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.

 

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.

Better fit for the Lakers: Kyrie or Kemba?

NBA Free Agency is one week away! Over the next week, the NBA world will be all in on the speculation of which stars go where. The Los Angeles Lakers have been talked about as one of the biggest free agent destinations all season long, but has become even more attractive after the team acquired Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. 

Since the acquisition of Davis, the Lakers have had their sights set on adding a third star to the mix. With a glaring hole at PG, two of their biggest targets this offseason will be Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker.

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

Both Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker are star PGs in the NBA, meaning there’s absolutely no chance the Lakers sign both of them. I don’t think they intend to even attempt to do so, but that makes the decision of who to sign that much more important.

We all know the Lakers are trying to bring a championship back to their city. In order to do so, they’ll have to make all the right moves this offseason. With Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker being their top targets, this decision is their biggest one, and they have to get it right.

With that in mind, which PG would bring the Lakers closer to a championship? Who’s the better fit next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis?

In order to answer these questions, I’m going to break down five categories of skills I believe the Lakers need from their third star. I’ll then break down which of these two star free agent PGs would be the better fit.

 

1. Health

Even with LeBron James leading the way, the Lakers missed the playoffs last season. A huge part of that was because of injuries. The biggest injury was to LeBron James, who missed a significant portion of the season. All together, LeBron missed 27 games, which was by far the most he’s missed in his career.

LeBron will come back healthy this season, and the Lakers have Anthony Davis now, but Davis isn’t necessarily the most reliable player when it comes to availability. Last season he only played in 56 games. Not all of those games were because of injury, but he still has an injury history we shouldn’t ignore. Prior to this most recent season, Davis played in 75 games two seasons in a row. That’s pretty good, but before those two seasons, Davis didn’t play in more than 68 games during a season.

With an injury history to Davis, the Lakers need a third star who will be available if Anthony Davis is not.

This one’s easy to evaluate, because Kyrie and Kemba came into the league during the same year. Since these two were drafted in 2011, Irving has played 508 games and Walker has played 605. Kemba Walker has played 97 more games than Kyrie Irving in the same amount of years. Walker has never played less than 62 games in his NBA career. Irving has played less than 60 games three times.

If the Lakers are looking for the guy with a greater chance to be available, Kemba Walker is their guy.

Advantage: Kemba Walker

 

2. Pure scoring ability

For this skill, we’re going to take a look at the scoring stats for both players.

  • Irving has career averages of 46.5 FG%, 39.0 3PT%, 49.8 2PT%, 87.5 FT% and 22.2 PPG.
  • Walker has career averages of 43.4 FG%, 35.7 3PT%, 45.2 2PT%, 83.5 FT% and 19.8 PPG.

Based on their career numbers, Kyrie Irving has the advantage as a scorer. Irving’s career numbers are better than Walker’s in every shooting category. Both players are great scorers, but Irving seems to be just one level above Walker.

We’ve seen several times throughout his career that Irving can score at will when he wishes to do so. We’ve seen Irving make big shot after big shot, even in the biggest moments. I’m not saying Walker hasn’t or can’t do this, but Irving’s numbers speak for themselves.

Advantage: Kyrie Irving

 

3. Defense

Kyrie Irving has always been known as a guy who’s not great on the defensive end. Kemba Walker also isn’t one of the better defenders at the PG position. Neither of these guys are great defenders, but does one of them hold an advantage? For this skill, I’m going to be looking at steals, blocks and defensive rebounds. Yes, rebounds count as defense. Let’s compare career averages.

  • Kyrie Irving: 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks and 2.9 defensive rebounds.
  • Kemba Walker: 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks and 3.3 defensive rebounds.

The defensive numbers for Irving and Walker are pretty much identical. Neither guy has been known for their defense during their time in the league. With these career numbers, neither guy has the advantage here.

No Advantage

 

4. Assists

This skill is interesting. Kyrie Irving has been known as a ball hog type player for much of his career, while Kemba Walker hasn’t ever had that type of reputation. It’s funny Irving gets that type of reputation, because he has a better career average in assists than Walker does.

Irving’s career assist number is 5.7 per game. Walker’s career assist number is 5.5 per game. Both guys are in the same general area when it comes to this category. Walker has had one season in which he averaged less than five assists per game, which came in his rookie season. Irving has also had just one season in which he averaged less than five assists per game, which came in the 15-16 season.

