The Playoffs are here and it is easily the best part of any NBA Season. It has highs and lows, ups and downs and sometimes the underdog gets their time to shine against the best in the league. Thus far in the Playoffs we’ve seen some upsets and they always make for interesting viewing. Sometimes it’s due to underestimation. Other times an up and comer or an aging star gets their time in the spotlight. With this piece I’m going to look specifically at the Warriors Vs the Clippers. (more…)
Tag: Blake Griffin
It’s been a long time coming, but NBA Nation Australia’s Roundtable is finally back, and with the 2014 Playoffs just around the corner, there are are a multitude of topics that ache for discussion. From the rise, and subsequent demise of the Indiana Pacers, to an unbelievably close race for the MVP crown, this NBA season has once again gone above and beyond. Reaffirming that we, as basketball fans can engross ourselves in this beautiful game, and lose ourselves in its ever-changing and evolving landscape. This time round, we have three fantastic guests, all of whom are well ingrained in Australia’s basketball scene in their own way. Tom Read from our country’s #1 NBA Podcast #BelieveTheHype, Adam Howes who is fast becoming what we believe to be Australia’s number one NBA journalist, and the ever controversial, and always thoroughly entertaining NBA Slander. These guys will join the usual suspects to discuss some of the NBA’s most pressing questions, and have their own say at the culmination of another season, where all fans can come together, and rejoice over this beautiful thing we call basketball. Enjoy. (NB: Answers were submitted over the course of the past 4 days.)
1.With the playoffs just over a week away, there are several teams that are battling for the 8th and 7th seeds during the course of the final few games. Who will make the 8, and who will just miss out in both conferences?
Nathan Darby: In the East my heart wants New York to sneak in and Atlanta to miss out. Will they do anything if they make the playoffs? It’s highly doubtful but they can make for some entertaining games. I still cannot believe that Charlotte are up there and I think that Brooklyn might be able to do some damage. In the West Phoenix will stay at 8. Such a good story for a team that nobody gave a chance of doing anything and it’s great to see Gerald Green showing he’s more than a dunker. The rest of the West will stay as is. A Clippers Vs Golden State First Round Match-Up would be mint. Bogut being a pest, niggling at Blake and DeAndre. Curry and Klay dropping bombs. CP3 running the show. If the Warriors get a roll on they’ll be tough over 7.
Ryan O’Connell: It’s the Knicks and Hawks battling it out for the final spot in the East, and I think Atlanta will take it. Both teams have horror draws to finish the season, playing teams above them in the standings, apart from the Hawks facing the lowly Bucks on the last day of the season. The Hawks should beat Milwaukee, and therefore win the right to get belted in the first round of the playoffs. Plus, let’s face it, the Knicks are putrid. In the West, it’s a lottery, with Memphis, Dallas, Phoenix, and even Golden State all duking it out for the final three spots. The Grizzlies play the Suns on the second last day of the season in a match that will probably decide the fate of both teams. I’ll lean towards Memphis’ experience getting them home in that game, which means the Suns brilliant season may not result in a playoff spot; which is ludicrous considering what an excellent basketball team they’ve been all season.
Adam Howes: I’ll start with the East. One through seven is all clinched, with some teetering between Charlotte and Washington, so really it’s just a matter of the eighth seed being filled. It’s a two horse race between the Hawks and the Knicks, but despite their struggles I think the Hawks hold onto their current spot. The Knicks are cooked, stick a fork in them, they are DONE! They still have to face the Raptors (twice), Bulls and also the Nets. I’ll be shocked if they catch Atlanta and really, do they even deserve that spot after the abysmal season they’ve had? That’s a resounding no from me on that front. Besides, Lala’s probably already got the bags packed and the travel agent on speed dial. I hear Chicago is nice in June. The plot thickens out west. GSW, Dallas and Phoenix have all been playing with reckless abandon over their last 10 or so games, whilst Memphis is still hanging in by the skin of their teeth. As awesome as it would be from a basketball purist’s perspective to have the Mavs drop to the eight spot and face off against the Spurs in the first round, my gut instinct has the Suns meeting Timmy and company, which is a little disappointing, as I think that Phoenix vs. OKC in round 1 would make for some heart pounding basketball theatre. Getting back to the Warriors, I think they stay in the sixth position. Even though they have more games remaining (5) than the aforementioned teams, only one is a Playoff bound opponent.
