Where do the Phoenix Suns go From Here?

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After playing for the lottery in the past two seasons, where do the Suns go from here with their young talent?

All eyes were on the Phoenix Suns on Friday night as Devin Booker went off for 70 points (and 8 rebounds and 6 assists) against the Boston Celtics. And no I don’t want to hear about how he shot 26 free throws or the fact that they lost the game. In fact, this was a best-case scenario for the Suns. Their most promising young player put up a historic performance all while the team inched closer to all but securing a top three pick in the loaded 2017 NBA Draft.

The Suns currently own the third worst record in the entire league, and are only a 1/2 game ahead of the Lakers. The Suns are not keeping their tanking plans a secret, as they have shut down Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler, and Brandon Knight for the season. Their tank is in full effect, as they have lost 8 games in a row and are 1–9 in their last ten.

So it’s clear the Suns are again playing for the draft. However, there are other questions surrounding their roster that need answering. Those two main questions are 1) what are they going to do with their established players? And 2) what do they truly have in their young talent?

Now, established player is a broad term, so let’s narrow it down to Bledsoe, Knight, and Chandler, the three players that were shut down this season. Bledsoe was enjoying a career year, averaging 21.1 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game. Bledsoe also had career highs in PER (20.7), offensive box plus-minus (3.7), and box plus-minus (3.3). Perhaps most importantly, Bledsoe was also able to stay on the floor this season, which is not only a great sign for him personally, but also increases his trade value should that be the direction Phoenix goes.

Another aspect that bolsters Bledsoe’s trade value is his contract. Bledsoe is on a very good contract relative to his performance, as he is set to earn just $14.5 and $15 million the next two seasons.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Brandon Knight played his trade value in to the ground, shooting less than 40 percent from the floor and playing only 21 minutes per game, far from his playing time in previous seasons. The Suns tried to trade Knight this season, but as a result of his poor play (Knight ranks 458th out of 460 players in real plus-minus) and his expensive contract (he’s set to make $13+ million each year until 2020), there were understandably no suitors willing to take him.

If the Suns really want to move on from Knight, they’ll have to attach a pick with some value alongside Knight, something that is seen more often in today’s NBA. Knight is only 25 years old and has shown promise in the past of being a reliable combo guard that can put up points and hit threes, but his value has plummeted this season, further putting his NBA future in jeopardy.

Is this when I remind you that Suns GM Ryan McDonough called Knight “the best player in the trade coming or going” in a trade that included both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas? No? Alright then, let’s move on.

Finally, Tyson Chandler was actually enjoying somewhat of a career renaissance this season, averaging 11.5 rebounds per game while shooting 67.1 percent from the floor. Chandler also posted a very good 2.09 defensive real plus-minus, good for 17th in the league among centers.

It’s most likely that the Suns explore trading Bledsoe and Knight this offseason, especially if the Suns are able to land a top two pick, in which case they would be able to draft their point guard of the future in Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz. Even if they get a pick in the 3–5 range, other point guards like Dennis Smith Jr. and De’Aaron Fox loom as potential long-term options at the point, making it likely Bledsoe could be on his way out of phoenix as his trade value is at its highest.

But enough about the established veterans, let’s focus on the young talent in Phoenix because there is an interesting collection of it.

The Suns have seven players on their roster that are 23 or younger: Booker, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Derrick Jones Jr., Tyler Ulis, TJ Warren, and Len.

Booker is the best of the group and is expected to become one of, if not the key cog of the Suns’ future teams. While Booker has clearly proven himself to be an elite scorer, his lack of contributions in other aspects of the game limit his overall impact on the game.

This season Booker is averaging 21.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. Pretty impressive numbers for a guy who can’t legally buy alcohol right?

Booker’s play-making has been a pleasant surprise, as he has shown the ability to read the court and make the right pass at times. Considering the fact that Booker had 42 total assists in the 38 games he played in college, seeing him play-make for others relatively well is a welcome addition to his game.

However, look beneath the surface and you’ll find concerns with Booker’s game, mainly being that Booker is a very inefficient scorer and poor defender. Booker has never shot better than 43 percent from the field, and is posting an effective field goal percentage of just 47.5 percent this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Booker’s shortcomings are exposed. This season Booker owns a defensive box plus-minus of -2.7, which is actually worse than the -2.3 DBPM he had last season. Also, Booker ranks 90th (-2.24) among qualifying shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus. It’s clear that Booker has work to do on the defensive end to even be passable on that end of the floor.

