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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Warriors key to beating Raptors lies in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals

In Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals, the San Antonio Spurs held a 23 point lead on the Golden State Warriors in the third quarter. Everything looked as though the Spurs were going up 1-0 in the series. That was until Zaza Pachulia made one of the dirtiest plays in recent NBA history, landing directly under Kawhi Leonard after “contesting” a shot. We all know what happened next…… the Warriors went on to win the series, and eventually another NBA championship. 

Warriors
Players from the 2011-12 Golden State Warriors warming up prior to the tip-off of their exhibition opener at Oracle Arena against the Sacramento Kings.” by Amin Eshaiker is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

2017 Western Conference Finals Game 1

As soon as the then Spurs superstar, Kawhi Leonard, left the game due to injury, the Warriors went on an 18-0 run. Shortly after that run, the Warriors took the lead, and eventually went on to win Game 1 113-111.

The moment Kawhi Leonard left that series, was the moment the Warriors won it. As the Warriors are now facing a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to another Kawhi Leonard team, there remains hope. Unfortunately, the hope they have to win another championship this season would come with a lack of sportsmanship, professionalism, and any sort of human decency.

What is that hope? “Accidentally” hurting Kawhi Leonard.

It pains me to say this, but if the Warriors want to win another championship, taking Kawhi Leonard out of the series may be their only shot. Being down 3-1, there has to be some sort of memory coming back to the Warriors of the last time they took down a Kawhi led team who was badly beating them. With Kevin Durant hurt, Klay Thompson not at full strength, and a team that’s just not performing as they’re expected to, hurting Kawhi Leonard may be their only hope.

 

How do they make it look like an accident?

How could the Warriors make hurting Kawhi Leonard look like an accident? With Durant already out and Thompson still not 100%, we know they can’t afford to lose another key player. If they’re going to do this, they won’t be doing it with a player like Steph Curry of Draymond Green.

If the Warriors did go this direction, they’ll use a player they don’t care about, just like they did when Zaza took down Kawhi in 2017. It could be a player like Andrew Bogut or Jonas Jerebko, to name a couple guys.

 

Why this would work

If Kawhi Leonard just happened to get hurt and leave the game, or series, who’s going to elevate the Raptors over the Warriors? Kyle Lowry is a good player. Pascal Siakam is a good player. Marc Gasol is a good player. Toronto has a lot of good players, but they don’t have another player on the same level as Kawhi Leonard.

As we’ve seen in every game so far this series, Kawhi Leonard can make a huge impact for the Raptors even if he’s not putting up 30+ points. With Kawhi in the game, it forces the Warriors to focus on him. That automatically opens things up for guys like Lowry, Siakam and Gasol.

Take out their superstar, win the series.

Just look at what happened in 2017. Kawhi leaves the series, leaving LaMarcus Aldridge as their main guy. Aldridge is a good player, but he was nowhere near good enough to take down the Warriors.

 

Should they do this?

The answer to this question is a hard no. If the Warriors were to do this, it would be the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in sports. It’s just wrong to do something like this. I feel bad just thinking about the possibility of this even happening!

If the Warriors want to play the game the right way, they can’t do this. I’m not saying I think they will do this, but I’m also putting everyone on alert. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Warriors player “accidentally” hurts Kawhi Leonard in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

I still have no doubt that the Spurs would have won the 2017 Western Conference Finals had Kawhi played that entire series. If Kawhi plays the rest of the NBA Finals this year, I have no doubt the Raptors will be the NBA champs. However, if Kawhi goes down, the fate of his team will be the same as the Spurs team who made the 2017 WCFs.

D'Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry

Is D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry?

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

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

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

 

1. Three-pointers

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. Points and assists per game

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

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

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

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

 

3. All-Star games

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

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

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

 

4. Team success

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

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

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

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

 

5. Being ‘the guy’

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

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

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

 

D’Angelo Russell the next Steph Curry?

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

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

The Point God: Western Conference

The NBA has changed from the old ways, where the game was played from the inside out with big bruisers and star centers. Teams built around players like Russell and Wilt to Kareem and then Shaq. Nowadays, the game is played from the outside in, with guards running the show and everyone looking for the next Steph Curry.

Stephen Curry” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Referecing my previous article, this may be why Atlanta felt the desire to trade Luka Doncic for Trae Young on draft night. Regardless of the reasons, ball-dominant players are what teams build around today. Due to that, I am going to break down the best point guards in each conference to determine who the Point God is. First up, the Western Conference. (Note: players are listed in no particular order.)

