Way too early bold Eastern Conference predictions

Pascal.jpg
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.

 

The Point God: Eastern Conference

This week I will take a look at the point guards in the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference clearly has more notable name point guards, but the East might be more top heavy with true point guards such as Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons.

Kyle Lowry, John Wall” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

With LeBron no longer in the East, the point guards below have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done in eight years. That’s make the NBA Finals. Once again, the below list is in no particular order.

 

Kyrie Irving” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Kyrie Irving

Team: Boston Celtics
Shooting: A-, His shooting is impressive from all spots on the floor. Kyrie is a clutch shooter as well, hitting one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history to secure Cleveland its first ever title.
Rebounding: C+, Not a primary skill for Irving, but not needed in Boston.
Assists: B+, Kyrie averages modest assists in the NBA, but his assists are usually dimes due to his impressive court vision.
Basketball IQ: B+, On the court, Kyrie is one of the smarter players in the league. Off the court, we all know that his IQ isn’t as high, as seen in his belief that the Earth is flat.
Contribution to team’s success: A, Last season the Celtics did not have experience playing with Kyrie before his injury, but this year they are learning his importance to the team’s success. He will be needed if the Celtics want to have a deep playoff run.

 

Ben Simmons” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Ben Simmons

Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Shooting: F, Can I give a grade lower than an F? Last season, he shot a total of 42 shots outside of the paint. That is about 1 shot every 2 games and he was 12 for 42 on those shots.
Rebounding: A, Simmons is right up there with Westbrook as one of the best rebounding guards, granted Simmons’ height and weight help him in this category.
Assists: A-, Due to his tentativeness to shoot, he creates a lot of shots for his teammates, averaging over eight per game in each of his first two seasons of NBA play.
Basketball IQ: A, I consider Ben’s court vision to be his greatest strength. He sees the game one step ahead of almost everyone on the court. That allows him to impact the game immensely.
Contribution to team’s success: B+, Simmons is the motor that drives the offense, but with Joel Embiid leading the league in 20 point and 10 rebound games, Embiid is establishing himself as the #1 in Philadelphia.

 

Kyle Lowry” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Kyle Lowry

Team: Toronto Raptors
Shooting: B, His shooting is slightly above average for point guards in the league. In the playoffs however, he has seen his fair share of shooting struggles.
Rebounding: C, Lowry doesn’t show much effort for rebounding, but at a generous 6’0″ height, it makes sense.
Assists: A-, This grade is reflective of this season, as he has improved his assists by over three per game and is currently fifth in the NBA, averaging just a shade under 10 per game.
Basketball IQ: B, Kyle is a relatively smart player, but I think his team would have greater success in the postseason if he made better decisions with the ball.
Contribution to team’s success: B, This team goes as Kawhi Leonard goes at the moment. When healthy, he is arguably a top three player in the league. However, with Lowry’s improvement in his passing, he can prove to be valuable for the first seeded Raptors.

 

John Wall” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

John Wall

Shooting: B, Wall’s greatest strength is his speed and ability to attack and finish at the rim. His shooting is generally not something the Wizards rely on to win games.
Rebounding: B-, Wall’s effort are fans’ main critique. I think this can frequently be seen in his lack of effort on the glass.
Assists: B+, Averaging 9.2 per game prior to his season ending heel injury, Wall sees the court very well and finds his open teammates.
Basketball IQ: A-, Maybe a point of contention for those who think he causes problems on the Wizards due to his on court play, but I believe he is an underrated player who is phenomenal at seeing the game as it develops.
Contribution to team’s success: C+, I feel bad putting the grade this low, but the Wizards seem to play better without Wall. The other players get more shots and have more opportunities to show their growth, such as Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. I think on a different team this grade would change.

 

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

Kemba Walker

Shooting: B+, I would consider Walker’s shooting to be the opposite of Kyle Lowry’s. Walker is a modest shooter, but he seems to shoot best when the lights are brightest, hence his nickname: Cardiac Kemba.
Rebounding: C+, He averages less than four rebounds a game for his career and doesn’t make it a large part of his game.
Assists: B, As a shoot first point guard, assists come second to Walker’s game.
Basketball IQ: B, I think he is an emotional player who sometimes gets caught up in the intensity of the game. It only becomes a negative when he forces bad shots.
Contribution to team’s success: A, The Hornets are a franchise that has struggled in recent seasons, but the one bright spot in the team’s struggles has been Kemba, who the Hornets need to make it a priority to rebuild around.

 

Eric Bledsoe” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Honorable Mention: Eric Bledsoe

Eric Bledsoe is an intriguing player. He has had an up and down career since he came out of the University of Kentucky. Bledsoe is most well-known for his tweet, “I don’t wanna be here” when he was with the miserable Phoenix Suns that he claims was about a barber shop he was in. However, in regards to his on court play, I believe Bledsoe is underrated and generally gets a bad reputation. Milwaukee seems to have been a much needed change of scenery for Bledsoe, as he can play second fiddle to Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is a serviceable point guard who has definitely made the Bucks better and can run an offense very well.

