James Harden Wesley Johnson

R.I.P. Wesley Johnson 1987-2018

Wesley Johnson’s NBA career officially ended on February 28, 2018 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. He died by crossover, a painful death that I wouldn’t wish on my own worst enemies. The murder was committed by the notorious James Edward Harden Jr., whomst has committed multiple murders before.

Example #1: Ricky Rubio

Example #2: Enes Kanter

Example #3: Austin Rivers

Example #4: Lance Thomas

How a man who has ended four career’s is still roaming our streets free is beyond me. This has lead to this moment. The moment where Wesley Johnson’s life came to an unfortunate end.

Analysis of Wesley Johnson gets crossed into next year

This is the moment Wesley Johnson realized he was being murdered. He looks as if he is falling off a toilet seat.

James Harden Wesley Johnson

(ESPN)

At no point in time should a player be looking like this on the court. There is 10 plus feet between them after James Harden stepped-back. That is NEVER a good sign.

James Harden Wesley Johnson

(ESPN)

The bench has now realized what they have seen. Trevor Ariza and PJ Tucker are standing up ready to exclaim. Even my mans in the first row is already yelling and Wesley Johnson has just hit the floor.

James Harden Wesley Johnson

(ESPN)

James Harden and Boban both looking at Wesley Johnson’s soul leaving his body. This is what y’ll MCM look like in the twitter DM’s. Couldn’t be me.

James Harden Wesley Johnson

(ESPN)

Trevor Ariza then proceeded to run all the way to half court.

James Harden couldn’t even keep a straight face when asked about the move after the game.

There is no way Wesley Johnson can step on a basketball court again. And if he does, it has to be fade on sight when anyone says anything about the move. Can’t get any more disrespected than this right here.

Where were you the day James Harden eviscerated Wesley Johnson from our earth???

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NBA most efficient players

The five most efficient role players in the NBA

Efficiency has become the name of the game in the current NBA world.

The current NBA offenses now consist of a lot more 3-pointers and layups than any other time period within the NBA. Teams have increasingly adjusted their offenses away from a post-centric offense and mid-range shots and moved towards a perimeter-based offense with more shooters.

This is the reason why players like Monta Ellis and Josh Smith, who once were young stars, are no longer on an NBA roster. This is the reason the stretch 4 position has become such a commodity in the last five years. The new offensive sets have allowed teams to become significantly more efficient, and teams covet efficient players like never before.

In the increasingly competitive market for efficiency on the court, here are five of the most efficient supportive or role players in the NBA this season.

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers

PER: 22.23

NBA most efficient players

Harrell has played solid minutes as a new member of the clippers this season. (Photo by AP)

Harrell has turned into a solid role player for Doc Rivers. While his points per game average is down from 9.1 to 7.7, Harrell is currently shooting 60.3 percent from the field, which is in the top 10 among the NBA.

Harrell has been a solid role player coming off the bench for a depleted Clippers roster in desperate need of help. Patrick Beverly (knee surgery), Danilo Gallinari (hip), Blake Griffin (concussion, knee), Milos Teodosic (foot) and now DeAndre Jordan (ankle) have all missed portions of the year already due to injury.

The starting lineup has been completely decimated by injuries, but Harrell has been a bright spot in an otherwise depressing season for clippers fans.

Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies

PER: 22.91

Evans, who once beat out Stephen Curry and James Harden for Rookie of the Year honors, had continued to regress after his promising rookie season, until this year. Evans’ scoring this year (19.9 points per game) is nearly on par with his rookie season (20.1). He is currently shooting above 45 percent from the field and above 40 percent from beyond the arc.

While the Grizzlies have struggled with Mike Conley sidelined with an achilles injury and Dave Fizdale fired, Evans has emerged as a quality NBA starter. With a scarce supply of talented wings in the NBA, Evans will garner lots of attention this summer as a free agent if he can continue his strong play.