 Looking at the other young talent on the roster, it’s unclear what exactly the Suns have in each player. Chriss has received nearly 21 minutes per game and has played pretty well, putting up per-36 minute numbers of 15.4 points, 7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. Chriss is also hitting nearly a three per game, and is shooting 33.2 percent from beyond the arc, making him somewhat of a floor-spacing threat at the power forward position.

Of course Chriss has also shown the tremendous athleticism many expected from him this season, throwing down dunk after dunk:

Chriss also hasn’t been a trainwreck on the defensive side of the ball, as he is posting a neutral (0.0) defensive box plus-minus. If Chriss can improve to around 35–36 percent on threes and continue to provide jaw-dropping athleticism, he’ll certainly be a key player in the Suns’ future.

Len and Warren are the most experienced players in this group, with Len being in his fourth season and Warren in his third. Interestingly, Len is receiving the second lowest minutes per game of his career (20.2), yet he’s been fairly productive in those minutes. Per-36 minutes Len is averaging 13.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. However, the Suns don’t seem to be too ecstatic about Len’s future, and a lucrative offer in restricted free agency may very well lead to Len’s departure.

Warren on the other hand, is receiving the most minutes in his career, putting up 13.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in the 30.4 minutes per game he’s receiving. While Warren is a fairly efficient scorer (career 51.8 effective field goal percentage and 54 percent true shooting percentage), he is a very poor three-point shooter (career 29.7 percent), limiting the floor spacing for the Suns’ guards.

In the long run Warren may be better suited as a small ball four, where his three point shooting won’t kill the floor spacing as much and he can expose opposing power forwards trying to guard him on the perimeter. Warren is under contract for another season before hitting restricted free agency, so the Suns have some time to figure out what they truly have in him.

It remains to be seen whether or not even one of this young group of players can become consistent contributors on a good team. The Suns still don’t know what they truly have in each of those players (except Booker), but allowing them to continue to develop should be the plan in Phoenix.

After adding what is sure to be another tantalizing prospect in this year’s draft (and possibly LaVar Ball as an unofficial team cheerleader), the Suns will continue to be a team filled with raw, young players looking to develop. Whether or not this young group of players can take the Suns back to postseason contention is unknown, but they’ll surely be one of the most interesting teams to watch over the next couple of seasons.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference

Who is the NBA Coach of the Year?

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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):

Credit: Dar-Wei Chen

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:

Credit: Dar-Wei Chen

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.

Since January 14th, the Heat have the best record in the entire league at 24-7. This is due to their elite play on both ends of the floor as they are fifth in offense and third in defense during this time period. That’s no joke.

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.

D’Antoni has brought what most people expected to the Rockets: an elite offense that is extremely fun to watch. The Rockets are currently second in the league offensively and are having one of the greatest offensive seasons in NBA history. But many people expected that.

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

Eric Gordon Should Win Sixth Man of the Year

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With the addition of Lou Williams, Eric Gordon’s campaign for Sixth Man of the Year was thrown a loop. However, when push comes to shove Gordon is most deserving for the award.

Up until the trade deadline in February, the majority of people had Eric Gordon as their front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year. However, once the Houston Rockets acquired Lou Williams, the race for the award got much more interesting.

Well, let’s take a look at the seasons both players are having and why Gordon is more deserving of the award this season.

This season, Eric Gordon is averaging 16.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 37.6 percent on three-pointers. Gordon, best known for his ability to hit threes, has actually struggled with his shot for the past couple of months.

Since Gordon shot an astounding 45.7 percent on his threes in December, he hasn’t reached higher than 34.3 percent in a month. This is definitely something to monitor as the Rockets get closer to the playoffs.

On the other hand there’s Lou Williams, who is averaging 18 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 38.7 percent on three-pointers. Williams is actually shooting slightly worse on threes since arriving in Houston, 37.8 percent compared to 38.6 percent with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now that both players are on the same bench, they often play a good majority of their minutes together, usually with Patrick Beverley alongside them. That 3 man unit owns an offensive rating of 118.1 and a defensive rating of 107.2, good for a net rating of 10.8.

Both Gordon and Williams are key reasons the Rockets have the second highest scoring bench in the league since the trade deadline.

However, only one can win the Sixth Man of the Year Award. So why should it go to Eric Gordon? Because contributing to winning matters.

