NBA Offseason Grades: Pacific Division

gs warriors champs

Welcome to the final part of my 6 part series of NBA Offseason Grades! If you’ve been keeping up with series, I thank you for lending me your time and patience. If you’re just joining us now, well, better late than never!

For the newbies:

I’ve taken it upon myself to evaluate each team’s offseason transactions. I’ve given each team a letter grade based on whether or not I thought they made good moves considering their respective situations. This includes the draft, resigning period, free agency, trades, firings/hirings, and anything else I deem important. Most importantly, I answer the one pivotal question: Are they better?

I’ve unintentionally saved the most entertaining division for last, as today we discuss the Pacific Division. This division has given us so much in regards to entertainment value since June. We’ve seen a team make NBA history, free agency masquerading as a romantic comedy, the fall of an empire, and Vivek Ranadivé doing Vivek Ranadivé things!

This was awesome!

If you missed it:

Atlantic Division Grades

Southeast Division Grades

Central Division Grades

Northwest Division Grades

Southwest Division Grades

Key: 

  • (R): Rookie
  • (DnS): Draft-n-Stash – players drafted, but playing overseas next year
  • (D): Draft-n-Stash player joining the team
  • Bolded Names: Particularly notable players

And we start with our reigning Pacific Division/NBA Champions:

Golden State Warriors: A+

Re-signed: Leondro Barbosa, Draymond Green

Lost: Justin Holiday, Ognjen Kuzmic, David Lee

Acquired: Chris Babb, Jason Thompson, Gerald Wallace

Drafted: Kevon Looney

Other notable moves: N/A

What did they even do?

Exactly.

The disease of more* runs rampant through championship teams across all sports; and the presence of a salary cap keeps this concept a reality. Winning a championship was great, but the iron is hot. And once the team actually climbs the mountain, self goals often take over for team goals. Players want more money, more playing time, more recognition, a bigger role, etc. And so we see key cogs end up taking huge contracts from other teams and then they disappear, with their new money, into irrelevance; all while their former team struggles to defend their title.

*NOTE: “The disease of more” was coined by Don Pat Riley in his book “Showtime.”

Golden State’s team management were able to avoid the disease of more; at least during this offseason.

Of the 5 team free agents that Golden State needed to make a decision on, only 2 were regular rotation guys. Draymond Green may have gotten a huge raise (5-years/$82 million), but his value to the Warriors is actually fairly represented by his max contract; therefore, is exempt from this rule. And Leandro Barbosa (1-year/$2.5 million) is coming back on a very team-friendly deal.

The David Lee salary dump was a way for Golden State management to save money on the luxury tax. Lee is a solid player, but he really didn’t fit in Steve Kerr’s system anyway. He only played 904 minutes in 49 regular season games in 2014-15 (both career lows), and really only had a cup of coffee in the NBA Finals. Lee may be a good guy to have in your foxhole, but the Warriors certainly don’t need him to defend their title.

(Image from USA Today) Yup, the Warriors are bringing back everyone [who matters].

The drafting of Kevon Looney with the 30th pick sparked a little debate due to the prospect’s health issues (he had offseason hip surgery). This doesn’t worry the Warriors, though. They’re super deep and Looney is likely to ride the pine his rookie season anyway. However, he was expected to be a lottery pick before the report of his surgery surfaced the day of the draft. This makes Looney one of those low-risk/high-reward draft picks. And considering the personnel that the Warriors are boasting next season, they’ll have time to wait on Looney.

So management did their part in avoiding the disease of more. The Warriors will be bringing back just about everyone who mattered on an NBA championship team that boasted one of the 4 best regular seasons of all time. Golden State was right not to tinker with the roster. In this case, less is more. And now we’ll wait and see if Steve Kerr can keep the disease of more at bay during the regular season.

The Warriors may not have gotten better from a personnel standpoint; but they’re still a super deep team with championship experience and arguably the hardest home court for opponents to play on. The Spurs may have won the offseason, but the Warriors are still the champions. And like the Nature Boy Ric Flair once said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

Are they better?: No (But dammit they’re still good).

Los Angeles Clippers:  F-   A

Re-signed: DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers

Lost: Matt Barnes, Glenn Davis, Jordan Hamilton, Spencer Hawes, Lester Hudson, Dahntay Jones, Hedo Turkoglu, Ekpe Udoh

Acquired: Cole Aldrich, Branden Dawson (R), Chuck Hayes, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce, Pablo Prigioni, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson

Drafted: N/A

Other notable moves: N/A

DeAndre Jordan was rumored to want a larger role than one he was receiving with the Clippers. Perhaps to finally have an offense built around him. ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz reported that DJ also grew tiresome of his relationship with Chris Paul , saying:

He [DJ] was tired of Paul’s constant barking and petty gestures, like distributing high-fives to the three other guys on the floor following a timeout but somehow freezing out Jordan.

And so on July 3rd, DJ agreed (in principle) to sign a 4-year/$80 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks.

A few days later in an interview with Bleacher Report Radio , JJ Redick gave the Los Angeles Clippers his own grade on how they handled their offseason to that point. Keep in mind JJ Redick is still under contract with the Clippers for 2 more years…

Is there an F-minus?

Listen, we had one priority this summer and that was to re-sign DJ and we missed out on that, so barring some miracle, [the] makeup of our team is completely different now. He’s such an integral part of what we did, not just defensively but offensively with his screening, his rolling, his offensive rebounds. His presence down low essentially made teams either commit to the three-point line when Blake [Griffin] or Chris [Paul] penetrated or commit to him, and that either opened up lobs for him or threes for guys like me and Jamal [Crawford] and Matt [Barnes].

So he was a huge part of what we did and missing out and having him leave for Dallas gives us a failing grade.

Yes JJ, I make up the rules for this article, so there is such thing as an ‘F-.’

But on the last day of the free agent moratorium, team owner Steve Balmer, Head Coach Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, and Paul Pierce organized a special ops mission to bring DJ back to the Clippers on a long-term deal. They literally infiltrated his house in Houston, Texas, with the intent of locking DJ inside his house until he agreed to sign a contract. They hashed out their differences, and then they played cards until midnight when DJ was able to officially sign a 4-year/$87 million deal to stay in Los Angeles.

It was an emojional day…

with a few laughs…

and some hurt feelings.

It was the most entertaining offseason day in NBA history.

Getting DJ back puts the Clips in good standing grade-wise. I roasted the Mavericks for even trying to sign DJ; so why would I applaud the Clips for going to such lengths to woo their center back?

It’s simple, the Clippers needed DJ to stay.

DJ is actually a perfect fit with the Clippers, his overpaid price tag be damned. He’s the third best player on a contender (ideal role), CP3 and Blake Griffin are running the offense and are very good passers, DJ is the best pick-and-roll finisher in the NBA, and he anchors the defense.