Don’t be surprised if the Memphis Grizzlies go into rebuild mode and trade Evans and Marc Gasol for young prospects and draft picks. Evans could really help a team like the Wizards or his former team, the Pelicans, make a playoff push.

Enes Kanter, New York Knicks

PER: 23.77

The former No. 3 pick in the draft from Turkey has become one of the most efficient bigs in the NBA. He’s quietly scoring 13.4 points per game while shooting 59.7 percent from the floor. He has also developed great chemistry with Kristaps Porzingis.

While Kanter has never been known for his defense, he is pulling down 10 rebounds a game and pacing to finish with career highs in blocks and steals.

Kanter has showed he’s not afraid of anyone, whether that be LeBron James, Kevin Durant or the Turkish government.

David West, Golden State Warriors

PER: 24.27

West has proven to be a great leader for the second unit on the Warriors. (Photo from USA Today’s FTW)

While the 37-year-old and former All-Star only plays 13 minutes per game for the defending champions, he’s shooting at an unbelievable 62.4 percent from the field, his highest field goal percentage in his career by a wide margin.

West is the only non-starter in the top 15 of the player efficiency ratings and is one the most underrated passing big men in the NBA.

While the Warriors have lots of options, West has been a reliable backup big for Steve Kerr and is one the cogs responsible for the best reserve group in the NBA.

 

 

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

PER: 25.79

Capela has blossomed in his fourth year as a pro, averaging 14.2 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Capela is also first in the NBA in field goal percentage at 66.9 percent.

With the addition of Chris Paul, Capela has been the beneficiary of open looks around the rim, and he’s been efficient doing so. Similar to how DeAndre Jordan’s ability as an alley-oop threat and finishing around the rim resulted with his very high shooting percentages, Capela has become Chris Paul’s new Jordan.

The 23-year-old from Switzerland has formed a great pick-and-roll duo with James Harden, combined with a plethora of excellent 3-point shooters to space the floor. Capela has provided great rim protection on the defensive side of the ball, and has been holding down the interior for Mike D’Antoni.

 

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Making the case for every fringe playoff team

The NBA season is halfway over, which means it’s time to start evaluating potential playoff teams.

The top four seeds in each conference are virtual locks, due to overall talent and coaching. The fifth-seventh seeds will do some changing around as teams jockey for their playoff seeding. Although, close followers of the NBA probably wouldn’t be surprised if the Pistons or the Trailblazers fell out of the playoff picture after overachieving slightly in the first half of the season.

As with any sport’s playoff, however, the most interesting storylines are the ones involving the teams on the bubble.

With that in mind, let’s look at each conference’s eighth seed and first two teams on the outside looking in.

Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers (21-19, No. 8 seed)

The Pacers have been just fine without Paul George. Victor Oladipo has been playing close to his ceiling, although they’re still overpaying for him. The other piece of the trade that sent George away, Domantas Sabonis, has also been playing nicely. He’s two rebounds shy of averaging a double-double, and will probably end up setting career-high averages in every meaningful category.

While their offense has been clicking, their defense is some of the most below average in the Association. Not awful, just very mediocre. Their offense alone can win the Pacers enough games to keep them in the 8th spot. Lack of defensive consistency will have been their downfall if they fail to make the cut.

Philadelphia 76ers (19-19, first team out)

Philadelphia is one of the most exciting stories in the NBA this season. The “process” seems to have finally come to fruition, and we are finally seeing glimpses of what this long and arduous rebuild has wrought.

Even though the 76ers are a .500 team, don’t be fooled. They’re currently first in the league in rebounds per game, second in assists resulting made field goals, and sixth in points. A rested and re-energized team could ride that kind of momentum to a playoff spot after the All Star break. Plus, their first overall draft pick hasn’t even played five games yet.

NBA Playoffs

Embiid scores on Whiteside. (Photo by: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

What will keep them out of the playoffs is their youth and inconsistency in their game to game performances. As the season drags on, the young players might start to slow down, which will only exacerbate their inconsistency issues. Those red flags usually mean a .500 team will stay a .500 team, but playing in a weak conference will definitely help.