Brenton Harris: Perhaps nothing better reflects the disparity of the two conferences than these two races, on the one hand you have the Hawks and the Knicks seemingly doing everything in their power to NOT make the playoffs in the East and on the other hand you have three worthy teams in the Suns, Mavericks and Grizzlies slugging it out in a winner-takes-all dog-fight for the final two remaining spots. In the Eastern conference, which honestly I couldn’t care less about I think the Hawks will unintentionally find themselves in the playoffs and subject to a sweep at the hands of the Heat, but I won’t be watching them do so. My eyes will be locked on the far more exciting West where entertaining story lines such as the Cinderella run by the Suns, Dirks last stand and the grit and grind Grizzlies search to rediscover their identity, coupled with some rather fortuitous scheduling that sees the teams all play each other over the course of the last few days of the season, should make for some utterly enthralling viewing. As a Suns fan, who infamously gave them NO CHANCE of achieving anything this year, I’d love for the Cinderella run they’ve been on to continue, however my head tells me that I’ll be sweating it out on the result of the final game of the campaign as the Suns square off against the Grizzlies in a ‘play-in’ game for the ages. The Mavs, with an easier schedule will have sewn up their spot already. This whole situation is yet another example of why the NBA is awesome. No matter what happens, I’d just like to take the opportunity to once again reiterate that I was WRONG about the Suns and that I love them dearly for what they’ve done for me as a fan this year. Bring on that last game against the Grizz, and then bring on those Spurs!
Nick Caro: It’s getting clearer by the day! Just this afternoon (Thursday) the Hawks ensured the Cavs won’t make the postseason, and made things very difficult for the Knicks with a win over Boston. At this point it’s hard to see New York overcoming the deficit, so I am saying the Hawks will definitely claim the 8th spot, and get booted by Miami or Indiana in the first round. The West is a bit tougher to call, with the Grizzlies and Suns battling hard for 8th, while the 7th placed Mavs aren’t yet a sure thing. Even Golden State could technically fall out at this point. While I love the story of the Phoenix Suns, I have to think the Grizzlies will push themselves into the 8 spot, and enjoy a huge first round match up with the Spurs.
NBA Slander: In the East, I think the Hawks will hang on to that 8th spot. They are two games in front of the Knicks at the moment and both teams have three games left to play. I don’t see the Knicks winning their last three against the Bulls, Nets and Raptors who are all in the playoffs. The Hawks, however, have the Heat, Bobcats and Bucks. The West is a much closer race between the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Suns (all within half a game of each other). Assuming the Grizzlies beat the Lakers, they have to play against the Suns and the Mavericks for their final two games. I’m going with the Mavs to hold the 7th spot and the Grizzlies to hold 8th.
Tom Read: In the Eastern Conference, it’s pretty safe to say that the Atlanta Hawks will lock down the 8th seed. They are 2 games ahead of the New York Knicks with 3 games remaining. PLUS they hold the tie-breaker over the Knicks. So, basically… They’ll have to lose all 3 of their remaining games vs the Heat, Bobcats & Bucks plus the Knicks would have to win all 3 of their remaining games against the Bulls, Nets & Raptors for them to fall out of the Playoffs. In the West, the Playoffs basically start now as the Mavericks, Grizzlies & Suns all play each-other over the final week of the season. (How’s that for scheduling!) I see all 3 teams finishing on 49 wins & Phoenix finishing in 9th place due to the tiebreaker.
2. A big talking point over the last couple of weeks has been the Indiana Pacers and their apparent fall from grace. From league leading title favorites, to underdogs in a first round match up, what is wrong with this team?
ND: I’ve still got the Pacers winning it. I said it at the start of the season and I can’t change my mind now. I like to think of it as tapering. They’re just priming themselves for the big show.
RO: Their offense sucks, to put it bluntly. Though there have been reports that chemistry has also been an issue since the Danny Granger/Evan Turner trade, the fact remains if the team was scoring more, and therefore winning more games, chemistry wouldn’t be an issue. Though in a classic ‘chicken versus egg’ scenario, maybe the offense would be better if the chemistry was better? Hhhmm. Back to the offense, and the Pacers hot start to the season may have been fool’s gold. Indy still lack an elite-level penetrator/point guard that can get easy buckets for teammates when the offense stagnates. Roy Hibbert is much improved down low, but remains mechanical at times. And I personally believe that the team overrates Lance Stephenson. Put it this way, I don’t think you can win the title if Lance is a vital part of your team. Their defense will win them their fair share of games, even in the playoffs, but sadly, this is no longer a championship team. If indeed it ever was.
AH: where is Roy Hibbert? Talk about underachieving, he’s over seven feet tall for crying out loud. Seriously, how is this supposed “All-Star” not dominating? Is it because he’s not seeing enough of the ball, his recent protests alluding to that as possibly the cause, unless he was referring to THIS? As for George, perhaps he should just take a social media sabbatical and focus on basketball and his leadership skills. In regards to that early season MVP discussion, shame on those of you who indulged in that nonsense. Such utter Poppycock! (If I’m to be remembered for anything in my first ever round table, let it be said that it was for using the word poppycock in reference to Paul George’s MVP legitimacy). All I know is this, if there is actually any tension between the two, Vogel or David West better sort it out quick fast or else their season will go down in NBA history as a bitter disappointment or at best be turned into a question on a TV game show… ‘This once lauded team won over 50 games in the 2013-14 NBA season, until dysfunctional set in and they were eliminated in the second round”.