Obviously I was alluding to the fact that I don’t think he’s worth the $21 million+ per year, but it’s not like the Clippers could parlay that money into other players. The Clippers were already over the salary cap before the DJ contract, and the only reason they could pay him big money in the first place was because they owned his Bird Rights. If they lost DJ, they’re not getting anyone else who can replicate what he does for this team; at least not in free agency.

Last post-season the Clippers beat the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs in a 7-game first round series, and were 1 win away from making it to the WCF. Their starting point guard/league’s best point guard turned 30 in May and is entering year 11 of his career (history suggests he will begin to drop off this year or next), and Blake Griffin is just entering his prime. It’s simple, the Clippers are in win-now mode, and the way they went after DJ during the moratorium confirms that notion. DJ walks, and the Clippers are wasting next season.

The Clippers’ Achilles heal in the playoffs last year was their lack of depth. As I mentioned earlier they didn’t have much in the way of cap room, either. General Manager Doc Rivers turned chicken crap into a half-way decent chicken salad by acquiring depth through means of trades, trade exceptions, and minimum contracts.

They traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to the Charlotte Hornets for the notorious headache that is Lance Stephenson. Stephenson was a triple-double machine 2 years ago in Indiana, but played his way out of the starting line-up in Charlotte via his 38-17-63 shooting splits and just all around bad attitude. I don’t love the risk of bringing in Lance just because of his tendency to rub people the wrong way; but he’s coming into a situation where there’s strong leadership in both the locker room and organization, and he stands a better chance of being kept in check. I can justify the risk given these circumstances. Good move.

The Clippers will miss Matt Barnes’ toughness, his ability to defend multiple positions, and his ability to hit the 3; but the Clips were able to replace Barnes when they signed Paul Pierce to a 3-year/$10 million deal via the tax-payer’s mid-level exception. Pierce brings the same package to the table as Barnes did, plus a proven leadership presence. Pierce is also a native of Los Angeles and won a championship with Coach Rivers in Boston in 2008, so there’s also a little bit of a full circle narrative in relation to this signing. But hey, Pierce is a guy you want in your foxhole.

Doc also managed to pry Josh Smith away from a Western Conference rival despite only being able to offer a minimum contract. Smith is an 11 year veteran who showed a lot of value coming off the bench for the Rockets in the second half of last season; which instantly makes him an upgrade over the 87 year old Hedo Turkoglu. And I imagine the 14 4th quarter points that Smith threw down against the Clips in game 6 to save the Rockets’ season had a little something to do with this signing, as well. But that’s none of my business.

And the Clips also managed to bring in Cole Aldrich, Chuck Hayes, Wesley Johnson, and Pablo Prigioni to beef up the end of their bench. Solid role players at good prices.

Seems like Doc is getting better at this Coach/GM thing.

Are they better?: Yes.

Phoenix Suns: C-

Re-signed: Brandon Knight 

Lost: Earl Barron, Reggie Bullock, Gerald Green, Andrew Harrison (R), Jerel McNeal, Marcus Morris, Marcus Thornton, Brandan Wright

Acquired: Tyson Chandler, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems

Drafted: Devin Booker

Other notable moves: N/A

I haven’t had a good grip on the Phoenix Suns’ game plan ever since they traded for Isaiah Thomas in 2014 when they already boasted a Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe back court; then essentially traded Dragic, Thomas, the Lakers’ top-5 (now top-3) protected first round pick + spare parts for Brandon Knight.

I can’t base this summer’s Suns grade on what happened in past years, but its worth noting I have no idea what’s going on in Phoenix.

Anyway…

The Suns kicked off free agency by signing Brandon Knight to a 5-year/$70 million deal. I personally like Brandon Knight as an all around player, and I think he gets unfairly lambasted based solely on the amount of times he’s landed on the wrong side of a YouTube clip . But he’s a versatile combo guard who does a lot of things well. For some reason his stats dropped after the trade to Phoenix. Granted the sample size was small (11 games in Phoenix compared to 52 in Milwaukee), so it is possible he may have struggled adjusting to a new system on the fly.

(Image from USA Today) With Phoenix committing to Brandon Knight long-term, could Eric Bledsoe be the next Sun to go?

That being said, the Suns went about this all wrong.

Knight was a restricted free agent and the Suns came in with a massive deal in hand without letting the market decide his value. That’s a big no-no when it comes to restricted free agency, unless the player’s name is Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis of course.

They would have been better off letting him find a deal in free agency and just matching it. Sure, they may have ended up overpaying him to stick around anyway, but it beats overpaying the guy when the only team you’re competing against is yourself.

The Suns also brought in Tyson Chandler on a 4-year/$52 million contract. He’s obviously being brought in to anchor the defense and serve as a positive veteran leader with championship pedigree; which is good. I imagine Dallas would bring him back if they had a mulligan on free agency. The drawback is that Chandler turns 33 in October, has 14 seasons under his belt, and has had trouble staying healthy his whole career. It’s an alright pick-up at a fairly steep price. I can’t imagine that contract ages well, either.

The Suns also traded Marcus Morris (the lesser twin), and let Brandan Wright and Gerald Green walk in free agency. Mirza Teletovic is a nice pick-up as a floor spacer on the cheap; but other than him, the Suns brought in a cast of role players to fill in the blanks.

I liked the decision to draft Devin Booker at number 13. Booker was arguably the best shooter in his draft class, and should develop nicely in Phoenix’s pace-and-space system.

It’s obvious LaMarcus Aldridge was the apple of Phoenix’s eye this offseason. But LMA chose the San Antonio Spurs, and it appears the Suns didn’t have a contingency plan in case that scenario occurred. So now they find themselves in a situation with no star player and no real direction to go in next season.

The Suns went 39-43 last season (10-17 post trade deadline). Given whom they let walk and whom they brought in, I can’t say that the Suns are better than where they were April 15th. Jeff Hornacek is an under-rated coach who’s been really good at bringing out the best in his players; but even he has his work cut out for him this year in the loaded Western Conference.

I don’t really know where the Suns go from here; but it’s certainly not up.

Are they better?: No.

Sacramento Kings: F

Re-signed:  Omri Casspi

Lost: Reggie Evans, Ryan Hollins, Carl Landry, Ray McCallum, Andre Miller, Eric Moreland, Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams

Acquired: Quincy Acy, James Anderson, Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler, Seth Curry, Duje Dukan (R), Kosta Koufos, Rajon Rondo

Drafted: Willie Cauley-Stein

Other notable moves: N/A

Congratulations, Sacramento Kings! You just took the Most Dysfunctional Organization in the NBA title belt away from the New York Knicks!

Where do I even start?

How about allowing your 3rd head coach in 1 calendar year the opportunity to alienate your franchise center? Then let said head coach keep his job after he publicly looked to trade said franchise center? Yes, DeMarcus Cousins has 3 years left on one of the best bargain contracts in the league; but there’s no chance in Hell he’s sticking around Sac-Town after the 2018 season.

