It’s time to put Siakam in the MVP conversation

Pascal Siakam
Game 2 of 2019 NBA Finals” by Chensiyuan is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Earlier this week, the NBA put out their KIA MVP Ladder, ranking players based on their production so far this season. Below are the top five MVP candidates so far.

Current NBA MVP rankings

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

3. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

4. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

With all of these guys having some of the best teams in the league and them all being some of the most popular names in basketball, it’s no surprise these guys are atop the list.

 

The next five

6. James Harden, Houston Rockets

7. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

8. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

9. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

10. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

As the list moves into the next five, it’s no surprise the guys listed above are there either. They’re just as popular as the guys above, it’s just their teams haven’t had as much early success.

 

And five more

11. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

12. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

13. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

14. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

15. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics

Then there’s these guys, who are having successful seasons early on and are still popular names, but aren’t as popular as the top tier guys.

 

The guy who should be in the conversation

With most of this list I agree, but there’s one huge disagreement. That’s the absence of the name Pascal Siakam. I get Siakam isn’t a super popular name. Last year was the first year most people knew who he was! Instead of being a star player, he won Most Improved Player. While that is an accomplishment, winning Most Improved doesn’t make you a star.

I understand that Siakam has yet to play an entire season as the main guy for his team, but based on what he’s done so far this season, he absolutely should be in the MVP conversation.

Through the Raptors’ first eight games, Siakam has led them to a 6-2 record, which currently puts them second in the Eastern Conference. In those eight games, Siakam has averaged 27.9 points (7th in the NBA), 9.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He’s doing all that while shooting 51.9% from the field and 41.3% from three-point range.

First of all, why is the NBA’s seventh leading scorer not in the top 15 in the MVP race? Guys like AD, LeBron, KAT and Booker are all on the list, and they’re all currently averaging less points than Siakam!

Second, how in the world is Kendrick Nunn, an undrafted rookie, ahead of Siakam? Nunn is averaging 16.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game and ranks 12th on the list, yet Siakam is left off? Makes perfect sense!

 

Where should Siakam rank?

If you ask me, Siakam should at the very least be ranked in the top 10. Let’s take a look at the guys in the top 10 and briefly compare them to Siakam.

Jokic currently has his team at the same record as the Raptors and in the same playoff spot, only in the Western Conference. However, he averages 16.3 points, which is 11.6 less than Siakam. Jokic averages 0.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists more than Siakam, but there’s no way that’s enough to overtake him.

Booker has his team off to a worse start (5-3), and is also averaging less points and significantly less rebounds. Lillard currently has the Blazers at 3-6 and not in a playoff spot, so I’m not sure why he’s even on the MVP list. He may be the league’s second leading scorer, but MVP’s don’t play for losing teams. Irving is kind of in the same boat as Lillard. He’s the league’s third leading scorer, but his team is just 4-4 and seems to be struggling to finish games. If anyone ranked six through 10 has a legit case, it’s Harden, who has his team at 6-3 and is the league’s leading scorer right now.

Now let’s move to the guys ranked in the top five. Embiid currently averages less points and assists, while shooting worse percentages from the field than Siakam. I’d easily take Siakam over Embiid for MVP right now.

This is where it starts to get interesting. AD and James are both averaging less points than Siakam, but they do have the best record in the Western Conference right now. You could make the argument here that Siakam has less help, because he’s not playing with a top five NBA player, while these two guys are.

That leaves us with Kawhi and the Greek Freak. Both guys are averaging more points than Siakam. With both of their teams sitting right where the Raptors are, I think I’d have to put these guys above Siakam at this moment.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint a specific place for Siakam to rank right now, but I’d say he’s at least in the top five. At the very, very least, he should be in the top 15! Again, how on earth is Kendrick Nunn ranked over him, or even in the top 15 at all?

Pascal Siakam may be last year’s Most Improved Player, but he’s this year’s star for the Toronto Raptors. Siakam is a star, yet most people don’t see it. It’s time to start recognizing Siakam as more than the guy who helped Kawhi a year ago. It’s time to recognize him as a legit MVP candidate. Let’s give him the recognition he deserves.

