With game one of each first round series in the books, which teams impressed and which teams need a wake up call?
The Rockets cruised to a 118-87 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday, in a game that shed light on to how the series might go over the next week. The Rockets simply wanted it more, out-rebounding and out-hustling the Thunder to loose balls. The fact that the Rockets won game one so easily without shooting well (below 31% on three-pointers) could spell trouble for the Thunder as the Rockets will most likely shoot better during the remainder of the series.
The Utah Jazz won game one against the L.A. Clippers on a buzzer-beater from Joe Johnson. This came after their star center (and best defensive player) Rudy Gobert was injured on the first play of the game! The Jazz showed poise, discipline, and were calm throughout as they picked up a crucial road win in the 4-5 matchup between the teams who finished with identical records.
Another year, another game one loss for the Toronto Raptors, who continue to disappoint their home crowd in game ones. The Raptors lost this game down the stretch to an extremely young and inexperienced Bucks team, something that will surely give Milwaukee some confidence. Toronto’s star players Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan need to play better if the Raptors want to avoid the upset in this series.
After Rudy Gobert went down with the injury, most people expected the Clippers to run away with game one (and potentially the series). Well, “playoff Clippers” are back in full effect, as the team continues to disappoint in the playoffs. The Clippers need to bounce back quickly in order to avoid yet another playoff collapse and disappointing result, further putting the future of the team in jeopardy.
It’s that magical time of year again. A time when the best of the best go up against each other for multiple games in a week. Yes, I am talking about the NBA Playoffs.
This season, the playoffs bring fans exciting individual match-ups in both Conferences.
In the Eastern Conference, you have LeBron James against Paul George, as the Cleveland Cavaliers face off against the Indiana Pacers. No one will forget the match-up of the two MVP favorites, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, as their teams (the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder) square off.
Other fun series to watch will be the Toronto Raptors facing off against the young, up and coming Milwaukee Bucks, and the Los Angeles Clippers facing off against the Utah Jazz, a series that most people are considering a “pick ’em”.
For predictions, here is how I see all of the first round match-ups going:
Celtics over Bulls in 6 games
Cavaliers over Pacers in 5 games
Raptors over Bucks in 5 games
Wizards over Hawks in 5 games
Warriors over Trail Blazers in 5 games
Spurs over Grizzlies in 6 games
Rockets over Thunder in 6 games
Clippers over Jazz in 7 games
The 2017 NBA Playoffs begin Saturday April 15th, and are sure to bring excitement, nerves, and thrilling action to fans over the coming two months.
With the regular season winding down, there are several candidates for NBA Coach of the Year. Let’s dive in to the case for each coach to win the award.
Coaching is one of the hardest things to evaluate in professional sports. How can we truly tell when a coach is doing a good or bad job? When a team exceeds expectations, do we give most of the recognition to the coach? Vice-versa, when a team underachieves, is the coach the person who deserves the most blame?
Because we as fans and analysts aren’t in the locker rooms, there’s no way of knowing the true reasons a team over/underachieves. but regardless, the head coach is the first person to receive acclaim or criticism.
The other tough thing to evaluate when handing out an award like Coach of the Year is which coaching job deserves the most success? Is it dramatically turning your team around from bottom three in the standings to the playoffs? Is it greatly exceeding expectations right from the start of the season?
Those story-lines are present in various ways with this season’s candidates for the award. From Mike D’Antoni and Scott Brooks to Erik Spoelstra, there are three clear candidates vying for the award this season. Before I get in to how I would rank the three coaches, let’s step back and gain some background information on past Coaches of the Year.
As Dar-Wei Chen pointed out in his article regarding the Coach of the Year race, there are certain indications that point to a clear front-runner this season: Mike D’Antoni. Those indications? How teams perform relative to their preseason expectations. Here’s the proof (from the award winners since the 2002-03 season):
Now that we have some history on the main reason why coaches are given the award, let’s evaluate how this season’s candidates fare:
There’s your reasoning as to why most people have D’Antoni as their front-runner this season. The Houston Rockets are blowing away their preseason expectations. Why isn’t the race decided already you may ask? Because the turnarounds that have occurred in Washington and Miami are nothing short of incredible.
So without further ado, let’s get to my rankings of the top three candidates for NBA Coach of the Year this season.
3) Erik Spoelstra
On January 14th, the Miami Heat were 11-30. Today they are 35-37. Let that sink in for a moment. Ready to move on? Great.
