Way too early bold Eastern Conference predictions

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Pascal Siakam going for a jump ball at Game 2 of the 2019 NBA Finals” by Chensiyuan is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Half the teams in the NBA have yet to play their fourth game of the season, but there are already budding tendencies we see continuing throughout the season. Using these tendencies, we’re making way too early bold predictions for the Eastern Conference!

Is it too early to be making these predictions? Probably. With such a small sample size, it’s hard to know how accurate our findings truly are. We won’t know for sure until much later in the season. However, we believe there are three predictions about the Eastern Conference we have right. Here we’ll break them down one by one, showing you why we believe we’ll see these results by the end of the NBA season.

 

1. Trae Young will be an MVP finalist

Trae Young has played just three games so far this season, but it’s already clear he’s taken his game to the next level. In his rookie year, Young averaged 19.1 points, 8.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds, with a field goal percentage of 41.8% and a three-point percentage of 32.4%.

In the first three games of his second season, Young is averaging 34.0 points, 9.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds, with a field goal percentage of 51.5% and a three-point percentage of 52.0%. His points per game have risen by 14.9, assists by 0.9, and rebounds by 2.3. Perhaps what’s more impressive, is the fact that his field goal percentage has risen by 9.7% and his three-point percentage by 19.6%.

Through three games this season, there’s been a clear difference in the way Young is playing. I know three games isn’t much to go off of, but let’s take a closer look into his numbers. During his rookie season, Young scored 30 or more points nine times in 81 games. In three games this season, Young has already done it twice. I foresee his number of 30 point games this season making a big increase, jumping from eight to somewhere between 20 and 30 times.

It’s obvious Young’s shooting has been better, as evidenced by his 9.7% increase on field goals and 19.6% increase on three-pointers. With the way he’s shooting and scoring right now, he honestly looks like MVP Steph Curry. I know that’s a big claim, but through his first three games, Young is averaging more points, assists and rebounds than Curry did in his unanimous MVP season (15-16), all while shooting 1.1% better from the field and 6.6% better from three-point range.

Young currently has his team sitting at 2-1, with their one loss coming to the 3-0 76ers by two points. There are still many games to be played, but if Young can keep up this play, he’ll surely have his team in the top half of the Eastern Conference by the end of the season. If he can do that, he’ll have my vote for MVP.

 

2. The Toronto Raptors will still make the Eastern Conference Finals

The moment Kawhi Leonard left Toronto to join the Clippers, was the moment every fan in the NBA counted out the Raptors this season. Yes, the Raptors are a much better team with Leonard. However, I don’t think it’s fair to completely count them out as Eastern Conference contenders.

We have to remember, Kawhi wasn’t the only player on this team. This roster still holds names like Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. As much as we liked to think he was, Leonard wasn’t a one man show. This Raptors roster was, and still is deep. Through their first four games, the Raptors have five players averaging 12.3 points or more. Those five players are Siakam, Lowry, VanVleet, Ibaka and OG Anunoby. This is evidence this Raptors roster is still built to win, even without Kawhi.

You could easily argue that teams without a star don’t go far, but I’d counter that by saying this team does have a star. Last season we saw Siakam have a breakout year, but he was always in the passenger seat because of Kawhi. Now he’s taking over as the driver.

Through the Raptors’ first four games, Siakam is averaging 27.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He’s also shooting 48.1% from the field and 42.9% from three-point range. Guess what Kawhi averaged for the Raptors last season. 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 49.6% shooting from the field and 37.1% shooting from three-point range. Overall, Siakam’s numbers are better. I’m not saying Siakam is Kawhi, but I am saying he has taken over the star role for this Raptors team.

With a star player, another all-star (Kyle Lowry) and a roster full of great role players, there aren’t many teams in the Eastern Conference I’d take over the Raptors in a four game series right now. They may not have Kawhi, but they’ll still be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

 

3. The Kyrie Irving led Nets will miss the playoffs

The Kyrie Irving era has officially begun in Brooklyn, but it hasn’t gone as planned to this point. Irving has been putting up massive numbers, averaging 37.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals on 45.6% shooting from the field and 41.2% shooting from three-point range. Irving’s numbers are awesome, but that unfortunately hasn’t translated to wins for the Nets, as they currently hold a 1-2 record.

To be quite honest, this Nets team led by Irving reminds me a lot of the Cavaliers teams Irving led before LeBron decided to come back to Cleveland. I know Irving was a lot younger back then, but he was the star player for the Cavaliers. He was their best player, and he put up good stats, but he could never lead them to a winning season.

Since then, Irving has won an NBA title and made the playoffs a bunch of times, including a couple times with a Celtics team he led. Irving is better than he was when he was a young star leading the Cavaliers, but his tendencies are still the same. Irving can make a lot of great plays and score a lot of points, but none of that really matters if you don’t win. He’s never been the type of player to take a team far when he’s the only star. That’s what he is on this Nets team right now.

Brooklyn has an exciting future, as Kevin Durant will be returning from injury next season. Nets fans should be excited, but they may have to put that excitement on hold for one more season. I’m not so sure Irving can get it done with this team. If the Nets do make the playoffs, I don’t see them being anything above the No. 7 seed. Maybe Irving can squeeze them in, but right now I’m not confident in that.

 

Buy or Sell: D’Angelo Russell, Pittsburgh Pirates and Utah Jazz

While Joel Deering, Mickayeen Farner and I were discussing, Joel brought up D’Angelo Russell’s move to the Golden State Warriors, and labeled Russell as the next Steph Curry. Mickayeen immediately disagreed. So the two decided to debate it out here in this week’s Buy or Sell. Along with Russell vs. Curry, we’ll also bring up the Pittsburgh Pirates after they crushed the Chicago Cubs 5-18 and the Utaz Jazz and their Western Conference chances. 

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D’Angelo Russell by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Aman: D’Angelo Russell is capable of being the next Steph Curry?

Mickayeen: I’ll start with the classic Player A/Player B scenario. These are the first four seasons of Steph vs the first four seasons of D’Lo:

Player A (per game): 16.5 points/ 3.7 rebounds/ 5.1 assists
Player B (per game): 19.2 points/ 4.0 rebounds/ 6.1 assists
Seems pretty close on the surface, but when we dig deeper and look at more advanced numbers, we see where the separation really is:

Player A: 35.3 3P%, 49.2 eFG%, 76.2 FT%, 51.9 TS%, 28.2 USG%, 6.6 WS, 4.6 VORP
Player B: 44.6 3P%, 54.8eFG%, 90.1 FT%, 58.6 TS%, 24.2 USG%, 24.7 WS, 11.2 VORP
Explanation of those stats: 3P% is simply three-point percentage; eFG is adjusted for the three-point FG is worth one more point than the two; FT% is free-throw percentage; TS% is a true measure of efficiency, taking into account, two-pointers, three-pointers, and free-throws; USG% is usage percentage, or the estimate of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor; WS is the estimate of number of wins added by the player, similar to WAR in baseball; and VORP is an estimate of points added per 100 possessions.