New York Knicks (19-21, second team out)

The Knicks are a force to be reckoned with in the paint on both ends of the court. They are ninth in points in the paint and second in points allowed in the paint. Yes, we’re talking about the New York Knicks.

The team is huge, size-wise. Porzingis, O’Quinn, Kanter and Noah are all either over or close to 7-feet. That length pays dividends over a long regular season, but could actually be a problem if they sneak into the playoffs. The East is full of jump shooting teams, which will stretch New York’s strengths too thin to make them truly effective.

Western Conference

New Orleans Pelicans (20-19, No. 8 seed)

New Orleans might very well be a better team than their record indicates. They’re second in points in the paint thanks to Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins. They’re also second in the NBA in assists per game thanks to some great guard play both from starters and off the bench. Not to mention they have the second toughest schedule in the NBA (according to 2016-2017 team records).

Team defense leaves a lot to be desired for the Pelicans. Bottom five in opponents points in the paint per game doesn’t make a lot of sense considering the front court they have. They also give up the third most points in the league per game.

NBA Playoffs

Davis and Cousins during a game against the Spurs. (Photo by: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

It’s an especially strange case on New Orleans’ part. The chemistry and coaching is clearly there, as evidenced by the assist totals. But the defense is nowhere near where it should be, in spite of Cousins and Davis. Remember that Alvin Gentry was brought on to be a defensive mastermind, and the roster has only gotten better since he came to town. Maybe look for a coaching shake-up if the Pelicans miss the playoffs.

Los Angeles Clippers (18-21, first team out)

Doc Rivers’ team is hurting out west. The Clippers have been a staple of the Western Conference playoffs for the past six years, but the days of Lob City have finally come to an end. Chris Paul’s departure marked a culture change for the Clips, and the team has not found its stride just yet.

Los Angeles still has a great 3-point game. Beverley, Williams, Rivers and even Griffin can all pull up from distance. They also have great personnel for man-to-man defense. Those two things are golden in NBA playoff basketball. But, yet again, team defense is going to be the main hurdle between them and their playoff streak.

Utah Jazz (16-24, second team out)

The new look Jazz are in a soft rebuild. After losing their number one scorer in Gordon Hayward, the Jazz were almost certainly take on a new identity. But picking up Ricky Rubio and finding a steal in Donovan Mitchell should have stopped the bleeding more than it has.

Their defense is some of the best in the NBA, all around. In fact, the Jazz are top 10 in almost every meaningful defensive category under Quin Snider. Against the trend, the offense is what will probably keep Utah out of the playoffs this year. Although, again, this is a new look team. And offense almost always comes together more quickly than defense. If they can keep up the defensive dominance, they won’t be out of the playoff picture for long.

 

Featured image by ANTHONY GRUPPUSO-USA TODAY

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New York

New York Knicks: Life after Carmelo Anthony

After three years of the Phil Jackson era and finally trading Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks finally get to move on.

Despite making the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the offseason, the Knicks acquired some key pieces during the summer. New York management signed notable names such as Jarrett Jack, Tim Hardaway Jr., Michael Beasley and Ramon Sessions.

New York is moving on

On Sep. 23, New York traded Melo to the Oklahoma City Thunder, in return for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 second-round pick. If you’re a Knicks fan or Spike Lee, you should be happy with the additions made by management.

In order for New York to turn the table, they need to use this season to experiment. With the removal of the dark cloud known as Phil Jackson, it’s safe to say that head coach Jeff Hornacek can throw away the triangle offense.

Last year Melo averaged 18.8 shot attempts per game, which affected the younger players on the roster.

Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis will have a big year and play with a chip on his shoulder due to the fact that his name was included in multiple trade reports. The franchise needs to build the team around the 7-foot-3 forward.

Porzingis has put up amazing numbers in the two years that he has played in the big apple. Last season the 22-year-old averaged 16 points, seven rebounds and one assist. With the Eastern Conference wide open, the Knickerbockers could still make a run at the eighth seed.

