NBA playoffs 16 seed

Pros and cons of a 16-seed NBA playoff

A hot topic around this NBA season has been a potential 16-seed NBA playoff format.

This would eliminate conference-specific playoffs. Instead of the top eight teams in each conference getting a playoff berth, the top 16 teams, regardless of East or West designation, would get the chance to play for a title.

Obviously, there would be an adjustment period if this came to fruition. There are many potential reasons why such a format could and could not work. But, in its favor, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said that the NBA is exploring the idea. It seems as if the forward-thinking Silver is partial to the change.

With the commissioner behind it, and ever-changing landscape of the NBA, it might just be a matter of time until we see a 16-seed playoff. However, it will ultimately depend on fan and player opinions.

Here, we will examine the advantages and problems with a conference-free playoff.

Advantages

Best teams

The first, and most obvious, advantage of a true 16-seed playoff format, is ensuring that the 16 teams with the best records get a berth.

If the playoffs were re-seeded right now, the top 12 teams would all have been locks in the current format. The 13th and 14th seeded teams, the Wizards and the Heat, would be on high upset watch. The race for 15th and 16th seeds, however, would be an absolute dogfight.

The Clippers, Nuggets and Bucks all sit at 41-35. The last two seeds would come down to tiebreakers if the playoffs started today. With six games left for all of these teams, anything could happen during the home stretch regarding their records.

NBA playoffs 16 seed

The Nuggets could potentially be in the playoffs, if re-seeded. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Surprisingly, the Nuggets actually play both Los Angeles and Milwaukee before the season’s end. This almost ensures that Denver would not have to rely on tiebreakers, although it is impossible to say for sure.

All of this information is important, because the Heat and the Bucks are virtual locks to make the playoffs in the East versus West format, barring some very strange circumstances. If we were living in the land of the 16-seed playoffs, they would be fighting for their lives. Every single game would matter.

Meanwhile, in the West, the Clippers and the Nuggets are very much in the playoff conversation as of now. However, they have some work to do, and they need help from the Pelicans and Jazz. In the conference-less playoffs, one could say they would either have more or less of a chance of getting to play for the title. They have more chances to get their help from other teams, but they also have more chances to lose out.

Excitement and viewership

An NCAA Tournament-like atmosphere in the NBA playoffs can only be a good thing.

Imagine a No. 3 seed Warriors team losing against a No. 13 seed Washington Wizards team in the first round. How much would the country get behind a double-digit seed potentially finding its way to the NBA Finals? Would we start seeing teams made up of the best players in the world as “Cinderellas?”

These would all be storylines if the NBA switches to a new format. The excitement going into the playoffs would be at an all-time high in the first couple of years after the change. Familiarity and complacency would take hold after a while, as it does in all things. But rest assured, viewership would rise, especially in the first round, as NBA fans would tune in to see an upset.

The NBA brass could expect this uptick in viewership to last indefinitely, as people would tune in not to only see their team play, but to watch the potential upset games as well. From there, the interest could only grow further. There is little to no downside here when it comes to ad revenue and general watchability.

Problems

Travel

The biggest issue facing the new format would be travel concerns.

For the sake of example, let’s say the seeding works out so that the Clippers play the Celtics in the first round. Traveling from one end of the country to the other would either result in massively fatigued teams, or ridiculously long breaks between games.

Now, let’s say the Clippers and Wizards meet in the second round. This exacerbates the Clippers’ problem. And depending on if the Wizards got a team closer to them in the first round (like the Cavaliers), they have an unfair advantage going up against a road-weary Los Angeles squad. Adding on to this, if the Wizards met, say, the Jazz in the first round, then the fatigue problem is exponentially worse for both teams.

This could potentially go on all the way until the NBA Finals. If that is the case, then the fans are not going to get to watch the basketball they deserve to watch. Two tired teams, or mismatched teams due to freshness versus fatigue, is not what the NBA Finals should be about. It should be about the two teams that have had an equal opportunity to beat their opponents and earned their spot playing in early June.

Obviously, with the East and West format, the teams are much closer to each other, so travel is not a huge concern. Although, the Eastern Conference is not nearly as spread out as the Western Conference. Western Conference teams are arguably more used to travel fatigue, which presents another unfair advantage.

The NBA would have no choice but to severely tweak playoff scheduling every single spring, depending on where teams fall in the seeding.

Shortened season

A shortened season could fix the travel woes presented by a 16-seed tournament style playoff. But, while it fixes some issues, it also raises more questions.

Some teams have no choice but to go on long road trips due to scheduling concerns with their arena. For example, the Spurs go on their annual “Rodeo Road Trip” every February, as the AT&T Center, where they play, hosts the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.

NBA playoffs 16 seed

The Knicks have to evacuate Madison Square Garden, as the NIT Final Four contests are always held in New York. (Photo by Danny Wild/USA Today Sports)

The New York Knicks have to get out of town while the NIT Final Four and Championship game are historically played in Madison Square Garden. Since that happens in March, what would happen if regular season March basketball was cut to make room for an extended playoffs, if the Knicks were to be a contender?

This is without even mentioning how many teams share their arenas with other sports teams (especially hockey), concerts, events, etc.

The amount of planning that would have to happen is mind-boggling, considering the NBA won’t even know which teams will and won’t make the playoffs.

Also, since the 1967-68 season, players’ stats and totals have been reliant upon an 82-game season. The public will simply have to reckon with different averages and player statistics if the season is shortened significantly. It would also put an asterisk next to past players’ totals, which would change the framework of how we see past and future athletes.

Conclusion

The NBA Finals has always been the East against the West, the best both conferences have to offer duking it out for a championship ring.

NBA playoffs 16 seed

Silver has been discussing a 16-seed playoff format since the NBA preseason. (Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

With the lack of parity between the very best teams in the league and the middle-to-bottom in the NBA recently, a 16-seed playoff could work wonders in bringing back casual NBA fans. It would also plug the not-so-subtle gap between the quality of the Western teams and the quality of the Eastern teams.