Player A is D’Angelo Russell and player B is Stephen Curry through their first four years in the league. I mean, it’s not even really that close when you look at it. Steph shot 10% better from three-point land, was more efficient in every single category, and scored more points per game despite having a lower usage rate than D’Lo. The counting stats wills look closer when looking at the per 36 minutes or per 100 possessions because of that higher usage rate, but make no mistake about it, even though D’Lo is a really good player, he is no Steph, and the efficiency numbers and advanced metrics reveal that truth.

Joel: Looking at Mickayeen’s breakdown of D’Angelo Russell against Steph Curry, I can see how one might think to say Russell is the next Curry is ridiculous. However, there are several other stats we can look at that will say otherwise.

In their first four seasons in the league, Russell made 589 three-pointers, while Curry made 644. Curry made 55 more three-point shots than Russell. However, Curry also started more games and played more minutes per game. During their first four seasons, Curry started 28 more games and averaged 5.6 more minutes per game than Russell.

When you do the math, you’ll find that Curry averaged 2.55 three-point shots made per start. Looking at Russell, he averaged 2.63 three-point shots made per start. At that pace, had Russell started as many games as Curry during their first four seasons, he would currently be at 662 three-point shots, 18 more than Curry.

Moving on to their points per game, Steph Curry beat out Russell in points averaged per game during their first four seasons. We could go back to the starts argument here, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll compare how long it took each player to get over 20 points per game. It took both Russell and Curry until their fourth NBA season to average over 20 points per game, Russell averaging 21.1 and Curry 22.9.

Next, we’ll look at their assists. How long did it take each player to average over six assists? It took both of them until their fourth NBA season, with Russell averaging 7.0 and Curry 6.9.

Next, let’s look at the playoffs. Steph Curry didn’t take his team to the playoffs until his fourth NBA season. D’Angelo Russell didn’t take his team to the playoffs until his fourth NBA season. What seed were their teams in their first playoff appearance? They were both six seeds.

Finally, I’ll just add that D’Angelo Russell is the youngest player in NBA history to reach 500 three-point shots made. Russell may not have the same shooting percentages as Curry, but there are plenty of other similarities between the two guards.

Mickayeen: The Utah Jazz are favorites to win the Western Conference?

Joel: As it currently stands, I don’t think the Jazz are considered the favorites to win the Western Conference. They’ve made some really nice moves this offseason, which I think definitely makes them contenders to win the Western Conference, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say the favorites.

Looking at the teams in the Western Conference, you’ve got the Nuggets (Should be even better than last season), Warriors (Will still be contenders despite losing Durant and Klay being out), Blazers (Consistently tough), Rockets (Despite drama, should still be there), Lakers (Should be in the playoffs this season), Clippers and several other teams. Among all those teams, I don’t think I’d take the Utah Jazz as favorites. Do they have the pieces to win the Western Conference? I think they do. Are they the favorites? I think at least a few other teams would be favored at this point.

Aman: I was about to buy this, but then the Los Angeles Clippers did two things. First, they signed NBA Champion Kawhi Leonard from Toronto Raptors. Due to that, Paul George signed from Oklahoma City. To be honest, even Leonard alone would’ve pitted the Clippers as favorites for me. And adding onto Joel’s points, the Houston Rockets can be NBA title contenders, forget the Conference. The Trailblazers, Warriors and the Lakers will likely be in the hunt, not to forget the kind of damage the Denver Nuggets can do. Therefore, I sell this.

Joel: The Pittsburgh Pirates will finish with a better record than the Philadelphia Phillies by the end of the season despite the Phillies having Bryce Harper?

Mickayeen: I wish I could buy the Pirates being better than the Phillies by the end of the season, but I just can’t. Even as it stands right now (July 3rd), the Phillies are 3.5 games better, have a +6 run differential while the Pirates have a -39. The Phillies are the more talented team overall and will probably finish 5-10 games better than the pirates. You can never say never in sports, especially baseball, but this doesn’t seem like it’ll finish close.

Aman: In terms of wins and losses, both teams seem similarly consistent this season. The Pirates have just won two fewer games, but the reason I buy the Pirates doing better than the Phillies this season is the away ratio. The Pirates have a batter away record winning 22 games compared to the Phillies’ 20.

 

Now that you have our takes on these intriguing debates, let us know your thoughts by commenting below!

  • Is D’Angelo Russell set to be the next Steph Curry?
  • Are Utah Jazz favorites to win the Western Conference?
  • Will the Pirates beat out the Phillies?

NBA Free Agency: Top 10 point guards

As we wrap up the 2018-19 NBA season and look ahead to the next, we focus on the next step for each team. We’ll be looking at which stars are available and where they’ll be going this offseason. Over the next few days, I’ll give you the top 10 players from each position and tell you where I believe they’ll end up next season.

Kemba Walker
“Kemba Walker” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The first of the five positions is the most important, because they’re the floor generals. These guys are more than capable of leading their team to playoffs. They’re all looking to take the next step and win an NBA title.

Top Point Guards:

1. Kyrie Irving

Current Team: Boston Celtics

New Team: Brooklyn Nets

With the recent change of agents and decline of the player option, it’s clear Kyrie Irving will be leaving Boston. He never belonged there in the first place. As the newest member of Roc Nation, Irving will be looking for a new team. I don’t believe it will be in Los Angeles with LeBron James, but instead will be with the Brooklyn Nets. This will be the first of few moves the Nets make in free agency.

2. Kemba Walker

Current Team: Charlotte Hornets

New Team: Charlotte Hornets

As much hype as there’s been over Kemba Walker being a free agent, I don’t think he’ll leave Charlotte. I would love to see him join the Lakers, but I think Michael Jordan will do whatever he needs to to keep Walker.

3. D’Angelo Russell

Current Team: Brooklyn Nets

New Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

With Irving going to Brooklyn, I don’t see Russell wanting to stay there. I know there were reports of this being a possible duo, but I think Russell is out. The best place to go is with his best friend, Karl Anthony-Towns, in Minnesota. I know they already have Jeff Teague, but with other teams still trying to find that veteran point guard to help lead their team, I expect Teague to be traded before the season starts.

4. Terry Rozier

Current Team: Boston Celtics

New Team: Orlando Magic

One of those teams who could look for a Teague trade is the Celtics, especially after both Irving and Terry Rozier leave in free agency. Rozier wants to be a starter in the league, and he knows he won’t get that with the Celtics. He could try to get it as a member of the Orlando Magic, but he’ll have to prove he can outplay Markelle Fultz and whoever else the Magic sign.

5. Malcom Brogdon

Current Team: Milwaukee Bucks

New Team: Philadelphia 76ers

I want to see the Bucks bring Brogdon back, but with all the questions they have with their roster, he might be one of the players they’ll let go. Although he is a nice two way player, the Sixers could use him as both a starting point guard or a complimentary guard to Ben Simmons. There are still several questions that need to be answered for the Sixers at the guard position, but Brodgon could answer one of them.

