The project bigs in the NBA

With the current eligibility rules to enter the NBA being one year after completely high school, many players aren’t fully ready for rigors of the league. Many organizations choose to focus on the development of young players and give them very little opportunities of seeing an NBA court. With the improving G-League and increasing development staff, teams have the ability to work with talented youngsters and allow them to grow into the NBA.

It’s becoming increasingly common for teams to take project players in the draft. These players usually don’t have lots of basketball skills but have tons of potential because of their athleticism and size. While some players can’t ever acclimate to the NBA level, nurturing young stars can allow them to have great careers as well. Some of the current players who were once considered projects are: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Thon Maker, Serge Ibaka, Paul George, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside.

Here is a list of the current project bigs who you could see dominate the next couple of years:

Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings

Harry Giles has been recovering from a torn ACL last season at Duke where he was slightly disappointing averaging 3.9 points a game and only 10 minutes of action. While he is a raw prospect for the Kings, everyone from the players to owners they all can agree on one thing: Giles is a beast.

Many people forget that Giles was the No. 1 player in the nation out of high school only 2 years ago. This was the same year as Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum and his Kings’ teammate, De’Aaron Fox. He stands at 6’11 with a 7’0 wingspan and has the ability to shoot, pass and moves very fast for someone his size. The Kings smartly traded down from their No. 10 pick to get pick’s No. 15 and No. 20. They were able to take Justin Jackson and Giles with their acquired picks. While the Kings have had some struggles in the past with their draft, the trio of picks this summer looks to guide the franchise in a new direction.

Ivica Zubac, Los Angeles Lakers

Zubac, who was the last pick in this year’s draft has failed to see the court on numerous occasions. He’s routinely playing in G-league games to get experience. However, The Croatian standing at 7’1 finally got some time at the NBA level and had a breakout game. In 20 minutes, Zubac had 19 points on 8 of 8 shooting. Yes you read that correctly, he did not miss a shot. Zubac also added in 11 rebounds for the purple and gold.

Don’t be surprised to see Zubac get an increase in usage following the all-star break. Hopefully Luke Walton will get Lonzo and Zubac on the court together more, as they formed a dynamic duo in the Summer League.

 

Jakob Poeltl, Toronto Raptors

Jakob Poeltl has rode the bench a lot so far in his career, but has made the most of his minutes. (Photo by defpen)

 

Poeltl is also a foreign-born big man, however Poeltl played 2 years at Utah before declaring for the draft. Poeltl was dominant in college, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year his sophomore campaign.

However, because of the talent on the Raptors there was no chance of Poeltl playing his rookie season. He has finally started to log more minutes coming off the deepest bench in the league. He’s seventh in the league in field goal percentage(65%) and averages 2.4 blocks a game per 36 minutes. Poeltl is still young and a raw big, but is likely a good enough player to start on bad teams.

 

Jonathon Isaac, Orlando Magic

 

The Magic have tried to get Isaac on the court when he’s healthy. However, he is a young raw prospect and he’s been hurt quite a lot this season. Isaac was the sixth pick in the draft this season and he was terrific at Florida State. However, he’s struggled a bit when he’s seen the NBA court. John Hammond(their GM) saw visions of the Greek Freak (who Hammond drafted) on the court. Nonetheless, Isaac has struggled to stay on the court.

Isaac’s defense and versatility are what got him drafted so early. Similar to Anthony Davis, Isaac had a late growth spurt that allows him to be as quick as smaller player. It’s fair to say the rookie is growing into his body. If he can stay on the court and develop a better offensive game, he could be a real problem on the court for his opponents.

Feature image by: NBA.com

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So are the Cavs good now?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently on a four game win streak and have looked revitalized after they blew up the roster at the trade deadline. The new additions at the deadline are all playing significantly better in Cavalier uniforms and have the Cavaliers growing momentum at the All-Star Break, and all looks well in The Land. However, The Cavaliers have only played a handful of games with their new roster.  Are the Cav’s good now?

Why the Cavs did get better:

Thomas only played 15 games before he was dealt to the Lakers. (Photo by News | USA)

Getting Isaiah Thomas out of the locker room is like removing a tumor. The team chemistry was significantly brought down by Thomas’ presence. He continuously denied any responsibility with the team’s struggles, and pointed fingers at other teammates. Thomas looked awful during his time on the court, Offensively he was inefficient and defensively he couldn’t stay in front of anyone. Getting the bad teammate out of the locker room has allowed the team to show chemistry on the court and healthy excitement off the court.

Thomas wasn’t the only bad player that was dealt either. Dwyane Wade was terrible with the Cavs and people who say otherwise have not watched him play. He’s shooting 45% from the field(3% off from his career average) and 33% from downtown, which is not good. Jae Crowder was a really good player on the Celtics with Brad Stevens, but he was awful on the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers brought in new young talent and did not get rid of the Brooklyn 1st round pick.

Jordan Clarkson has provided great energy since his arrival for the Cavaliers. (Photo by CavsNation)

The new additions have provided new life to the roster, Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson are playing fantastic with LeBron in charge and now. The Cavaliers have finally put young talent on the court and decreased the average age of the roster by 2 years. George Hill(31) and Rodney Hood(27) are both veterans, but they’re both bringing new life and energy to the roster. Hill is a very serviceable point guard and is a perfect role player to surround LeBron with. Hood has been a knock-down shooter even since he left Duke.