 

If the best teams are going to keep getting better, and the worst teams are going to keep tanking, this could be the solution. However, it may just be more trouble than it is worth. Things would have to change forever, and supremely quickly to make this format work. Questions will have to be answered, and mistakes would definitely be made before it could be the very best version of itself.

As stated before, this decision will most certainly be dependent upon how popular the prospect is to NBA fans and NBA players. They are the arbiters of how the NBA will be consumed, and the front offices must listen and act upon those judgements.

Until then, conferences are still relevant.

 

Featured image by Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

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NBA Draft prospects in the Final Four

The Final Four is finally here after two great weeks of basketball in the NCAA Tournament. While these certainly aren’t the four teams with the best NBA Draft prospects, they have been given a chance to prove themselves on the big stage. NBA scouts will be watching. Here are the top NBA Draft prospects in the Final Four.

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers’ prospects

Clayton Custer, PG

Loyola will likely not have anyone drafted, but rather thrive on good ball movement and defense. Custer is the best player on the team and just won the MVC Player of the Year award. He averages 13.2 points and 4.2 assists per game and has helped get Loyola to the Final Four for the first time since 1963.

Custer is still a long shot to make the NBA, but he has the best chances of anyone on the Ramblers. He is just 6’0″ tall and 175 pounds but has some necessary skills that will help him when being evaluated. He has a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, which is good considering how much he handles the ball. Custer also can light it up from deep, shooting 45.2% on the year.

He is just a junior and will likely return for his senior year before trying his luck as a professional.

Michigan Wolverines’ prospects

Moritz Wagner, PF/C

NBA Draft prospects in the Final Four

Moritz Wagner (Photo by sportingnews.com)

Wagner is a matchup nightmare in the college game, due to his size, shooting and mobility. He hasn’t had the best NCAA Tournament, other than a 21 point outing against Texas A&M, but is a very talented player nonetheless. Michigan was a trendy pick to reach the Final Four, with Wagner being a major reason for it.

At 6’10” and 210 pounds, Wagner fits the bill as a modern day big man in the NBA.  He has good post moves and shoots 39.6% from three-point land. To help his offensive game, he handles the ball well and can take bigger defenders to the basket. His defense has been good this season, he has a defensive rating of 92.1, but there are some questions on how he will do in that regard against NBA competition, as he isn’t a rim protector.

Most NBA mock drafts have Wagner as a late first or early second-round pick, but he is just a junior and could return to school.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, G

Abdur-Rahkman is a senior combo guard, who is the leader of this Michigan team. Michigan is usually a good offensive team but leaves a little to be desired defensively, but Abdur-Rahkman has helped change the narrative this season.

His on-ball defense is some of the best in the country, as he continually frustrates opponents trying to get to the basket. He picks up a steal a game, which helps solidify him as a good all-around defensive player. He isn’t the best shooter, at 38.8% from three-point range, but hits enough to keep defenders honest. While he can drive to the basket decently well, he needs to be more aggressive on offense at times.

Villanova Wildcats’ prospects

Mikal Bridges, SF

Bridges is a prototypical “3 and D” NBA wing prospect. He has improved every year he has been at Villanova and is now a star. He already has one National Championship under his belt and now can go for another.

His defense and shooting ability have put Bridges in a good position to be a lottery pick. His defensive rating has actually gotten worse every year he has been at Villanova, but Bridges now guards the opponent’s best perimeter player. His length, at 6’7″ really helps him contest shots. He shoots the three well too, at 43.6%, but needs to work on getting to the basket more off the dribble. Bridges will also need to add some muscle to match-up with some of the elite small forwards in the NBA.

Bridges is the best draft prospect left in the NCAA Tournament and will have to prove it for Villanova to win the title.

Jalen Brunson, PG

Brunson has won some national Player of the Year awards and is the best point guard in college basketball. The junior was also a part of the 2016 Villanova team that won the title but now gets a chance to get one where he is a major contributor.

He has decent size for a point guard at 6’3″ and 290 pounds. When watching Brunson, it is easy to see that he has done a lot of reps in order to hone his craft. This season he averages 19.2 points and 4.6 assists per game. He only turns it over 1.8 times per game, showing he values the ball. He can shoot from deep, drive to the basket, pass and even post up. Brunson will need to play better defense at the next level.

Most mock drafts have Brunson as a late first or early second-round pick, but he may elect to go back to school for his senior season.

Kansas Jayhawks’ Prospects

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, SG

Mykhailiuk is just 20 years old, but is already a senior. He went to Kansas when he was just 17 and is another player that has been given the time to get better.

If this were a really concise article, the reasons for Mykhailiuk the reason he’d be considered a draft prospect would be: Height and shooting ability. He is 6’8″ and is known primarily as a three-point shooter. With Kansas’ lack of size this year, he has been able to prove he can rebound and defend against bigger players as well.

He is a senior, who will be looked at late in the first round or early in the second.

NBA Draft Prospects in the Final Four

Devonte’ Graham (rockchalktalk.com)

Devonte’ Graham, PG

Graham has waited his turn to be the point guard behind Frank Mason. His patience has paid off, as he has led the Jayhawks to the Final Four, which is not something they have done since 2012.

He’s 6’2″ and 175 pounds, which is good enough to play point guard in the NBA. He is a great defender and protects the ball well on his end, with 1.8 turnovers per game. He averages 17.2 points and 4.1 assists per game. His defense has always been good, but his offense has had to develop. His three-point shooting could be a little better, but he has done a decent job of hitting from deep.

Graham too is a senior and will be likely selected in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft.

*Udoka Azabuike and Malik Newman are also NBA Draft prospects, but will likely come back to school for another year. 

 

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Final Four team breakdown: Michigan Wolverines

The 2018 Final Four has been set. Fans are buzzing and pundits are predicting who will cut down the nets in San Antonio. Throughout this week, I am going to highlight each of the four remaining teams and break down their roster and their chances to win it all. Today, we will be focusing on the Western Regional champions: the Michigan Wolverines. Let’s do this!