 

Stephen Curry

Team: Golden State Warriors
Shooting: A+, Maybe the greatest shooter to ever step foot on a basketball court.
Rebounding: C, Not a main part of his game and he knows this.
Assists: B, Can make impressive passes, but is generally a shoot first point guard.
Basketball IQ: B+, His court vision and playmaking abilities are somewhat hidden by his impressive shooting.
Contribution to team’s success: B, This may be a point of contention, but the Warriors are a very system structured team. With Steph on the bench, Durant can still run the offense. When Quinn Cook plays, the team shifts their playing style to support his strengths.

Chris Paul

(*As I am only choosing one player from each team, Harden is being excluded since I consider Paul more of a true point guard.)
Team: Houston Rockets
Shooting: B+, Three point shooting is not his number one strength, but he plays aware of that and gets off his mid range jumper.
Rebounding: B-, Not as great of a rebounder as his grade may show, but his effort on the glass does not go unnoticed.
Assists: A-, I believe Paul is on of the best pure passers in the game right next to LeBron. He is a pass first point guard and plays the point guard position as it should be played.
Basketball IQ: A, The banana boat connection is real, because Paul is probably the second smartest player in terms of basketball IQ currently in the league.
Contribution to team’s success: A-, The team is showing resolve in his absence currently, but Harden is scoring astronomical numbers. Can that really last? Paul’s absence was clearly seen in the Western Conference Finals last season.

Russell Westbrook

Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Shooting: C-, This might even be a generous grade, but it doesn’t stop Westbrook from putting up a lot of shots.
Rebounding: A, Russell is the best rebounding guard in the league, even if his teammates occasionally let him grab the easy boards.
Assists: A+, He currently leads the NBA in assists and is always top five.
Basketball IQ: B-, Russ sees the game fairly well, but doesn’t always make the best decision for the team.
Contribution to team’s success: B, Even with his unheard of stat lines, the Thunder seem to perform well when he is on the bench. Could be vital for a deep playoff run.

Damian Lillard

Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Shooting: A, Dame is steadily one of the best shooting point guards in the league, especially in crunch time.
Rebounding: C+, Not a main part of his game, as he saves energy for shooting.
Assists: B+, C.J. and Dame are the main scorers for this team, but Dame shares the ball more when his fellow guard is on the bench.
Basketball IQ: B, His decision making can be questioned at times, but a lack of supporting cast usually covers for his mistakes.
Contribution to team’s success: A-, The backcourt for the Trail Blazers makes this team run. Without one or the other, it is tough for Portland to consistently win.

Jrue Holiday

Team: New Orleans Pelicans
Shooting: B+, Has a good shot, but his around the rim and mid range game is stronger than his three point shooting.
Rebounding: B-, Anthony Davis dominates the boards in New Orleans, which doesn’t create much opportunity for Jrue.
Assists: A-, Jrue makes great passes look routine and has been know for his passing prowess since he came into the league with the Philadelphia 76ers. This season he is averaging a career-high 8.3 assists per game.
Basketball IQ: A-, The court vision for Jrue has developed with age. Whereas with the Sixers, he may have received a B or B- grade, his maturity has helped in his game play.
Contribution to team’s success: B+, The Pelicans go as Anthony Davis goes, but with the lack of a serviceable backup point guard, Jrue is key in Anthony Davis getting his stats up.

Honorable Mention: Derrick Rose and De’Aaron Fox

Derrick Rose’s resurgence in Minnesota is the reason I added him to this list. His main strengths are scoring and basketball IQ. I think similar to Jrue, Derrick’s IQ has grown exponentially since his rookie season. That’s why he is an important role player in Minnesota. Rose is continuing to improve his game late in his career, as his three point percentage is a remarkable, career-high 46.2% this season.

De’Aaron Fox, the young buck for the Sacramento Kings, is the self-proclaimed fastest player in the NBA. Is that shot a Russell Westbrook? Fox can get to the rim at will and makes great passes due to his ability to space the floor and draw defender’s attention. If he develops an outside shot, he could become a superstar in the making.

Who is the Point God of the Western Conference?

I think that is an extremely subjective question, and one that the answer will vary for almost everyone you ask. But, if I were in the GM chair and had just one season, I would choose Chris Paul to lead my team at point guard. I understand Paul is injury prone, and at the time of this article, of course, he hasn’t played in months due to a recurring hamstring injury. However, there is something to be said about the way he plays the position of point guard.

The question I asked was not who is the best player or who can score the most points, it was who is the best ‘point guard.’? Many of the point guards in this article, and all over the league nowadays, are shoot first guards who bring the ball up the court. Paul plays the position to its’ purest definition and has an incredibly high basketball IQ, which helps all of his teammates play better.

 

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!

Giannis vs Curry: A Finals Preview?