 

The Eastern Conference four

Now that the NBA is in it’s annual All-star break and the trade deadline has passed, it’s a perfect time to evaluate the contenders in the Eastern Conference.

When LeBron left last summer, the Boston Celtics became the clear favorite, with Toronto a close second due to the addition of Kawhi Leonard. However, after two thirds of the regular season, there are now four legitimate contenders fighting for the throne in the Eastern Conference. Who will be wearing the crown come May?

Giannis Antetokounmpo” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are the current one seed in the East and have a legit MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis leads the Bucks in points, rebounds and assists and is gaining confidence every night.

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I would not want to play Milwaukee in the playoffs now that Giannis is developing that mindset. The addition of Nikola Mirotic helps the Bucks’ perimeter game and frees up the lane for Giannis to drive more.

The only downside I see for the Bucks is the lack of proven veterans. In the playoffs, the defense picks up and experience is huge. Giannis will get his every night, but if teams key on the role players, Milwaukee could be in trouble.

 

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

Toronto Raptors

Toronto is completely selling out on winning this year. Kawhi Leonard is a free agent this summer and Marc Gasol has a player option. Both players could leave at the end of the season. Additionally, the Raptors were even rumored to be shopping Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline.

Burning bridges with Lowry after what they did to DeRozan last summer is a very risky play. The future in Toronto is so uncertain, that if any year is their year, it has to be this year. Toronto could potentially be in for a rebuild in the near future.

Now that the Raptors kryptonite, LeBron James, is no longer in their way, maybe it’s their time to be Eastern Conference champions. But can you imagine the Lakers somehow making a run to the NBA Finals and LeBron continuing his son’ing of Toronto? Obviously, it won’t happen, but it’s fun to think about.

 

Joel Embiid“by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Philadelphia 76ers

The new look 76ers are a scary team. Immediately after the trade deadline, Philly won games against the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers, following that with a close loss to a Kyrie-less Boston team at home.

The Phantastic Five starting lineup: JoJo, Ben, Tobias, Jimmy Buckets and JJ is arguably the best starting five in the league, right up their with Golden State. Even with the loss to Boston, the good news for Philly fans is that this team had very few practices between the trade deadline and these three games.

The Sixers were playing pickup basketball and learning how to play with each other, while winning purely due to their talent. However, once Brett Brown can implement plays and this team builds chemistry with the new additions, they are my pick to come out of the Eastern Conference this season. Who knows? Maybe they can even challenge Golden State for a championship. If you think you’re sensing my Philly bias, just wait and see, this team is the real deal.

 

Jayson Tatum” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Boston Celtics

In order for the 76ers to make the NBA Finals, they will most likely need to first overcome their Boston problem, having lost 10 of their last 12 games to the Celtics.

Boston was the preseason Eastern Conference favorite and a team that has impressive bench depth. If you said at the beginning of the season that Boston would be fourth in the East at the All-star break with no serious injuries, I would’ve bet you my entire bank account on the Celtics being top three.

Boston was adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a roster of young stars in the making who took LeBron James, the seven time consecutive Eastern Conference champion and GOAT, to a Game 7 in the Conference Finals.

Fast forward to now with all the drama surrounding Kyrie’s pending free agency, an underperforming Hayward and a roster full of young players who are not satisfied with their new roles, and the Celtics are the team who need this mid-season break the most. Although, when the playoffs come, I think all the noise around this team will dissipate. Defense picks up in the NBA playoffs and the game slows down a lot, both which should benefit the C’s style of play. If Philly is intimidated and can’t mentally overcome their big brother, Boston Celtics, then Boston will be representing the East in the Finals this season.

 

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Remember last year when the all the talk in the NBA was about restructuring the NBA playoffs and possibly even rearranging conferences because the Western Conference was far superior?

I believe the West had something like 15 of the top 16 ranked players based on some complex statistics. The one Eastern Conference player was obviously LeBron James. The interesting part to me was that this was less of a desire for star players to play in the West, as much as it was a desire to not have to play against playoff LeBron until the Finals. And you know why my theory is still supported now, because the year LeBron goes West, the East stacks up with star players.

Now, less than 12 months after the conference realignment talk, the Eastern Conference is, in my opinion, the stronger conference. The four teams at the top of the East are loaded with talent. That will play out with much more entertaining and competitive playoff series.