Offense

Moe Wagner’s offensive production was key for Michigan’s run (USA Today / Via Reuters).

Most John Beilein coached teams are known for their offensive prowess. But this Michigan team is not your typical Wolverine squad. They only have three players to average double-digit points per game and struggle to find consistency scoring the ball.

Star center Moe Wagner is the key to Michigan’s offense. The German center averaged 14.3 points per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field during the regular season. Wagner’s versatility allows Beilein to be creative when deploying him on offense. Even though Wagner stands at 6-foot-11 and weighs in at 245lbs, he has the quickness to work off the dribble on the perimeter and create outside shots. Most opposing centers struggle on the defensive end when forced out on the perimeter.

The offensive MVP in the NCAA Tournament for Michigan has undeniably been Charles Matthews. The Kentucky transfer poured in double-digit points in every game in the NCAA Tournament. In particular, his 17 points and 8 rebounds helped propel Michigan past a pesky Florida State team in the Elite Eight.

Zavier Simpson’s play at point guard in the latter half of the season cannot be overstated as well. One of the biggest issues for Michigan on the offensive side of the ball was the lack of a true point guard. Simpson, benched in the early part of the season by Beilein, may not be a consistent scorer, but his recognition and court awareness are key for Michigan’s offense. Simpson has averaged 4.5 assists per game throughout the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan’s offense is predicated on ball movement and attacking the rim. Michigan, while they can hit the three ball, does not simply rely on the three-point shot to buoy their offense. Playmakers such as Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Matthews and Wagner work best when they can attack the rim and create plays both for themselves and their teammates off the dribble.

However, the offense is prone to stagnation and scoring droughts. Throughout the Tournament (and season), Michigan has fallen in love with either the three ball or mid-range jump shot. When these shots are not falling, Michigan will fall into a drought offensively. Michigan is also an incredibly poor free throw shooting team. They collectively only shoot 66.2 percent from the field and this could come back to haunt them down the stretch of a close game.

Defense

Defense is the primary reason Michigan is in the Final Four. The Wolverines erupted offensively throughout the Big Ten Tournament, torching opponents from the three-point line and working their defenses inside and out. However, the NCAA Tournament has been a different story. The Wolverines struggled from the field in three of their four games during the Tournament (sorry Texas A&M).

Zavier Simpson’s on-ball defense is key to Michigan’s identity (Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press).

Michigan’s defense is predicated on aggressive, physical man-to-man on-ball pressure. Michigan does a great job of running teams off of the three-point line and forcing them into difficult looks from the field. No team has shot higher than 37 percent or 39 percent from three against the Wolverines throughout the Tournament thus far.

According to KenPom, Michigan comes in fourth place in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. Michigan’s versatility and length allow them to switch against on ball screens and effectively contest shots. This defensive pressure allows Michigan some room for error on the offensive end. When Michigan falls into a scoring drought, their defense is capable of keeping them in the game.

The thing about this Michigan team is that they love frustrating their opponents. They feed off of their opponents’ frustration and negative emotion. Abdur-Rahkman and Simpson do a masterful job of moving their feet and keeping their man in front of them. Most teams tend to occasionally fall asleep on defense, but not Michigan. They lock in from the minute the ball is tipped off and they hound their opponent until the final buzzer.

The only concern for Michigan on this end of the court is foul trouble. Wagner and Simpson have been prone to foul trouble in the past. Michigan is not the deepest team as Beilein usually prefers to play his starters, along with Duncan Robinson and Jordan Poole, most of the game. Simpson becomes too aggressive with his hands on defensive and Wagner can be overpowered in the post at times. It is critical that they avoid early fouls.

X-factors

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s offensive production is key for Michigan (Harry How/Getty Images).

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur Rahkman is one of the vocal leaders of this team. He is arguably their best on-ball defender and rarely gets into foul trouble. But Michigan is at their best offensively when Abdur-Rahkman is hitting threes and making plays off of the dribble. In the Big Ten Tournament, Abdur-Rahkman averaged 15 points and shot at least 50 percent in every game.

The NCAA Tournament has been a different story though. Abdur-Rahkman has averaged 14 points, but his efficiency is way down. In Michigan’s four games, he is only shooting 35.9 percent from the field. Outside of his 24-point explosion against Texas A&M where he shot 57.1 percent from the field, Abdur-Rahkman has not hit a mark higher than 33.3 percent. If Michigan wants to win a title, they need Abdur-Rahkman to play more efficiently on offense.

Free Throw Shooting: As stated above, Michigan struggles at the line. Teams have targeted Simpson repeatedly down the stretch of games as he is only a 51.1 percent free throw shooter. Abdur-Rahkman has the highest FT percentage out of the starters and his is only at 74.8 percent.

Beilein usually has Duncan Robinson, a 90 percent free throw shooter, in the game in these situations. However, opposing teams will look to force Michigan’s hand by forcing the ball to one of their poor free throw shooters and fouling them instead. Michigan cannot afford to leave points on the table against any of the three remaining teams, as all three of them are capable of capitalizing on Michigan’s inability to convert at the line. As a result, Michigan needs to find some consistency at the line this weekend.

Conclusion

Michigan’s defense catapulted them into the Final Four this season. When Michigan’s outside shots are collectively falling, they are nearly impossible to defeat thanks to their stifling defense (see Michigan’s 99-72 demolition of Texas A&M as an example). Michigan is capable of defeating Loyola-Chicago with a stellar defensive effort but will require an efficient offensive game to compete with the likes of Villanova or Kansas if it reaches the title game.

Featured image by USA Today via Reuters.

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We need baseball back

We need baseball back ASAP

Alabama football just won its fifth National Championship in nine years. The New England Patriots have been to seven straight AFC Championship games and are favored to win its third Super Bowl in four years.