Or how about paying the Philadelphia 76ers a package of Nik Stauskas (2014 – Round 1, Pick 8), a future 1st round pick, and the right to swap picks in 2 future drafts just to take on Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and their combined $26 million+ salaries over the next 2-3 seasons?

Yes, this trade actually happened.

Forget the fact that they could have used the stretch provision to buy out Carl Landry. Why wouldn’t they just offer this trade to Denver for the right to Ty Lawson? After all, Denver basically ended giving away Lawson to the Houston Rockets following his 2nd DUI of the past year. This would have ultimately been a win-win for both the Kings and the Nuggets had it come to fruition. Instead, Denver dumped Lawson for spare parts and a late first round pick, the Rockets solidified their spot as a contender, the 76ers (briefly) looked like the smartest team in the room, and the Kings ended up tossing their future draft picks away and overpaying for a point guard who’s best years were left behind in 2013.

Speaking of which…

Go ahead and add a 1-year/$10 million contract for Rajon Rondo to Sacramento’s dumpster fire. In case you missed it, last season the Mavericks bet the farm on a Rondo resurgence in the hopes that he would be the missing link to a championship team. Instead, Rondo butt heads with Head Coach Rick Carlisle and played his way out of the rotation in the playoffs. Rondo threw away any leverage he had in a big money contract in free agency, and then the Kings gave him a $10 million deal when no one else even wanted him.

Yes, Boogie Cousins and Rondo will play for a team coached by George Karl. This instantly makes the Kings a must-watch NBA League Pass team. Not for the games themselves; rather for the comedy. Boogie, Rondo, and Karl could end up choking each other out on any given night! No seriously, its going to be Survivor: Sacramento Kings in 2015-16.

A couple other moves I’m not a huge fan of:
1.) Kosta Koufos – 4-years/$33 million. Bleh.
2.) Drafting Willie Cauley-Stein with the 6th overall pick; passing on Emmanuel Mudiay (7), Stanley Johnson (8), and Justise Winslow (10). I love WCS as a prospect; but the last thing the Kings needed was another center. There were better options at number 6, even if they planned on trading Boogie.

I’ll close with this. Pardon me while I borrow/touch-up a quote from Billy Madison that I think correctly reflects the Sacramento Kings’ offseason:

[Sacramento Kings], what you’ve just [done this offseason] is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever [seen]. At no point in your [embarrassing], [franchise debilitating moves] were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational [plan]. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having [witnessed] it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Original Version!

Are they better?: No.

Los Angeles Lakers: D

Re-signed: N/A

Lost: Vander Blue, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Ronnie Price

Acquired: Brandon Bass, Michael Frazier (R), Jonathan Holmes (R), Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams

Drafted: D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., Anthony Brown,

Other notable moves: N/A

This summer we witnessed the end of an era. Sure, the Lakers haven’t won a championship since 2010, and they last made the playoffs in 2013. But I’m not talking about wins and losses. Down years happen to just about every franchise, and the presence of a salary cap has made it especially difficult to maintain dominance over consecutive years.

Instead, I’m referencing the aura and the mystique that once upon a time surrounded the Lakers franchise. 16 championships, a big market, an LA lifestyle, establishing a legacy; what star player wouldn’t be drawn to these elements? Especially if the money was equal.

After all, good things would just happen to the Lakers throughout NBA history. Stars like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal would just fall onto their laps.

But not this time. There was no LaMarcus Aldridge; nor Greg Monroe. Instead their was Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert.

It’s not just failing to get a star, it’s why they didn’t get a star. Aldridge sat down with the Lakers twice, where they pitched branding, young pieces, and the opportunity to play with Kobe Bryant; but LMA was turned off by LA’s old-fashioned style of play. And he had no interest in being the Pau Gasol to his Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile Greg Monroe turned down both the Lakers and the Knicks to play for the small-market Milwaukee Bucks because he believed they had the best chance of winning.

It was a bigger loss for the Lakers than it was for the Knicks. The Knicks have sucked for the better part of the last 15 years, and have swung-and-missed on a number of premier free agents. The Lakers aren’t used to this. This uncharted waters.

This summer was one of the last chances for the Lakers to extend Kobe’s career by adding another star, and yet it ended horribly.

I mean, the sum of the parts gained is actually fairly better than the parts lost. Brandon Bass cancels out the loss of Ed Davis, but Roy Hibbert finally gives the Lakers a rim protector. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams is a good pick-up assuming the Lakers keep him in that role and not try to shoe-horn him into the starting line-up with Kobe.

I also LOVE D’Angelo Russell as a prospect. But even D’Angelo drew the ire of Lakers Nation when he had the cajones to call Tracy McGrady the GOAT when one Kobe Bryant is on his team. Take a lap, young fella.

The Los Angeles Lakers now find themselves (temporarirly) stripped of their competitive advantages. Now they are forced to rebuild the old fashioned way like the rest of the teams in NBA: through draft picks and smart business decisions. Truth be told, it’s not the worst way to rebuild in this league. But this was not the gameplan GM Mitch Kupchak drew up. So this is going to cost them.

Are they better?: Yes.


 

 

6 divisions and 30 NBA teams later, and we’ve have completed the NBA Offseason Grades series! I’ll revisit these grades somewhere around the all-star break just to see where each team stands and see how accurate each representation was. Only 7 more weeks until opening night!

Thank you very much to basketball-reference.com , espn.go.com/nba , and hoopshype.com for the stats and information used in this article.

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NBA Playoffs Second Round Preview and Picks

(image from miragesbg.com)

 

The second round of the 2015 NBA playoffs is underway. ‘12’ is now the magic number of wins that separate one team from NBA history. For those of you keeping score at home, I went 7-1 for first round predictions, barely missing the Clippers-Spurs series (Part 1 & Part 2 ). The answer to your question is yes, self high-fives are pathetic. Though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the first round didn’t go exactly how I anticipated. Last year’s first round gave us five game sevens and some of the most entertaining basketball of the playoffs; this year, not so much. One game seven and a series of series where only one team showed up left me in a state of wanting more. But if history is any indicator, then a putrid first round will be followed up with an exciting second round. At least that’s how I’m going to go about it.

Playoff Stats:

Home Teams: 26-15

Home teams in closeout games to put the series away: 3-2

 

And now let’s get to our second round preview!

Western Conference

(1)  Golden State Warriors vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies

First Round Finishes: GSW 4 – NOP 0; Mem 4 – Por 1

Season Series: GSW 2 – Mem 1

Saying that the Golden State Warriors made short-work of the New Orleans Pelicans would be an insult to Anthony Davis and company. The Dubs defended home court without much of a scare in games one and two, but it took a historic 20 point fourth quarter comeback and a no-look three pointer from (the likely) MVP Stephen Curry to force overtime in game three, where they eventually pilfered a win from the Pellies in New Orleans. The Warriors shot 50.6% from the field in game four en route to an 11 point victory, clinching the sweep. In part one of my first round preview, I said Anthony Davis would have his way with the Warriors; and he did, averaging 31.5 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, and shooting 54% from the field in four games. Well played, Brow, well played.