It is no longer inevitable that the Warriors and LeBron will face off in the NBA Finals. I never expected to see so many teams in the East selling all out the season immediately following LeBron’s departure to the West. Yet, that is exactly what Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia and Boston are doing. Even considering my analysis above, I think it is extremely difficult to separate any of the above four teams.

I will not be the least bit surprised with whichever team makes the Finals this year out of the above list. Each has unique strengths. The team that comes out on top will be the one who gets hot at just the right time. The one thing I do know with absolute certainty, is this is the most excited I have been about the upcoming NBA playoffs in many years.

Early NBA MVP Rankings

Early NBA MVP Rankings

Early NBA MVP Rankings
Joel Embiid” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

With the NBA season being somewhere from 11 to 14 games in, there’s still a lot of time left in the NBA regular season. Although it’s early in the season, it’s never too early for NBA MVP rankings. Periodically throughout the NBA season, I’ll be giving you my top five NBA MVP rankings. Below you’ll find the main criteria I’m looking for when ranking these MVP candidates.

  • Games Played
  • Individual Stats
  • Team Record

So who have been the top five performers to this point in the season? Let’s get started with my top five early NBA MVP rankings.

 

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

Games Played: 11

Individual Stats: 25.7 points, 13.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks.

Team Record: 9-3

Analysis: The Great Freek is having a fantastic season early on, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue that throughout the season. With LeBron James now a member of the Western Conference, Giannis is quickly establishing himself as the best player in the Eastern Conference.

Along with helping his team start off 9-3 and currently sitting in the two spot, Giannis is also putting up big numbers, doing a little bit of everything. Giannis has some good players on his team. Some of those players are Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon.

Although Giannis has those guys, none of those guys are on his level as an NBA player. I don’t think Giannis will have another all-star teammate this season, which is making what he’s doing for the Bucks even more impressive. In today’s NBA, it’s hard to win with three or more all-stars. Giannis is winning with one all-star, himself.

A player who puts up huge numbers, elevates the play of everyone around him and gets his team wins should be an NBA MVP candidate. Giannis is ranked number one on my early NBA MVP rankings because he’s doing all that and more. For more on how big of an impact Giannis has and could have this season, check out Josh Cartwright’s article “Giannis vs Curry: NBA Finals Preview”?

 

2. Kawhi Leonard – Toronto Raptors

Games Played: 9

Individual Stats: 24.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.4 blocks.

Team Record: 12-1

Analysis: Kawhi Leonard leads the NBA’s best team in the early part of the season. While leading the NBA’s best team, Kawhi is also putting up a pretty good stat line. He leads his team in points, is tied for first in rebounds and leads his team in steals.

What might be most impressive about what Kawhi’s doing with the Raptors, is that he hasn’t needed much time to adjust to his new team. Everyone keeps looking at LeBron James with the Lakers and their slow start, but we all say something along the lines of, “he needs time to adjust to his new team.”

With a very young team, LeBron doesn’t have the same caliber players as Kawhi, but LeBron’s always had slow starts with new teams. He’s even had slow starts with teams who weren’t new. Kawhi has taken his skill set and adjusted it to what the Raptors do right away.

Now, let’s go back to the caliber of players Kawhi has. Kawhi has at least one other all-star player on his team. Kyle Lowry has been a consistent all-star lately, and he likely will be again this season. But even outside of Lowry, Kawhi has Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Danny Green and more.

Kawhi has missed four games so far, but yet the Raptors are still 12-1. That could be a knock on Kawhi, but when it comes down to it, he’s ranked number two on my early NBA MVP rankings because he’s the best player on the best team.

 

3. Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers

Games Played: 12

Individual Stats: 26.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks.

Team Record: 9-3

Analysis: Damian Lillard currently has the Blazers as the two seed in the playoff standings. Can Portland sustain that kind of play throughout the season? Maybe, maybe not. They ended as the three seed last season, so the two seed isn’t out of reach.

The knock on Damian Lillard will always be that he can’t lead his team to victory in the playoffs, but the MVP award has nothing to do with the playoffs. This award is about the regular season. So far in the regular season, Damian Lillard is on fire.