The emergence of the new players have also had a great effect on the other players as well. J.R Smith has played like a better version of himself despite a increased tendency to take questionable shots. LeBron has played well in the games with his new team, scoring 37 points against the Thunder. Even Cedi Osman has played increased minutes and is playing well as a starter. The Cavaliers will look very interesting once Kevin Love comes back, as the team will be complete with the new roster and 2nd best player back and healthy.

Final thought

The Cavaliers look like the team to beat in the East once again. If they build more team chemistry and learn how to play together, they could challenge either the Warriors or Rockets in the NBA Finals.

Why the Cavs did not get better:

The Cavs are not better than they were last year. The Cavs lost in five games to the Warriors and the Cavaliers had to have record breaking 3-point shooting to win game four to prevent a series sweep. The Warriors would have to have numerous injuries to key players for this to even become a series.

Cleveland lost their second best player from last year(Kyrie Irving) and the Cavs need a real second star with LeBron. Kyrie was the only player who actually made Cleveland significantly better other than LeBron.

Without Kyrie, will Cleveland win the East? (Photo by Heavy.com)

You can look down the Cavs roster and say if he wasn’t on the roster, that wouldn’t change the success this team has in the playoffs. That includes Kevin Love. There is no player on this roster with irreplaceable value outside of James.

The Cavaliers gave up on Isaiah Thomas after 15 games. Not only did they trade him, they attached their first round pick for a backup point guard on a lottery team (Jordan Clarkson) and a backup big(Larry Nance) who are both overpaid. Thomas was not playing to the standard he played at last season, but they did not give him enough time to figure out a role with the team and get back into playing shape after his hip injury.

There were rumors of Thomas being rushed back and having no feel for the game. While Thomas is a free agent this summer, trading him at the deadline may be a huge mistake. Thomas is a creator on offense, and besides LeBron, no one else can create on a consistent basis.

 

Cleveland’s trading away of Crowder, Shumpert and Rose is unequiventy good. There was no solid contributions being made from any of them and they were dead weight. Receiving Hill and Hood was a great move, adding talent and getting younger. However, George Hill is just a role player and while Hood shows flashes of being a complete player, he’s still just a good role player.

 

Cleveland now has no team chemistry and the players have no experience playing with one another. They don’t have the talent or chemistry to challenge the Warriors, and could struggle getting out of the East. If LeBron has to carry his team throughout the first rounds of playoffs again, how will he play in the conference finals and finals?

Final Thought

LeBron won’t win a title without a second star player. The Spurs swept LeBron and the Cavs the year he carried them to the finals. One great player can not beat a great team by himself. Plus, LeBron needs more than role players if they want to even compete with Golden State. The Cav’s have no chance of winning the championship with the current roster they have.

NBA biggest storylines

Biggest storylines heading into the All-Star Break

The All-Star game serves as a reminder to observe the current NBA season as whole and the headlines that have circulated the NBA world. Here are the biggest storylines in the NBA to follow heading into the second half of the season.

Where do all the free agents sign this offseason?

Similar to last offseason, you can expect another exciting offseason with lots of high-profile free agents over the summer. The Lakers freed up cap room for two max contracts and are going to look to add to their young core.

The unrestricted free agents for this upcoming offseason include Kevin Durant, LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Isaiah Thomas, Aaron Gordon, Clint Capela, Jabari Parker, Carmelo Anthony, Avery Bradley, Zach LaVine and Tyreke Evans.

There’s no doubt that some players on this list are going to stick with their current teams, but a fair share of these players could bolt towards new horizons and change the shape of the NBA. This summer may be a turning point for franchises in the association.

Isaiah Thomas on the Lakers?

NBA biggest storylines

How will Isaiah react to coming off the bench after last year’s All-Star performance? (Photo by Lakers Nation) 

Once again, Isaiah Thomas was traded, this time in a blockbuster deal to the Lakers. The now brief fiasco that surrounded himself and the Cavs is now over. The 5-foot-9 offensive star is a two-time All-Star and finished fifth in MVP voting last season.

However, he’s going to be coming off the bench for the purple and gold. Lots of attention follows the Lakers. Lonzo Ball and Thomas don’t play great defense.

It should be interesting to see how the Lakers backcourt plays out the rest of this season.

Can the Cavaliers win the East?

The East has gotten increasingly tougher, and the Cavaliers are not the same team they once were with Kyrie Irving. While LeBron James is still having a great year, it remains to be seen if all their newly acquired players can change the locker room attitude and subpar basketball that has plagued Cleveland.

The new-look Cavs looked great in their first game, blowing out the Celtics on the road. But one game doesn’t define a season. The Raptors, Celtics and Wizards are all going to challenge the Cavs this postseason, and the Cavs aren’t going to have home-court advantage.

Who will be the first pick in the draft?

NBA biggest storylines

Where will Trae Young fall in the draft? (Photo by USA Today)

In what looks to be another stacked draft class, including Trae Young, Marvin Bagley, Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton, who will go first off the board?

While my favorite player in the pack is Doncic, it could be any of the names mentioned that get their names called first.

Is James Harden the MVP?

James Harden is averaging 31.4 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds per game while carrying the Rockets to the second seed in the Western Conference.

If Harden manages to stay healthy and continue on his torrid pace, it’s unlikely anyone can compete with him for the MVP trophy.

Can the Rockets beat the Warriors?