The main reason why most had Gordon above Williams for the majority of this season is because Gordon was contributing to meaningful wins on a contender while Williams was putting up mostly empty numbers for a lottery-bound (now at full speed) Lakers team.

As mentioned previously, Gordon shot extremely well from beyond the arc in December, a month in which he averaged 18.8 points and 3.4 assists per game as the Rockets went 15-2 in the month.

Also, Gordon was the key cog in a very good Rockets bench before the arrival of Williams. The lineup of Beverley, Gordon, the much maligned Corey Brewer, Sam Dekker, and Nene posted an offensive rating of 108.7 and defensive rating of 90 in the 138 minutes it played, good for an elite net rating of 18.7.

Gordon was the focal point of that unit, as the bench suffered during the games he missed with injury. Gordon is able to play off the ball and use screens to get open threes as well as play-make with the ball in his hands. His play off the bench was a key reason the Rockets were able to sustain two winning streaks of at least nine games throughout December and January.

Because Gordon was holding up the Rockets bench before Williams arrived and was contributing to (a lot) of meaningful wins for the majority of the season, Eric Gordon would receive my vote for Sixth Man of the Year.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com

Patrick Beverley is the Heart and Soul of the Houston Rockets

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The scrappy guard uses his effort and energy on the defensive end to consistently propel the Rockets to new heights.

When Patrick Beverley first arrived on the NBA scene with the Houston Rockets in the 2012-13 season, few expected him to become a solid starting guard on one of the best teams in the league. However, that is exactly what Beverley has done.

How has he done it? Well, mainly through his excellent defense and hustle. If you play good defense and always give incredible effort when you are on the floor, you are almost guaranteed a roster spot in the NBA.

However, Beverley went beyond just being a good defender, as he worked on his shot and play-making abilities, making him the perfect partner to James Harden in the Rockets’ backcourt.

This season Beverley is averaging career highs in assists (4.4), rebounds (5.9), and steals (1.6) per game. Beverley has already had seven games with at least 10 rebounds, which is incredible when you realize he is only 6’1″. A lot of these rebounds come as a result of Beverley being more aggressive and out-hustling opposing bigs.

Beverley is averaging a career high in offensive rebounds, and his effort to obtain those rebounds not only inject energy to the Rockets, but they also provide their lethal offense with another possession to catch the defense off guard.

Among players shorter than 6’4″ that average at least 4 rebounds per game, Beverley currently has the highest contested rebound percentage in the entire league. That’s significant and important for the Rockets’ offense.

Turning to Beverley’s play-making, Beverley is averaging 5.2 assists per game per-36 minutes this season. The reason Beverley is usually subbed out of the game at the midway point in the first and third quarters is so he can come back in to run the bench unit in the second and fourth quarters.

Beverley has become a reliable ball-handler and play-maker, as he is effective in driving to the rim in order to open shots up for others. Beverley is posting the second highest assist percentage (20.0) of his career, trailing only his debut season with Houston (24.2).

While Beverley’s play-making abilities make him the ideal guard to run the bench unit, his improved shooting makes him the perfect running mate to Harden in the starting lineup.

Beverley has improved his three-point shooting while taking more attempts from beyond the arc, which is the ideal combination. This season Beverley is shooting 39.4 percent on his three-pointers, which is slightly down from the 40 percent he shot last season but a steady improvement on the 35.6 percentage he shot in the 2014-15 season.

Beverley is now an off-ball threat playing alongside Harden while also being the primary ball-handler on the second unit. Who would have imagined that when he first joined the Rockets?

Finally, as is usual when discussing Beverley’s impact on the game, we have to address his defense. Beverley is currently posting a 1.8 defensive box plus-minus, and is defensive real plus-minus of 1.68 is good for second in the league among point guards.

Even though the numbers support the idea that Beverley is an elite defender, simply watching him will give you enough of an idea of his impact on that end of the floor:

Beverley has had countless defensive moments like the one above, making him a crucial part of a Rockets team that lacks good perimeter defenders. Also, Beverley’s great defense provides the Rockets with energy sparks in addition to helping them win basketball games.

For the various reasons outlined above, Patrick Beverley is the true heart and soul of the Houston Rockets. He consistently does the dirty work of rebounding and playing physical defense, all while becoming a good play-maker and three-point shooter. Long live Mr. 94feet, Patrick Beverley.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com

Analyzing Lou Williams’ First Week With Houston Rockets

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Lou Williams’ first week with the Houston Rockets has come and gone. How has the sweet shooting guard performed with his new team? Let’s dive in to his recent performances.