The supporting cast

Adding Beasley is huge if he can stay on the court and away from off-court activities that jeopardize his eligibility. Last year the 6-foot-9 forward averaged 9.4 points, three rebounds and shot 50 percent from the field.

With the former Syracuse star out the door, Beasley should have the green light at the small forward position.

In addition to Beasley, the organization brought in a familiar face in Tim Hardaway Jr. A lot of people questioned management for giving him a two-year $71 million deal. The former Atlanta Hawk provides you with instant scoring, flashes of defense and athleticism. Let’s not forget about the pickup of Sessions.

Sessions, numbers may not stand out, but the way he runs a team reminds me of a drum major at a marching band performance. The former Charlotte Hornet will make sure that players are in the right place at the right time.

The 31-year-old guard isn’t a prolific shooter so you don’t have to worry about the ball sticking at the top of the key. In addition to his facilitating, he will make a great mentor for the younger player’s especially Frank Ntilikina.

The Knicks front office should be pleased with the addition of a shooting threat in McDermott and a skilled big man in Kanter. Both players could make a case for a starting spot or serious minutes off the bench.

This year’s starting lineup could include Ramon Sessions, Courtney Lee, Michael Beasley, Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. The bench rotation will probably consist of Jarrett Jack, Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and Lance Thomas.

The Knicks have options, which is something we have not heard in a long time.

Bold prediction alert: expect the team to sneak into the playoffs as the 8th or 7th seed. #BookIt

 

Featured image taken by Michael Tipton

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Oklahoma City Thunder 2017 NBA Draft profile

On day 19 of NBA Draftmas, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s draft needs and targets will be analyzed.

SUMMARY

Russell Westbrook (Photo by: thebiglead.com)

The Thunder had a solid season, qualifying for the playoffs as a six seed, which is especially impressive given the fact that Kevin Durant left in free agency. Russell Westbrook took over and had a historical season, becoming the second player ever to average a triple double for a season. While they do have some other solid players on the roster, the focal point of the Thunder moving forward is going to be getting Westbrook some help.

Oklahoma City ranked 11th in the NBA in points per game and ranked 16th in points allowed per game. The biggest strength of the Thunder is rebounding, as they led the league in rebounds per game. The area that needs the most improvement is three point shooting. Oklahoma City ranked dead last in three point shooting percentage and needs to acquire players that can help spread the floor for Westbrook.

Signing Westbrook to a long term deal will be the biggest necessity, since superstars don’t grown on trees. Getting players who can shoot and spread the floor will help make the Thunder into a better contender. They do have some nice pieces in Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams, but more is needed to compete in a very tough Western Conference.

Oklahoma City Thunder DRAFT PICKS & NEEDS

Oklahoma City has one pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and will need to make the most of it. 

First Round: No. 21

As stated earlier the biggest need for the Thunder is a three point shooter that can spread the floor. If they can find one that can log minutes immediately it would help the team start winning more games.

Another area of need is a backup point guard. Westbrook is one of the best players in the league, but they don’t have much behind him. Cameron Payne was shipped to Chicago. Norris Cole was a stop-gap signing for the end of the year and likely won’t be a great option for next season. Semaj Christon is frustrating to watch and hasn’t fully developed into a great option to play behind Westbrook.

TARGETS

Pick #21: Luke Kennard, SG, Duke

Luke Kennard (Photo by: si.com)

Kennard fills the three point shooting void for the Thunder. He shot a great 43.8% from deep last season at Duke. He also improved his ability to drive and create plays for others. Kennard won’t ever be a star in the NBA, but at pick number 21 could be a great pick and have a solid career.

He will fit into the Thunder well, because he hits open shots. When Westbrook drives to the basket and finds open teammates, Kennard will be one of the few that will be able to hit them more often than not. Just having that extra weapon on offense last year would’ve helped them win a few more games.