The Rockets have helped close the gap between the Warriors and the rest of the Western Conference. They’ve been nearly unbeatable when Chris Paul and James Harden are suited up and have the No. 2 offense in the league. The defense ranks in the middle of the pack at 15th. The Rockets have won the season series against the Warriors 2-1, and could end up with the first seed and home-court throughout playoffs.

If both teams manage to stay healthy, it’s likely these two will meet in the Western Conference finals. This Rockets team is going to be the first team to test the Warriors since Kevin Durant joined them.

Can the Warriors defend their title?

NBA biggest storylines

Will anybody beat the defending champions? (Photo from Billboard)

The Warriors have the best record in the NBA and an embarrassment of riches on their roster. Their bench play has not been up to par compared to years past. Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala have had down years for the Warriors. Patrick McCaw, Javale McGee and Nick Young have been underwhelming all season as well. Jordan Bell has also hit the rookie wall. Without David West holding down the second unit, this team struggles without its starters in.

It’s likely the Warriors haven’t stayed focused after reaching the NBA Finals for three years in a row. The dog days of the regular season can cause great teams to lose their intensity. The Warriors consistently don’t show up for games, they show up for quarters. Nonetheless, due to the amount of talent on this roster, that has been enough to win.

The Warriors will likely find their intensity come playoff time. However, for now they look like they’re going through the motions.

What is next for LeBron James?

LeBron James is a free agent once again, and no one knows where he is going to go. James displayed how frustrated he was with the roster before the deadline.

How do the trades change his approach for free agency? The teams that seemingly are rumored to be plausible for him to move to are the Rockets, Lakers and 76ers. There is a very strong chance James leaves Cleveland, again.

 

Featured image by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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The players who didn’t get traded

Every NBA trade deadline, even crazy ones like this year, have teams that couldn’t get a deal done. This means the player and situation are forced to coexist until the end of the year excluding buyouts. Basketball is a business and sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. However, in these cases the teams should’ve focused on making a trade happen for these players.

 

Tyreke Evans

 

The Grizzlies played a dangerous game, they sat Tyreke Evans for the past week and made it known they wanted a 1st round pick in return. No team bit on their bluff, and Evans will remain in Memphis for the remainder of the year. Evans will likely prevent Memphis from getting better odds in the lottery.

Evans is on a relatively cheap expiring contract without bird rights and Memphis believes that they can retain him with their MLE(Mid-Level Exception) despite other teams likely offering him much more. There is a very high chance that Evans leaves this summer, and the Grizz will end up empty-handed.

Memphis had multiple offers on the table including multiple second round picks, but no team was willing to fork over a 1st. Multiple Eastern Conferences teams had tried to prey Evans away including the Celtics, Sixers as well as Denver in the West.

 

Deandre Jordan

The Clippers Big 3 of Chris Paul, Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin is now a thing of a past with Paul on the Rockets and Griffin on the Pistons. (Photo by ClipperBlog)

 

The Clippers are making a massive mistake in not trading Deandre Jordan. Here is a list of reasons why he won’t re-sign:

  1. He was a free agent in 2015 and agreed to a deal with the Dallas Mavericks potentially breaking up the “Lob City” formed. However, the Clippers core at the time locked Jordan in his house before he was able to sign the deal with the Mavericks and convinced him to sign with the Clippers. He has shown resistance to staying with the Clippers before.
  2. The Clippers begged and pleaded Blake Griffin to sign with them over this summer. They then proceeded to trade him to Detroit less than a year later. The Clippers show they have no loyalty to their stars, and Jordan won’t want the same to happen to him.
  3. The Clippers are not a competitive playoff team. Deandre wants to play for a team that is heading for a rebuild.

The Clippers should realize that Jordan is at best 50/50 on staying with them and that they could easily get good young players and a draft pick instead of ending up with nothing if he leaves this summer.

 

Lou Williams

 

The Clippers get to be on this list twice because it looks like they don’t know how to rebuild, or win in the playoffs. Lou Williams was one of the positive stories for the Clippers as he became the best 6th man in the league. He’s 3rd in the league in Isolation points per possession behind James Harden and Chris Paul and is averaging 23 points a game along with 5 assists.

For weeks, they were fielding offers for Sweet Lou and should’ve made a deal with a competitor for a pick and young player. Instead, the Clippers decided to sign him long-term with a 3 year deal. The Clippers are not close to competing in the Western Conference, and it’s delusional to think they could.

 

Final Thoughts

General managers have difficult decisions, there is likely multiple deals that almost happened every trade deadline and making any decision takes a lot of consideration for the future of the team. However, it feels like these players and teams would’ve been a lot better off if they made the deals happen instead of staying pat at the deadline.

 

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New Orleans Pelicans threat in the West

Are the Pelicans a real threat in the West?

With a decent record at 28-23, the New Orleans Pelicans have been able to hold onto a spot in the ultra-talented Western Conference playoff picture. However, the DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis experiment is on hold with Cousins out for the year with an Achilles injury.

Because of this injury, the Pelicans have become very active at the trade deadline and have acquired Nikola Mirotic in a four-player trade with Chicago. Let’s break down all of their recent actions surrounding NOLA and their move to bolster their lineup for a potential postseason run.

Losing DeMarcus Cousins

New Orleans Pelicans threat in the West

The Pelicans big 3 of Holiday, Davis and Cousins have combined to averaged over 70 points a game this season. (Photo by NBA.com)

Cousins’ injury is devastating, cutting his career-year short. Cousins was voted an All-Star starter and was a underrated MVP candidate averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.