Lillard has CJ McCollum as the other all-star caliber player on his team. Then he’s got Just Nurkic. Outside of those two guys, Lillard is playing with a bunch of mediocre players, yet he still wins.

I think Damian Lillard deserves a lot more credit than he gets. He does so much with a lot less than some of the other guys in the MVP conversation. Keep in mind these are only my early NBA MVP rankings. I don’t think Damian Lillard will stay as a top MVP contender because the Blazers will fall a little bit. For now, Lillard is playing at an MVP level, and his team is reaping the rewards.

 

4. Steph Curry – Golden State Warriors

Games Played: 12

Individual Stats: 29.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.3 blocks.

Team Record: 11-2

Analysis: Most early NBA MVP rankings I’ve seen have Curry in the number two spot, but I disagree. Yes, Curry is leading the NBA in scoring right now. Yes, he’s led the Warriors to the best record in the Western Conference so far.

I just don’t think a player with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and soon to be DeMarcus Cousins should win, or even be in consideration for MVP. Of course he’s going to have one of, if not the best team in the NBA.

I want to see the NBA MVP award go to a player who doesn’t have all the help in the world. I want it go to a guy who’s not allowed to have a bad game because he doesn’t have three or four other all-stars who can pick up his slack.

Don’t get me wrong here. Steph Curry is a great player, one of the best in the NBA. I just don’t believe he can be considered the most valuable player when, even if he’s out, his team will still probably win because of who’s on his team. Curry is valuable, but I wouldn’t consider him to be the “most valuable” player. That’s why Curry is ranked fourth on my early NBA MVP rankings.

 

5. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers

Games Played: 14

Individual Stats: 27.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.2 steals and 2.3 blocks.

Team Record: 8-6

Analysis: Joel Embiid said he wants to win the MVP award this season. He’s made himself a pretty strong case so far. Embiid is one of the top players in the statistical categories of points, rebounds and blocks. If he wasn’t considered as one of the best big men in the league already, he’s certainly making it so this season.

Some might make the case for Ben Simmons over Embiid, but what really sets Embiid apart from Simmons is his ability to score. Simmons is a great passer, which is valuable, but what really matters is putting the ball in the basket.

Although Embiid is putting up a great stat line, it hasn’t translated into his team being one of the best in the NBA. They dropped to 8-6 after losing to the Grizzlies last night. They’ve still got a winning record, but you can see the struggles this team is having despite Embiid’s dominance down low.

I can’t forget to mention the trade the 76ers made yesterday to acquire SF Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves. I believe this will ultimately help the 76ers be one of the more dominant teams in the Eastern Conference and NBA. Unfortunately for Embiid, it may hurt his status as an NBA MVP candidate.

Butler will surely take away touches from Embiid, which will lower his scoring and potentially his assists. It also hurts him for the same reason I ranked Curry number four. Embiid now has two other stars who can be relied upon when he’s not having a good game.

Philadelphia should be a better team with Jimmy Butler, but it will be interesting to see what Embiid’s stats do with him around.

 

 

Who’s Your MVP?

Who would you put on your early NBA MVP rankings? Let us know by naming your top five in the comments!

2018-19 NBA Predictions: Atlantic Division

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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.

 

 

 

Can Joel Embiid Win MVP Next Season?

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Joel Embiid” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Joel Deering

“My goal going into the offseason was to get better. I want to win the MVP. I feel like at the end of the day it might be an individual award, but when I play better, the team also does. I feel like if I’m an MVP candidate or if I win the MVP, that means we are on another level.”

Joel Embiid has made it known he wants to win MVP next season, but is this even a realistic goal for the young Philadelphia 76ers star? Embiid has some good things going for him, but there are also some things standing in his way. Let’s take a look at the major factors that will determine if Embiid can be MVP next season.

Health

The first thing I think about when I think about the possibility of Joel Embiid winning MVP, is the health factor. In the two seasons Embiid has actually played in the NBA, he’s played 31 and 63 games. Both seasons have been cut short because of injuries. I can tell you right now, if Emiid only plays 63 or fewer games, he’s not winning MVP. You can’t miss a fourth of the season and win the award. His injuries were the reason he didn’t win rookie of the year, and it won’t be any different with MVP.