In 20 of the last 21 seasons, Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke Blue Devils have earned a four seed or better in the NCAA Tournament. This season, they are off to an 18-2 start, and when it comes to next year, the Blue Devils will have the nation’s top three recruits all wearing blue and white. That’s right, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish, the three highest recruited players in the country, have all committed to Duke. UConn women’s basketball has been to 10 straight Final Four’s and have won four out of the last five NCAA Tournaments.

We need baseball back

In the last three Finals, we have seen these two square up. (Photo from slamonline.com)

Barring an epic collapse, the Golden State Warriors will win its third championship in four years. Despite what the media says, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, in all likelihood, will face the Warriors in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season. This would mark LeBron’s eighth straight Finals appearance.

In October, the Warriors opened as a -240 favorite to win the title. The best odds given to any 2018 MLB team to win the World Series is +525.

In 2016, the Minnesota Twins went 59-103, which was good for the worst record in baseball. A year later, with virtually the same roster, they were competing against the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. From 2011-13, the Houston Astros averaged 54 wins per year. In 2017, they won 101 games and were World Series Champions.

Translation: baseball is the most competitively balanced sport, and it’s not even close. Sure, dominance like Brady and Belichick, Nick Saban, LeBron, the Warriors, Coach K and Geno Auriemma is awesome to see, but as a fan, isn’t it better to have more parody and uncertainty when it comes to sports?

Systems

Not only is baseball the most competitively balanced sport, but it is also the only sport in which we can accurately critique someone’s skill level on a yearly basis. We know college is all about recruiting. The best coaches recruit the best players.

Last season, in the NFL, we saw the Rams finish 4-12 under coach Jeff Fisher (4-9) and John Fassel (0-3). Quarterback Jared Goff went 0-7 as a starter, and Todd Gurley rushed for under 890 yards and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.

Now was this because these players were bad? Of course not. They were just in a garbage system, and an offense that, according to Gurley, “looked like a middle school offense.”

We need baseball back

Gurley averaged less than four yards per carry a season ago. (Photo from CBS Sports)

This season, with head coach Sean McVay, the Rams looked like a completely different team. They beefed up the line, and Goff threw 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Gurley had 19 total touchdowns and over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 15 games. He became one of 11 running backs in the history of the sport to accomplish these two feats in the same season.

Tom Brady is widely considered as the greatest quarterback of all time, but have you ever seen Aaron Rodgers throw a football? Do you know how many top-10 defenses, in regards to scoring, Aaron Rodgers has played with in his 10 seasons as a starter? Only two. One of them being the time Rodgers helped them win the Super Bowl, and another when they won 11 games.

Since Brady took over as the starter in New England, the Patriots have had 12 top-10 defenses. If Rodgers played with a better coach and personnel, we would probably be telling a different story in regards to the best quarterback.

Case Keenum and Blake Bortles just brought their respected teams into Championship weekend. They were behind center for two of the final four teams, and now the sports media is questioning if any team should pay them “starter” money next season. You know why? Because they are both in good systems with top defenses, and coaches who did a great job hiding their flaws.

Basketball too?

In the 2016-17 season, Victor Oladipo was a solid player for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged about 16 points and four rebounds per game.

After being dealt to the Indiana Pacers in the Paul George deal, Oladipo is now an All-Star. He is averaging 24.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He is also shooting a career-best field goal percentage, as well as 3-point percentage. Oladipo is playing the same minutes he did last year, except on the Pacers, he does not have to play alongside Russell Westbrook, a ball-dominant player.

As a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Love was a monster. He was a three-time All-Star, and averaged 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game over six seasons. He is the only player in NBA history to have multiple seasons with averages of at least 26 points and 12 rebounds, while shooting over 80 percent from the free-throw line. In 2010-11, he became the only player to ever average 20 points and 15 rebounds, while shooting 85 percent from the free-throw line.

Since being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Love has made just one All-Star game (soon to be two) and averages less points and rebounds. Of course, this is because he has been the third option in the offense for essentially all of his four seasons in Cleveland.

America’s Pastime

In 57 games as a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2017, J.D. Martinez hit .305 with an OPS of 1.018. In the last 62 games of the season after being traded to the Diamondbacks, Martinez hit .302 with an OPS of 1.107.

Justin Verlander was dealt to the Houston Astros, and he continued to be the same old Justin Verlander. In fact, he was even better than we expected.

Even though they joined new teams, which meant new coaches and new teammates, these players continued to excel. This is because baseball is the purest sport, and the only sport we can examine someone’s statistics, and without hesitation, declare if they had a good season or not.

We need baseball back

No matter the coach, teammates or system, good MLB players produce. (Photo from Over The Monster)

The point is this. In the NBA and NFL, blaming the system, coaches and teammates can all be valid excuses, to an extent, as to why your production is not where it could be. In the MLB, this is not the case. As a starter, you are given the same amount of chance to succeed as any other starter in the league.

A player cannot blame his batting average on the coach, or his teammates. A pitcher can’t tell the media that “the system” is the reason he walked all those batters. As an MLB player, you are either good or you are not. You had a good hitting season, or you didn’t. You either pitched well, or you didn’t.

Luckily, we are a month away from Cactus League and Grapefruit League games. 2018 will be another unpredictable season. The New York Yankees picked up Giancarlo Stanton, which means they have arguably two of the best four right fielders in baseball.

Once Kevin Durant moved to the Warriors, it was obvious they would win the title. In the MLB, big moves like this do not guarantee anything. Baseball will always be America’s pastime, due to its batter vs. pitcher, “You vs. Me” style of play.

 

Featured image from Grantland

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Atlanta Hawks 2017 NBA Draft Profile

Atlanta Hawks 2017 NBA Draft Profile

Welcome to day 18 of Draftmas where we will take a look at the Atlanta Hawks 2017 NBA Draft profile.