6. Patrick Beverly

Current Team: Los Angeles Clippers

New Team: Los Angeles Lakers

Okay, this is interesting because of the situation the Lakers are in with the Anthony Davis trade. The Lakers will probably have a tough time finding players to fill up the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. I think Beverly would be a good addition to the Lakers, because they could use a game-controlling, defensive-minded point guard to help with all the scoring done by James, Davis and whoever will join the Lakers this offseason. I also think Rajon Rondo will try to work out a deal to stay for cheap, so the Lakers point position is set.

7. Derrick Rose

Current Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

New Team: San Antonio Spurs

Rose had a reemergence last season after struggling to get his career back on track in New York and Cleveland over the past few seasons. He even struggled with Minnesota a bit last year, but Rose managed to find himself this season. That’ll help him find a better role next year. I think the San Antonio Spurs will be a good fit. Coach Gregg Popovich has always been good at bringing on veteran players who are trying to continue a reemergence. Rose would fit well with what the Spurs like to do.

8. Ricky Rubio

Current Team: Utah Jazz

New Team: Indiana Pacers

After the Jazz traded for Mike Conley, it was obvious Rubio is on the move. Regardless of the trade, we already knew Rubio was leaving. I think Indiana will be his next destination. The Pacers have a lot of free agency questions they need to address, but the main target is a point guard because all other positions have a bit more depth. Plus, I think Darren Collison will be leaving too.

9. Darren Collison

Current Team: Indiana Pacers

New Team: Phoenix Suns

Speaking of Collison and leaving, I think he’ll be in a good spot with the Suns, who are in a position where they don’t have a true point guard. Collison isn’t a superstar guard, but he has the ability to be a great leader on the court. With Collison running point, it’ll be easier for shooting guard Devin Booker. I think this will be a nice addition to the team.

10. T.J. McConnell

Current Team: Philadelphia 76ers

New Team: Dallas Mavericks

This is an interesting addition to the Dallas Mavericks, because they will already have scorers in Luka Donicic and Kristap Porzingis. The addition of McConnell will provide them more shooting and a better ball handler at the point guard position. McConnell has proven himself as a shooter in the NBA, and the style of basketball the Mavericks play could benefit him a lot more than his time at Philadelphia.

Let us know what you think about these players and what team they’ll be playing for next season. Also, make sure to watch for the release of the other positions throughout the week as we head into free agency in July.

Could a Russell & Irving pairing be the next Harden & Paul?

The Brooklyn Nets are interested in a Russell & Irving pairing. Here’s why the two guards could end up making an impact for their team like Harden & Paul.

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2013 Brooklyn Nets 1” by Michael Tipton is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, and “Kyrie Irving” and “Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Brooklyn Nets” Erik Drost are licensed under CC BY 2.0

Kyrie Irving has been linked to several different destinations this coming offseason, the Knicks, Lakers and Celtics to name a few. A new team just realistically joined the mix. The Brooklyn Nets expressed their interest in signing Kyrie Irving to pair him with D’Angelo Russell.

On first thought, I didn’t think this would be a good pairing. How can two ball dominant guards coexist in the same backcourt? On second thought, I thought back to when Chris Paul joined the Houston Rockets a couple years back. I remember thinking the exact same thing about how Chris Paul and James Harden would coexist.

In two seasons together, James Harden and Chris Paul have had a lot of success together as teammates. Last season, they were one game away from making it to the NBA Finals. This season didn’t go as well as last for the Rockets, but Harden and Paul were able to carry the Rockets to the second round of the playoffs, where they were able to win two games against the Warriors.

If you ask me, the acquisition of Chris Paul has absolutely been worth it for the Rockets. If the Rockets have had great success with two ball dominant guards, why wouldn’t the Nets be able to do the same thing with Russell and Irving?

 

Russell & Irving vs Harden & Paul

Similarities:

Scoring

If Kyrie Irving was to join D’Angelo Russell on the Nets, both backcourts would feature a lot of similarities. The biggest similarity I see between these two backcourts, is their abilities to score. We all know James Harden can score almost at will. Chris Paul gets overshadowed by Harden on several occasions, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a great scoring guard. Paul has averaged 18.5 points over the course of his career.

Just as Harden & Paul are both great scorers, so are D’Angelo Russell & Kyrie Irving. Kyrie Irving has hit some big time shots during his NBA career. We know he can score, especially during the biggest moments. D’Angelo Russell is still a very young player, but he had a breakout season this year and should only become a better scorer as time goes on. A guard who averaged 23.8 points (Irving) and another who averaged 21.1 points per game (Russell) would be very difficult to stop.

 

Passing

James Harden and Chris Paul are both great scoring guards, but they’re also both great passers. We may not think of Russell & Irving as great passers, but they averaged 7.0 and 6.9 assists last season. That’s not much worse than Harden and Paul. Russell and Irving are more than capable of scoring the basketball, but also using their scoring ability to create open shots for their teammates.

The biggest problem I can see with Russell and Irving being in the backcourt together, is figuring out who’s going to take control of the ball at what times. It’s pretty clear that Chris Paul has taken a back seat to James Harden when it comes to handling the basketball. Would Kyrie Irving be willing to take a back seat to D’Angelo Russell? Or would Russell being willing to take a back seat to Irving?

If both guys are competing for the ball, things won’t work out well. However, if these two can share the ball equally and let the hot hand take over when needed, this backcourt combo of Russell and Irving could work out nicely.

 

Russell & Irving would elevate Nets

I’m not going to predict that if Irving joins forces with Russell, they’ll make it to the NBA Finals. However, I will predict that their combo in the backcourt would take this team further than they’ve been. I think they’d have a legit chance at competing in the Eastern Conference. Mark my words, if Russell and Irving come together on the Nets, they’ll be a one of the better teams in the East.

 

D'Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry

Is D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry?

PG D’Angelo Russell is in just his fourth NBA season, but he’s already on a path to greatness. The course of his career has gone differently to that of NBA star Steph Curry, but there are also a lot of similarities between the two. There are too many similarities to ignore. These similarities are so alike, I’m claiming D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry.

D'Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Brooklyn Nets” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

You probably think I’m crazy right now after reading that last sentence. Yes, I did just compare D’Angelo Russell to Steph Curry. It’s understandable to think I’m crazy for claiming this, but at least give me a chance to explain. Below are five reasons why D’Angelo Russell is the next Steph Curry. Keep in mind, while I do somewhat compare Russell to Curry as he is now, the comparisons are mostly based on Russell and Curry as players in their fourth NBA seasons.

 

1. Three-pointers

It’s tough to compare anyone to one of the best shooters in NBA history. Steph Curry has his name all over the three-point record books. He holds four of the top five spots in three-pointers made in a season. His five seasons leading the league in three-pointers made is more than anyone in history. He’s got the record for most consecutive games with a three-pointer made. Want me to keep going? I could probably go for a while.

If Curry owns so many three-point records and is well on his way to several more, how can we compare him to D’Angelo Russell? Well, it was just three days ago D’Angelo Russell became the youngest player in NBA history to make 500 three-pointers. In just his fourth season and at the age of 22, Russell has started his own path to NBA greatness.