Unfortunately, It’s worth noting that many players who’ve suffered Achilles injuries haven’t been the same player after their injury. The list of players includes Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor, Patrick Ewing, Dominique Wilkins and Wesley Matthews. While current Achilles operations are likely better than the procedure Baylor had in 1970, players continue to struggle after this injury. There is a very real chance Cousins won’t be the same player he was before his injury.

To make matters worse, Cousins is a free agent. While the 1-2 Combo with Davis has been great, there is a chance Cousins will want to go to a bigger market like Los Angeles or Boston.

Cousins’ injury does hold a huge red flag, and teams should really be careful if they want to sign him to the long-term max deal he will command this summer.

Trading for Nikola Mirotic

The Pelicans needed another strong player before Cousins went down, but now they desperately needed someone to help carry the load with Anthony Davis. It’s likely Mirotic will play the 4 and Davis can be moved to center. With Mirotic’s strong perimeter play, he could form a great combo with him on the outside and Davis on the inside. If they can keep Cousins after this year, Mirotic can play behind the two of them as a great sixth man or at small forward in small spans. However, playing him at the 3 exclusively seems unlikely.

In addition, this trade shows Davis, the face of the franchise, that they want to compete and win now. The sense of urgency of the franchise demonstrates that they are building around Davis, and the trade rumors will die down at least until this summer.

Trading away their first-round pick and Omer Asik

New Orleans Pelicans threat in the West

Asik has been very disappointing in New Orleans and extremely overpaid. (Photo by hoopsrumors.com)

While getting rid of their first-round pick is tough to swallow, especially in the talent-stocked draft class this season, the Pelicans are forgoing building for the future and are going to try to compete now. With that being said, their pick wasn’t going to be within the top 10 picks, so it’s questionable how valuable the pick is. 

Davis is still only 24 years old and hasn’t hit his prime yet. Mirotic is 26 years old, Jrue Holiday is only 27 years old and Cousins (if he re-signs and can return fully healed) is only 27 years old. The Pelicans do not need to build for their future, because their future is now.

As well as getting Mirotic, they were able to unload Omer Asik’s terrible contract onto the Bulls, which has been a major clog for their payroll. Asik may be the most overpaid player in the league, with three years left of a five-year, $57 million deal. He has averaged 1.3 points per game in the 8.6 minutes he plays.

To be blunt, Asik, is terrible and getting rid of his contract while receiving an efficient player like Mirotic is like trading garbage for gold. They threw in backup guards Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen, who are both way past their prime and weren’t really helping the team reach the playoffs.

Final Thoughts

The Pelicans’ front office has been very active at the deadline, and while missing out on Greg Monroe hurts for a team that could now use another center, they can seek solace knowing that Mirotic, Holiday and Davis should be enough talent to keep them in the playoffs this year.

If they can hold all the pieces together, they could be a real force as their core develops better chemistry and heads into their prime. They aren’t a real threat in the West this year, but they could be in the coming years.

 

Feature image from ClutchPoints.com

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Cleveland Cavaliers time to panic

Is it time for the Cavs to hit the panic button?

The Cavaliers have won the Eastern Conference Finals the past three seasons, and for the past three years, were the clear-cut favorite to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. They’ve had remarkable success in the postseason. Even when they were the second seed in the East, everyone knew who the team to beat was.

When LeBron James played with the Miami Heat, they were always first or second in the conference, and again, were the team to beat. However, the James-led Cavs this year are not in the top two spots in the conference. In fact, this is the lowest win percentage by one of James’ teams since 2007. Along with a poorer record than usual, there is well-documented tension within the locker room, swirling trade rumors and coach Tyronn Lue appears to be on the hot seat.

Will the Cavaliers reach the finals this year? What will happen when James hits free agency this offseason? Here are some of the reasons why Cleveland might soon be in panic mode.

Defense

Cleveland Cavaliers time to panic

James was animated on the sidelines during a blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors (Photo from YouTube).

The Cavaliers rank dead last in points per possession, and this was a team expected to play better defense with the addition of Jae Crowder and subtraction of Kyrie Irving.

On the flip side, Boston has the best defense per possession, and they hold the lowest opponent field goal percentage (43.3 percent) in the league. The impact of a great coach is noticed in its defense. Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich and Brad Stevens all have their teams in the top five in opponent field goal percentage. Likewise, the Cavaliers rank 28th in the league with teams shooting 47.5 percent against them.

Jason Kidd was just fired because the Bucks, a team that has lots of capable defenders, are in the bottom tier of opponent field goal percentage. The Cavaliers have more than enough talent to play at a high level on defense, but it’s the coach’s job to build team defense, and Tyronn Lue has not done that.

If the saying, “defense wins championships” is true, the Cavaliers will have no business making it to the finals, let alone winning the finals.

Isaiah Thomas

While Isaiah Thomas is still slowly getting back into NBA shape, there is no question he lacks chemistry with the team and has digressed from last year. The 5-foot-9 point guard averaged just under 29 points per game last season, and shot 46.3 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from deep while finishing fifth in MVP voting.

This year, he’s averaging a mere 15.4 points per game on 39 percent shooting from the floor and 27.6 percent from 3-point range. His numbers and efficiency on offense are extremely down this year. Thomas has always been a below-average defender, partially due to his lack of height. Without him producing on offense, he’ll be unplayable in the playoffs.

