the underachieving riff raff and became someone that it’s OK to support.

Two years of Smith playing on his sports biggest stages and we came out with a different felling about him each time. Was it because of his honesty and sincerity or was it because he had just reached the pinnacle of his career with a championship?

On the other side we have Curry, a player who reached his peak potential by becoming arguably the best shooter that we have ever seen. He has built a brand that has him as a christian family man who plays the right way and doesn’t let any outside factors affect him on the court. His brand admittedly has protected him from any mass ridicule, particularly in this past NBA Finals where he didn’t play to his usual superhuman standards.

Curry has become the face of the league because we see him as relatable. We feel that we can relate to the smaller guard who lacks the superhuman athleticism if his peers. His baby-faced persona and choir boy countenance coupled with immense success makes for a perfect marketing tool.

He and Smith now have the same amount of championships, albeit they were achieved in differing ways. And obviously Smith could never be the face of the league, but do we now harp on Curry’s missteps on or off the court now that he has had his mortal NBA player moment? Probably not but that’s OK.

USA Today

USA Today

But what about the money the players make? This is a part of the game we focus on greatly. This past NBA free agency was one that was unprecedented. Not only in the enormity of the salary cap spike and the space it gave teams to pay for the players they wanted but also for the ridicule players received for the amount of money they were being paid.

National writers would rain down countering ridicule to the fans with the hackneyed analogy of a common worker getting a raise for his job. The fallacy of that argument is saying that we wouldn’t care about the fireman getting a 100% pay raise if we knew about it, when in reality we would. We would care because it be out in the open leaving it vulnerable to our judgement.

That again is a part of the plight of the NBA player and fan. We are a part of their world so much so that we know exactly how much each player makes and when they make it. We as fans then debate whether it’s too much or too little. Once again we are basing these opinions on their on-court performance and brand rather than the individual himself.

USA Today. Mike Conley's five-year $153 million dollar contract caused an uproar for the fans.

USA Today. Mike Conley’s five-year $153 million dollar contract caused an uproar in the NBA fanbase.

Most of the players didn’t grow up with very much at all. And when the time comes for the player to finally be able to quantify his worth we tell him that’s he’s overpaid. Who are we to tell someone who went from nothing to something almost overnight that he shouldn’t that much but can have this much?

Turning away from the person who is getting paid and focusing solely on the player is the very essence of Mamba VS. Kobe. There are two sides to every player. We aren’t obligated to center our attention to the “Kobe” side of things but it’s worth taking a look at from time to time.

The way we behave as fans isn’t wrong. We are the ones who pay to watch the games live on television or in the arena. We buy the products they endorse. We also buy their narrative. We accept them into our lives wearing the jersey that we love so dearly. The jersey, however, does come off. The lights do go down and all that is left is a person who we haven’t actually met, or paid any attention to.

The Worst Recent NFL Free Agent Signings

The money being thrown around in NBA free agency is ridiculous. One dimensional players like Timofey Mozgov are getting $64-million contracts. A conversation with a Laker fan friend of mine after Mozgov cashed in got me thinking. Bad free agency signings are by no means limited to the NBA. Here are four of the worst in recent NFL history.

bleacherreport.com

Photo from bleacherreport.com

Dwayne Bowe (Cleveland Browns, two years, $13 million in 2015)

The Browns needed talent everywhere at the time. Quite frankly, they still do. Thus, signing a guy who never caught less than 45 balls in 8 years with the Chiefs was actually solid logic, but it backfired horribly. Conflicts with the coaching staff were immediate. The shady injury reports came next. Bowe was only active for seven games last year catching just six passes for the season. He was released after just one season. Even at just 31 years of age, it is hard to envision him finding another NFL home. As with all of these deals, only a fraction of the money is guaranteed. This is one major difference between the NFL and NBA. In this case, it was $9 million that the talent starved Browns could have spent elsewhere.

photo from usatoday.com

Photo from usatoday.com

Matt Flynn  (Seattle Seahawks, two-year $26 million in 2012)

This situation is pretty unique. It was a bad deal, but everyone came out smelling like a rose. While starter Aaron Rodgers rested, Flynn started the 2011 regular-season finale against the Lions. He set the Packers’ franchise single-game records with 480 yards and six touchdowns. Based on that one game, Seattle signed Flynn to a big-time free-agent deal. This was another $9 million of guaranteed money. However, the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson in the same off-season in which they signed Flynn. Wilson beat out Flynn for the starting job and the rest is history. The Seahawks were quite happy to pay their big free-agent signing a ton of money to sit on the bench. Flynn never started a regular season game for Seattle. He was traded to Oakland after one season.

photo from philly.com

photo from philly.com

Nnamdi Asomugha (Philadelphia Eagles, five years $60 million in 2011)

The first two deals I mentioned are a case of hindsight being 20/20. My last two were terrible ideas from the start. Asomugha was the epitome of a shutdown cornerback when he was with the Oakland Raiders. He was thrown at less than 100 times by opposing quarterbacks from 2007-2009. He was named to the NFL’s all decade team in 2010. Yet, when the Eagles signed him to a free-agent mega-deal worth close to $30 million guaranteed, they asked him to play all five positions in the secondary.

Despite being named a Pro-Bowl alternate in his first season as an Eagle, too much was on his plate. He was released after just two seasons in Philadelphia and never regained the mojo he had in Oakland. He always was a shutdown corner. Why would anyone ask him to see playing time at any other position, much less four? I never understood it.

Albert Haynesworth (Washington Redskins, seven years $100 million in 2009)

When it comes to bad free-agent signings, the Redskins should get their own article, and this one is the worst of the worst. Despite being a bit of a problem child in the locker room and a lengthy criminal record, the Redskins signed Haynesworth to one of the largest free-agent contracts in history following the 2008 season. The deal included $41 million guaranteed and $32 million in the first 13 months. Even though Haynesworth was a very productive player with the Titans, this kind of money was and is unheard of for a defensive lineman.

The marriage in DC was doomed from the beginning. Haynesworth publicly criticized the Redskins defensive scheme and was unable to complete head coach Mike Shanahan’s basic conditioning test. In two years with the Redskins, he combined for just 42 tackles and 6.5 sacks, including career lows across the board in 2010. After a few suspensions for “conduct detrimental to the team”, the Redskins finally cut their staggering losses following the 2010 season. Haynesworth had two more unsuccessful seasons with New England and Tampa Bay to close out his checkered career.

Regardless of an organization’s logic, one thing is certain. If a team misses on a big-time free-agent signing, they will be sometimes first, and always second guessed.

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