To be fair to Curry, he entered the league at the age of 21. Russell entered the league at the age of 19. With a two year difference in the start of their careers, of course it was going to be much easier for Russell to break this record. With that being said, we can’t take away this accomplishment from D’Angelo Russell. About two-thirds of the way through his fourth season, D’Angelo Russell has recorded 514 three-pointers. If he keeps his current pace of averaging 2.7 made three-pointers per game the rest of this season, that would put him at 579 made three-pointers through four seasons.

Through Curry’s first four NBA seasons, he made a total of 644 three-pointers. That’s 65 more three-pointers than Russell if Russell keeps his current pace. That may seem like a significant amount, but here’s what we have to keep in mind: Curry started 43 more games during his first two NBA seasons than D’Angelo Russell. Curry also averaged 34.1 minutes per game during his first four seasons, while Russell has only averaged 28.3 minutes per game in his first four years. Give D’Angelo Russell 43 more starts in his first two seasons and an average of six more minutes per game in his first four seasons. I have no doubt he’d be right there with Curry’s three-pointers based on his first four seasons.

Based on this assessment, it sure does look like claiming D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry has a strong argument.

 

2. Points and assists per game

If I’m going to claim D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry, I have to give a stronger argument than just three-pointers, although I do think that was a pretty strong argument. Now I’m going to look into two key point guard stats, scoring and assists.

It wasn’t until Curry’s fourth NBA season he averaged over 20 points per game. Similarly, it wasn’t until D’Angelo Russell’s fourth NBA season that he’s averaged over 20 points per game. As of right now, Russell is averaging 20.3. It wasn’t until Curry’s fourth NBA season he averaged over six assists per game. Similarly, it wasn’t until D’Angelo Russell’s fourth NBA season that he’s averaging over six assists per game, 6.6 to be exact. One thing working for D’Angelo Russell, is the fact that his best FG percentage has come in his fourth NBA season. That was not the case for Curry, although his FG percentage in his fourth season was a little better than Russell’s this season.

Based on these stats, you can see that it took a few years for both of these guys to really start to find who they were as NBA players. After Curry’s fourth season, his scoring average continued to improve. His next two seasons were consistent, with averages of 24.0 and 23.8. The next season, Curry’s average went way up 30.1. In the next three seasons, Curry has averaged 25.3, 26.4 and 28.6 points per game. I’m not saying D’Angelo Russell will score 30+ points per game in three seasons, but based on how his career has gone so far, it looks like he’ll have a solid increase in points per game over the next phase of his career.

Just to quickly mention the assists, Curry has averaged a high of 8.5 and a low of 5.2 assists in a season since his fourth year. The seasons in between have been somewhere between six and seven assists. I don’t know if Russell will ever average 8.5 assists, but I can see him consistently putting up six or more assists per game for the next several years. With these numbers and comparisons above, it doesn’t look crazy to claim D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry.

 

3. All-Star games

Still need more convincing to claim D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry? Okay, I’ve got more for you.

It took Steph Curry four seasons to average over 20 points and six assists. D’Angelo Russell matched him there, at least to this point in the season. How long did it take Curry to make an All-Star game? It wasn’t until Curry’s fifth NBA season that he was elected to an All-Star game. How long did it take D’Angelo Russell? Russell has made it to the All-Star game in his fourth NBA season, one season before Curry made it. Yes, Russell was an alternate to the game because of an injury to Victor Oladipo, but many people thought he deserved to be in anyway.

I’ll admit, this isn’t the greatest argument to claiming D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry, but anything helps, right? If Russell continues his upward trajectory as a player, I don’t see any reason why he won’t be elected to the All-Star game every year from here on out.

 

4. Team success

Everyone looks at the Warriors now and sees greatness. They see the most dominate team in the NBA. What people forget a lot of the time, is the fact that this dominate team didn’t happen overnight. Steph Curry didn’t lead his team to success until a few years after he entered the league. It wasn’t until Curry’s fourth NBA season he was able to take the Warriors to the playoffs.

Guess who else is likely to take their team to the playoffs in his fourth NBA season? That’s right, it’s D’Angelo Russell. The Brooklyn Nets are currently the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, holding a record of 30-29. Oh, and just like the Nets are currently the No. 6 seed in Russell’s fourth season, the Warriors made the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in Curry’s fourth season.

If D’Angelo Russell continues to improve as he should, the Brooklyn Nets will only work their way up the Eastern Conference standings over the years. I’m not saying the Nets are going to make the NBA Finals four straight times and win three championships. I’m not saying D’Angelo Russell is going to lead the Nets to breaking the best regular season record of all-time. Those things are extremely hard to do. What I am saying, is that with Russell leading this team, they look like a team who will continue to improve and be more competitive as time goes on.

I’m claiming D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry, but I’m not sure he has the next Klay Thompson, Draymond Green or Steve Kerr for a head coach. I’m not sure Russell is going to get a guy like Kevin Durant to come play with him. The Nets have some nice pieces who should also get better with Russell, but it’s very difficult to replicate the success the Warriors have had.

 

5. Being ‘the guy’

There are other points I could make to claim D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry, but I’ll end with this point. In Curry’s fourth NBA season, I think it was safe to say he became ‘the guy’ for the Warriors. He was the leading scorer on his team, and was the guy they went to when they needed to score.

This is also the case for D’Angelo Russell. In Russell’s fourth NBA season, we’ve seen him truly take over as ‘the guy’ for the Nets. Russell is not only the leading scorer for the Nets this season, but he’s the guy they look to in big moments. Let’s use last night’s game against the Cavaliers as an example. When the Nets were down 107-109 with 1:01 left in the game, D’Angelo Russell scores a basket to tie it up at 109-109. Then with 16.0 seconds left in OT, Russell hit two free throws to put the Nets up 118-116. In 3OT, D’Angelo Russell helped the Nets pull away. Russell made the first five baskets for the Nets in 3OT, scoring their first 11 points. Russell also added another three-pointer with 43.5 seconds left to put the Nets up 144-137, giving him 14 points in 3OT. It’s safe to say he’s ‘the guy.’

How many times have we seen Steph Curry go off like that in a moment when the Warriors need him most? Several times. Last night’s game is only one example from D’Angelo Russell, but I have no doubt we’ll see it many more times from him.

 

D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry?

Even after all that, you may still think it’s crazy to compare a fourth year NBA player to the greatest shooter of all-time, but let me ask you something. How many people considered Steph Curry the greatest shooter of all-time when he was in his fourth NBA season? That’s right, not many, if any at all. It wasn’t until he started breaking three-point records, making the playoffs and winning championships that he was given that title. So yes, Russell is in his fourth NBA season, but he’s clearly on the path to being a great NBA player. Maybe he never wins MVP. Maybe he never wins an NBA championship, let alone three. Regardless of that, D’Angelo Russell has the potential to do so.

It’s early in his career, but it’s not too early to claim D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry.