The reason that Kennard is likely to slide to the middle of the first round at the earliest is his defense. He will be a defensive liability in the NBA. He had a defensive rating of 104.4 at Duke and he doesn’t have too much more room for improvement in this area of his game. With Kennard on the floor he will give up a lot of points, but he will also score a lot too.

CONCLUSION

The Thunder need to get someone who can help Russell Westbrook get back to the top of the Western Conference. A player coming from this draft pick likely isn’t going to be a star, but they could get a solid player who helps them get back to competing in the West. Oklahoma City will need to get another star before they can really be considered a team capable of winning a championship.

Thanks for checking out the Oklahoma City Thunder 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day 20 of NBA Draftmas to see what the Brooklyn Nets are going to do.

Day 18: Atlanta Hawks

Day 17: Indiana Pacers

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The Philadelphia 76ers Only Have Two Stars, But Maybe That’s OK

As the season progresses, it’s becoming more evident that the Philadelphia 76ers simply don’t have enough of a core to build around. With the trade deadline less than two months away, it’s time for the team to start focusing on tooling for the future.

The Sixers have spent the past five years stockpiling assets at the top of the draft lottery. The result has been a logjam in the front court, and one that needs a solution before the trade deadline.

Monday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings serves as a decent benchmark for where this team is headed for the future. Former #3 draft pick Joel Embiid scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds with a plus/minus of +3. Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor (fellow highly drafted big men) were rendered ineffective and the team was outscored when they were on the floor.

Throughout the game, Embiid flashed the talent that has made him one of the best young big men in the league. Defensively he guarded the paint and the perimeter, recording two steals and two blocks. In the post, he showed finesse and bullied Demarcus Cousins in the paint throughout the game. Outside the paint, he flashed his three point prowess and showed some breakaway speed on fast breaks. Better yet? He’s been doing it all season.

 

Joel Embiid Highlights from Dec. 26th 

 

Noel only played 3 minutes during the game, a testament to the pileup of big men in the roster. When Noel has seen the floor, he has struggled to score and rebound. He is a prominent defender who just can’t seem to put it together on this team.

Similarly, Okafor has also struggled throughout the season despite his promising rookie campaign last year. His post game remains impressive, but his inability to rebound and defend against many of the first units in the league would make it difficult to build a team around him.

Interestingly, his game compares well to a fellow third overall pick, Enes Kanter. Both big men are able to score well off the bench despite their inefficiency on the other end of the floor.

Many teams around the league could use a scoring presence like Okafor. Talent dry teams like the Brooklyn Nets could use his presence to help inject talented youth into their lineup. Teams like Portland and Boston could use him to build depth off of the bench.

The problem, however, is that Philadelphia has lost their leverage over the past few years. Nerlens Noel becomes a restricted free agent after this year and Okafor has only one more year left on his deal. The addition of Dario Saric and the impending return of Ben Simmons has created a need to clear space in the Philly frontcourt.

Realistically, Simmons and Embiid are the only future starters on this team and Simmons hasn’t even seen a minute in the NBA yet. Regardless, it’s hardly time to panic about the team’s future.

Saric, along with Robert Covington and Sergio Rodriguez, look like they could be a nice presence of the bench in the future. Hopefully, the team can capitalize off of Okafor and Noel before the deadline this year. Most importantly, the 2017 NBA draft approaches quickly.

This looks like yet another lost season for the Sixers in the “Trust the Process” era. Hope, however, lies in the draft.

This looks to be one of the most promising draft classes in years with a plethora of potential stars in the NCAA right now. Additionally, many of the highly ranked players are guards and wings which are holes the Sixers desperately need to fill. They will likely end up with two top ten picks this year and will no doubt be able to find playmaking and scoring at the top of the draft.

Another struggling season seems to be yet another embodiment of “The Process” for the woeful 76ers, but the future appears to be much brighter. A new year could bring a healthy Ben Simmons and a limitless Joel Embiid. February could open up the roster for more young stars. The Process just may be coming along.