The last player to win MVP who missed that much time was LeBron James (62 games) when he won the award after the 2011-12 season. That was LeBron James, and Embiid is no LeBron. The last player before LeBron to win the award with not a full season of games played was Karl Malone (49 games), but it wasn’t because Malone was hurt, it was because of a lockout that season, so technically he did play a full season. There have been a few MVP’s who have played around 70 games, but most of the time MVP’s play games in the high 70’s or low 80’s. Embiid has yet to prove he can stay healthy for a full season, which will be a major factor in him winning MVP.

Talent

Joel Embiid is a talented player, but the talent he has to face is far above where he is at this point in his career. Some of the recent players to win MVP are James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. When I think about those players, I don’t put Joel Embiid in the same category as them. Embiid is good, but he’s not one of the best players in the league. With that being said, he’s only played two seasons in the NBA and he’s only 24 years old right, meaning his best seasons should be ahead of him.

Position

The position Embiid plays is a factor going against his chances to win MVP. The last time a center won MVP was after the 1999-2000 season. That player was Shaquille O’Neal. The last time a player who wasn’t a guard or small forward won the award was after the 2006-07 when Dirk Nowitzki won it as a power forward. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan are also some recent power forwards to win the award, but we’re talking about some of the best power forwards to ever play in the NBA with those names. Embiid isn’t in the same category with those guys yet, and he plays a position which rarely gets chosen as MVP.

Stats

Embiid averaged 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.6 steals, and 1.8 blocks last season. When Shaq won MVP as the last center to do so, he averaged 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.5 steals, and 3.0 blocks per game. Embiid isn’t super far off in some of those categories, but he’s not at that level. Four out of the last five MVP’s have averaged 30 points or more. Steph Curry was the only player of the last five years to average less than 30 points (23.8) and win MVP, but he led the best team in the NBA.

Team Record

Stats do matter in the MVP race, but so does team record. You can’t be on a bad team and win MVP, even if you do put up big stats. Joel Embiid helped his team earn the three seed in the Eastern Conference last season. It looks like he should be able to help his team get one of the top seeds in the conference again this season. The 76ers will be competing with teams such as the Raptors, Celtics, Wizards, Bucks, and Pacers for one of those top spots. I like their chances.

Most of the time, MVP’s need to lead their team to a top two seed in their conference and one of, if not the best record in the NBA. The recent exception to that was Russell Westbrook when he led his team to a six seed and still won the award, but he was the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double. Joel Embiid isn’t going to average a triple-double, so he has to lead his team to one of the best records in the NBA to even be considered for MVP. I think the 76ers will be a good team, but I’m not so sure about one of the very best teams in the NBA.

Can Embiid Win MVP?

Based on the information above, I’d say the odds are against Joel Embiid in his pursuit of being the league MVP next season. Can he win it? Yes. Will he win it next season? I don’t think so. If Joel Embiid is going to win MVP, I’d say it’s going to be at least two or three years down the road. Despite what I think, I’ll be keeping my eye on Embiid as next season goes on to gauge just how much of shot he really has at winning MVP.

Big 3’s in Modern Day History

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Miami Heat” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Aaron Young (Maverick Stampede)

When LeBron did his hour special to announce that “[he’s] taking [his] talents to South Beach,” he reincarnated the Big 3. He joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and talked BIG: “Not 1, not 2, not 3….” They didn’t get 7, but they did give Miami 2 years to remember with 2 rings to showcase. Since then players have created coalitions across the league in order to lift up the Larry O’Brien trophy, whether it be Big 3’s, 4’s or 5’s (Warriors).

Here we look at five Big 3’s in no order necessary, because that would be rather challenging and because the original Big 3 was already mentioned, they won’t be listed.

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144041_TW5_8878” by Disney | ABC Television Group is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
  1. LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving

The other Big 3 with LBJ. Wiggins was originally in this coalition before being traded for Kevin Love. When LBJ said, “I’m coming home,” Cleveland was ecstatic. The King took his throne back and delivered his promise of bringing the city a championship. Don’t forget the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals. As we know, Irving would eventually go to Boston and LBJ to LA, leaving a vulnerable Love up for trade consideration. Nevertheless, LBJ knows how to get the job done with recruiting.