(Image fromscmp.com) Call me a softie, but this picture is one of my favorites from round one

The Memphis Grizzlies found themselves on the happy end of the controversial seeding rule that gave the Portland Trail Blazers a four seed, despite them having the West’s sixth best record. Instead of playing the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs, they squared off against an injury depleted Trail Blazers team.

If there’s any team left in the playoffs that would benefit from rest, it’s the Grizzlies. Mike Conley’s surgery may have been a success, but his return for the second round is up in the air. Mike Conley may not have the notoriety like Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook, but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s a top ten point guard in the game right now. He’s a veteran table-setter who knows how and when to get his teammates involved, and can take over a game with his scoring ability if that’s what the situation calls for. His impact on the Grizzlies cannot be accurately measured by his numbers.

We saw his value in the last series when the Grizz were seemingly on cruise control in games one and two. All eyes were on Damian Lillard, as Conley and the Grizzlies exploited his inability to defend. On the other end of the court, Lillard put up sub-Damian numbers, including 18 points and 4.3 assists per game, while shooting 35.2% from the field in the first three games of the series. When Conley went down, backups Beno Udrih and Nick Calathes saw more playing time. Lillard went for 27 points and 5 assists in games four and five, while putting up a 46.7% clip. CJ McCollum had a similar story arc, averaging 11.3 points on 34.3% shooting in games one through three, and then 25.5 points/game on a 62.5% clip then next two games. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences.

I’m going to operate under the assumption that Mike Conley will not be available for at least the first two games of this series. If Tony Allen, Udrih, and Calathes had their hands full with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, I have serious doubts they’ll be able to contain the Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will present match-up problems for the Warriors at times, but they won’t find the same success that Anthony Davis found in round one because they’re just not that type of player.

The Warriors are now 41-2 at home since the start of the season. I expect the Grizzlies to drop games one and two in Oakland, because there is no way they will be able to keep up with the Warriors without Conley’s leadership. Jeff Green is just too inconsistent, and I can’t see Gasol and Z-Bo carrying this team when the Splash Brothers are raining three’s. Conley’s game three return will keep games three and four close in Memphis, but I don’t expect Golden State to lose both games on the road. The Grizzlies’ offensive woes and Mike Conley’s absence will hurt them in this series, but it’s Golden State’s up-tempo style that will ultimately be Memphis’ demise. If you’re going to beat a historically great team, then one of your best three players can’t be hurt.

Warriors defeat Grizzlies in 5

 

(2) Houston Rockets vs. (3) Los Angeles Clippers

First Round Finishes: Hou 4 – Dal 1; LAC 4 – SAS 3

Season Series: Hou 2 – LAC 2

I picked Houston to win their round one series with the Mavericks in seven games, because I somehow forgot that Rajon Rondo is a cancer to his team, Tyson Chandler is the Mavs’ only big that can play defense, Dirk Nowitzki is a 37 year old 7-footer, and Josh Smith was the third best player in this series. Wait, WHAT?!

You read that right.

Smith’s first round stats: 17.4 point, 6.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and shot 51.5% from the field…and 39.1% from three! He managed to put up the second most points and assists for the Rockets, despite not even starting one game. Josh Smith is the not the third star that the Rockets deserve; but he’s the third star they need right now.

Other points of emphasis:

  • James Harden exorcised last year’s playoff demons by putting up a 28-8-4 stat line on 46.5% shooting. Those who said he wouldn’t be able to get to the free throw line in the playoffs can chew on his 52 free throw attempts in that opening series.
  • Dwight Howard looks healthy. His 16.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game make the Rockets a very scary team.
  • Depth was not an issue in the first round: five Rockets scored double-digits per game, including two bench players.

Take these points with a cinderblock of salt, though. In early March I said I felt that the Mavericks were headed for an inevitable first round exit. The Mavs simply could not defend the Rockets, likely inflating a few players’ stats (cough, Josh Smith, cough). But the fact is James Harden and Dwight Howard are playing like a first-banana and second-banana should be playing, they’re getting contributions from their bench, and most importantly the Rockets are on to the next round.

(Image from Bleacher Report) Both CP3 [left] and Harden [right] have carried their teams throughout the season. We’ll find out who can carry that load a little further.

The Clippers-Spurs series may have been one of the best round one bouts I’ve ever seen (feel free to argue). This series had a Western Conference Finals feel to it. After squandering game five at home, Chris Paul and company put together one of the best two-game stretches in Clippers history (no argument there), winning on the road in game six to set up a chance to close out the two-time reigning Western Conference Champions at home in game seven. Game seven was a closely contested game throughout, and it took another Blake Griffin triple-double and the biggest shot of Chris Paul’s career (soooo much hyperbole in this paragraph!) to finally put the down Spurs and quiet Clippers critics (for the time being). Well done, Clippers.

The Rockets are well-rested after closing out the Mavericks in five games; whereas, the Clippers played their best basketball all season in seven games with the Spurs. More often than not, I’m riding with the team playing well coming off the long series because I’m a believer in momentum. But the reason I picked the Spurs to be beat the Clippers in the first round was the lack of quality depth on the Clippers’ bench. Blake Griffin averaged 41 minutes per game in that first round series, and CP3, JJ Redick, and DeAndre Jordan all averaged 36 to 39 minutes per game. By the way, the Clips’ starting five averaged 80.7 of the team’s 103 points per game. Though, I will cede that the Clippers did get quality bench play at opportune times from Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and Glen Davis.

However, I can’t see this level of play sustaining against a well-rested Rockets team. I think those seven games with the Spurs were as mentally taxing and it were physical. For that reason alone, I’m out .

Rockets defeat Clippers in 6

 

Eastern Conference

(1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Washington Wizards

First Round Finishes: Atl 4 – Brk 2 ; Was 4 – Tor 0

Season Series: Atl 3 – Was 1

The Atlanta Hawks non-believers really came out of the woodwork in the first round series with the Brooklyn Nets. Somehow, the vaunted Hawks and their system blew two road games and allowed a team that didn’t even really belong in the playoffs to push the series to six games. I’m not going to reach for the “they don’t have a go-to star” low-hanging fruit; instead, I’ll point out their injury situation.

But first, let me point out that you don’t just walk into a 60-22 overall record (which is good for the league’s second best record), with a 29-11 record against playoff teams. That’s a team that’s done everything they can in the span of a regular season to give them the best chance to come out of the Eastern Conference.