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The Utah Jazz Can’t Hit That High Note

The rise to the top tier of the Western Conference for the Utah Jazz is not happening quickly or smoothly. With a 7-8 record through the early part of this season, patience is going to be a necessity for fans.

The young Jazz team came into the season with fans and pundits alike foreshadowing a leap that would have them competing for a top four spot and home-court in the playoffs. While the season is still indeed young, the clairvoyance of some is shaping up to be a bit shaky.

The progression of NBA teams is rarely a linear action. Players and coaches like to recite the hackneyed adage It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon in regards to the NBA season. However, as fans, that sentiment seems to get lost when things begin to look bright for a team that once was lottery bound but seemed to have figured some things out.

For the Jazz, it seemed they were on the upward trajectory, destined to burst through the glass ceiling. It could still happen. The season is still young and all it takes is for them to pick up a little steam and play their best basketball near the end of the season.

Things are not all bad for this team. Not even close. George Hill has been pretty darn solid for this team. His addition has gone just as planned if not better. He’s averaging 20 points and five assists per game. Hill also has a 65% true shooting percentage. He’s also hitting 43% of his three pointers in his seven games played.

Rodney Hood is still providing steady production for his team as well as offseason addition Joe Johnson.

Head coach Quin Snyder and his staff has this team playing close to elite defensive basketball. Allowing only 95 points per game has them first in the league in that regard. If the opponent can’t get points from their offense then there’s always a chance for a team such as the Jazz to keep the game close. That goes hand in hand with how well the Jazz are keeping their opponents from even having the chance to get shots up as they are top ten in shots allowed.

The key to winning games is to not beat yourself and Utah does a great job of doing just that. They are bottom five in turnovers. The flip side to that is that they aren’t turning their opponents over all that much either. The Utah jazz are last in the league in steals.

Nevertheless, as well as they are playing on the defensive side of the ball, the offense has to improve if they want to get where they want to go. Utah is middle of the pack in offensive efficiency. The consensus for this squad is that they share the ball and play unselfish basketball.

The thing is, even though they are top ten in passes made through 15 games, those passes aren’t turning into assists. The Houston Rockets are a team that ranks last in the league in total passes made but are fifth in the league in average assists. The ball can move around the half-court as many times as 24 seconds allows, however if it’s not going in the basket, then that’s not good offense.

How do you fix an offense that goes deep into the shot clock without even an attempt? Trying playing a bit faster. The Jazz find itself last in pace played. Pace does not just boil down to running up and down the court, it also encompasses how fast the team is getting into their sets, or making decisions. This also ties into their half-court defense not getting steals and getting easy transition buckets.

Getting to the free throw line would help a ton as well. Easy points raises the confidence of shooters and allows the team to set up its high ranking defense. The Jazz are in the bottom third of the league in free throw attempts at 21 per game.

The team is at the bottom of the league in transition plays and points off turnovers. Settling for spot-up jumpers 17 seconds into the shot-clock (the Jazz take 42% of their shots during that time frame and is top five in the league in spot-up jumpers) doesn’t make for great chances to score. Of players averaging more than three 3-point attempts, Utah has only two players shooting above 30% from three.

Or how about Rudy Gobert?

This squad is bottom ten in the league in points in the paint. Bringing up a player’s contract when discussing role can be trite at times (see: Enes Kanter), but the $100 million center has to find a way to get more involved in the offense. He’s averaging 10 points on 62% with about six attempts per game. The Jazz should try to incorporate more screen and roll actions. At seven-feet, 250 pounds, Gobert as an every possession roll threat would open up the floor.

I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Gordon Hayward, who is quietly not having the best of seasons. With only nine games under his belt due to an early hand injury, it’s going to take some time for him to get his legs back. The question is, how long? Hayward has shooting splits of 39/25/91. As the team’s best perimeter option the time has come for Gordon to be more efficient.

The music that Jazz fans hear isn’t so pleasant right now. The expectations were high, but the output has been low. However Jazz fans, the NBA season is a war of attrition. This won’t be the same team in February. The days of glory haven’t come yet for Utah, just be patient.