Summary

Atlanta Hawks 2017 NBA Draft Profile

(Photo Credit: https://alchetron.com)

The Atlanta Hawks are one of the most consistent franchises in the NBA. Atlanta has made the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. Last season, they finished with a 43-39 record which earned them the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta lost to Washington in the first round 4-2. The Hawks have some really good players, most notably, Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap but they are missing that go-to star who will take the team to the next level.

In those 10 straight playoff appearances, they have never been able to reach the Finals, and have only reached the conference finals once which was in the 2014-2015 season. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is a product of Gregg Popovich which means he has the Hawks playing team basketball predicated on ball movement. This is evident in their 10th overall ranking in assists, averaging 23.6 per game.

This is why the Hawks are still consistently good without that superstar player. If Atlanta wants to become a legitimate contender they need to find that star whether it is via free agency or the draft.

Atlanta’s strengths are on the defensive side of the court. The Hawks ranked 10th in points allowed per game (104), seventh in steals per game (8.3) and fifth in opponents field goal percentage (44.4 percent).

Offensively is where the Hawks struggle the most. They ranked 28th in both turnovers (15.8 per game) and free throw percentage (72.8 percent). Atlanta ranked 18th in field goal percentage (45.1 percent) and 23rd in three-point percentage (34.1 percent).

One of the remaining bright spots for the Hawks was their rebounding, they ranked ninth in the NBA averaging 44.3 rebounds per game.

Picks & Needs

First Round: No. 19

Second Round: No. 31, No. 60

The Hawks need to find some scoring in this draft. It will be highly unlikely that they find a franchise star late in the first round so scoring has to be their number one priority.

Atlanta could also look to draft a big at either center or power forward. Dwight Howard is past his prime and there may be better options at his position. Paul Millsap is also on the back half of his career and there were trade rumors surrounding him last season.

Atlanta needs more depth at their small forward position as well. It may not make sense to draft a small forward since that is the position they drafted last year in Taurean Prince but they need another rotation player at that spot.

The last need for the Hawks to become a better team is by adding depth at the point guard position. Dennis Schroder is an average point guard and adding a second point guard to either compete against or spell him would improve the Hawks.

 

Targets & Thoughts

Atlanta Hawks 2017 NBA Draft Profile

(Photo Credit: http://www.courier-journal.com)

Pick #19: Bam Adebayo F/C Kentucky

Many of the top shooting guards will be drafted by the time the Hawks are on the clock. Atlanta will look to take the best available big man remaining and around pick 19 that would be Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo. Adebayo averaged 13 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in his first season at Kentucky.

Bam Adebayo is very athletic and loves to play an aggressive style of basketball. His goal is to posterize everyone in his path. Bam is also one of the best offensive rebounders in this draft class.

He will need some more development on offense as all of his game is predicated on playing near the rim. To become a solid NBA starter he will need to work on a midrange game as well.

Defensively, Adebayo is a stud. He has shown the ability to be a fierce rim protector along with the versatility to switch screens and defend quick guards as well.

Bam may not be a dominant force in the NBA but as he develops he can become a solid starter capable of replacing either Dwight Howard or Paul Millsap as they leave Atlanta.

Pick #31: Sindarius Thornwell SG South Carolina

Early in the second round, the Hawks could find a gem at the shooting guard position. Sindarius Thornwell was the best player for South Carolina during their Final Four run. Thornwell can score in all sorts of ways. Inside, outside, off screens, in transition and even spot-up shooting.

Sindarius averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists per game and a player efficiency rating of 30.3. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from behind the arc.

Thornwell has some flaws defensively but his offense could help Atlanta right away. He has a chance to be the next second round gem in the NBA.

Pick #60: Kobi Simmons PG Arizona

Kobi Simmons will be a late second-round pick who may struggle to make the roster. As the final pick in the draft, the Hawks will take a chance on a possible backup point guard. He has a lot of potential but only averaged 8.8 points and 2.0 assists while at Arizona. Simmons also only shot 39.7 percent.

Simmons has tons of athleticism but lacks basketball I.Q. If he can tap into the potential scouts have raved about since he was in high school he has a chance to become a solid backup point guard in the NBA.

Conclusion

Atlanta has made the playoffs for 10 straight years but can’t seem to get over the hump. The Hawks need to continue acquiring talent and building depth. The strength of the team is on defense and the Hawks must improve their offense by adding shooters and scorers.

The number one goal is to get a shooter but if one isn’t available at pick 19 they should go after big men for depth. If the Hawks can do these things they can close the gap on the top teams in the East. They may not win a championship next year but you can guarantee they will make the playoffs.

Thanks for checking out the Atlanta Hawks 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day 19 of NBA Draftmas to see what the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to do.

Day 17 Draftmas: Indiana Pacers

Day 16 Draftmas: Milwaukee Bucks

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Denver Nuggets 2017 Draft

Denver Nuggets 2017 NBA Draft profile

Draftmas continues on for the 12th day with the Denver Nuggets 2017 draft profile.

Summary

Denver Nuggets 2017 NBA Draft Profile

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Denver had an improved season as they fought for a playoff spot. The Nuggets improved their win total from 33 to 40. Denver has a solid core of young players such as Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley and Nikola Jokic.

Jokic had a stellar season and seems to be on his way to stardom. He averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Jokic also posted six triple-doubles which happened to be fourth-most in the NBA during the 2016-2017 season.

Denver’s young guards and young center will be the centerpieces to continue their march towards the playoffs.

The Nuggets were a great offensive team this season averaging the third-most points in the NBA scoring 111.7 points per game. They ranked sixth in field-goal percentage (46.9 percent) and 11th in 3-point percentage (36.8 percent).

Denver also ranked second in rebounding grabbing 46.6 rebounds per game.

An area that needs improvement is in the turnover department. The Nuggets averaged 15 turnovers per game. They also could improve on rim protection as they ranked 27th in blocks per game (3.9).

Defensively, the Nuggets need to improve if they want to take that step and become a playoff team. Denver ranked 27th in points allowed per game (111.2), 29th in field goal percentage allowed (47.7 percent) and 28th in 3-point percentage allowed (37.5 percent).