If he doesn’t find his groove and get back to the player he was last year, then Cleveland will be in big trouble in the playoffs. The Cavs are 5-5 with Thomas on the court.

Besides the on-court issues, there are reports that Thomas criticized Kevin Love for not playing in a game because of an illness during a team meeting that included lots of finger pointing, and not a lot of solutions. Thomas has been involved with what seems to be subtle jabs back and forth.

It’s worth noting that last year, reporters couldn’t get any information from players on the Cavs, but this year, there has been a player who shares with the media the updates in the locker room. It’s a safe bet that one of the new additions is the one leaking information to the media, and Thomas is likely the player doing so.

Trade rumors

After playing other playoff contenders, it’s very apparent that Cleveland needs to make a trade to improve its roster before the playoffs. Essentially every player that could be moved in the NBA is on its radar, because the sense of urgency to make a deal is very high.

There’s been lots of rumors about George Hill and DeAndre Jordan among others being traded, and the Cavaliers desperately need to add talent, yet aren’t willing to part with any players who have value, or the first-round pick from Brooklyn.

Reports have leaked that players on the roster don’t think they can beat Golden State. Without the addition of a quality point guard or center to bolster its lineup, this team could be in for a disappointing postseason.

LeBron James

LeBron James is still playing at a very high level and is likely going to finish within the top three for the MVP voting. However, due to the headache he’s consistently causing his team, is his on-court talent worth the baggage he brings off the court?

Cleveland Cavaliers time to panic

Will James leave the Cavs this summer? (Photo by NBC Sports)

James is finally starting to look older on the court, and the years of heavy minutes and playing intense basketball until June is beginning to have an effect on him.

While he’s led the Cavaliers to lots of success in his career, there’s no doubt his relationship with owner Dan Gilbert could be better. Furthermore, the Cavaliers let go of former general manager David Griffin, who James was close friends with, which brings to question how solid of a bond James and the Cavs hold.

With James’ pending free agency, there is a growing belief that he is likely to bolt from the Cavaliers once again and surround himself with better talent as he ages. There’s a good chance this successful relationship between James and the Cavaliers will end soon.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, the Cavaliers have the best player in the league and more playoff experience than any other team in the conference. However, there are other talented teams in the conference, and Boston could be the first team to really challenge Cleveland, especially if Gordon Hayward comes back this season.

It’s unlikely the Cavs can beat the Warriors with the poor chemistry and roster they currently have, and the Eastern Conference has increasingly gotten tougher. It may be time for the Cavs to hit the panic button.

 

Featured image from Sporting News

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NBA All-Star draft recap

Breaking down the first NBA All-Star draft

With this season’s changes to a the previously dull All-Star games, the highest vote getter on the East (LeBron James) and the highest vote getter on the West (Stephen Curry) were the captains for both sides, and they drafted players to their teams.

While both LeBron and Steph both claimed that they wanted the draft to be televised in their recent interview, the NBA Players Association, which Chris Paul is the president and LeBron is vice president of, made the league use discretion and didn’t want the order of picks made available to the public. Here is the breakdown of both teams.

Team Stephen

Starters: Stephen Curry, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid.

Reserves: Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Karl Anthony-Towns and Al Horford.

Team LeBron

Starters: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins

Reserves: Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge

Stephen’s starting backcourt vs. LeBron’s backcourt

Both backcourts have an unreal amount of talent and all belong to one of the three best teams of the league. While both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are having incredible years, Team Stephen has a slight advantage over Team LeBron. However, Curry and Harden will have to pour in 3-pointers to hang with the much taller starting lineup Team LeBron possesses.

Stephen’s starting frontcourt vs. LeBron’s starting frontcourt

LeBron was lucky enough to grab both Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins from the New Orleans Pelicans to provide a daunting frontcourt to face. However, with Cousins now injured, he will need to be replaced.

Davis is a key player to watch after last year’s 52-point outburst in the All-Star game, which won him All-Star MVP honors.

Steph grabbed the Greek Freak, Embiid and Derozan to counter LeBron’s arsenal, but the frontcourt of James and Davis still gives LeBron an advantage over Team Steph.

Stephen’s reserve backcourt vs. LeBron’s reserve backcourt

NBA All-Star draft recap

Lillard, who spoke out about being snubbed the past few years, is playing in this year’s All-Star Game. (Photo by Today’s Fastbreak)

LeBron grabbed Russell Westbrook, by far the best player amongst reserves and a tireless scorer, especially in the All-Star Game. Westbrook, who won the All-Star game MVP award in 2016 and 2015, will keep his usual in-game intensity despite no effect on the standings.

Curry drafted controversial All-Star Damian Lillard and he is a favorite dark horse candidate to win MVP of the game.

Nonetheless, Team LeBron has the advantage amongst reserve guards on paper.

Stephen’s reserve frontcourt vs. LeBron’s reserve frontcourt

This year features lots of talented young bigs and talented older veterans who are representing both sides. Fan favorite Kristaps Porzingis was selected by LeBron and could be a player who dominates in the All-Star game given the usual level of defense played.

Curry’s bench includes teammate Draymond Green and Karl Anthony-Towns, who may play vital roles if the game gets serious in the end. Both sides are fairly equal, and could be a deciding factor in the game.