“Sting For Who?”: Russell Westbrook is OKC

Russell Westbrook topped off his three year $85 million a year contract with a press conference. With a player option after the second year, some just see this as delaying the inevitable. Just biding his time a little longer before jettisoning himself out of town.

If that’s how the fans felt then today’s press conference announcing his return should have you feeling better. Per ESPN’s Royce Young, when asked about how his decision came about Westbrook replied “there’s no need to wait if you know where you want to be.”

USA Today Sports

Westbrook is relishing the idea of leading his team back to prominence. He spent the entire conference alluding to the confidence he has in himself and the teammates he’s surrounded with. Whenever there was a question about Kevin Durant he stuck to the script and focused on his team. He had glowing reviews and endorsements for his two big men in Enes Kanter and Steven Adams.

There is not any worry about the hard work it’s going to take to contend for a title again. He’s ready. He showed the same veracity that he displays on the court earlier today during his meeting with the media. No, there weren’t any cosmic dunks or feats of godlike athleticism. Instead his veracity was channeled into the way he complimented his teammates and organization and in the way he described his enthusiasm. Westbrook even went as far as saying that he wished the season “started tomorrow”

This is what he wanted to do. The front office didn’t plead with him or offer empty promises of success. Sure, $9 million more dollars in his pockets might have had something to do with it. All in all, he chose to compete. Westbrook decided that Oklahoma City is the where he wants to live and play basketball. To the fans that live in that city, that’s all they can ask for.

The Thunder have their leader and they have their marching orders. This isn’t Westbrook coming back; he never left. But somehow it feels like the story of hero returning to save his city from certain defeat.

Dwight Howard and the Celtics need each other

Courtesy of USA-Today Sports

    Courtesy of USA-Today Sports

Free agency means about the same amount to teams and their front offices as it does to the players. This is the time to fill a need or multiple needs if the cap space allows. Whether there is a 3 and D wing player on the market or a point guard who can run an offense, if the price is right GMs will most assuredly have no issues getting out the checkbooks. Players can also enjoy the feeling of being courted and having the option to choose between a team that can aid them in revitalizing their respective careers or have a chance to finally compete for that elusive NBA title.

For Dwight Howard the answer is simple. The Boston Celtics, according to ESPN reports, could be a potential landing spot. Should such an event occur, it wouldn’t be a bad move for either party.

The Boston Celtics could add some rim protection and frontcourt depth to their guard-centric roster. While giving Howard an opportunity to prove he can be mature enough to provide not only his physical gifts but, also veteran leadership to a team that still might be a couple of years away from true contention.

 

Courtesy of USA Today Sports

Courtesy of USA Today Sports

If the Celtics want to take a jump past the Atlanta Hawks and maybe even the Toronto Raptors it wouldn’t hurt to give Howard a chance. The center position is still an important one even in the days of pace and space. The Oklahoma City Thunder took down the 67-win San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals. This was in part to their fantastic frontcourt play from Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. While he isn’t as young and spry as those players, Howard still has the experience and desire to play at a high level.

Last season Howard averaged 13.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and shot 62% from the field. He also pitched in 1.6 blocks. The 13 points were among the lowest of his now 12 year career. Even in 2011 where he only played 54 games due to back injuries and subsequently back surgery, he averaged 20 points a game. Howard’s rebounds were also among the lowest outputs of his career.

Some of this can be attributed to his diminished role in Houston, particularly on offense (he averaged only 8 shot attempts, the lowest since his rookie season). The bulk of which played out in the media. His low rebounding numbers can probably be a sign of athletic regression. This is common among players his age that play such an unforgiving  and punishing position.

With all of that said, Boston still shouldn’t feel hesitant to pay him. He still very much provides what they need from an interior player standpoint. The Celtics ranked 22nd in blocks per game last season. Conversely, the Houston Rockets were middle of the pack ranking 13th. However, Howard’s 1.6 blocks a game are more than team leading shot blocker Amir Johnson at barely over 1 a game.