The Heat are especially using effort and determination on the defensive end of the floor to win games. For the season, Miami has the fifth best defense in the league, and that’s with some of their best defenders like Josh Richardson (missed 29 games) and Justice Winslow (only played 18 games) missing significant time.
The turnaround in Miami is incredible, and sees them controlling their own destiny in the playoff race. The Heat currently sit in the eighth seed, one game ahead of both the Pistons and Bulls yet just 2.5 games out of the fifth seed!
The only problem is that there is a coach who carries a similar narrative for a team that is certainly a playoff contender.
2) Scott Brooks
Many people were extremely surprised when the Washington Wizards got off to a 7-13 start this season. After all, their Vegas over/under was 42.5 and many predicted they would at least be .500 and make the playoffs.
Well since then (December 6th), the Wizards have had a 36-15 record, good for third in the league. How have they done this you may ask? by riding an excellent starting lineup and offense. The Wizards’ starting lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat has played the most minutes in the league, and boast a very good net rating of 10.0.
As a team the Wizards have the fourth best net rating in the league since December 7th, as their offense has been sixth in the league and their defense has been eleventh in the league.
When Washington got off to that bad start, it would’ve been easy for them to point blame at each other and just go through the motions of another near .500 season. However, Brooks wouldn’t allow it to happen in his first season in D.C.. Brooks made some changes to stagger minutes more effectively, and his offensive game-plan is much evolved since his days in Oklahoma City.
For those reasons, Brooks should feel pretty good about his chances to win Coach of the Year. However, he’d feel a lot better if there wasn’t a team greatly exceeding expectations this season.
1) Mike D’Antoni
Referring to the chart from above, the Rockets have exceeded expectations in a way that no one expected. In that respect, Mike D’Antoni blows away the rest of the field for Coach of the Year.
What people didn’t expect was that the Rockets would win nearly 70 percent of their games using that elite offense coupled with a league average (15th in the league) defense. The Rockets posted two winning streaks of at least nine games this season, and posted the league’s best record from December 1st to January 15th.
Another big reason D’Antoni should be rewarded this season is his ability to get James Harden (and other role players) to buy in to his system and culture. One of the first moves D’Antoni made when he was installed as head coach was move Harden to point guard, a move that, along with the right pieces alongside him, has produced one of, if not the best offensive season ever.
The Rockets are winning (a lot more than people expected), and their players have happily bought in to D’Antoni’s system. Therefore it’s time D’Antoni was rewarded with his second NBA Coach of the Year award.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com
Alright, let’s be honest. Once the trade deadline ended the first article you were looking to read was one that told you which teams “won” their trades and which team “lost” the moves they made. Well, after waiting a couple of days to watch the various debuts players made on their new teams, I am finally here to let you know what I think about this year’s trade deadline.
Without further ado, let’s get to the winners.
I think the Raptors are BIG winners. This was on clear display in their win against the Celtics on Friday night. In case you missed it, the Raptors added Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker in separate deals, giving up Terrence Ross, a 2017 first round pick (the worse of Toronto’s or the Clippers), Jared Sullinger, and two second round picks all together.
Let’s take a quick second to summarize what the Raptors had to give up. Ross is a nice young rotational player on a decent contract ($10.5 million for the next two seasons) who is very athletic and a capable three-point shooter (career 37.6 percent from beyond the arc). What he isn’t is a good defender or an efficient, elite scorer. Plus, with Norman Powell sitting right behind him in the rotation, Ross became expendable for the Raptors.
Having two first round picks allowed the Raptors to trade the less favorable one away with little reservation in the Ibaka deal, and to get Tucker all it costed was Sullinger (who was terrible in the 11 games he appeared in this season) and two second round picks, which are essentially crap-shoots in the draft.
The Raptors now have the ability to throw out a Tucker-Patrick Patterson-Ibaka frontcourt, which should cause nightmares for opposing offenses. And with Ibaka and Patterson’s ability to hit threes, the floor spacing won’t be completely cramped.
Listen, I’m not saying the Raptors are going to the finals. But there’s no doubt they are better suited to face the Cavaliers now than they were just a week or two ago. With the Celtics not making a move and the Wizards’ significant upgrade being Bojan Bogdanovic, the Raptors seem poised to make another run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Corey Brewer is gone.
Oklahoma City Thunder
How you evaluate the trade the Thunder made really depends on how you view Cameron Payne. If you view him as a potential point guard of the future for a team (which the Bulls presumably do), then you may be fine with this deal from Chicago’s perspective.