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

Giannis Ante…well, okay. Let’s be honest: we’re on a first name basis with this guy right now. Giannis proved he and his Milwaukee Bucks can hang with the best competition the NBA has to offer.

From the onset of their game against the Golden State Warriors, the Bucks were engaged, confident and dominant. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is right: the Warriors practically sleepwalked through what should have at least been a close contest at Oracle Arena.

Some Eyebrow Raising Stats:

  • Two-time MVP Steph Curry? 10 points.
  • Former MVP Kevin Durant? 17 points.
  • Even Klay Thompson, with his team leading 24 points, didn’t exactly have a standout performance.
  • The Bucks also outscored the Warriors in each of the first three quarters. At Oracle, no less.

What makes this matchup particularly fascinating is how Giannis and Curry are both unlikely NBA stars who took two very different journeys to reach the pinnacle of their profession.

The subject of a compelling 60 Minutes segment, Giannis grew up in Greece, miles and miles from NBA stardom. Through size, talent and hard work, Giannis became a phenomenon.

What Should Put the Rest of the NBA on Notice?

  • Giannis is 23 years old. 23! All 6’11″ of him.
  • Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James? 30, 30 and 33 years old, respectively.

Giannis has the talent, maturity and discipline to dominate for years to come, provided he stays healthy. Giannis came from relative poverty. Curry came from relative privilege.

Steph Curry will end his career as the greatest shooter from distance the game of basketball has ever seen. Better than Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, you name ‘em, Curry can best ‘em. In terms of physical makeup, Steph Curry is more of an “underdog” than Giannis, who has a wingspan of over seven feet.

Curry makes average people believe that, if they could shoot the basketball like him, they too could become one of the best basketball players on the planet. But the Baby-Faced Assassin is the son of a former NBA player, making his journey to the top of the sport a bit more understandable.

So, what are the odds Giannis and Curry meet in the NBA Finals this season? LeBron and the Lakers likely won’t be a hindrance to Curry’s Warriors – at least, not this season. Who else in the Western Conference can challenge the Warriors? The Houston Rockets have seemed off since the beginning of the season, Gregg Popovich’s Spurs have some retooling to do, and does anyone really expect the Portland Trail Blazers to be able to best Curry and Durant come playoff time?

The Bucks may have a trickier road to the Finals than the Golden State Warriors. Currently sitting at 12-1, the Toronto Raptors are a force to be reckoned with. The 76ers have plenty of young talent, and could potentially give the Bucks some headaches. Even more so after they made the trade for Jimmy Butler.

Perhaps the most potent threat to the Bucks this season are the Boston Celtics. Although they haven’t had the greatest start to their season, Brad Stevens has a talented, seasoned team that should get better as the season goes on.

If the Bucks and Warriors do meet in the Finals, we can expect a tightly contested series with plenty of intriguing storylines. Is Giannis able to carry his team through the grind of the postseason? Will Curry and Durant show signs of aging?

What does the future of the NBA look like? If the rise of the “Greek Freak” is any indication, we could be witnessing an exciting NBA season, unlike any other. To Curry and the Warriors, I pose a simple question: Are you ready?

 

 

Takeaways From Game 3 of the 2018 NBA Finals

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LeBron James” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

LeBron James Might Have to Leave Cleveland if He Wants to Win Another Championship

Cleveland is now down 3-0 in the NBA Finals, and are on the verge of getting swept. Even if the Cavs do win Game 4 or possibly Game 5, they’re not going to be the NBA Champions this year. I wouldn’t put it past LeBron to overcome being down 3-0 based on what we’ve seen him do before, but I would put it past pretty much every other Cavaliers player. With how the Warriors and some of these other teams are built or are being built, LeBron James isn’t going to win another championship if he stays in Cleveland. The only way he can stay and win is by recruiting other stars to come play there with him, but I doubt that will happen. There have been rumors that LeBron James could go to the Warriors this offseason, and honestly, he might have to if he wants to win more championships. He’s the best player in the world, and he’s already brought one championship to Cleveland, but there’s only so much he can do with the players he has surrounding him right now. If LeBron does go to a team like the Warriors, it could really ruin the NBA, but he may just have to do it if he wants a lighter load and more championships.

Rodney Hood Should Have Been Playing This Whole Time

So why hasn’t Rodney Hood been playing again? He finally got his chance in Game 3 and he made the most of it. Hood played 26 minutes in Game 3 and scored 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Hood showed his ability to create his own shot, which is something the Cavaliers could have used earlier in this series. There’s a reason why LeBron usually has to create all the shots. It’s because they can’t do it themselves. Playing Hood obviously didn’t turn into a win for the Cavaliers, but it did show them he can be a valuable player for this team. He should continue getting opportunities for as long as the series goes on, especially with the way some Cavs are shooting right now.