 

Who is the Point God of the Eastern Conference?

Once again we come to the question of who the Point God is, this time in the Eastern Conference. I’m not sure I have revealed yet that I am a die hard Sixers fan. In expressing that, it may make my opinion seem biased. Now, if I had one season and had to draft a point guard from the above list, I would choose Ben Simmons. I understand his shooting is not just bad, it is horrendous, but there’s a reason he is frequently compared to LeBron James. Simmons’ skill set is incredibly rare. I may be old fashioned with how I like the point guard position to be played, but Simmons’ assists and court vision make him a unique true point guard in this new era of guard play.

Can Kevin Love Lead the Cavs to the Playoffs?

23739266848_21f7586652_o.jpg
Kevin Love” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Joel Deering

Remember when the Cavs had a big three? LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Well now only one member of that big three remains after Kyrie Irving requested a trade a year ago and LeBron James departed for the Los Angeles Lakers. Kevin Love is the last man standing in Cleveland.

The moment LeBron James left, everyone seemed to know the Cavs wouldn’t be making the playoffs next season. Rumors were Kevin Love was even going to be shipped somewhere else, which would leave Cleveland with a bunch of role players and recently drafted rookie Collin Sexton. Well Kevin Love is still on the Cavs roster, and as of right now he’s their best player. Because Kevin Love is the best player for the Cavs right now, the responsibility to lead this team back to the playoffs falls on him. Can Love lead this team to a spot in the playoffs?

After looking over the rosters of Eastern Conference teams, I see most of the playoff spots in the conference being locked up already. Teams I have as a lock to make the playoffs are the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and Indiana Pacers. No that’s not in any particular order. I have six teams taking up playoff spots already, and those six teams are all teams who made the playoffs last season. That leaves the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat spots open.

Many probably think Miami will be in the playoffs again. I think they can make the playoffs and most likely will, but I wouldn’t call them a lock. The reason why they’re not a lock is because they don’t have a star player and Hassan Whiteside could be on his way out. If you look at the teams I listed as locks, not only did they make the playoffs last year, but they all have at least one guy you could consider their star. The Raptors have DeRozan and Lowry, Boston has a starting lineup of stars or stars in the making, Philadelphia has Simmons and Embiid, Milwaukee has the Greek Freak, Washington has Wall and Beal, and Indiana has Oladipo.

Anyway, back to Kevin Love and the Cavs. Outside of Miami, who are they in competition with for those two remaining playoffs spots? Well we’ve got the Pistons, Hornets, Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Magic, and Hawks. There’s some potential here for a surprise team or two, but overall this is a weak group the Cavs are competing against. So can Kevin Love lead the Cavs to the playoffs? The answer is, possibly.

5501663000_6f760b165b_o.jpg
Trevor Booker and Kevin Love” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

First we have to go back to when Kevin Love was the lone star for the Timberwolves. In six seasons with the Timberwolves, Kevin Love averaged 19.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. His best overall season with the Timberwolves came in 2013 when he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. Kevin Love put up stats with the Timberwolves, but the problem was he never led the team to the playoffs. The best record he led his team to in those six years was 40-42. We do have to keep in mind that Love was playing in the stronger Western Conference, but still, he didn’t make a single playoff appearance.

After not making the playoffs for the first six years of his career, Love came to the Cavaliers and has now made the playoffs four years in a row. Not only has he made the playoffs four years in a row, but he’s been a member of a team who’s gone to the NBA Finals four years in a row. Kevin Love has won a championship. In four years with the Cavs, Love has averaged 17.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 assists. His best season came in 2016 when he averaged 19.0 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. Obviously Love’s numbers have been down because he played with LeBron and Kyrie. Despite lower numbers, he’s been in the playoffs every year he’s been here.

Kevin Love has seemed more effective as a second or third star rather than the go to guy, but now he will be the go to guy again. I expect Love’s stats to go back up. He’ll have the ball a lot more often, meaning he’ll get a lot more shots, more points, and probably assists. Remember that Love was in the Western Conference all those years he didn’t make the playoffs, and now he’s in the weaker Eastern Conference. Love is also a more experienced player who has won a championship and has plenty of playoff experience. Will that make a difference? I can see this going one of two ways. First, I can see the Cavs being just like everyone expects and being one of the worst teams in the NBA. Second, I can see this team being a surprise competitor for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

What do you guys think? Will we see the Timberwolves Kevin Love who puts up big numbers and doesn’t make the playoffs, the Cavs Kevin Love who puts up decent numbers and makes the playoffs, or a combination of the two? If you think the Cavs can make the playoffs being led by Kevin Love, what’s highest seed you think they’ll get?