Notable teammates

NBA All-Star draft recap

Former teammates James and Irving will be interesting to watch on the same team since Irving requested a trade last summer. (Photo by Yahoo Sports)

The general consensus amongst fans, players and media is that Kevin Durant was the first pick after Curry made it public that if LeBron didn’t select him first, he would pick him. Curry’s comments also suggest that his second pick was likely Antetokounmpo.

LeBron drafted Kyrie Irving, even though the former teammates aren’t hostile towards one another, having James and Irving in the same locker room will be a main storyline of the weekend.

LeBron also drafted former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, despite their well-documented and animosity-filled breakup. While Durant and Westbrook were teammates in last year’s All-Star game, which featured an alley-oop pass from Durant to Westbrook that seemed to ease the tension, they still went at it in a game this season in Oklahoma City. Victor Oladipo, another former member of the Thunder, is also on Team LeBron.

Both LeBron and Steph valued drafting their teammates, as LeBron grabbed Kevin Love, and Steph grabbed Klay Thompson and Green. Love, who grew up with Thompson, tweeted about how fun it would be to play with him, but it won’t happen this year.

Both captains also drafted dynamic duo’s as Steph grabbed both Karl Anthony-Towns and Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves and Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan from the Toronto Raptors. LeBron drafted both Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins for his starting lineup, and has the Wizards backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal on his bench.

LeBron has the past four All-Star Game MVPs on his team.

Prediction

Team LeBron gets an early lead with lots of flashy dunks, while Team Stephen keeps things interesting with lots of 3-pointers. In the end, Team LeBron wins 180-168. LeBron will take this game very seriously and win MVP.

 

Feature image by NBA.com

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Zion Williamson LeBron James

Stop the Hype: Zion Williamson isn’t the next LeBron James

With the current age of recruiting, young, talented players are being recognized earlier on than any other time period in basketball. While the Ball brothers were the most polarizing figures for high school sports, Zion Williamson’s freakish athleticism has fans gushing over his potential.

Williamson has recently announced his commitment to Duke and will play under Coach K for a year before he likely turns pro. People are amazed by the youngsters ability, claiming he’s the best young player since LeBron James.

Williamson has had numerous highlight reels on YouTube reach millions of views. He has gained quite a following for his insane dunks, and has 1.1 million followers on Instagram. He’s by far the most followed and talked about high school athlete in the nation, even though he’s ranked third in the nation behind Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett, who also both are committed to Duke. Here are the reasons people need to stop the hype.

Lack of a 3-point shot

Williamson’s offensive numbers are staggering. He’s averaging a whopping 37 points per game in his senior season, but he has no perimeter game. He has shot 26 percent from the 3-point line in his high school career, and 17 percent in his senior year.

Keep in mind, the high school 3-point line is two feet closer than the NBA 3-point line. The high school 3-pointer is essentially a NBA mid-range shot. If he’s not a threat to score from outside, defenses can play off of him and protect the paint.

Inconsistent free throws

Again, while his high school offensive numbers haven’t been hurt by his lack of a jump shot, without consistently being able to make free-throws, it will be difficult for him to stay on the court in the late-game scenarios. He’s only shot 60 percent from the charity stripe in high school. He needs to improve that if he wants to be an NBA starter in the future.

Tougher competition

 

Zion Williamson LeBron James

Zion will play in the Mcdonald’s All-American Game in March at Phillips Arena in Atlanta. (Photo by 247 Sports)

While Zion looks like a man against boys in his highlight reels, how will he look when he’s matched up with guys of similar athletic ability? There’s an endless supply of former high school standouts who couldn’t perform at the higher level, even players who were once thought of as the very best players in their high school class.

 

Harrison Barnes was once dubbed as the next Michael Jordan coming out of high school because of his athletic ability. While Barnes has developed into a solid starter in the NBA, he isn’t the player people hyped him up to be.

Andrew Wiggins also grew a following with his freakish athleticism in high school, and people expected him to be the next Kobe Bryant. While Wiggins is a good NBA player, his athleticism is matched by lots of other players in the league, and he doesn’t dominate the game like he used to.

Nearly everyone in the NBA dominated in high school. How will Zion look on the court with guys just as athletic as he is?

Not a great passer

Williamson fills up the stat sheet with lots of buckets, rebounds and absolutely absurd blocked shots. However, he isn’t a great passer.

While it’s hard to judge because he’s so much more athletic than everyone else, he needs to be able to pass at the higher levels. He still doesn’t average over three assists per game, and he doesn’t have a great assist to turnover ratio you want to see from a point-forward, which is what he’d likely play in the NBA.

Doesn’t fit NBA mold

 

Zion Williamson LeBron James

Williamson scored 51 points in the state title game as a junior to carry his team to victory. (Photo by SB Nation)

Zion Williamson compares well to three stars because of his stature: LeBron James, Draymond Green and Ben Simmons. While all three of the players are great, they are outliers in the NBA mold.

They are all point forwards, with varying degrees of a jump shot. James dominated physically in his youth, but his passing, shooting and skill are what make him the best player in the league.

Green is an All-Star because of his defense and passing, and has developed a respectable 3-point shot.

Simmons is still young, but his passing combined with his athleticism is what has allowed him to see marginal success at basketball’s highest level.

These three are the only successful players who fit Williamson’s mold. However, they are significantly more skilled than he is.