By all accounts, most people were surprised when they heard the Houston Rockets were trading for Lou Williams. The Rockets already had a fire-powered offense, why would they need another scorer?

Well sure enough, Williams has fit in perfectly in Houston, killing opposing bench units alongside Eric Gordon and Patrick Beverley in a unique lineup with three guards.

Yes, Williams is a negative on the defensive end (he is posting a minus-3.2 defensive box plus-minus for the season), but his shooting and play-making abilities have been instrumental for a bench unit that is routinely maintaining or extending leads.

With that being said, let’s look at how Williams has played during his first four games with the Rockets. Williams is averaging 19.3 points and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 42.9 percent on three-pointers.

While Williams is playing slightly more in Houston (25.3 minutes per game compared to 24.2 minutes per game with the Los Angeles Lakers), his usage rate has unsurprisingly decreased, from 30.6 in L.A. to 27.5 in Houston.

Williams has posted a 5.9 offensive box plus-minus, 62.7 true shooting percentage and a 23.4 PER in his first week with the Rockets, so it’s safe to say he has continued his elite play on the offensive end.

The Rockets have been missing a good corner three-point shooter on the bench unit for a while now, with Corey Brewer “filling” that role over the past two seasons.However, unlike Brewer (who is a career 31 percent shooter on corner threes), Williams is excellent from the corners, shooting 41 percent on such shots for his career, including 54 percent this season.

Another underrated aspect of Williams’ game is his play-making abilities. Per-36 minutes this season, Williams is averaging 4.6 assists per game, a very good rate for a score-first guard.

Remember that three-guard lineup I mentioned earlier? Well it’s doing pretty darn well so far. In the small sample size (22 minutes) it has played, the lineup of Beverley, Williams, Gordon, Sam Dekker and Clint Capela has a net rating of plus-41 (!!!) so far.This is mainly due to the incredible 153 offensive rating that lineup has, which makes up for its poor 112 defensive rating.

In fact, the trio of Beverley, Williams, and Gordon have posted a net rating of plus-23.8 so far in the 47 minutes they have shared the court, as a result of their incredible 128.9 offensive rating and above average 105.1 defensive rating.

Playing that trio more often will result in good things for the Rockets, especially the bench unit. It’s clear that Williams has fit in perfectly alongside the rest of the Rockets’ bench unit, as the team can now expect that unit to maintain or extend leads during games.

Moving forward, Williams should only get more comfortable playing alongside his new teammates. Eventually, Williams will get the ball in his hands more to create, making him even more of a force on the offensive end.

Lou Williams is just what the Rockets were looking in their hopes to take down the Golden State Warriors: a great shooter to play off the ball yet at the same time another creator and playmaker for the bench unit.

The Rockets have gone all in on using the three ball to knock off teams like the Warriors. Thanks in part to Lou Williams, the Rockets have a better chance of doing so now.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com

2017 NBA Trade Deadline Winners & Losers

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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.

Winners

Toronto Raptors 

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.

Houston Rockets

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.

Losers

Boston Celtics

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.

The Celtics are currently 29th in the league in rebounding, 23rd in blocks per game, and 18th defensively. That just isn’t going to cut it come playoff time.

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

Houston Rockets 2017 NBA Trade Deadline Review

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With the 2017 NBA trade deadline having come and gone, how did the Rockets fare with their moves and where does their new look team go from here?

In what has become an annual tradition, the Houston Rockets made moves at the trade deadline. This year they acquired Lou Williams while also clearing about $3.5 million in cap space by trading away K.J. McDaniels and Tyler Ennis.

It’s time we breakdown what these moves mean for the Rockets moving forward and how the team should fare down the stretch run of the season.

First let’s recap what the Rockets gained and what they lost during this trade season. The Rockets only added Lou Williams for now (more about that later) and lost Corey Brewer, Tyler Ennis, K.J. McDaniels, and their 2017 first round pick.

With all of their moves, the Rockets are now $3,538,201 million under the cap, giving them the most money to spend in the buyout market among the top four teams in each conference. This is especially important this season as players such as Andrew Bogut and Matt Barnes become available. Both players fill needs the Rockets have: wing defenders, rim protection, and rebounding.

However, the Rockets have signed anyone with that cap room just yet so we can’t analyze the McDaniels or Ennis trade completely at this point.