Coach Budenholzer’s pace-and-space system has allowed the Hawks to utilize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. However teams, coaches, and offensive/defensive schemes are more sophisticated in the playoffs. It’s very hard to hide your weaknesses when the opposing coach is game planning specifically for your team for a four to seven game series. If there was coach and team that was going to expose the Hawks, it wasn’t going to be Lionel Hollins and the Nets. Not once did I think Brooklyn was going to win that series, even when it was tied at two games apiece.

Back to the injury comment earlier. You’ve heard the overly used cliché “well-oiled machine” when describing certain systems. Think of the Atlanta Hawks as a car. When all the parts work, it gets you from point-a to point-b without any dilemmas. However, throw in a transmission problem or a faulty tire alignment, and you’ve got yourself a problem. You’re still going to be able to get to the grocery store and back without anything going drastically wrong; but if you have to make a long day trip somewhere, battling potholes, environmental conditions, and constant driving, then you’re car is likely to break down at some point.

That’s the Atlanta Hawks right now. Paul Milsap and Al Horford are banged up, putting more pressure on the other parts to compensate for the injured parts. It’s one thing to be injured in the regular season. Coaches can elect to rest the banged up players for long stretches at a time. In the playoffs, high level games are happening on two to three days’ rest. Atlanta did not do themselves any favors by letting their first round series go past five games. Now they’ll face a young and fresh Washington Wizards team that’s had over a week to rest and game plan for this series.

(Image from Yahoo! Sports) I love when I see teammates having fun with each other outside of games. It’s great for team chemistry, which goes a long way in the playoffs.

The Wizards are on the right side of the spectrum. They came into this season with a second round playoff appearance in their hip pockets, expecting to make the next leap. However, they were injured for long stretches of time throughout the season, putting somewhat of a chokehold on their development. All year fans wondered what this team would look like if they were healthy. Enter the first round of the playoffs. A 4-0 sweep of the Toronto Raptors, despite the Wiz-kids having to play the first two games in the T Dot. John Wall was slashing-and-kicking, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat started looking like 2014 Beal and Gortat, and Otto Porter started looking like an actual NBA rotation player. Let’s not undermine Paul Pierce’s role on this team, as well. He gives this young team leadership, swagger, and a swift kick in the butt. Coach Randy Wittman’s decision to move Pierce to the four spot has proven to be effective, and will help the Wiz in their series with the Hawks.

Pierce’s new role as a stretch-four will be beneficial for the Wizards in the second round. The Hawks pace-and-space offense keeps the bigs away from the basket, which would have been a problem for the Nene-Gortat frontcourt since they’re not comfortable playing so far from the paint. Pierce’s quality defense and perimeter instincts will serve him well against Paul Milsap. I also like John Wall over Jeff Teague in the battle of the point guards. But the biggest concern I have for the Hawks is there health. If they could stay healthy, I’d take the Hawks in seven; but I can’t see myself picking a team that’s’ so banged up playing against a team that’s healthy and hot at the right time.

Wizards defeat Hawks in 6

 

(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Chicago Bulls

First Round Finishes: Cle 4 – Bos 0; Chi 4 – Mil 2

Season Series: Cle 3 – Chi 1

The Eastern Conference Playoffs path for the Cleveland Cavaliers has had somewhat of a “This is Your Life” kind of feel for LeBron James. Round one gave us a Cavaliers-Celtics match up that was reminiscent of the old days; and by ‘old days’ I mean three to six years ago. The city of Boston and their beloved Celtics have despised the King long before it was cool to despise the King; from his first go-around in Cleveland, to his four year stint in Miami, and now back to Cleveland. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and Doc Rivers weren’t walking through that door. But this first round match up gave us a new chapter in the LeBron-Celtics rivalry, to the tune of LeBron talking smack to Evan Turner, Kelly Olynyk tearing Kevin Love’s labrum, and JR Smith’s cheap shot on Jae Crowder.

Round two will pin LeBron and the Cavs against another familiar adversary: the Chicago Bulls. This will mark the fourth time the Bulls will face a LeBron-laden team in the playoffs (Chicago has lost all three duels). If there’s one thing I love about Bulls center Joakim Noah, it’s his competitiveness; or more so his disdain for anyone NOT wearing a Bulls uniform. As for the King? Let’s just say there’s a special place in Noah’s heart for one LeBron James. Just look up “Joakim Noah hates LeBron James ” on YouTube, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. Derrick Rose may be Chicago’s son and Jimmy Butler may be a budding star, but Joakim Noah is the heart of the Chicago Bulls. And he wears that heart on his sleeve.

(Image from CavsNation.com) This image sums up what LeBron-laden teams have done to the Bulls in the playoffs.

This will be my favorite series of the second round, and not just for the aforementioned reasons. I chose Cavs/Bulls as my preseason pick for the Eastern Conference Finals earlier this year, but since the Atlanta Hawks decided to crash the party I’ll have to settle for these two playing in the second round.

There’s a lot going on in this series for both teams. Cleveland lost Kevin Love, his 18.3 points and 9 rebounds/game, and depth in the front court for the remainder of the playoffs due to a torn labrum suffered at the arms of Kelly Olynyk. They’ll also be without starting headcase shooting guard JR Smith for the first two games of this series due to the swing he took at the Celtics’ Jae Crowder in game four of round one; which is ironically not the first time JR Smith took a cheap shot at a Celtic’s player in the first round of the playoffs at the TD Garden . Then there’s the big green elephant in the room that even though the Cavs swept the Celts, they let them hang around in each of the four games. The Celtics may have been scrappy, but the Cavaliers probably should have had a slightly larger average margin of victory, no?

As for the Bulls, can you remember the last time any team went from “can this team find a groove in the playoffs?” to “this team can win the East,” to “are we sure this team is healthy enough to make a run?” back to “this team can win the East” all in the span of a six-game series? Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic are banged up, Derrick Rose has been inconsistent, and the Bulls were outplayed in there closeout game at home. Anyone who’s bearish on the Bulls (pun intended) is probably not that far off.

I’m going to give both the Cavs and the Bulls the benefits of the doubt for their last series. The Cavs knew they were far and away better than the Celtics, and just took them lightly. If they wanted to, they could’ve beaten them by 20 each of the first four games; but they didn’t want to expend all that energy in the first round, nor give anything away to their next opponents. I think the Bulls just assumed they were going to close out the series in game five in Chicago; but Milwaukee put together one of their best games of the season and just blew past a Bulls team that was looking ahead to the Cavs. I feel pretty good about that statement considering they put a 54-point smackdown on the Bucks in Milwaukee in game 6 to end the series.

Taking all the variables into consideration, I’d be shocked if this series didn’t go to seven games. I can see this series being tied at two, with both teams stealing a win on the opponent’s home court. It should be interesting to see the adjustments (figure) Head Coach David Blatt and (player coach) LeBron James make without two of their starters, and how the Bulls respond. I also look forward to seeing if the Bulls’ inconsistencies carry over into the second round. There’s no doubt that both teams will get up for each game;  but I think the home court advantage takes over games five, six, and seven.