Improving the team’s defense will turn the Nuggets into serious contenders.

Denver Nuggets Draft Picks & Needs

First Round: No. 13

Second Round: No. 49, No. 51

Denver needs better wing players on the roster. The Nuggets should focus on drafting defensive-minded players that will come in and become solid rotation pieces.

Depending on how the draft goes, a great perimeter defender may not be there at 13. The Nuggets may trade down or take a player they don’t necessarily need if he is the best available.

Targets & Thoughts

Denver Nuggets 2017 NBA Draft Profile

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

Pick #13: Zach Collins F/C Gonzaga

Zach Collins doesn’t fit a major need for the Nuggets but would be the best player available. Collins would help the Nuggets protect the rim as he his a great shot blocker. He is a good rebounder as well.

Collins’ low post game is much more polished than most freshmen coming out of college.

Pairing Zach Collins up with Nikola Jokic could create one of the most dangerous frontcourts in the NBA. Jokic is already great offensively and Collins is great defensively.

Collins will be able to stretch the floor offensively and won’t be in the way of Jokic on the offensive end of the court.

This pick would be taking the best available player along with improving the team’s rim protection. The Nuggets could then use their second round picks on perimeter defenders.

Pick #49: Nigel Hayes F Indiana

Nigel Hayes had a solid year at Indiana and flashed a ton of potential. Hayes is a project player who will need some development. Hayes has a 7-foot-3 wingspan that allows him to be a nuisance to the players he defends.

At Wisconsin, Hayes was a solid perimeter defender. His strength and length could help him develop into a lockdown defender in the association, which is exactly what the Nuggets need most.

Pick #51: P.J. Dozier G South Carolina

P.J. Dozier was a big reason that South Carolina made a run to the Final Four. His offensive game needs work but Dozier is one of the best perimeter defenders in the draft. He is very disruptive and can smother opponents with his on-ball defense. Denver could take a chance on Dozier and try to develop him into an elite defender in the NBA.

Conclusion

After finishing 40-42 the Nuggets only missed the playoffs by one game. The Denver Nuggets are a young and upcoming team that nobody really talks about. Their young players are already proving they can make the Nuggets one of the best scoring teams in the entire NBA.

If the Nuggets are able to improve their defense from bad to mediocre they will make the playoffs next season. With the three picks they own in this draft, the Nuggets should be able to find that lockdown defender from one of them.

Thanks for checking out the Denver Nuggets 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day 13 of NBA Draftmas to see what the Miami Heat are going to do.

Day 11 Draftmas: Detroit Pistons

Day 10 Draftmas: Charlotte Hornets

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The March Madness Narrative: About More than the Champion

The NCAA Tournament is known as March Madness for its fast-paced, unforgiving mad rush to the cutting of the nets over an abbreviated three weekend period. There is so much more to the story than just the one team rushing the court and lifting the trophy. Each weekend hits teams like a hurricane. Within moments of their celebrations ending coaches must have players turn on a dime for the next game less than 48 hours away.

At the end of the tournament, we are left with one winner. This year, that is the North Carolina Tar Heels. However, that is nowhere near the full story. The tournament produces things that can supersede even the Final Four or the champion of the season.  This type of environment forges stronger memories that last. It produces magical runs, heart-pounding and tense action as well as singular moments that capture our hearts. What is made in March lasts forever.

Bryce Drew hit one of the more memorable shots in tournament history. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Throughout the years, many things have surpassed the champions in our memories, but certain moments continue to captivate us. Many people could not name the 1998 Final Four of Kentucky, North Carolina, Utah and Stanford but the vast majority of basketball fans know the phrase “Drew, for the win!” and the Ole Miss loss to Valparaiso that accompanies it. This is now a moment etched in stone. It speaks to the fact that the chaos of March Madness can create a generational memory that lasts far beyond winning a game or the championship.

There are countless examples of this. For small schools, moments such as these can define a program.  They can be the thing that coaches point to when attempting to recruit against bigger schools. Need a better example of this? Look no further than the legendary Davidson run to the Elite 8 with now NBA All-Star, Steph Curry. Big moments for small schools are part of what defines March.

Even Blue Blood programs, however, can also see their drama elevate fan folklore to a higher level. Take what is arguably the most iconic moment in NCAA history: Christian Laettner hits his shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 championship game…the championship game for the region that is. Duke and Kentucky each have amazing programs in their own respects but every time these two share the court together, this is brought up by fans and broadcasters alike. Laettner had a less than stellar career in the NBA and was a forgotten part of the 1992 NBA Olympic “Dream Team” but he is forever immortalized for one shot in a game that was only to make the Final Four. Making the Final Four is certainly something to be remembered, but that game is referenced far more than the Blue Devils championship victory over the Michigan Wolverine’s “Fab Five.”

It is not just moments that capture our hearts, but runs as well. The 1983 run by Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack is a true story that moves far beyond the 40 minutes on the game clock. That year’s title run was capped by one of the more inconceivable upsets of the Houston “Phi Slamma Jamma” team that featured future hall of famers Hakeem Olajuwan and Clyde Drexler. This Memory of March moved beyond 1983 into the life of the late Valvano and seemed to mirror his outlook on the impossible battle for his life.

March Madness is just prone to stories such as this. With the tense nature of the one and out tournament, drama is sure to elevate the intensity. Yet, time and time again teams put together seemingly impossible roads to the Final Four. Shaka Smart and VCU became the first team to go from the NCAA’s First Four play in game to the Final Four. Though they were unable to bring home the title, this is remembered just as fondly. George Mason’s historic run to the Final Four in 2006 made a career path for Jim Larrañaga much easier to achieve.

Chris Chiozza (11) lets a prayer fly. (Photo courtesy of fansided.com)

This year’s tournament is no exception in either case. Several moments have grabbed our attention. Thus far there are two points in time that stand out the most. The first is The Wisconsin-Florida ending. The game came down to the final second of regulation and eventually led to overtime.  With Wisconsin leading by two points, Florida had one final chance. Enter Chris Chiozza. Going the length of the floor, Chiozza let a leaning, running, impossible shot fly. Buckets. This gives Florida fans that, “Hey, remember when…?” for years to come.