When it comes to seasons in which these two have had more than six assists, Walker has one and Irving has two. Neither of these guys are considered the premier passers in game, but both are more than capable of creating for their team.

The reason this skill is important for the Lakers to consider, is because LeBron James can’t be the only guy who creates shots for his teammates. Anthony Davis can create shots from the post, but he’s not going to be the primary shot creator. When LeBron isn’t on the floor, the Lakers will need a guy who can create shots. Lucky for them, both of these guys are capable of doing the job.

No Advantage

 

5. Ability to elevate a team

This is perhaps the most important skill of them all. LeBron James and Anthony Davis aren’t going to be able to be on the floor at all times. When they’re not on the floor, the Lakers need a guy who can elevate the players around him.

Kyrie Irving has never really been a guy who can elevate his team. Before LeBron James returned to Cleveland, Kyrie Irving never made the playoffs. Granted, he was still a very young player, but he never even came close to a playoff appearance until LeBron came back.

Since going to Boston, Irving has taken the Celtics to the playoffs both years. However, he seemed to be more of a hassle for them rather than a guy to elevate them. During his first playoff appearance with the Celtics, Irving was injured. The Celtics, without Irving, gave LeBron James a heck of a time in the Eastern Conference Finals. When Kyrie was playing in his second playoff appearance with the Celtics, they didn’t even make it close to the Eastern Conference Finals.

On the other side, Kemba Walker has only been to the playoffs twice in his career. Both times he was in the playoffs, his team lost in the first round. That doesn’t look great when talking about elevating a team, but we have to consider how well those teams would have done without him.

We just talked about how the Celtics seemed to be better when Irving was out. That’s not the case with Walker and the Hornets. Without Kemba Walker, the Hornets would likely be one of the worst teams in the league. They wouldn’t be anywhere near the playoffs. It’s only because of Walker that the Hornets are anywhere near relevant. It’s not his fault the Hornets have failed to put players around him.

I can only imagine how much Walker could elevate a team when he has legit players to help him out.

Advantage: Kemba Walker

 

Recap

Kemba Walker got the advantage in two categories, while Irving got the advantage in just one. The other two categories were ruled no advantage. Therefore, Kemba Walker gets the nod as the PG who’d be a better fit for the Lakers.

I believe his ability to stay healthy and elevate a team outweigh Irving’s ability to score. Walker isn’t that far behind Irving in that category anyway. I believe that if the Lakers are going to pursue one of these guys, it should be Kemba Walker.

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.

 

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.

NBA Trade Deadline: Anthony Davis edition

February 7th, also known as the best day of the NBA year, is only a few days away. This date is of course the NBA trade deadline.

Anthony Davis” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Every year, deals are finalized up until the very last second of the 3PM cutoff time. NBA trade deadline day is very telling, as you see who the buyers and sellers are. We see which teams are making moves to try to win a championship and which teams are directing their attention towards the draft. This year, all the attention is centered around Anthony Davis, the all-star forward for the New Orleans Pelicans who requested a trade via his agent Rich Paul. Before you read on, I suggest you read my previous article about Davis to get familiarized with his contract and some potential landing spots.

Since Davis’ trade request, the three words attached to his name were “Los Angeles Lakers.” The reason that is the case is due to a combination of the following: LeBron saying in December he would like to play with Davis, LeBron and Davis having dinner together after New Orleans’ game in LA, and the most obvious and important reason, Davis is represented by Rich Paul. He also happens to represent LeBron and conveniently is LeBron’s best friend. So why don’t we just put a purple and gold jersey on Davis now and stop the impending drama over the next few days? Let me tell you why.

 

NBA Trade Deadline: Where will Anthony Davis end up?

As I said in my previous article, the only shot, I believe, the Lakers have to sign Anthony Davis is if it occurs before February 7th. After that, I would bet my money on Davis being traded to the Celtics this summer. Since my previous article, there have been two key developments that throw a big wrench in this Lakers-Celtics debate. The first is Kyrie Irving’s recently renewed interest in playing with LeBron again. The other being this extremely intriguing desire for a few capable team’s in the NBA to attempt a one year rental of Anthony Davis in order to try to win a championship this season. I will break each of these down in more detail in the following paragraphs.