Cavaliers defeat Bulls in 7

Honorable mention: Jimmy Butler has averaged 24.8 points, 3.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and has posted a 48-41-79 shooting split. In the words of Teddy KGB from Rounders, “Pay that man his money .”


That does it for my second round preview and predictions! Expect a conference finals preview in about two weeks. While I may have patted myself on the back for my round one picks, just know I will be back even if I go 0-4 in round two; and I’ll eat crow.

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NBA Playoffs First Round Preview and Picks (Part 1: Western Conference)

(Image from BouncyOrangeBall.com)

 

As the 82-game round robin has ended, so do the seasons of 14 NBA teams. For some, the season ended in the last couple weeks in which they were not able to do enough to secure a playoff berth. For most teams though, the season ended long before the clock hit 00:0 at the end of game 82.  However for 16 fortunate teams, a new journey has begun; a new beast to conquer. Yes, 16 wins separates them from the Larry O’Brien trophy and a place in basketball immortality. In a league that determines greatness by the rings on your fingers, legacies are often built and broken during these next eight weeks. As the weather continues to warm up, so does the NBA action; and every big time performance, buzzer-beater, and upset win will get lumped into the inevitable “NBA Playoffs: Where Amazing Happens” montage.

Speaking of where amazing happens…

Last year’s first round gave us what I believe to be the most exciting opening round in recent history, as it included an NBA record five game sevens, three of the eight match ups ending with an upset, a series-ending block at the buzzer , and a series-ending 3-pointer at the buzzer .

Some NBA pundits are bearish on this year’s first round of the NBA playoffs. While I don’t anticipate five game sevens, this year’s opening round should still give us some exciting basketball.

Walk with me as I put myself, as well as my credibility out in the open and make my first round picks and predictions.

Part 1: Western Conference

Part 2: Eastern Conference

Western Conference

If the Western Conference playoffs were a reality TV show, it’d be called Survivor: Western Conference. Each team brings a different set of skills to the island. Where the older, more experienced contestants are typically the favorites to win the grand prize, some of the younger contestants have shown the creativity and resourcefulness to make a deep run in the competition. It’s a conference where at least seven fan bases can make a reasonable argument as to why their team belongs in the NBA Finals.

 

And the first round match ups…

 

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans

Records: GSW 67-15; NOP 45-37

Season Series: GSW 3 – NOP 1

Let me start off by congratulating the Golden State Warriors for finishing the season 67-15, tying the 1991-92 Bulls for the third best regular season record of all-time.

The Warriors bring their MVP frontrunner (Stephen Curry), their coach of the year candidate (Steve Kerr), their super deep/healthy team, and the NBA’s best home court advantage (39-2 at the Oracle Arena) into a first round matchup with the allegedly “happy to be here” Pelicans of New Orleans.

(Image from BasketSession.com)(Left to Right) Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Jrue Holiday

The Pelicans basically started their postseason on the last day of the regular season with a home game against the reigning champion Spurs. The Spurs needed a win to clinch a 2-seed, and the Pellies needed a win to secure a playoff spot. In stunning fashion, the Pelicans outlasted the Spurs 108-103 in one of the most emotional “play-in” games in recent memory.

The interesting thing about these teams’ season series is that Anthony Davis only played in two of the four games: a 27 point loss in Golden State (12/14/2014) and a 3 point win in New Orleans (04/07/2015). In his two games against the Dubs, The Brow went for 30 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks, and 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

The Warriors may lead the league in defensive efficiency (98.2), but they cannot stop Anthony Davis from doing Anthony Davis things. The Pelicans face their own conundrum, though: how do they stop the Splash Brothers? Jrue Holiday, a capable defender when healthy, has played only three games since returning from a stress reaction in his right leg. While Pelicans Coach Monty Williams hopes Holiday can start for his squad against the Warriors, history tells us that he probably won’t be that effective, as he still has to get back into “game shape.”

Predictions:

The Warriors will not stop Anthony Davis. The best Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, and the rest of the front court can hope to do is slow the man down; try to limit his production. The Warriors are a sophisticated defensive team. If Davis is going to put up big numbers, they’ll be sure to make sure their next best players don’t get hot. This shouldn’t be a tall order, considering Tyreke Evans and company aren’t the most imposing of threats.

My prediction for the Warriors is that they’ll lose two home games in their entire playoff campaign. Steve Kerr’s lack of playoff coaching experience may haunt him in certain spots in the playoffs, but not verse the Pelicans. Too much Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and overall depth will be the demise of the Pelicans.

Warriors defeat Pelicans in 5

 

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies

Records: Por 51-31; Mem 55-27

Season Series: Por 0 – Mem 4

The Portland Trail Blazers sent ripples across the West with their Northwest Division Title. NBA rules mandate that all division winners are awarded home court advantage in the first round, despite their overall record. This explains why the Blazers have a 4-seed when they finished with the West’s 6th best record. The Grizz would have found themselves in the 4/5 match up, anyway (this time as a 4-seed); except they would’ve been paired with the reigning champion Spurs. In retrospect, the Grizzlies might have been the only winners in this fiasco. I’m sure your favorite team would sacrifice home court advantage for one series to not play against the Spurs; “Search your feelings, you know it to be true,” I say in my best Darth Vader impression.

The Portland Trail Blazers were 40-19 and title contenders going into their March 5th match up with the Dallas Mavericks. The Blazers may have won that night in regards to the box score, but they lost when Wesley Matthews went down with a ruptured achilles tendon. The Blazers were already battling injuries all season long, but the Matthews injury was the most devastating. Not only was Matthews their best defender, but he was the leader of the locker room. The Blazers stumbled to the finish with a 10-12 record in their final 22 games.

(Image from FanSided.com) Both Portland and Memphis had title aspirations as late as February. Injuries and sluggish play have sent them back to reality.

The Memphis Grizzlies also started their season strong with title aspirations. They acquired swingman Jeff Green from the Celtics in a mid-season trade to boost their offense. The trade appeared to be just what the Grizz needed, as they went 15-3 in the 18 games following the swap. However, Memphis played .500-ball down the stretch, going 14-13 in their final 27 games. The “can this team score enough points to make a deep run” questions began to resurface with theirs sluggish play down the stretch.

The theme of this playoff match up is ‘injuries.’ With Wesley Matthews out for the postseason, Dorrell Wright sidelined with a broken hand, and LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicholas Batum, Arron Afflalo, CJ McCollum, and Chris Kaman all battling injuries, the Blazers certainly have their work cut out for them. Fortunately for them, the Grizzlies are also a little bit banged up. Mike Conley is questionable for game one, and Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are both coming off injuries of their own.