If you are more like me and don’t see Payne becoming anything more than a backup guard, then you view this trade as a theft for the Thunder. Let’s review the details first: The Thunder received Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 second round pick for Payne, Anthony Morrow, and Joffrey Lauvergne. My goodness what a trade for the Thunder.
Gibson is a physical defender and rebounder while McDermott provides OKC with some much needed shooting. Moving forward, the starting lineup will still be deprived of floor spacing, but man is their defense going to be stifling. Does any guard want to drive to the paint just to see Taj Gibson and Steven Adams greet them at the rim? Yea I’ll pass on that one.
Whether or not you believe the Celtics should have given up one (or both) of the Brooklyn picks to get Jimmy Butler or Paul George, it is impossible to deny that this current Celtics team would have benefited from obtaining a big man that can rebound and protect the rim.
You’re going to tell me that the Celtics couldn’t beat the offer the Mavericks made for Noel or Oklahoma City’s offer to get Taj Gibson? Yea, I’m not buying it. While such a move wouldn’t have been the “sexy” trade most Celtics fans wanted, those are moves that could push the Celtics to the Conference Finals.
Instead, the Celtics are still vulnerable to getting killed on the glass and not being able to get consistent stops on defense. The Celtics are still a very good team that has incredible assets, but sooner or later you can’t call them assets if you don’t plan on using them.
New York Knicks
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Indiana Pacers & Chicago Bulls
I decided to group these two teams together because both of them have a star wing that was almost traded to the Celtics and neither team can pick a direction for their franchise.
It’s hard to fault either team for not trading their star player, but both teams made (or didn’t make in Indiana’s case) moves that don’t help the organization move forward.
For the Bulls, they got what they hope is their point guard of the future in Payne for the steep cost of Gibson, McDermott, and a second round pick. It’s not exactly the type of move that inspires a rebuild.
For the Pacers, they first openly shopped their 2017 first round pick in hopes of getting PG13 some help. Then, they switched gears and shopped George on the trade market, leading many to think a rebuild was on the horizon. Then, the trade deadline came and gone, with the Pacers not making a single move.
They didn’t begin a rebuild by trading George but didn’t get him any help at the same time. Not a good look Larry Legend.
For many of the trades completed this trade season, only time will tell who truly came out on top. However, there were certainly some heists that occurred this trade season, and early returns point to these winners and losers.
All statistics provided by Basketball Reference and NBA.com
If you were to ask someone to rank their top five point guards in the NBA right now, I can almost guarantee that John Wall won’t even be mentioned in the conversation.
Granted, with the incredible performances from players like James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Lowry, and Steph Curry it is hard to fit Wall on that list. However, Wall should absolutely be mentioned in the conversation. The man is a star and is proving it with a career-best year this season for the extremely hot Wizards.
As was the case with Harden, Wall’s stock took a hit among fans and analysts after the Wizards’ disappointing 2015–16 season that saw them finish 41–41 and miss the playoffs. And like Harden, Wall’s numbers actually improved for the most part, with him averaging (then) career highs in points, rebounds, and assists per game.
However, there were endless stories of locker room turmoil between Wall and coach Randy Wittman and fellow back-court teammate Bradley Beal. There were even reports of serious tension between the two back-court members in the off season, further putting the future of the Wizards in question.
In the off season, Bradley Beal signed the max extension with the Wizards and Scott Brooks was brought in as head coach, with the team hoping to turn things around after a tumultuous 2015–16 season.
Unfortunately, the beginning of this season was anything but that. With the Wizards starting 6–12, many began to doubt not only the hiring of Brooks, but also whether or not Wall and Beal could coexist in the same back-court. Wall began to drop in the eyes of many fans and analysts, as his play in the first two months of the season was anything but what you would expect from your star player.
Over October and November, Wall shot 38.5 percent from the field. His net rating in October was -6.4, and was a mediocre 0.4 in November. Also, Wall posted an Assist to turnover ratio of just 1.98 in November, which is a far cry from the 3.02 ratio he posted in January.
When you combine Wall’s sub-par play with a poor Wizards bench, you get the recipe for a disastrous start to a season. However, starting in December, things began clicking for the Wizards as the bench improved and Wall took his game to a whole other level.
In December, Wall’s net rating improved to 5.4, and then it took another jump to 11.2 and 14.7 (!!) in January and February. Wall’s scoring has decreased over the course of the season, from 24.5 points per game in December to 21.2 in January and 23.3 in February.