Luke Maye’s shot to beat Kentucky is an example of just how the tournament can become something wholly other than itself. Maye originally was to be a walk on at North Carolina. With some roster shifting, Roy Williams found one for him and he has torn it up in the NCAA tournament. This season he averages 5.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. In these past four NCAA Tournament games he sits at 12.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest. This includes arguably the most important shot in the tournament thus far.

The Kentucky and North Carolina game was marred by officiating woes but did not lack in end of game drama. The Wildcats surged back from a nearly double digit deficit with two minutes to go. Freshman Malik Monk’s three tied the game with under 8 seconds to go. Roy Williams commented that the team knows to push the ball with this amount of time left.  It worked. Forward Theo Pinson took the ball 80 feet and used his body to create separation for Maye who drained a mid range jumper with Minimal time left.  He showed up to an early class the next morning and received a standing ovation.

In addition to these brief stops in time, there have been more lengthy runs in this tournament that were less than expected. The South Carolina Gamecocks reached the Sweet 16 this year for the first time in school history,  Then they made the Elite Eight. No reason to stop there, so they made the Final Four. This is a team that was off the radar for so many. South Carolina was picked in 0.6% of brackets to reach the last weekend.

Michigan made do with their practice jerseys. (Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com)

There is one more storied run in this tournament that will go down in the history books. The Michigan Wolverines are the epitome of what March Madness is supposed to be. They got hot coming in to the tournament. Considering the fact that they almost did not make their conference tournament, they are a surprise. The Wolverines plane from campus to the Big 10 tournament skidded off the runway and caused some minor injuries. Due to the nature of the investigation, John Beilein’s squad were forced to play in practice jerseys. Their regular equipment remained on the scene of the incident. They did  not just play well, they won the whole thing. They rode that momentum all the way into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Their last win was over a Louisville team that many experts believed talented enough to make the Final Four.

Now, the Wolverines went on to lose in fantastic fashion to the eventual champion of the region, the Oregon Ducks. Even though they were just inches away from continuing the magic, there is still plenty to rejoice in here. You see, faced with a less than ideal situation the team found a way to put a string of wins together and make something out of it. This is nothing short of the stories that March creates each and every year. This year it happened to be Michigan.

For some schools, just making the tournament is the ultimate goal. So when a school like Lehigh takes down Duke there is more magic present than the powerhouse making it all the way. March is beautiful because of things within it, not just because of the last team left standing’s victory. College sports entail a high level of passion whether it is a family tradition or an alma mater. That is why reaching a little higher than expectations or completing that wonderful play at the end of the game often gets remembered longer.

On title night, there is a reason that it does not end with the presentation of the trophy. There is still one last piece of business to attend to. When “One Shining Moment” plays it is different every year.  New images are now engraved in our minds of that year’s tournament. March is the time when the ordinary becomes extraordinary.  Every moment has the potential to become something eternal, and that is what this month is all about.

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National Championship

North Carolina vs. Gonzaga: The Game That We Wanted and Needed to See

This year’s national championship may not feature Kansas, Duke or Kentucky. It may not have the potential top pick in the NBA draft and it may not be the championship that sports fans wanted to see. However, it’s the championship that we needed to see.

National Championship

UNC looks to avenge their lose in last years National Championship game afer a last second shot by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins (Photo/Greg Nelson).

It’s the championship that we as kids all dream of playing in. We may not be participating in it, but we get to witness it. Two teams with everything to prove, chasing their dreams of being a national champion.

Granted, both teams are in two very different scenarios. On one side you have UNC coming off of potentially the most devastating loss in national championship history last year. On the other hand you have a Gonzaga team looking to make school history and solidify themselves in college basketball history.

UNC is largely the same team that understandably went sobbing into the locker room after last year’s national championship. After Kris Jenkins of Villanova hit what many to believe to be the most iconic shot in NCAA championship game history, UNC was left devastated. We saw Villanova cutting down the nets, not UNC.

They’re not the only one’s who believe they have something to prove.

Gonzaga’s basketball program has been criticized for not playing in a tough conference. Those on the east coast, who don’t get to see them play on a normal basis, believe the program could be bad for basketball. Now after years and years of Gonzaga disappointment in the NCAA tournament, they are finally here.

A league dominated by the Duke’s and Kentucky’s one-and-done players, UNC and Gonzaga tend to do it a little bit differently.

UNC has six returning key players, all upperclassmen, and all apart of last year’s team. Instead of dwelling on the past, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson continue to look forward.

When asked about last year’s national championship, Pinson said, “It keeps giving us ammo, it makes us want to get here again and again.”

National Championship

Gonzaga players celebrate after their Final Four victory over South Carolina Saturday (Photo/ David J. Phillip).

Gonzaga, on the other hand, has their own motivation factor. Despite the motivation of making school history, the Bulldogs look to their own past for a little motivation.

Gonzaga has players from all over the globe, including Przemek Karnowski from Poland, freshman Rui Hachimura from Japan and Killian Tillie, who is a freshman from France. In order to stay in contact, what else would a bunch of young men in this day in age do? Start a group chat.

Some of it’s inside jokes most people wouldn’t understand. Other times it’s just to stay in touch. It is also for motivation. For instance, junior guard and the leader of this Bulldog team, Nigel Williams-Goss, posted the infamous video of sobbing Adam Morrison after Gonzaga’s loss to UCLA in the Sweet 16 in 2006 and simply wrote “Not this year fellas.”

The tiny Jesuit school versus an all powerful college basketball franchise, it sounds like a David and Goliath scenario. But it’s not.

These are the two best teams in college basketball, and we get it for the last game of college basketball this year. North Carolina is 40 minutes away from redemption. Gonzaga is 40 minutes away from program history. We can’t ask for anything better than that.