NBA season review: 1/9/19 – 1/21/19

We are more than halfway through the 2019 NBA season, which means the more important part of the season is right around the corner! That important part is the playoffs, and we are now just three months away, as teams look to make the final moves to help them make it in.

As we look at the standings of the playoffs, we will see much of the same in terms of which teams are still in the hunt. For the West, the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies are slowly falling out of playoff hunt, while the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves are continuing to rise. The East is still an 11 team race, with the same teams involved, but we are starting to see a lot more from teams that may surprise us.

We’ll find out more about this later as we look at those teams on the hot and cold list. If you forgot who was on the list last time, you can read about it here.

Before we get into the hot or cold teams, we’ll see what there is that we might have missed over the past two weeks.

Mike Conley” by Sean Davis is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Injuries

  • New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis (finger) is expected to be out approximately 1-2 weeks.
  • Memphis Grizzlies’ Kyle Anderson (ankle) is expected to miss 2-4 weeks.
  • Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball (left ankle) is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Lakers are hoping that Rajon Rondo and LeBron James will return soon enough.
  • Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic (knee) continues to miss time and expected to return after the All-Star game.
  • Houston Rockets’ Clint Capela (thumb) is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks, and Chris Paul (hamstring) is hoping to return by the end of the month.
  • Dallas Mavericks’ J.J. Barea (Achilles) will be out for the rest of the season.

 

Trade Rumors

  • Houston Rockets have agreed to send Carmelo Anthony and cash to the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls plan to waive Anthony and make him an unrestricted free agent if he clears waivers. Anthony has immediate interest from the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James.
  • Dallas Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr. has been in the news as a trading piece for the Mavericks.

 

Team Additions

  • Toronto Raptors signed Patrick McCaw
  • Boston Celtics signed R.J. Hunter
  • Detroit Pistons signed Isaiah Whitehead
  • Philadelphia 76ers signed Corey Brewer
  • Brooklyn Nets waived Kenneth Faried (looking for a new team)

 

Other News

  • Rockets’ James Harden continues streaking with 19th game with 30 + points while averaging 42.5 points and 8.9 assists over that time.
  • Golden State Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins returns from injury.
  • Kyrie Irving calls LeBron James to apologize for being a young player who wanted to be a leader.
  • Steph Curry and Kyle Korver pass Jason Terry for All-Time career leaders in 3-pointers.
  • Joel Embiid fueding with Russell Westbrook and James Harden in their games against each other.
  • Klay Thompson sets NBA record for most consecutive 3s made in a row (10)

Now that we are all caught up on what has happened these past few weeks, let’s take a look at the standings as of Monday, Jan. 21st.

 

East:                           West:

1. Bucks (34-12)         1. Warriors (33-14)

2. Raptors (35-13)      2. Nuggets (31-14)

3. Pacers (31-15)        3. Thunder (28-18)

4. 76ers (31-17)          4. Blazers (29-19)

5. Celtics (29-18)        5. Rockets (26-20)

6. Nets (25-23)           6. Spurs (27-21)

7.  Heat (22-23)          7. Clippers (25-21)

8. Hornets (22-24)      8. Jazz (26-22)

9. Pistons (20-26)       9. Lakers (25-23)

10. Wizards (20-26)  10. Kings (24-23)

11. Magic (20-27)      11. Timberwolves (22-24)

After looking at where each team stands in the playoff race, let’s turn our attention to the teams who have been cold or hot for over the past few weeks.

 

Cold Teams

Orlando Magic

The Magic have dropped seven of their last 10 games and haven’t made any progress in their step to make the playoffs. The Magic have actually fallen even more in the standings. Hopefully they can climb back into the race. I mean, they are only 2.5 games back from the eighth spot and have plenty of games left, so let’s see if they can make it back into the playoffs before it’s too late.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have continued to be effected by the injury bug. As you might have seen above, PG Lonzo Ball is expected to miss four to six weeks with an ankle sprain. They are also facing the toughest part of their schedule, with 10 of their next 15 games being against teams currently in the playoffs. They also still don’t have LeBron James and Rajon Rondo back from their injuries, but it looks like they could be available soon.

Memphis Grizzlies

Still not sure what’s going on with the Grizzlies, as they continue to fall in the standings. They are currently 14th in the West with six straight losses. Center Marc Gasol has been in and out of the lineup, and they have been struggling.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are still in the hunt despite being ninth in the standings, but they are continuously falling and need to find Blake Griffin some help. It’s nice to know that Griffin is coming along on his own with the Pistons, but one man can’t make the team better. Yeah, I mean they do have Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, but both of them have been inconstant or injured all season. That certainly doesn’t help Griffin and the Pistons.

Unless they can make a run for the hot list next week. But that’s then, let’s see about the now and who’s on a hot streak!

 

Hot Teams

Brooklyn Nets

If I told you the Nets would be in the playoffs before the season, would you have believed me? Well you should because the Nets are surprisingly the sixth seed in the Eastern conference and could very well stay there. D’Angelo Russell has been playing well, which has given the team a spark as they look to continue to be hot. Let’s see how this plays out for them in the last few months and see if they can keep their playoff hopes alive.

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are back to full force with the debut of DeMarcus Cousins, which you can find out about here. With Cousins now joining the Warriors, we could see some impressive performances by this Warriors team, as they plan to take complete control of the league. Watch out NBA, they are coming for the three-peat.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz have finally cracked the playoffs for the first time since the first week of the season. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are starting to get things going in the right direction. They have jumped from 11th to sixth while winning six of their last seven games. They are hoping to continue having success from this point on.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics finally have everybody back from injury and are looking to capitalize on that. With Gordon Hayward taking on the sixth man role, things are starting to look up for them. Irving has shown he’s ready to not only be a leader, but be a team player as well. Let’s also remember that Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier have continued to improve their game throughout the season. Don’t let the Celtics being in the fifth spot fool you, because they could very well be in the top three when it’s all said and done.

*******************

As we watch the league continue to play great basketball, we should also remember to vote for the NBA All-Stars. We should all make sure to vote for the best players in the league!

NBA season review: 12/25/18 – 1/8/19

With the holidays behind us, we now turn our attention to the start of a new year. And with this new year, many teams have set a goal to become the NBA champions.

As we approach the halfway point of the season, most teams are still in the playoff race. For the West, every team except the Phoenix Suns are in the race. That’s 14 teams fighting for only eight spots, so you know we’ll be in for a lot more excitement as the season heads into the second half. For the East, it’s still an 11 team race, but a lot has happened and it could quickly become a 10 team race, which I’ll explain later.

When you look at those teams on the hot and cold list, you’ll see similar teams from the last article before the holidays!

So there’s not much we missed, besides a few injuries that impacted teams.

One of those injuries was to Washington Wizards PG John Wall, who will likely miss the season with a heel injury. Teammates Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris are also dealing with injuries. The Houston Rockets are still playing without PG Chris Paul because of his hamstring injury. The LeBron led Lakers have had to play a few games without him and Rajon Rondo, who are both dealing with injuries. All these injuries have affected these teams, as you can see in standings below!