Top Reasons to Watch the 2018-19 NBA Season

Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Joel Deering

It’s been about a week since I’ve been able to write. Over the last week I got married and then spent my honeymoon at Disneyland walking around the parks all day and being thrown around by roller coasters. I haven’t been able to post until now, but don’t worry, I’m still up to date on what’s happening in the sports world. One of the biggest things that happened while I wasn’t posting, is DeMarcus Cousins signing with the Golden State Warriors. This was shocking news to the entire NBA. The Warriors now have five All-Stars in their starting lineup.

Like most NBA fans, I was pissed about this move. I told myself there’s not even a point in watching the NBA next season because we already know the Warriors are going to win the NBA championship again. After a little more thought into how the NBA season would be, I’ve come up with a list of some main reasons to watch the NBA during the 2018-19 season. Of course there are always more reasons than what I’ve listed, but my list is based on what I personally think will be fun to watch next season, regardless of if the Warriors win the championship or not.

LeBron in the Western Conference

LeBron James has played 15 seasons in the NBA. Every single one of those 15 seasons has been spent in the Eastern Conference. After joining the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron finds himself as a member of the Western Conference for the very first time in his career. I’ve already been following LeBron every season of his career, but this season of following him has to be one of the most interesting to watch.

I’ve heard so many times that LeBron James wouldn’t be able to do what he’s done in the Eastern Conference if he were in the Western Conference. Now it’s his chance to prove it. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for LeBron to lead the Lakers to being one of the best teams in the Western Conference. With LeBron James on your team, you’re going to be in the playoffs. The real challenge will come in the playoffs when the Lakers have to face teams like the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. Will LeBron be able to make the NBA Finals for a 9th straight year? The chances seem a lot less likely now that he’s joined the Western Conference, but you can never count him out.

The Lakers added some players in addition to LeBron James by signing Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Rajon Rondo. I’m curious to see how these players fit with LeBron James, especially Lance Stephenson because of the history he has with LeBron. I’m not sure these players are the right fit for LeBron, but we know LeBron can make it work with no matter who he has. All eyes are always on LeBron, but the amount of attention he’ll get this season will sky rocket because he’s now a Laker.

Boston Celtics

The hype surrounding the Boston Celtics was huge going into last season. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford was their starting lineup going into the season. That lineup didn’t last long, as Hayward suffered an injury early in their first game. Despite losing Hayward, the Celtics were the best team in the Eastern Conference for a while. People were starting to talk about a Warriors and Celtics Finals early on. Later in the season, Irving got injured and was out for the playoffs. Despite losing Irving, the Celtics were one game away from the NBA Finals.

The Celtics should have their original starting lineup from last season back to start this season. The lineup of Irving, Brown, Hayward, Tatum, and Horford looks even better now after Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum stepped up big time for this team in the absence of Irving and Hayward. You could probably consider this a low key super team. If all these players can stay healthy throughout the season, this will be a fun team to watch. If they’re all healthy going into the playoffs, keep your eye on them.

Who Rules the East?

Now that LeBron James has gone to the Western Conference, there will finally be a new team/player to rule the Eastern Conference. Who will that be? I just talked about the Celtics above, who have a very strong case to be considered the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. It’s not like they’re going to get the title of Eastern Conference champions easily. Several teams will be competing for that title and have a legit shot at claiming it.

The Raptors don’t have to deal with LeBron James anymore. No more LeBronto could mean they actually live up to their regular season record. We’ll see how they do with a new coach, but they have the players who got them to the number one seed in the conference last season, so they should be contenders. Philadelphia has a couple of young stars in Embiid and Simmons, who should continue to get better. If there’s one thing this team doesn’t lack, it’s confidence. This team has the confidence of a team who’s been to the Finals already thanks to Joel Embiid.

Milwaukee has Giannis, who has been compared to LeBron James many times. If he can continue to elevate his game, maybe he can elevate the Bucks to the NBA Finals. The Pacers were a team who almost beat LeBron in the playoffs last season. Who knows how far they would have gone if they pulled off a Game 7 victory in the first round. Now that LeBron is gone, the Eastern Conference is wide open. The title of Eastern Conference champions is there for the taking.

Kawhi Leonard

I think it will be interesting to see how the Kawhi Leonard situation plays out. There’s a chance it could be done before the season begins. The Spurs might end up trading Kawhi to the Lakers, 76ers, or somewhere else so they don’t have to deal with him anymore. If that is the case, it will still be interesting to see how Kawhi fits with his new team.

If Kawhi becomes a Laker, we’ll all be watching to see how he and LeBron do at taking down the Warriors. I’d love to see that matchup. If Kawhi goes to the 76ers, we may be looking at a 76ers and Celtics rematch in the playoffs to see who goes to the NBA Finals. It’d also be interesting to see how Kawhi’s personality fits with a loud and outspoken player like Joel Embiid.

If Kawhi stays on the Spurs throughout the season, will he even play? The ongoing drama between the team and Kawhi will continue throughout the season until he’s traded or signs with a new team in free agency after the season.