However, Wall’s passing has steadily increased during this time. Wall went from averaging 9 assists per game in November to 10.9 and 12.6 assists per game in January and February. Wall is a menace in transition, but he is looking for players to pass to on the wings more than ever this season, and it results in great looks for the league’s leader in three-point percentage (and Most Improved Player of the Year candidate) Otto Porter Jr.:
Wall is making plays like that on a consistent basis, making him a nearly unstoppable threat in transition. You have to worry about him blowing past you with incredible speed to finish at the rim yet be aware of where his teammates are in order to prevent open threes. Plus, Wall is still no slouch at finishing in the rim in transition:
Now, we have to give credit to players such as Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat. The Wizards starting five is the most played in the league, and it is one of the best. For the season, that unit is posting a net rating of 13, due to an offensive rating of 113.3 and defensive rating of 100.3. Those are elite numbers.
Beal and Porter are both having career seasons, averaging career highs in scoring (22.2 and 14.6 points per game respectively). Meanwhile Morris has had a very good season and Gortat is providing a much needed presence down low.
The Wizards are a very good team as is. With one or two moves to add bench pieces (hi Lou Williams), this team can be a threat in the Eastern Conference. They have one of the best starting units in the league and are led by a dynamic backcourt in Wall and Beal.
It’s time Wall seriously entered the MVP conversation. He is the best player on a top three team in the Eastern Conference, and is having a career year. The Wizards are on pace for 50 wins this season, which would be the first time they have accomplished that since the 1978–79 season! Wall is simply not receiving enough credit for his play and leadership this season.
There are many questions surrounding the NBA at this point. Hell, DeMarcus freakin’ Cousins was just traded! However, one thing that should not be questioned is John Wall’s place among the NBA’s elites.
All statistics provided by Basketball Reference and NBA.com
With the NBA playoff picture becoming clearer in each conference, which under-the-radar teams could be threats this postseason?
With the 2016-17 NBA season past the midway point, the playoff picture in both conferences continues to become clearer and clearer each passing night. While the seeding of most of the 16 playoff teams will vary and change over the next couple of months, the actual teams we will see in the postseason are becoming clear.
With that being said, there are always dangerous, under-the-radar playoff teams in each conference that either A) get hot down the stretch of the season that carries in to the playoffs or B) represent the teams no one wants to face in the playoffs.
Other factors that could make a team a dangerous playoff threat are style of play, matchups, and star power. For those reasons, here are the teams to keep your eye on the rest of the regular season and in the playoffs.
The Washington Wizards got off to a dreadful start this season, going 7-13 in their first 20 games. However, since then they have been one of the best teams in the league. They are 23-8 since Dec. 6, which is the best record in the Eastern Conference during that stretch.
The Wizards are a dangerous playoff team because they have star power and are solid on both ends of the floor. The Wizards are ninth in the league in offensive rating (107.8) and 12th in the league in defensive rating (105.3), making them above league average on both sides of the floor.
Now let’s get to that star power I mentioned. Both John Wall and Bradley Beal are having career seasons, with both averaging a career high in points per game (23 and 21.7 respectively). Wall is also averaging a career high in steals per game (2.2) while Beal is also averaging a career high 3.6 assists per game.
Wall continues to bring that dynamic playmaking (10.4 assists per game) and defensive effort we’ve come to expect, while Beal has stayed healthy and is providing a serious scoring threat that can take over any game. This is a back-court that can (and will) singlehandedly take over and win games for the Wizards, making them a threat to fear in the playoffs.
The Memphis Grizzlies have been an up-and-down team so far this season. They currently sit at 22-22, good for seventh in the Western Conference. However, because of their style of play and tenacity, teams have reason to fear them in the playoffs.
The Grizzlies are still that “Grit-N-Grind” team you’ve come to know (and possibly love), as they rank fourth in the league defensively and 24th in the league offensively. Isn’t the old saying “defense wins championships?” The Grizzlies surely hope so.
Realistically, the Grizzlies have already shown they are capable of beating anyone this season, as they have two victories against both the Warriors and Rockets, two of the most high powered offenses in the league.
Led by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, who are both having career seasons (and resurgences), the Grizzlies know how they want to play and do a very effective job of doing so. Another factor that can make the Grizzlies dangerous is that while they are a solid 17-9 at home, they are also an acceptable 15-13 on the road, meaning they know what it takes to win away from Memphis.
Ask any team in the Western Conference who they least want to face in the playoffs and chances are you’ll get the Grizzlies as a response more often than not.