But these injuries aren’t the only news we got from the NBA over the past two weeks. The Los Angeles Clippers PG Patrick Beverley is back at it again. On New Year’s Day, Beverley and the Clippers took on the Philadelphia 76ers with Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid. It was a closely contested game all night, which started to get chippy late. We saw Clippers guard Avery Bradley and Jimmy Butler get ejected. Read the full story here.

There was also a trade that this time included Marshon Brooks. It was a trade between the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls that would send Brooks, Wayne Selden and two 2nd-round picks to the Bulls for Justin Holiday! Not sure if that’s a fair trade, but nonetheless, it was a trade that worked for both teams!

Let’s see where each of these teams stand as of right now in the standings.

East:                           West:

1. Raptors (31-12)      1. Nuggets  (27-12)

2. Bucks (28-11)         2. Warriors (27-14)

3. Pacers (27-13)        3. Thunder (25-15)

4. 76ers (27-14)          4. Clippers (24-16)

5. Celtics (24-15)        5. Rockets (23-16)

6. Heat (19-20)            6. Spurs (24-17)

7.  Nets (20-22)           7. Blazers (24-17)

8. Hornets (19-21)      8. Lakers (22-19)

9. Pistons (17-21)       9. Jazz (20-21)

10. Magic (17-23)       10. Kings (20-21)

11. Wizards (16-25)    11. Timberwolves (20-21)

 

After looking at where each team stands in the playoff race, let’s turn our attention to the teams who are cold or hot, as well as other teams to watch for over the next few weeks.

Cold Teams

Los Angeles Lakers

As a Lakers fans, this one really hurts to watch because they’ve been playing well, but with the injuries to Rajon Rondo and LeBron James it is no surprise. The Lakers’ young core has been led by these two guys all season, but James pulled his groin during the great win over the Golden State Warriors on Christmas day. Rondo has been dealing with injuries all season, but he has figured out a way to still help the growth on Lonzo Ball.

That’s what this season is all about for Rondo and James. Helping the young guys like Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and even Josh Hart. I don’t expect to see the Lakers on the cold list for long, as James returns and looks to get them back into the top four of the Western Conference.

Detroit Pistons

I still don’t understand what’s going on with the Pistons. I know the East isn’t that good compared to the West, but they are barely in the playoffs and haven’t seemed to find themselves where they were earlier in the season. There has been recent struggles with PG Reggie Jackson, who says he’s in his own head. Hopefully, he can get out of his head and play the way we know he can alongside Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks don’t know whether they want to be hot or cold. But then again, they are still in the learning curve with the young guys like Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic trying to play together with the veterans like Dirk Nowitzki and DeAndre Jordan. I still believe Doncic will end up winning the rookie of the year award, like I said in previous articles, but can he and the Mavericks manage to get themselves into one of the playoff spots?

Washington Wizards

As you probably read above, the Wizards are suffering from a lot of injuries to different key players. It’s going to be a tough season for their fans, as they watch the Wizards likely fall further down and remain in the bottom four of the Eastern Conference. With Morris, Porter and Wall all out, coach Scott Brooks needs to find a way to motivate this team. Maybe turning to the next guy after Wall, Bradley Beal! I have said previously the Wizards need to break up their guard duo, but maybe it’s a good thing. Neither of them could stay healthy for the entire season, but they still manage to fight and claw their way into the playoffs. I’m not so sure this will be the case this season.

Unless they can make a run for the hot list next week. But that’s then, let’s see about the now and who’s on a hot streak!

 

Hot Teams

Milwaukee Bucks

This isn’t a surprise, the Bucks are one of the younger teams in the league with a lot of proven talent. They have been able to make the playoffs, but could never make it past the second round. I think this year will be different. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing out of his mind and looking like a real candidate for MVP.  He is my choice, and he should be yours too.

Indiana Pacers

Victor Oladipo has returned from injury and has picked up right where he left off. That’s always a good thing for teams without their All-Star guard. However, the Pacers were still doing a decent job without him. I’ll be honest though, it’s going to be a five-team race to the top in the East, and Pacers will be one of them. Who are the other four? Well, just look at the standings. Those are the top five teams in the East and any one of them could win it.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets beat the Warriors 135-134 in an epic overtime game where the Rockets didn’t have Chris Paul.  They certainly did “fear the beard,” as James Harden went off and carried his team to a huge win over the defending champions. He has helped lead the Rockets back to the top of the Western Conference. Okay, well not all the way yet, but they have gone from 13th to fifth in just one month. Most of these games have been without PG Chris Paul. It’s like Harden is trying to prove he is still the MVP until he says otherwise!

Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers have suddenly gone from cold to hot, yet they haven’t moved a spot in the standings. That shows how competitive the Western conference will be this year. It does not surprise me to see the Blazers have another good season, as they look to stay in the hunt for one of the top spots in the playoffs. With both C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard playing extremely well, we should continue to see the Blazers have success and be on the hot list.

But let’s also take a look at the teams to watch as the season goes on.

 

Teams to watch

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are surprisingly playing well. We might even see them in the playoffs. Yes, that’s the goal for the Nets this year. They are as capable as ever of making the playoffs in a weakened Eastern Conference. All the players on the team have played well together, as they continue to stay in the hunt for the playoffs and look to bring more excitement to the city of Brooklyn.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz are slowly climbing their way back into the playoff picture. We could see them there for the first time since October. They look like they are finally getting everything together the way it was last year. If that is the case, then we might be in for an exciting second half of the season for the Jazz.

Orlando Magic

The Magic are still in the hunt, but out of it right now. With the East being so weak, we might actually be able to see them in the playoffs. The last three spots in the East are open for the taking right now. I think it’ll be good for them to make the playoffs, even though they probably won’t have an chance of winning a seven game series against the top five teams. Just the fact that they make playoffs after so many years of struggle is great for the franchise.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings are like the Nets and the Magic in the sense that they haven’t been in the playoffs in many years. Their chances of making it by seasons end will be a lot more difficult for them than it is for teams in the Eastern Conference. But the Kings have played exceptionally well this season. I am actually surprised in how well they are playing. Before the season,  I thought they were going to have the worst record in the West, behind even the Phoenix Suns. You can see that here!

 

As we watch the league continue to play great basketball, we should also remember that voting for the NBA All-Stars has started! We should all make sure to vote for the best players in the league!

So I expect to see some more votes being cast for other guys like Steven Adams, Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard. Come on guys, let’s get them in!

 

2018-19 NBA Predictions: Atlantic Division

39596551735_15f061e41c_o.jpg
Philadelphia 76ers” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In what is the best division in the Eastern Conference – and maybe the NBA – the Atlantic Division featured the conference’s top-three seeds in the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

The Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers finished one, two and three, respectively, and all won a first-round playoff series. Boston and Philly faced off in the conference semifinals, with Boston emerging victorious with a 4-1 series win. Boston would end up forcing a game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals and losing the series to Cleveland.

With the Raptors making some big moves, the Celtics getting some key players back from injuries, and the 76ers a talented, young team on the rise, the upcoming 2018-19 season looks to be as entertaining as last season.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at the 2018-19 Atlantic Division.