  1. Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins

What is an article without some love for the Timberwolves? Despite tension between teammates and internal issues, these three are, for the time being, the core of the Timberwolves. Butler is a workhorse and top three two-way player in the game, while Towns is as promising as they come. Meanwhile, Wiggins is a beast to be reckoned with whenever he decides he isn’t bored and actually wants to play.

  1. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz (?)

I am not so certain about the last name being included here, but Fultz is more important to the Sixers than Dario Saric. Embiid is a monster in the paint and can shoot 3’s. Simmons has had comparisons to the King and shows no signs of inability to fill those shoes. The 76er’s have a bright future with rings to come.

  1. Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Russell Westbrook

This will more than likely not be the look for the Thunder, as it looks like Melo is either going to be a member of the Heat or Rockets. However, even with a knockout against Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz, these three did show signs of hope. PG13 announced he is OKC bound for four years. Westbrook is a future HoF member. We shall see what their future brings.

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Tony Parker (Spurs celebration 42)” by Jack is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  1. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili

One cannot simply write a blog about Big 3’s without the legends of San Antonio. Duncan is a top three PF in NBA history and a Hall of Famer. He is one of four players to have played for one team for 19+ years in NBA. Parker will not be finishing his career in SA, but the man made his mark on their history. Lastly, Manu Ginobili, aka the Bat killer, threw back the clock in the playoffs a few years ago. He can still drill 3’s, that’s got to be worth something.

Could This Actually Happen???

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LeBron James” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and “2013 Philadelphia 76ers” by Michael Tipton is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and…… LeBron James??? This sounds like something that could only happen in 2K, but it’s a lot more realistic than you think. LeBron James can opt out of his contract next season, and if rumors have anything to say about that, he will.

Most of the talk about LeBron leaving the Cavaliers has been focused around the Lakers, but there may be a surprise contender for the NBA’s best player. There’s been a recent report that the 76ers will target LeBron if he becomes a free agent. I was intrigued from the moment I saw this report, wondering if this would be a good move for LeBron.

After pondering how a move to Philadelphia would go for him, I feel that it would be a beneficial move. A move to the 76ers would put LeBron on a team he hoped to have when he came back to Cleveland to play with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and other young players the Cavs were building around. Below are three reasons why a move to the 76ers would make perfect sense for LeBron.

Younger, Better, More Capable Stars

This young 76ers team has more talent than the Cleveland team LeBron joined a few years back. What LeBron needs at this point in his career is to be surrounded by young stars who he can make better and who can lighten his load. LaMarcus Aldrige is the only 30 year or older player in the league (other than LeBron) who is averaging 20+ points per game right now.

Not only is LeBron one of two 30+ players to average 20+ points, but he’s the only Cavs player currently averaging over 20 points per game. Kevin Love has had some good games, but it’s typically LeBron James who is burdened with carrying the load. LeBron leads the Cavaliers in 4 out of 5 major statistical categories (Points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks). Kevin Love leads the Cavs is rebounds, but everything else is LeBron.

In those same statistical categories, guess which two players lead in all five for the 76ers. Emiid or Simmons lead in every single one. Embiid leads in points, rebounds, and blocks, while Simmons leads in assists and steals. In the points and rebounds category, Simmons is right behind Embiid.

On a 76ers team with Embiid and Simmons, LeBron would have two teammates capable of scoring 20+ points on any given night. Embiid currently averages 22.9 points per game. Simmons is averaging under 20 per game right now (18.6), but it’s his first NBA season and he’ll only get better.

Scoring is what most people see and care about, but basketball is more than scoring. With LeBron on this team, not only would there be 3 players capable of scoring 20+ points per game, but also 3 players capable of averaging 8+ rebounds, two players capable of averaging 7+ assists, 3 players capable of averaging 1+ steals, and 3 players capable of averaging 1+ blocks. Can you imagine the load taken off LeBron James?

Younger, Better, More Capable Supporting Cast

Not only are the 76ers star players younger and better than what the Cavs have, but their bench is also younger and better. We saw last year in the NBA Finals when the Cavaliers bench got outplayed by the Warriors. Why? The Cavs bench is old. Dwyane Wade, Channing Fyre, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon, etc.