Williamson is an exciting young player, who will likely have success at Duke University under its great coaching staff. However, he’s likely to declare for the draft the following year, and fans will realize he is overhyped. As physically imposing as he is, he’ll soon realize the NBA isn’t high school. Without being able to shoot or pass, you won’t have success in the current NBA.

 

Featured image by Richard Brian, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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2017-18 NBA beef

All the NBA beef this season

The past week has been wild with lots of intense games and tempers that have flared. In the past, players have expressed disdain for bad calls and have beef with other players.

In this season, these situations have reached a pinnacle. There have been more fights, more ejections and more technicals than any other season in recent memory. There’s nothing more exciting than watching two guys who hate each other compete.

As outspoken NBA veteran Matt Barnes once said, “Violence isn’t the answer, but sometimes it is.”

Here is the guide to all the best beef so far this season

Draymond Green vs. Bradley Beal

2017-18 NBA beef

Players and referees attempt to separate Draymond Green and Bradley Beal as they fight. (Photo from SF Gate)

In a game on Oct. 27, Beal drove to the basket and had his shot blocked by Green. Beal hit Green in the back of the head and wrapped his arms around Green’s hands.

Their scuffle migrated from outside the lane to underneath the basket, where they both ended up on the ground surrounded by players on both teams.

Both were ejected and fined heavily. Markieff Morris and Carrick Felix were both suspended one game as well for leaving their bench.

Kris Dunn vs. Khris Middleton

At the end of the fourth quarter with 20 seconds left in the game and the outcome decided, Dunn threw Middleton down after he physically gained position in the post. Both teams and referees had to separate the two. Both players were ejected.

Rodney Hood vs. refs and fan

After Hood was ejected from a game for arguing with refs, his frustration reached a peak as he was walking past his bench towards the locker room. A courtside fan was recording him walking out, and Hood slapped the phone out of the fan’s hand. He was fined $35,000 for the incident.

Arron Afflalo vs. Nemanja Bjelica

2017-18 NBA beef

Afflalo gets put in a headlock after missing a punch. (Photo from SlamOnline)

In a recent game, Afflalo and Bjelica began pushing each other violently while getting ready for a rebound. Afflalo swung straight for Bjelica’s head, missed and was put in a head lock. Afflalo was suspended two games and ejected for fighting.

Ben Simmons vs. Kyle Lowry

With six seconds left in the game, Simmons visibly bumped a few members of the Raptors on edge. Lowry took the bump from Simmons personal, and both were ejected for yelling at each other.

Simmons told Lowry to meet him in the hallway and was looking to fight. Lowry later said this at a press conference.

“Put it this way: I was back there.”

It’s safe to say these guys don’t like each other.

Enes Kanter Vs. Lebron James

2017-18 NBA beef

Kanter doesn’t back down from LeBron. (Photo from SI.com)

In a game in New York, James pushed and unnecessarily got in the way of rookie Frank Ntilikina, and Ntilikina pushed James.

Kanter, being the instigator that he is, immediately rushed to help his rookie and got in LeBron’s face.

James Johnson vs. Serge Ibaka

In the third quarter of a recent game, Johnson was guarding Ibaka while the ball was being inbounded from the baseline. While the two began pushing each other, Johnson threw a punch at Ibaka’s head, and Ibaka reciprocated. Both were separated by a referee, and both were ejected.

James Harden vs. Mario Chalmers

With two minutes left in a tied game, Harden hit Chalmers with a very hard screen and knocked him to the ground. Chalmers began kicking at Harden’s ankles from the ground. Harden retaliated by pushing Chalmers, and both players were pulled apart before either could throw punches and escalate the scuffle.

LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Serge Ibaka

2017-18 NBA beef

Ibaka and Aldridge never back down against one another. (Photo from San Antonio Express News)

Aldridge and Ibaka have had a long-term beef. Three years ago, they got into a fight and have a tendency to be very chippy against each other. They once again expressed their disdain for each other.

Ibaka was seen pushing Aldridge under the hoop contesting for a rebound, and they both got into each other’s faces before getting separated by teammates. These veterans have bad blood between them.

Khris Middleton Vs. Steven Adams

By Steven Adams physical stature, he isn’t a man you want to get into a fight with, even for NBA players. In a game in October, Adams and Middleton seemed to get a bit chippy underneath the basket. Adams ended up with the ball in his hands after a bucket and handed it to Middleton, who threw the ball with force at Adams. Both players were pulled apart from each other and given technicals, but no ejections.

Kevin Durant vs. DeMarcus Cousins

2017-18 NBA beef

Durant and Cousins are both heated during the game. (Photo from Yahoo Sports)

In a game in December, both Durant and Cousins began bumping each other before an inbound pass. Things got escalated, and both players were issued technicals. Then both had to get separated from each other.

Both players were ejected. However, Cousins wasn’t done with Durant, as he tried to confront Durant on the way to the locker rooms. It will be interesting to see how the former Team USA teammates interact at the upcoming All-Star game.

Blake Griffin Vs. Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza vs. Austin Rivers, Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Clippers

This scuffle has everything you could want with lots of former teammates involved. Blake Griffin and the Clippers got the best of the Houston Rockets on the court, but what happened away from the game is what sparked everyone’s interest.

During the game, there were lots of words exchanged between players and coaches, and tensions boiled over in the end of the game and after, with the Rockets very angry with some of the Clippers players.