So everyone saw LeBron’s IG story where he was singing Fetty Wap’s song Rewind while tagging Kyrie right? Well, for those who didn’t see it or those who did not understand that sentence, all you need to know are the lyrics LeBron sang: “I know you’re with him now, but soon you will be mine, If I could bring it back, I’ll probably press rewind.” TAMPERING! Tampering, tampering, tampering! Do you think Adam Silver will hear me if I climb to the top of Mount Everest and broadcast it on all radio stations?

It’s remarkable that coach’s get fined for even mentioning a player’s name. Many coaches nowadays even hold off on complimenting an opposing player with the fear of a possible tampering charge. Yet LeBron, the most powerful figure in all of sports today, and possibly ever, can publicly recruit Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving with no repercussions. Radio silence. Well, it appears that multiple sources have confirmed Kyrie is interested in a potential ‘rewind’ with LeBron, even after he made that touching commercial with his dad about how he wants his #11 jersey to hang in the rafters at TD Garden.

The world would truly come full circle if Irving and LeBron reunited. But wait, how would that work with Kyrie thinking the world is flat? The interesting development here is that Kyrie and his designated contract are the exact reason the Celtics cannot trade for Davis until the offseason. Does anyone think that due to this new Kyrie report, Danny Ainge is now in talks with the Pelicans discussing a trade that would INCLUDE Kyrie for Davis? Seriously, the man traded Isaiah Thomas the summer after Thomas played through the heartbreaking loss of his sister and carried the Celtics through the postseason. So yeah, I think Ainge is absolutely having these conversations.

 

Davis a one year rental?

Now to my favorite part of this story, the one year rental for a run at an NBA title. Whereas many are comparing the possibility of a one year rental to that of Paul George a few years ago, I see it differently. There is no way Davis goes to a team outside of Boston or LA and falls in love and decides to sign a long-term contract. So the only play here is to trade a bunch of assets for Davis right now, play with him for hopefully five months, then trade him to LA or Boston this summer and get a bunch of assets back similar to the ones initially traded.

Which teams have the borderline championship potential and are in a position to pull off this kind of deal? I can think of three teams: the Portland Trail Blazers, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors. The addition of Davis to Milwaukee or Toronto all but guarantees them an NBA Finals birth coming from the Eastern Conference. Stop reading for a minute and imagine Giannis and Davis on the floor at the same time. Really think about it. If you are a fan of any of the 29 other teams in the NBA, you should be scared. That duo would wreak havoc on the league and be unstoppable against any frontcourt.

In Toronto, Davis would be paired with Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors would have two of the top five players in the league on the floor at once. The risk for the Raptors here is that both Kawhi and Davis would most likely leave this offseason. Then Toronto would probably be in a full rebuild mode. It would be an all or nothing mindset for Toronto and a risk I’m not sure they should take. The Trail Blazers would immediately become a threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference and give Dame Dolla a much-needed star big man to replace the void left by LaMarcus Aldridge a few years earlier. It would seem that Portland would have to part ways with CJ McCollum, which obviously could cause some chemistry issues, but could be worth if the Trail Blazers are still playing come June.

 

Where will Davis land?

Obviously the only question left is, what team will Anthony Davis be a member of come February 8th? The feeling I have is that Davis will be a Los Angeles Laker. The obliteration of small market franchises will continue in the NBA. Although, maybe this makes up for the vetoed trade of Chris Paul from New Orleans to Los Angeles in 2011. I would have given my left pinky toe to see Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul play together, but I digress. The smart play would be for New Orleans to hold on to Davis through the end of this season, because the Lakers’ trade deadline offer will absolutely still be available to the Pelicans come summer. And why not start a bidding war between the Magic Johnson and Danny Ainge to get an even better trade offer? I mean, to me it is a no brainer (#Bieber) the Pelicans should force Magic Johnson’s hand and reject any offer at the trade deadline. Whatever the outcome, enjoy the fun over the next few days. Come February 8th, the rosters are set for the race towards the Larry O’Brien trophy.

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.

Welcome to the Anthony Davis sweepstakes

Anthony Davis is a top five player in the NBA and has become the recent talk of the country due to his name coming out of LeBron James’ mouth. Anything LeBron says or does automatically tops the A-block and first 20 minutes on Sportscenter. I’m sure everyone saw the Jarrett Allen block on LBJ last week that provided us with mind numbing statistics. LeBron has attempted over 1800 dunks in the NBA and has only been blocked nine times. I somewhat feel bad for Allen, considering LeBron is going to murder him next time he contests a dunk.

Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I digress, this is about Anthony Davis, the perennial all-star forward for the New Orleans Pelicans who currently leads the NBA in player efficiency rating (PER) and win shares. PER is a complicated formula, but in its most basic form, PER attempts to combine all the positive plays (points, rebounds, assists) and all the negative plays (turnovers, fouls, missed shots) a player has throughout the duration of a game. As the title says, PER measures how efficient a player is while on the court. Win shares, similarly, is complicated. The end goal is to award a player credit for how much the individual contributes to a teams’ wins. So in theory, based off of these two measurements, Anthony Davis can be considered the best player in the league, statistically at least.

It’s easy to forget Anthony Davis is only 25 years old. It feels like he has been in the league for a long time. Combine Davis’s age with his contract, which is set to expire at the end of next season, and you have the most desired future free agent by all 30 teams. Obviously, the two teams Davis is immediately linked to are the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Bitter rivals who are both starving to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The key to the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, in my opinion, is what happens in the next five months. Whether or not Davis is traded in the next five months will determine what team he plays for after the Pelicans. Even with Alvin Gentry adamantly stating every time he’s in front of a microphone Davis will absolutely not be traded, even for the likes of Beyoncé, sometimes that decision is out of his hands.

Anthony Davis’ situation reminds me a lot of Kawhi Leonard’s last season. Kawhi and Davis both have very quiet temperaments off the court and are not outspoken. However, they both seem to be looking towards a future on the West Coast. The Lakers have been linked to Davis ever since he signed with Klutch Sports this year, where he is now represented by LeBron James’ close friend Rich Paul. The Lakers seem like an ideal landing spot. However, Magic Johnson needs to stop playing hardball like he is perpetually in the driver’s seat.

Two years ago, with Paul George’s free agency looming, the Lakers low balled the Indiana Pacers in trade talks, as George had expressed his desire to go to Los Angeles at the end of his contract. Fast forward one year of George playing in Oklahoma City on what was thought to be a rental prior to LA. George just signed a long-term extension with the Thunder. Kawhi Leonard also expressed desire, in his own unique way, to play in Los Angeles. The Spurs traded him to Toronto to play out the last year of his contract. The Raptors took a shot on the one year rental like the Thunder did with George.

Currently, the Raptors are handedly the first seed in the Eastern Conference and many are speculating Leonard will remain with Toronto after this season. Has Magic learned nothing from these situations? He is no longer the intimidating player he was on the court; he is in a new game where he is inexperienced. Outside of acquiring LeBron, which honestly wasn’t that challenging, Magic has not been good as a general manager. If he loses out on Anthony Davis, I think he should be fired for not developing in the GM game.

So why is five months all the time Magic has when Anthony Davis won’t be a free agent for 18 months? Well, Anthony Davis is a designated player. A designated player is, simply put, a player that a team can offer a five year-contract coming off of their rookie deal as opposed to the regular four year extension. It is the Derrick Rose rule essentially. Each NBA team is only allowed to have one designated player contract on their roster.

Guess who has a designated player contract: the Boston Celtics. Guess who doesn’t: the Los Angeles Lakers. Kyrie Irving is currently on his designated player contract until the end of this season, which means Boston has no possible way of acquiring Davis prior to this summer. With the Celtics loaded with future draft picks and young, intriguing talent, it would appear they could make New Orleans the best godfather offer and pry the crown jewel, Anthony Davis, from Alvin Gentry’s hands. If Davis is on the Pelicans’ roster at season’s end, the Lakers will not be acquiring him over Boston in a trade. I can say that with certainty. Their only hope would be in 2020 free agency, but I doubt Boston lets him get to that point.

What can Los Angeles do right now? The Lakers have some impressive young talent of their own. Even though it would severely deplete their roster, they need to offer New Orleans any player they want outside of LeBron. The obvious trade bait players are Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart. All these players are young and serviceable. Some have higher upside than others, but none will turn out to be the player Davis is.

The Los Angeles Lakers are not a rebuilding organization. That city demands immediate results. Can you imagine a “Trust the Process” period for the Lakers? Of course not. So, what is Magic Johnson waiting on? With the future potential G.O.A.T. and the statistical best player in the league on the same floor, the Lakers would be the odds on favorites to win the NBA Championship THIS season. LeBron would most likely extend his consecutive Finals appearances to nine. No player besides LeBron should be untouchable. Magic Johnson should do everything in his power to acquire Davis while Danny Ainge and his East Coast rivals are stuck in limbo.