 

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Final Four

A Preview to the Final Four

The Final Four, one of the most celebrated and loved sports events of the year, is finally here. It’s safe to say this year is going to be just as good, if not better, than previous years. It might also be safe to say that not many people actually believed that these four teams would be here.

Out of the 18,797,085 brackets that were filled out for the ESPN bracket challenge, only 657 had Oregon, UNC, Gonzaga and South Carolina in the Final Four. That’s just 0.00003 percent.

South Carolina and Gonzaga are making their first Final Four appearances in program history. Oregon is also making their first since 1939.

Needless to say, UNC has the upper hand in terms of participation and experience. Roy Williams has coached a total of 520 minutes in the Final Four while Mark Few (Gonzaga), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and Dana Altman (Oregon) all have zero minutes.

Let’s take a closer look at the upcoming Final Four matchups for this weekend.

UNC vs. Oregon

UNC is clearly favored by many to win this game and the championship because of their experience.

Final Four

North Carolina forward Luke Maye celebrates his game winning shot against Kentucky this past Sunday (Photo/ Brandon Dill).

The Tar Heels are led by coach Roy Williams and ACC player of the year Justin Jackson. They will look to capitalize after their last-second victory over second-seeded Kentucky in the previous round.

The Ducks are led by senior Pac-12 player of the year Dillon Brooks and coach Dana Altman. They will look to keep their hot streak going after a dominant win against first seeded Kansas.

These two teams are very similar on paper. Each rank in the top 20 in offense and defense. UNC has one of the best transition offenses in the NCAA and the Ducks have one of the best transition defenses.

The one thing that may define this game is on the glass. UNC is the best offensive rebounding team in the NCAA. That doesn’t bode well for Oregon, who is one of the worst rebounding teams in the NCAA.

UNC may be the favorite here, but don’t be surprised if the Ducks make something magical happen. It could go either way.

Gonzaga vs. South Carolina

Well this is a first for both teams. It is a tale of two completely different stories: the underdog vs. the favorite.

Final Four

South Carolina players celebrate their victory over Florida this past weekend to advance to the Final Four (Photo/ Maddie Meyer).

Gonzaga was a heavy favorite coming into the tournament as they are most years. They are led by head coach Mark Few, who became the third fastest coach to reach 500 wins in Division I history early in the tournament.

This game is going to be interesting because the Gamecocks and the Bulldogs preach defense. The Gamecocks defense ranks second in defensive efficiency in the country, and Gonzaga is first.

What many believe to be the deciding factor in this matchup is the offensive efficiency. Gonzaga is top 20 in the country while South Carolina ranks in the bottom portion of the country.

Gonzaga may have the best chance to win on paper. However, if we’ve learned anything from the history of March Madness, it’s that anything can happen.

 

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Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

A Closer Look at Luke Maye: North Carolina’s Hero

One name: Luke Maye.

This isn’t the first name that comes to mind when talking about North Carolina basketball. However, it has been for the past 48 hours. Maye made the game-winning shot to send UNC to the Final Four, while simultaneously ending Kentucky’s season.

If you missed the last shot, you can watch it here. It’s well worth watching.

A quick recap: Kentucky comes down the court and Malik Monk hits a 3-pointer in Maye’s face to tie the game. Then Theo Pinson gets the ball up the court for UNC and pitches it to Maye for the last-second jumper. Rarely do you see two miraculous plays back-to-back like that, but it happened on Sunday.

There is normally discussion about Joel Berry II, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks or Justin Jackson when talking about UNC. The avid watcher might recognize Kenny Williams or Theo Pinson as well, but not Luke Maye.

Maye madness

Luke Maye isn’t your standout player. The sophomore averaged four rebounds and 1.2 assists in 14.4 minutes per game this season. He averaged 5.6 minutes per game as a freshman.

He might be average at the Division I level. However, he joined Christian Laettner and Scottie Reynolds on Sunday as the only players since 1985 to hit a game-winning shot to get into the Final Four. The kid even got a standing ovation at his 8 a.m. class on Monday.

Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

Luke Maye shoots the game-winner for the Tar Heels on Sunday (Photo Courtesy of The Comeback)

His best game prior to the tournament was against NC State on Feb 15 when he scored 13 points and made 6 of his 11 shots from the floor. In other words, he hasn’t been consistently “killing it” for the Tar Heels.

However, he has picked the right games to show up for. Maye had a season high of 16 points against Butler and a new season high of 17 against Kentucky.

He might seem like the most unexpected player to win it for the Tar Heels, but Coach Roy Williams had him in for a reason. He shoots 41 percent from 3-point land (the highest on the team). He has only attempted 39 on the season, but he has made those count. He also shoots the fourth highest field goal percentage on the team.

It’s no accident he was on the court. It also isn’t a miracle he made the shot. Nonetheless, he is still a hero.

the tar heels are right where they need to be

As a team, this moment is everything that North Carolina has been working for. Marcus Paige hit a 3-pointer to tie the championship game last year, only for Kris Jenkins to come down and hit a buzzer beater to win it all for Villanova.

The Tar Heels are simply good at what they do. The are ranked first in rebounds per game (they pull down 43.7 per game). They also average 85 points per game (ninth overall) and dish out 18.2 assists per game (ranked third in Division I).

Roy Williams is confident in his team because they have the experience and the talent. This is their 20th Final Four, and they have all the reason to fight.

Isaiah Hicks was asked about their loss to Villanova last season, and he said: “We [were] four seconds away from that. Just to see your dream taken away right in front of you, that’s all the motivation you need. Of course nobody likes to lose, but that one, when you’re right there, all of us, we just need that second chance.”

Hicks and the rest of his teammates want that second chance. At this point, it is in their hands. Only Oregon stands in their way. The guys are playing some quality basketball and unexpected players like Luke Maye are peaking at the right time.

Catch all the action on April 1, 2017 at 8:49 PM ET on CBS.

 

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