The 76ers bench/role players consists of younger players such as Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, and more. LeBron James is one of few players who can play at an elite level at an older age. These young players he’s surrounded by would allow them to really compete with younger teams. He can’t continue to have a bench full of old players who get run out of the gym by the Warriors.

The one down side to having younger players, is having less experience. The 76ers are on the rise, but they don’t have a proven record of winning just yet. They’re still learning and gaining the necessary experience to become an elite team. The play, knowledge, and leadership of LeBron would most likely cancel that inexperience out though. It sure has in the past.

Stay in the Eastern Conference

Lets be honest, unless LeBron James joins the Warriors, he’s probably not going to the NBA Finals with a Western Conference team, especially not the Lakers. Of course there’s always a chance when you’ve got LeBron, but his chances would be much higher in the Eastern Conference.

Anyone who wants to win in the Eastern Conference must go through LeBron James, regardless of what team he’s on. Just like any team who acquires new players, it would probably take time for LeBron, Simmons, and Embiid to really learn how to play with each other, but as long as they had LeBron they’d be in great shape.

This Could Actually Happen

As of right now, we don’t really know how serious the 76ers are about targeting LeBron, but who wouldn’t want to target him? We also don’t know how serious LeBron would be about playing for the 76ers. It would make perfect sense for James.

LeBron told Ben Simmons “You have an opportunity to be better than me.” Playing along side James would help Simmons get to that point. If I’m LeBron, it would be very difficult to pass up an opportunity to play with someone I felt had a chance to be better than me. Who knows what LeBron is thinking at this point. We still have a long way to go before this story could get really interesting, but for now all we can is think about the possibility of what could be.

 

 

Sixers Becoming Contenders Slowly but Surely

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2013 Philadelphia 76ers” by Michael Tipton is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

BY JUSTABOYANDHISBLOG

The last time the 76ers finished with a record of .500 or above was in the 2011-2012 season. Since then, they’ve been one of the worst teams in the NBA. They’ve lost at least 60 games three times in the last five years. That has resulted in the 76ers having one of the top three picks in each of the last four drafts. They’ve used these picks to pick talented players such as Ben Simmons, Joel Emblid, Jahlil Okafor, and Markelle Fultz. The Sixers are hoping that these players can grow into franchise cornerstones.

Rebuilding in professional sports is never easy. For the Sixers it has been a long road. Early in the season they’ve shown signs of breaking through. The Sixers are 8-6 and have looked competitive early on. Embiid finally is healthy and in the midst of a breakout campaign. Embiid missed his rookie season due to an injury and only appeared in 31 games last year. So far this year, Embiid is averaging 23 points and 11.2 rebounds a game. He is not the only young Sixer turning heads. Ben Simmons, a former number one pick, is excelling this year. Like Embiid, Simmons missed all of his rookie season due to an injury. So far this year, Simmons is averaging 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 7.7 assists a game. These are the two the Sixers hope would help make them contenders again, and early on they have.

The Sixers also have other young talented players in Markelle Fultz and Robert Covington. The Sixers took Fultz with the first pick of the draft this year, however he has been unable to make an impact due to injury. Covington is in his fifth year in the NBA. He’s started the season off strong, as he is averaging 16.5 points a game.The Sixers roster also includes veterans such as Jerryd Bayless and J.J Reddick. This mix of young players and veterans could make the Sixers a playoff team again. The Eastern Conference is not as strong as the Western Conference, making it very possible for the Sixers to sneak into the playoff picture.

In order for that to happen, these young players must keep playing well. That is easier said than done since these players will go through growing pains. There will be games where their young core struggles. In those games, the true character of this team will show. That is not necessarily a negative thing, as these players must at times fail in order to adjust to the NBA. If they can learn and make adjustments, then this Sixers core will be fun to watch for years to come.

For the first time in years this franchise looks as if it’s ready to reach the next level. These young players are showing that they can be impact players in the NBA. This team will be tested in their next game as they will face the Golden State Warriors. That will be a difficult game, however this team has already showed that they plan on changing the narrative of losing surrounding this franchise.