What we can evaluate is the trade for Lou Williams. Williams made his debut with Houston Thursday night against the new look Pelicans, and boy was he sensational:

I mean, he only joined the team Thursday afternoon and put up that kind of performance without a single practice under his belt. Williams will continue to have the green light to shoot and will receive some of the best looks he has seen in years playing next to James Harden.

The Rockets bench is now DEADLY. Against the Pelicans, the bench scored 79 points! Led by Eric Gordon and Williams, the Rockets bench can not only sustain leads, but actually increase them. Plus, having such a good bench allows the starters (especially Harden) to rest more, which will be crucial come playoff time.

Williams is an elite (and efficient) scorer, and while he certainly has his defensive limitations, pairing him with Harden and Gordon for stretches makes the Rockets’ offense nearly unstoppable. Now, let’s take a look at the Rockets situation moving forward.

As mentioned before, the Rockets now have significant cap room to navigate a buyout market that is sure to have players in it that fill various needs for the Rockets. The Rockets have the fourth best record in the league and have more money than the other contenders in front of them, which could very well make them a serious destination for free agents looking for a deep playoff run.

In the end, this was a very successful trade deadline for Daryl Morey and the Rockets. They rid themselves of their worst rotational player (and contract) in Corey Brewer, shed salary to explore the buyout market, and obtained one of the best bench players (and scorers) in the league in Lou Williams.

The Rockets now move forward with an even deadlier bench and offense, and have cap room to sign another piece to the rotation. Daryl Morey worked his magic again at the trade deadline, and the Houston Rockets are in a better position now than they were at the beginning of the week. Bravo, Daryl, Bravo.

The Underappreciated Star That is John Wall

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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:

I mean, how do you stop that?

For the season, Wall is averaging career highs in:

  •  points per game (22.8)
  • assists per game (10.6, good for second in the league)
  • steals per game (2.1 per game)
  • field goal percentage (45.2)
  • free throw percentage (81.2)

It’s safe to say John Wall is having a career season.

Wall is (obviously) a big reason why the Wizards have the best record (28–10) in the Eastern Conference since December 1. The Wizards have completely turned around their season, mainly due to the improved play of John Wall.

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

Nikola Jokic: A True Denver ‘Nugget’

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Let’s be honest for a second. Most casual NBA fans have no idea who Nikola Jokic is. If you mention the name Jokic the two most likely responses you’ll get in return are “did you mean Djokovic?” and “Joker? That villain from the Batman movies?” That is what happens when you are an international big man playing on a Denver Nuggets team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2013 (by the way, the pronunciation is “Yokic”).

However, it is now our duty to make sure people know the name Nikola Jokic. Too many people are missing out on Jokic’s incredibly diverse and entertaining game. Plus, the man loves his jokes:

Seriously, those are painful. Props to Nikola.

Jokic is a player everyone can get behind. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy hearing about a successful professional athlete that used to drink three liters of Coca-Cola every day? Jokic is certainly more relatable to the average fan than the majority of NBA players.

But now to the important stuff: Jokic’s incredible rise as one of the most enjoyable and skilled big men in the NBA.

Early in the 2016–17 season, the Denver Nuggets (and specifically head coach Mike Malone) weren’t sure about the best use of Jokic. Was it alongside (the recently departed) Jusuf Nurkic? Should he start at center? How many minutes should he get each game? Even though the answer was pretty clear to most fans and analysts, it took the Nuggets a couple of months to get it right.

For the months of October, November, and December, Jokic logged less than 26 minutes per game. In January the Serbian played 30.7 minutes per game and is currently averaging 31 minutes per game in February. And unsurprisingly, the results have been great.

For the month of January, Jokic averaged 23.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game on 61% shooting from the field. Jokic has continued that play in to February, averaging 20.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and an astounding 6.6 assists per game so far.

Jokic has the ability to take over the game with his scoring or his play-making, which has become a staple for the Denver Nuggets offense. It’s not an exaggeration to say Jokic is already the best passing big man in the league.

For the season, Jokic is putting up 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game in less than 27 minutes per game. Also, let me throw this at you —

  • Jokic is sixth in the league in field goal percent
  • fourth in true shooting percent
  • sixth in effective field goal percentage
  • second in offensive rating
  • fourth in box plus-minus
  • eighth in PER
  • and seventh in win shares per 48 minutes.

With Jokic leading the way, the Nuggets are poised to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. How can you not love the Joker?

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com