 

1. BOSTON CELTICS

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 55-27 (2nd Atlantic, 2nd East).

Postseason Result: First round – Beat Milwaukee 4-3. Semifinals – Beat Philadelphia 4-1. Finals – Lost to Cleveland 4-3.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • Drafted PF Robert Williams (Texas A&M; Round 1/Pick 27).
  • Re-signed PG Marcus Smart (4 yr/$52 mil).
  • Re-signed C Aron Baynes (2 yr/$10.6 mil).
  • Re-signed SG Jabari Bird (2 yr/$2.9 mil).

Offseason Departures:

  • C Greg Monroe (Toronto).
  • PG Shane Larkin (UFA).

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

The Celtics started the 2017-18 season as contenders for the Eastern Conference after losing in the conference finals to the Cavs the year before. They had lost some key pieces from the team the year before, but added elite talents Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and used the third-overall pick in the draft to take Jayson Tatum. On paper, the Celtics were built to compete with – if not overtake – the Cavs. But hold on.

Just 5 minutes into his Celtics career, Hayward suffered a gruesome leg injury, and in an instant the landscape felt much different in Boston. The Celtics lost their first two games that year, and it became apparent that this injury had shaken the team and might affect their season. Well, the Celtics had other ideas. They rattled off 16 straight wins and became the team everyone thought they would be to start the year, albeit with their free agency prize out for the year. Why is this important to this year’s team you ask?

Well, the Celtics went on to win 55 games and take the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs – also while losing Kyrie Irving near the end of the season! – with a very young team. They got big time minutes and production from players who were expected to contribute off the bench. Fast-forward to this year, those players who saw valuable minutes are now the reserves again, as Hayward and Irving are healthy and ready to contribute. My point: this team is DEEP.

Look, I don’t know how Hayward fits in Boston. We haven’t gotten even a morsel sample size. But he’s a fantastic player and will only make this team better. His return was basically like getting a big time free agent this past off-season. Hayward’s injury bumped Jayson Tatum’s development up a year, and did he ever respond. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting and looked more like a veteran at times than he did a rookie.

“Scary” Terry Rozier is now a back-up point guard who could be starting on over half the teams in the NBA. Rozier was dominant at times in the postseason and was fantastic in the absence of Irving. Jaylon Brown is emerging as one of the top two-way shooting guards in the NBA, and Al Horford remains one of the better two-way centers in the Eastern Conference. The re-singing of Marcus Smart was huge, as Smart is one of the best defensive players in the NBA and a legit sixth-man contender.

Anyway you look at it, this team is talented. They are deep. They have the one of the best head coaches in the game in Brad Stevens. And after getting knocked out the Conference Finals the last two years by the Cleveland Cavaliers, this team is hungry.

Prediction: 60-22

 

2. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 52-30 (3rd Atlantic, 3rd East)

Postseason Result: First round – beat Miami 4-1. Semifinals – Lost to Boston 4-1.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • C Mike Muscala (Trade w/ Atlanta)
  • SF Wilson Chandler (Trade w/ Denver)
  • Re-signed PG J.J. Redick (1 yr / $12.25 mil)
  • Re-signed C Amir Johnson (1 yr/ $2.4 mil)
  • Signed SF Jonah Bolden (36th overall pick in 2017 draft by PHI)
  • Drafted PG Landry Shamet (Wichita State; Round 1/ 26th overall), SG Zhaire Smith (Texas Tech; Round 1 / Pick 16), PG Shake Milton (SMU; Round 2 / Pick 54)

Offseason Departures:

  • PF Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee)
  • SG Marco Belinelli (San Antonio)
  • SG Justin Anderson (Traded to Atlanta)
  • SG Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (Traded to OKC)

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

Featuring one of the NBA’s most dynamic players in Ben Simmons and one of the premier big men in Joel Embiid, the 76ers made a huge leap last season en route to a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference standings.

Simmons won a debated rookie-of-the-year award last season after sitting out his entire, um, rookie season in 2016-17. Either way, Simmons is 6’10” and plays point guard for the Sixers, and he plays it well. The “rookie” averaged 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds and was a match-up nightmare with his size on his way to becoming a new-age back-court player in the NBA. Simmons will only get better now as he enters his second season and should pose a nightmare for many teams with smaller lineups. The number-one overall pick from the 2017 NBA draft, Markelle Fultz, appeared in 14 games and adds a potential scorer off the bench behind Simmons. The jury is still out on this guy, but he could be another major player for the Sixers.

Embiid averaged a double-double in his second full season in the league and is on his way to becoming one of the best true centers in the NBA. Embiid likes talking trash, but he can back it up with his dominant play. Veteran Amir Johnson returns and provides valuable depth behind Embiid, along with newly-acquired Mike Muscala.

The Sixers return their top four scorers from last season, with Simmons, Embiid, J.J. Reddick, and Dario Saric. A combined 24.4 points from Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova are gone, replaced with Muscala and newly-acquired Wilson Chandler. Jonah Bolden will be an interesting name to keep an eye on as well.

The depth looks good in Philly, with three draft picks (Shamet, Smith, Milton) who could all provide valuable contributions off the bench. PG T.J. McConnell is a pesky rotational defensive player who adds some occasional scoring. So, with McConnell, Fultz, Shamet, and Simmons, this point guard group looks pretty fantastic.

Bottom line is this: teams need to watch out for the Sixers. Their youth was on display against the Celtics in their semifinal playoff series loss, but they have a ton of first round draft picks who are developing and are now a year more experienced. This team is scary good and will likely cause teams fits all year with their athleticism. How could I forget? They open the season against the Celtics in what could be an Eastern Conference finals match-up. Big time.

Prediction: 54-28

 

3. TORONTO RAPTORS

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 59-23 (1st Atlantic, 1st East)

Postseason Result: First round – Beat Washington 4-2. Semifinals – Lost to Cleveland 4-0.

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • SF Kawhi Leonard (Trade w/ Spurs)
  • SG Danny Green (Trade w/ Spurs)
  • C Greg Monroe (Boston)
  • Re-signed PG Fred Van Vleet (2 yrs/$18 mil)
  • Head coach Nick Nurse (assistant w/ Raptors)

Offseason Departures:

  • SG DeMar DeRozan (Traded to Spurs)
  • C Jakob Poeltl (Traded to Spurs)
  • Head coach Dwane Casey (Detroit)

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

What an off-season it was for the Raptors.