These Refs Are Just Bad

If you’ve read my past two articles for Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals, you know how I feel about these refs. They’ve made terrible calls, mostly against the Cavaliers. I was hoping something would change after they’ve taken so much heat from the sports world, but no. Things continued to be called in favor of the Golden State Warriors. What I’m mostly referring to this time is the free throws. Going into half time, the Cavaliers hadn’t shot a single free throw, while the Warriors had shot 13 free throws. That’s just wrong. I was watching that game the entire time, and I refuse to believe the Cavaliers weren’t fouled while shooting at least one time during the first half of this game. Cleveland did end up shooting 17 free throws in the second half, which evened out the free throw attempts for both teams, but still, 0 free throws in a half of basketball? Come on refs.

Kevin Durant Wants His Doubters to Shut Up About How He Wins Championships

Ever since Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors, he’s had more and more doubters. A lot of people have said he can’t win a championship by himself. One of those people is me, I’ll admit it. It is kinda true because he could never win one with the Thunder and then joined three other all-stars to win his first, but last night Durant showed his ability to be a true champion. Steph Curry scored 11 points on 3-of-16 shooting last night, while Klay Thompson scored 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting. While Steph and Klay were having terrible nights, Durant scored 43 points and hit multiple daggers to put Cleveland away. Yes, he does get a lot of help most nights, but last night the champion inside Kevin Durant came out. Anyone who doubts Kevin Durant as an NBA Champion should doubt him a little less right now.

Steph Curry Probably Ruined His Shot at Winning Finals MVP

After the first two games of this series, there was a lot of talk about who would be the Finals MVP. It looked like Steph Curry was the front runner for the award after he had 29 and 33 points in the first two games. Last night was different. Steph scored 11 points, while his teammate Kevin Durant went off for 43 points. In my opinion, this 11 point performance ruined Curry’s chance at winning Finals MVP. Kevin Durant took over big time last night and put himself in the drivers seat to win the award. He’s now scored 26, 26, and 43 in three games. Sorry Steph, but it looks like you still won’t be a Finals MVP.

 

Stephen Curry Will Win Finals MVP

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Stephen Curry” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By clippersbasketball

Before continuing I want to say I am assuming the Golden State Warriors will win the NBA Finals. With them being up 2-0 in the series, it makes things very difficult for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Games 1 and 2 didn’t go well for the Cavaliers, and many people expect the remainder of the NBA Finals to be the same way. Even though the Cavs are down 2-0, there has been debate about who should win the Finals MVP award. Many people think it should be LeBron James because of how well he is playing and how much he does for his team. Another popular name is Stephen Curry, who has yet to win a Finals MVP award. Here’s why Curry will win the Finals MVP award this year over LeBron and everyone else in the NBA Finals.

Why LeBron James Will Not Win Finals MVP

After LeBron James’ 51 point explosion in Game 1, many were saying that he would be the first player since Jerry West to win Finals MVP in a loss. LeBron is the best player in these Finals, but I doubt that the NBA would give a player on the losing team the Finals MVP.  If they were to do it again, I think they would have done this last year when LeBron averaged a triple-double in the NBA Finals. The reason that Jerry West won Finals MVP in 1969 is due to the fact that the award was new. The award was established in 1969, so it was unsure if the winner or the best player, in general, should receive the award. Alas like the regular season MVP, they decided that they should award winning and have since then have only given the award to winners of the Finals. That is why I think LeBron James will not be awarded the Finals MVP regardless of his stats.

Why Stephen Curry Will Win Finals MVP

Stephen Curry has yet to win a Finals MVP, even though many thought he should have won in 2015 instead of Andre Iguodala. Then in 2017, Steph had a very impressive stat line of 26.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 9.4 assists, and 2.2 steals on 44% from the field. Sadly he was outshined by teammate Kevin Durant’s 35.2 points, 8.2 points, 5.4 assists, and 1.6 blocks on 55.6% from the field, 47.4% from the arc, and 92.7% from the line. However, this year is very different and I think Curry has a good chance at winning Finals MVP. He is averaging 31 points, 6.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists on 44.9% from the field, 50% from the arc, and 100% from the line. Curry and LeBron are the only players averaging over 30 points per game in these NBA Finals. Curry also just broke Ray Allen’s record of most threes in an NBA Finals game when he hit 9 threes in Game 2 while still shooting above 50%. If Curry can keep up this pace for the rest of the NBA Finals, then there is no doubt in my mind that Stephen Curry will win his first Finals MVP award.