Memphis has Portland’s number this season, winning the series 4-0. Portland has also gone 1-7 in their last 8 games against playoff teams.  The Blazers are just too hurt right now.

Predictions:

While the Grizzlies may have played .500-basketball down the stretch, they’re still one of the five best defensive teams in the NBA.  Aldridge and Robin Lopez will struggle down low against the best defensive front court in the league. Portland’s lack of depth will ultimately be there killer.

Grizzlies defeat Trail Blazers in 5

 

(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs

Records: LAC 56-26; SAS 55-27

Season Series: LAC 2 – SAS 2

If there’s any team that should be angry with the Trail Blazers earning a 4-seed, it’s the Los Angeles Clippers.

As I mentioned earlier, legacies are often made or broken in the NBA playoffs. Chris Paul knows this reality all too well. After all, the biggest glitch on his Hall of Fame resume is the fact that he has yet to compete in a conference finals in his career. The NBA’s most offensively efficient point guard has led the league’s most offensively efficient team to a third straight 56+ win season and a 3-seed in the playoffs. Though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give credit to another key player. DeAndre Jordan’s most dominant season couldn’t have come at a better time. With Blake Griffin struggling to follow up his own breakout year, DeAndre has kept the front court afloat and the paint off limits to any intruder.

(Image from USAToday.com) Doc Rivers has turned DeAndre Jordan in to a top five center worthy of a max contract this summer

The Clippers’ reward for their regular season success: having to play the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round.

I don’t think the Spurs will lose too much sleep over being a 6-seed. After all, how many times have we seen Coach Gregg Popovich not take the regular season seriously until the final leg? Yes, the Spurs did what the Spurs do best: coast through the regular season, get hot late, and ride that momentum into the playoffs. Following the Spurs cardiac arrest-inducing overtime loss to the New York Knicks on St. Patty’s Day, Pop’s crew went 14-2 in their final 16 games, with wins over the Hawks, Mavs, Grizzlies, Warriors, Thunder (twice), and the Rockets (also twice). Tim Duncan is still showing us why he’s the greatest power forward of all time, and Kawhi Leonard has emerged as one of the best two-way players in the league.

The Clippers drew even with the Spurs after falling behind 2-0 in the season series. Both teams have a win on the opponent’s court to their credit.

Predictions:

The playoffs are often a chess match, and Gregg Popovich understands this better than anyone. The last time these teams faced each other, it was Pop ordering the “Hack-a-Shaq” on DeAndre Jordan, sending him to the free throw line for 28 free throw attempts (DJ made 10 of 28). Look for Pop to continue this strategy to neutralize Jordan’s dominance inside. Coach Doc Rivers will sit Jordan for pro-longed stretches late in games; thus, diminishing the effect of the Paul-Griffin-Jordan Big-3. The Spurs momentum and depth will overpower LA’s talent.

Spurs defeat Clippers in 6

 

(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

Records: Hou 56-26; Dal 50-32

Season Series: Hou 3 – Dal 1

Last summer Chandler Parsons agreed to a contract with the Dallas Mavericks, and the Houston Rockets elected not to match the offer. Instead, they brought in veteran swingman and former champion Trevor Ariza to replace the former Florida Gator. James Harden said of Parsons’ departure ,

“Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.”

I’d say those are fighting words.

Other notable narratives in no particular order:

  • Veteran point guard Jason Terry was a member of the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 championship team, and now plays a large role for the Houston Rockets
  • Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban have a rivalry that’s been brewing for a few years; since Morey won over Dwight Howard in 2013 and tried to sign Dirk Nowitzki in the 2014 free agency period.
  • The intrastate rivalry probably has something to with it too, don’t ya think?

What James Harden has done one year removed from a putrid playoff performance is unbelievable. The MVP candidate has led his injury depleted team to 56 wins and a 2-seed in a loaded Western Conference, without having Dwight Howard on the court with him for 41 games. James Harden skeptics are quick to argue that he will not be able to carry his Rockets team deep into the playoffs; that the NBA playoffs are not designed for one player to carry the load. A healthy Dwight Howard is exactly what the Rockets need to advance.

(Image from Zimbio.com) Former comrades James Harden (left) and Chandler Parsons (right) will square off for the first time in a playoff series, eager to prove each other wrong

What concerns me moving forward, though, are a trio of injuries for the Rockets that emerged over the last month. Starting point guard and pesky defender Patrick Beverly, back-up center Donatas Motiejunas, and rookie shooting guard KJ McDaniels will miss the entire postseason.

As for the Mavericks…

The 2011 championship band is back together after trading for Tyson Chandler and signing JJ Barea last summer. And the addition of Chandler Parsons last summer was aimed to serve as  a reinforcement on the perimeter. I was one of the people who believed that the Rajon Rondo trade would make the Dallas Mavericks the favorites coming out of the Western Conference. Instead, the Mavs gave up their front court depth for a point guard that’s more stats-oriented than team-oriented, and rocks a 44-35-45 shooting split in his time with the Mavericks.

One final stat: the Dallas Mavericks would be the first team to ever win a playoff series with a point guard who started at least 46 games, shot less than 45% from the field, 36% from three, and 50% from the free throw line. Just saying.

Predictions:

Rondo’s ineffectiveness will offset the Patrick Beverly injury to an extent. Houston’s injuries will keep this series close, as will Dwight Howard’s inability to find a rhythm early on in the match up. The Mavericks will beat the crap out of James Harden every time he draws a foul in the paint, but it’ll be Harden sticking a fork in the Mavericks with his big play down the stretch.

Rockets defeat Mavericks in 7

 


 

That’s it for the Western Conference Playoffs first round preview. Hang tight for my Eastern Conference predictions and picks coming in Part 2!

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Best of the West Big 3s

(Photo Courtesy of imgarcade.com  

The NBA season starts in just THREE DAYS! 3 Days! Tres días más! Encore trois jours! You get the picture. 3 more days til we see where amazing happens. But, in the meantime I’d like to rank the best Big 3s in the most competitive conference in the NBA. In order to do that, we must establish two things:

1. What is a Big 3?

2. What teams have a legitimate Big 3?

A Big 3 (in my opinion) is a trio of players who are undoubtedly the focal point of their team. Their numbers or accolades stand out from the rest of the pack. The game plan runs through these guys. Some examples of past Big 3s in the past decades:

Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich (71-72′ Los Angeles Lakers)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,  Magic Johnson, James Worthy (84-85′ Los Angeles Lakers)

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman (96-97′ Chicago Bulls)

Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett (07-08′ Boston Celtics)