While his defensive impact wasn’t felt a whole lot in Houston, his 3.1 Defensive Win Shares (DWS) would rank tops on the team, 2nd to only Jared Sullinger.  For the Celtic’s, who had 4th best defense in the league last year, Howard’s presence shouldn’t hurt it all. In fact, the way head coach Brad Stevens has his team playing defense, Dwight should have more of an opportunity to be an above average rim protector. This is true even in a year where he’ll be on the wrong side of 30.

Dwight Howard should take this free agency and look at teams that can give him a couple more years of contention. Danny Ainge should use the same period of time to convince Howard that Boston can give him a taste of what winning, and winning with a smile, feels like again. It’s a win-win for both.

Don’t Sleep When There is Thunder

All of the talk of the NBA season has been about Kobe’s last year and the Golden State Warriors. Even secondary to these topics, the San Antonio Spurs were the huge topic of conversation due to their chance to go undefeated at home during the regular season. If people still couldn’t find anything to talk about they would shift to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference in these NBA Playoffs. There is one team that everyone has been overlooking, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder boast a talented roster that has been overlooked all season long. Photo courtesy thunderclutchpoints.com.

There has been many different ways the Thunder have been disrespected this year, and not just by what people like to talk about when they think of the NBA. Enes Kanter got snubbed for the Sixth Man of the Year award, which was given to Jamal Crawford. Crawford averaged 14.2 points per game and 2.3 assists per game, while Kanter averaged 12.7 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game, which is a staggering number considering he was coming off of the bench. The Sixth Man of the Year rarely goes to big guys, but this is surely a case where Kanter should have won the award.

Russell Westbrook is a superstar. Photo courtesy youtube.com.

Another way the Thunder has been disrespected came at the hands of one of the most vocal owners, Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks. He said that Kevin Durant was the only superstar player on the Thunder after his Mavericks lost to Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs. This was clearly a knock of Russell Westbrook. Westbrook had a great season this year and probably would have won the MVP if Stephen Curry wasn’t hitting three-pointers from every corner of the gym. Westbrook has averaged 23.5 points per game, 10.4 assists per game and 7.8 rebounds per game, to complete a historically good season. While people haven’t been paying much attention to Durant because of the talk of the other great teams in the league, Westbrook has also been overlooked because of these teams, giving both players a gigantic chip on their shoulders.

Why is everyone sleeping on this team? The Warriors, Cavaliers and Spurs have shown that while they are good they aren’t unbeatable. The Thunder won 55 games this season and should be getting a little more credit for that. The only thing people bring up when talking about the Thunder is there inability to close out games late. This is a huge issue, but they managed to get the three seed in the difficult Western Conference despite these struggles. Durant has shown over his career that he is more than capable of being clutch.

With all of this criticism and disrespect shown towards the Thunder this year, there is a giant chip on their shoulder. Durant and Westbrook are still one of the best combinations in all of basketball and can beat any team when playing in a seven game series. Throw in other quality players such as Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Anthony Morrow, Dion Waiters, Nick Collison, Kyle Singler, Randy Foye, Nazr Mohammed, Cameron Payne and Enes Kanter, and you have a team that creates huge match-up problems. With those players, it really takes some nitpicking to criticize this team.

Anyone who says Kevin Durant doesn’t have heart, doesn’t know basketball. Photo courtesy nba.com.

The Thunder are down 1-0 due to a terrible loss by 32 points at San Antonio in their first game of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Then they got shown more disrespect by the national media. Durant and Westbrook are not players that I would want to make angry. Westbrook plays with enough ferocity that he doesn’t need any more motivation. Durant has been criticized all year, with ESPN’s Cari Champion saying he didn’t have the heart to be a top five player in the league. Anyone who would say that hasn’t followed the NBA or Durant’s story well enough, and that’s putting it in a nice way. Now is the time that he will step up, along with Westbrook, and lead the Thunder to victory. So Spurs, Warriors and Cavaliers, don’t get rattled when the thunder booms.