They finished first in the Eastern Conference last season, won a first-round playoff series, then got swept by the Cavs in the semifinals, and thought, “Hey! I think we need to fire our head coach.” Waa waa. Well, head coach Dwane Casey HAD led the Raptors to an Atlantic Division title four-out-of-five years, and had ZERO Eastern Conference finals to show for it. And getting knocked out at the hands of the Cavs the last three years has GOT to be frustrating for the Raptors front office. So I guess maybe that’s why he was fired. Enter Nick Nurse – who has been an assistant for the Raptors since 2013 – to take over the reigns as head coach. At least there should be some continuity in the schemes he will be running for the returning players. Which leads me to my next point:

In what was one of the hottest story-lines of the NBA off-season (behind the usual LeBron drama), Kawhi Leonard was traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Raptors in exchange for last season’s top scorer on the team, DeMar DeRozan. Say whaaaaat?! There were other parts to the trade, like Toronto giving up a protected 2019 first-round draft pick and back-up center Jakob Poeltl and Toronto getting Danny Green, but DeRozan and Leonard were the centerpieces. Kawhi had grown distant with Gregg Poppovich in San Antonio and the deal was bound to happen. But Toronto came seemingly out of nowhere to nab the defensive master Leonard and shore up an already solid defense. With Leonard a free agent after the season, it will be interesting to see what shakes up over the coming months. Will he sign long term, or is he just a very expensive rental for Toronto?

Adding Leonard to the lineup with center Jonas Valanciunas and power forward Serge Ibaka gives the Raptors a very solid offensive and defensive front-court. Ibaka is a blocking machine in the middle and Valanciunas is a 7’0″, 265 pound monster at center. Kyle Lowry and Danny Green make up a formidable back-court. Green moves into a starting role after playing as a reserve last year in San Antonio and will not match the scoring output DeRozan provided, but the hope is that Leonard will make up for that scoring and be a better defender for the Raptors. Bottom line, this team shouldn’t fall off too far, but with a new head coach and a potential diva in Leonard, the potential is there for a bit of a fall-off.

Prediction: 50-32

 

4. NEW YORK KNICKS

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 29-53 (4th Atlantic, 11th East)

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • PF Mario Hezonja (Orlando)
  • PF Noah Vonleh (Chicago)
  • Drafted SF Kevin Knox (Kentucky; Round 1 / Pick 9), C Mitchell Robinson (Chalmette HS; Round 2 / Pick 36)
  • Head coach David Fizdale

Offseason Departures:

  • C Kyle O’Quinn (Indiana)
  • SF Michael Beasley (LA Lakers)
  • PG Jarrett Jack (New Orleans)
  • Head coach Jeff Hornacek

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

The New York Knicks finished under .500 for the fifth-straight year in 2017-18. Another ho-hum year. Head coach Jeff Hornacek got fired as a result, continuing a trend of Knicks’ head coaches lasting two seasons and getting the axe.

Enter David Fizdale, who most recently lasted one season and 19 games with the Memphis Grizzles during the ’16-’17, ’17-’18 seasons. Fizdale was fired after a slow 7-12 start in ’17-’18 and benching star Marc Gasol. Now he gets to come to NYC, under an even bigger microscope than he was in while in Memphis. Remember, Spike Lee is watching.

Fizdale has a tough task ahead of him, as he will be without star power forward Kristaps Porzingas until at least December while he recovers from an ACL injury. Porzingis led the Knicks in scoring last year and will be a huge void in the lineup to start the year. The Knicks did sign power forwards Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh to provide depth at the position, but come on – no one can replace the unique skill set the 7’3″ Unicorn brings to the lineup.

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter return as leading scorers (other than Porzingis, of course). Hardaway had a career year scoring (17.5 ppg), while also logging a career high in mintues per game – 33.1. Hardaway should see a lot more minutes this year – especially while Porzingis is out – so that the Knicks have someone on the court who can score. Kanter averaged a double-double and is a very good rebounder. Look for him to also benefit in the stat department while Porzingis recovers. Kevin Knox is a legit rookie-of-the-year candidate and should post some big stats, but again – he’s just a rookie. Can he lead a team? Unlikely.

The big thing for the Knicks is this – can they stay afloat while Porzingas recovers, or will this team sink before it even begins to tread water? They did finish 3-0 in the preseason, so maybe things are looking up in NY. But hey, does anyone remember how anyone finishes in the preseason? Nope. My guess is it’s going to be a long year in NYC for Fizdale and the Knicks.

Prediction: 27-55

 

5. BROOKLYN NETS

OFFSEASON & REVIEW

Record: 28-54 (5th Atlantic, 12th East)

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions:

  • PG Shabazz Napier (Portland)
  • PF Ed Davis (Portland)
  • SG Treveon Graham (Charlotte)
  • PF Kenneth Faried (Trade w/ Denver)
  • SF Jared Dudley (Trade w/ Phoenix)
  • Re-sign SG Joe Harris (2 yr/ $16 mil)

Offseason Departures:

  • PG Jeremy Lin (Trade w/ Atlanta)
  • SG Nik Stauskas (Portland)
  • C Jahlil Okafor (New Orleans)

2018-19 PREVIEW/THE BIG QUESTION

What do you do to improve your team when you finish last in the Atlantic and 12th in the East? If you’re the Brooklyn Nets, mostly you do nothing. And that’s exactly the plan.

The Nets finished 2017-18 with their ninth losing season in the last eleven years, and if this past offseason was any indication, 2018-19 is shaping up to be their tenth in twelve years.

The Nets finished with 28 wins last season and did very little to improve their roster, a team who was last in the East in points allowed per game. They added a few names, but really no one of any significance. The Nets drafted two kids from Europe who will be stashed for the future, again without a high pick.

Shabazz Napier is probably the top free agent they brought in, as he was buried on the depth chart behind Damian Lillard in Portland. Napier played in 74 games last year, but only started nine. He did have 8.7 points per game, and now he comes to Brooklyn to again be a rotational piece with D’Angelo Russell. Russell is still young, but has not lived up to being the number two overall pick by the Lakers in the 2015 draft. He should have ample opportunities to score, so who knows – maybe this is the year he breaks out. I’m expecting he sets a career high in scoring, surpassing his previous high of 15.6 in ’16-’17.

Looking up and down this lineup, though, there is a lot of youth. And with youth often come growing pains. Just two players are over age 30 (DeMarre Carroll and Jared Dudley). The projected starting-five has an average age of 24.6 years old. 2018-’19 will likely be a bad year for the Nets. But it’s only year three of Sean Marks’ grand rebuild, and the Nets will finally have a first-round pick (likely lottery) in the 2019 NBA Draft after the Celtics have owned all their picks for what feels like a decade. Although there could be growing pains – a la the 76ers – the Nets could be heading in the right direction for the future.

The big question is this: How bad will this team be, and will they be bad enough for a top-3 pick in next year’s draft? I think there’s a good chance Brooklyn finally gets a chance to select a big name and start adding legit college talent to begin a slow rebuild. Just don’t mess it up.

Prediction: 22-60

 

PREDICTED DIVISION STANDINGS:

  1. Boston Celtics (60-22)
  2. Philadelphia 76ers (54-28)
  3. Toronto Raptors (50-32)
  4. New York Knicks (27-55)
  5. Brooklyn Nets (22-60)

There you have it. Polar opposites in terms of balance in the Atlantic, with three powerhouses at the top and two cellar-dwellers at the bottom. The Atlantic will have three teams in the playoffs yet again – and maybe even the Eastern representative for the NBA Finals – and continue to be one of the top divisions in the NBA.