After the game, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, James Harden and Chris Paul reportedly went into the Clippers locker room through a secret back door that Paul knew of to confront Austin Rivers. Things got so out of hand, Los Angeles Police was called to de-escalate They even sent Clint Capela to the front door as a way of getting around security.

While some of the details are unclear, Ariza and Green were both suspended two games. Griffin was ejected in the end of the fourth quarter.

Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook

2017-18 NBA beef

The two former MVPs still have beef over Durant’s departure. (Photo from Youtube)

Probably the best beef on this list, the former teammates have quite a bitter rivalry after Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors.

Westbrook has been known for taking numerous petty shots at Durant since his departure. As two of the top 10 players in the NBA, there were lots of moments these two matched up against each other in their meeting in November at Oklahoma City.

The two continued to jaw at each other, with Westbrook being the main instigator, which escalated when Westbrook knocked the ball out of bounds from Durant when he was driving to the hoop. Westbrook and Durant headbutted each other and definitely exchanged some words. Battles between these two are must-watch games.

 

Featured image by ABC News

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NBA trade deadline moves

Five players who desperately need a new team

With the trade deadline less than a month away, it’s time for teams to assess their rosters and make a plan for the future. While some teams like the Cavaliers, Trail Blazers and Bucks are looking to add talent to their roster and gear up for the playoffs, other teams need to deal their players and begin to look to the future. Here are the players who need to move on to a new team.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

NBA trade deadline moves

Gasol has had a great career in Memphis, but his time as a Grizzly could be over soon. (Photo from Sports Hub)

While Marc Gasol has tons of ties to the city of Memphis, including attending high school there while his brother Pau played on the Grizzlies, it’s time for the front office to trade him away and start to rebuild. Gasol was consistently one of the best centers in the NBA, but he’s turning 33 this month. While he’s added a lethal 3-point shot into his repertoire, he is not the player he once was.

The Grizzlies do not have the young talent to challenge for a playoff spot. While their 13-28 record would’ve been a lot better if Mike Conley stayed healthy, their best case scenario would’ve been sneaking into playoffs at the eighth seed, only to lose in the first round to the Golden State Warriors.

The Grizzlies need to let Gasol play for a contender and start building for the future.

Potential Teams: Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis has played for the Pelicans for six years, averaging at least 20 points per game and 10 rebounds every year except his rookie season. The Pelicans have not won a playoff game since he’s been on the team, and it’s time to make a big move. Davis has also proven to be injury-prone, as he’s only played over 70 games in a season once.

Davis is a top-10 talent in the NBA, and he’s only 24. The reluctance to trading such a talent is understandable. However, the team is barely a playoff team (currently at the eighth seed) and are nowhere near competing with teams in the top of the Western Conference.

The addition of DeMarcus Cousins was a great move on paper, but the on-court performances haven’t been enough, and the dynamic duo of Cousins and Davis has been a failed experiment. Some reports believe that members of the front office prefer Cousins over Davis as the face of the franchise, and they should bring in pieces to build around Cousins.

With the threat of Cousins bolting to the Lakers in free agency this offseason, the Pelicans can’t keep the status quo.

Potential Teams: Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

Kemba Walker has done everything he can to keep the Hornets afloat. However, the Hornets are not going to compete in the East with the roster they currently have. Walker is now 27 and is in his prime. He doesn’t want to be apart of a rebuild.

Walker is a star in this league, and he needs to be on a team that has talent to surround himself with. His talent is being wasted on a below-average team, and the Hornets need to accumulate draft picks and young players. Walker would be a perfect fit for a team desperate for a point guard, like his hometown team, the New York Knicks.

Potential Teams: New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets

Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls

NBA trade deadline moves

Mirotic will be a great addition to any playoff team this trade deadline. (Photo by NBC Sports)

The Bulls have launched into rebuild mode trading away Jimmy Butler this past offseason, and it’s time for them to trade Nikola Mirotic for more draft picks and young talent.

While Mirotic is having a great season as the No. 1 option on offense, the team is in full tank mode with a record of 16-27. The Bulls needs to start getting draft picks and young players to develop.

Mirotic has also expressed interest to moving to a contender, with reports this week that he still wants to be traded before the deadline.

Mirotic was punched in the face by Bobby Portis, a teammate, during a practice before the season started and was out for 2 weeks with a broken nose. The report exploited what appears to be a dysfunctional roster with lots of unhappy players. The growing feeling around the organization was that a trade was imminent after the incident. While they have yet to deal Mirotic, both sides would benefit from a deal.

Potential Teams: Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

Probably the most available player on this list, Jordan’s impending free agency and potential trade has been very publicized by the media this season. Jordan has been a great defensive center and vertical threat for the Clippers the past couple years and has spent 10 seasons as a Clipper. During his time, he’s made three All-NBA teams, one All-Star game and two All-Defensive teams.

Jordan has been dominant and is apart of a dominant interior duo with Blake Griffin, when he is healthy. Nonetheless, it’s time to move to Jordan because he will not stay with the Clippers past this season, and the market for quality centers is very scarce. Jordan almost left the Clippers for the Dallas Mavericks a few years ago, but the Clippers players locked him in his house and made him sign the contract.

A deal before this trade deadline would benefit both sides. The Clippers can address other needs and rebuild after an injury-riddled season. Jordan wants to go to a contender, and there’s multiple Eastern Conference teams that could desperately use his interior presence.

Potential Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors

 

Featured image by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

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