In today’s game, you can make cases about a lot of teams that have a Big 3 or if they just have a legitimate team. It’s hard to decipher if some teams have a true Big 3. For example, who would the Lakers’ Big 3 be? Kobe? Yes. Boozer? Yes. But then who? Jordan Hill? Jeremy Lin? Wesley Johnson? You can pick one of them and make a “Big 3″ but it wouldn’t be unanimous. Plus, they are just sub-par players. Personally, I wouldn’t draft any of them in my fantasy league. A tougher example would be the San Antonio Spurs. Tony Parker? Yes. Timmy D? Yes. But after last year, would you substitute Kawhi for Manu? Do we need another solid full year before we add Kawhi to the trio? Once again, it’s not unanimous. Same with Phoenix. You have Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic that are for sure in that Big 3 discussion. But who do you add to that group? Do you go with Gerald Green who just produced the best season of his 7-year career? How about newly added Isaiah Thomas who 20ppg over in Sacramento? Or how about the up and coming Miles Plumlee? You can make cases for any of them so it’s still an unanswered question. Other teams who either have too many good players or too few proven players are the Mavericks, Timberwolves and Jazz. With those exclusions, that leaves 9 teams (Pelicans, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Clippers, Warriors, Kings and Nuggets) that I believe have a true Big 3. From the 9 teams, I’m going to rank my top 3 (see what I did there?).

#3 – The Splash Brothers & David Lee

How could I not include arguably the best shooting tandem in NBA history? Stephen Curry is one of the best, if not the best, point guard in the league. He has a light-outs jumper to go along with amazing handles. He’s a good defender and is in the top 15 in steals to prove it. His partner in crime is easily becoming a fan favorite as he is blossoming as an all-around player. Klay can knock down 3s with the best of them but as a 6’7″ shooting guard, he can also take you to the bucket (and also probably one of the most underrated defenders in the NBA). Speaking of underrated, the last piece of the the puzzle is David Lee. Lee nearly averaged 20ppg and 10rpg last season and you still only hear his name whispered. At 31, he still is a solid contributor and a key player for Golden State’s success. However, this group is only at number 3 because I foresee another early exit in the playoffs for this young team.

Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, David Lee, Chris Paul, Big 3

#2 – Lob City

CP3 always hovers over the best point guard discussion. What more could you want in a pg? He’s an excellent play maker, dominant passer, great handles, precise shooter, team player, hard worker, team leader, etc. I can go on & on about CP3’s attributes. Then, you have Mr. Highlight Reel himself. Blake Griffin. He evolved from simply a posterizer to an well-rounder big man… who will still posterize you. His mid-range game has significantly improved and his play making ability has refined as well. And lastly, you have the reigning leading rebounder in DeAndre Jordan. He’s no stranger to Sportcenter’s top ten either (just ask Brandon Knight). He’s not going to give you the consistent offensive production you may want in a center but he will definitely protect the rim with his long frame and unbelievable vertical.  Just as last year, they have a chance to take the Clippers deep into the postseason but as a complete unit, the defense needs to improve. A depleted Warriors team should have not forced a 7 game series to be decided in the final game.

#1 – Russ, KD & I-BLOCK-a

Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. Reigning MVP. 3-time scoring champion. 2nd best player in the world. Not to mention one hell of a public speaker (haha). In the absence of KD, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will have their time to shine. I believe both are more than capable to carry the workload and not let their playoff hopes slip in a matter of months. They won’t be as dominant as the Clippers were last year when Chris Paul went down but they will continue to be a force to reckon with in the West. And when KD does return, he will come back like he never was gone. When healthy, this triad of stars will bullrush opponents to fight for homecourt advantage as they peak back to the top of their game.

Thunder Westbrook Durant Ibaka

 

 

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The Return of… T-MAC?

(Associated Press)

Recently, Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo Sports reported that 35 year old Tracy McGrady performed an intense and competitive’ workout in L.A in August with 36 year old Kobe Bryant. Could McGrady be hinting at a possible return to the NBA?

McGrady was a part of the defeated San Antonio Spurs in the 2012/13 NBA Finals, playing a non-existent role on a star-studded team (quite a different role that he is accustomed to). In his six games with the team, McGrady averaged 5.2 minutes and 0 points per game.  McGrady’s last proper NBA season was in 2011/12 ,where he played with the Atlanta Hawks and averaged 5.3 points, 2.1 assists and 3 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game.

GM’S thoughts?

Concerns on the GM’s minds would be whether McGrady has what it takes to make a NBA comeback and transition back into the game that has evolved ever since his last full NBA season in 2012? On top of this, would there be a team that would be willing to take on the 35 year old? How much money would he demand? Would he accept a similar role that he played in San Antonio? These concerning thoughts would be difficult for NBA teams to figure out. It has been reported that only two anonymous NBA teams have shown little interest in McGrady.

He may be mentally ready.. but physically?

With career averages of 19.6 points, 4.4 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game , McGrady is tipped to be a first ballot Hall Of Famer. But we all know that McGrady’s best days are behind him. McGrady has struggled with continuous injuries through out his entire career, with injuries ranging from back spasms to knee and shoulder surgery. If the young McGrady couldn’t withstand the strains of a full NBA season, how would the 35 year old would fare in the NBA today? If McGrady performed well during the L.A workout with Kobe Bryant, it would be a good representation of how he would perform in the NBA today. Although Bryant is 36 years old, he is still arguably one of the greatest players to ever play the game and would be a serious test for anyone to guard, even at this stage of his career.

Could he come back?

Personally, I don’t believe that McGrady could make an influential return to the NBA. Though he may be a great marketing asset to any team, he would not have much of an impact in today’s game. In McGrady’s last four NBA seasons, he has averaged a mere 6.5 points, 2.6 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game; this declining production by McGrady is way below his caliber and is a good representation of his decline over the past years. With the rise of athletic guards  such as James Harden, Demar DeRozan, Lance Stephenson and Klay Thompson (just for example), how do you think McGrady would fare against these players? I’m sure that McGrady’s first step would be a lot slower as it once was and his ability to attack the rim would have majorly declined. McGrady may come back as strong as ever, but do we really think that this is a realistic scenario?

Could he suit a team?

McGrady could possibly suit a team such as the Miami Heat or the Los Angeles Lakers, signing a veteran minimum deal with either team. McGrady would no longer have the capacity to play heavy minutes on a team that is in desperate need of talent, but would fit in the type of role that he played in San Antonio. The question lies in his decision to agree or not. McGrady would be great for marketing, bringing in a lot more interest and fans into the NBA, not just from America but also from China. McGrady played the 2012/13 season in the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) with Qingdao, averaging impressive numbers of 25 points, 5.1 assists, and 7.2 rebounds per game.  His impact in the China market has been huge, and this will only help him gain more popularity with the fans in China.

Conclusion

Whether or not any NBA teams considers McGrady as a possible signing is up to the GM, though I believe that McGrady would not have an impact on the NBA today. McGrady’s best days are behind him, and in some cases it’s better to finish your career now rather than come back and try to fix it. McGrady needs to make the choice that best suits him and in my opinion, it is best for him to sit in the stands and watch the game he loves.

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