BH: Simple: They’ve lost confidence in their own abilities and basketball is such a confidence driven game. Fans had better hope they regain that belief quickly because there is a team in Toronto and one in Chicago that are both brimming with confidence in their systems and in their own abilities that could easily upset the Pacers and find themselves facing the Heat for a spot in the finals.
NC: I’ve run through this a thousand times in my head and the only word that keeps popping up is chemistry. This team has lost ALL of it. Not just a player causing problems, or a bit of a feud between some guys. No. This team has somehow lost every single shred of chemistry which made them the NBA’s biggest threat to the Heat. Now, without that chemistry, and a dramatic drop in form from their stars, the Pacers have been relegated to a pack team, simply scraping their way to the end of the season. Coach Frank Vogel today rested their entire squad against the Bucks. A move scoffed at by yours truly. Why would a coach, on the verge of losing his team, sit his guys when the one thing they need is to re-learn how to play together? Rest? Ridiculous. They don’t need rest. Their average age is 26. They don’t need rest. They need to learn how to play together. Find that defensive, stifling style that made them so great to watch. This team simply HAS to find it soon, or I guarantee you they won’t make it past the first round.
NS: Absolutely everything. Many of us pegged them as legitimate contenders earlier in the season. Since then, many of us have changed our minds. We don’t know if they can right the ship. Let’s start with Roy Hibbert, a starting Center that managed to grab a grand total of 1 rebound in a game against their rival Miami Heat that may decide homecourt advantage. Utterly pathetic. And I’m not even going to use his name but a starting point guard for a championship caliber team cannot be averaging 2.8 assists in the last 5 games and 3.5 assist per game in the entire season. They better get their act together or they’re not going to make it out of the 1st round.
TR: This is a really perplexing situation at the moment. It’s amazing to see a team that only 2 months ago, looked like it would run away with the Eastern Conference #1 Seed & be well on their way to knocking the Heat off their mantle as the best team in the Conference. I don’t believe there’s just one thing that has gone wrong with the Pacers, but it’s a whole lot of little things that have mounted up into this situation. The biggest thing to me would be the deadline deal that sent Danny Granger to the 76ers in exchange for Evan Turner & Lavoy Allen. Whilst on court, this looked like it was a minor upgrade… Turner’s younger & more athletic than Granger… However, I think we may have all discounted that even when he was injured, this was still Danny Granger’s team. He was the first star from this new generation of Pacers & has been the locker room leader for this group. Throughout last season when he was sidelined, he was still at every game, training & was a functioning part of the team even though he wasn’t on the court. His leadership has allowed the Pacers to get the best out of their young guys in Paul George, Roy Hibbert & Lance Stephenson. However, now he’s gone, that leadership has fallen on the shoulders of the above mentioned guys & to a lesser extent, David West & George Hill. It has become clearly noticable that they aren’t ready to take on this level of responsibility just yet. Furthermore, Granger’s departure came at a time where there was a few off-court rumors & controversies surrounding Paul George. With the nature of these incidents, how hard would it be for him to demand leadership in a locker room full of guys in their twenties? Also, their offense has been really bad lately. They have been relying too much on isolation plays from George, Stephenson & Turner instead of trying to set picks or playing through the post. One of their major problems recently with their offense was the fact that CJ Watson had been sidelined. I’m not a huge fan of George Hill, he’s plays the game too safe. With Watson back in the team now, Hill won’t be as heavily relied on & CJ can start to get the offense working a bit better again.
3. It wouldn’t be a roundtable without discussing the MVP race. There are a multitude of contenders, but really, it is just a two horse race. To this point, who is your MVP of season 2013/14 and why?
ND: Durantula. No doubt. He ran the show at OKC with Westbrook out and didn’t miss a beat. KD has bulked up and doesn’t just rely on jumpers anymore. His game has evolved and has taken over Lebron as the best in the league. Just remember back to Durant’s complete domination of Lebron earlier in the season. On a side note, how good has Noah gone this season? MVP calibre season but there’s two greats ahead of him.
RO: Kevin Durant. It’s very close, and you could easily make a case that LeBron James’ superior defense and passing gives him the edge, but I simply believe that Durant has had a slightly better season. Throw in the fact that Durant plays in the ultra-tough Western Conference, has been without his sidekick Russell Westbrook for large parts of the season, and honestly, some dreaded voter fatigue for LeBron, and I think KD will be the 2013/14 MVP. And he’ll thoroughly deserve it.
AH: Joakim Noah. There I said it. I can’t front, that’s my guy. If I was eligible to cast an MVP vote for him I would. (To be fair guys, you did ask who my MVP of the 2013/14 season is) Now yes there is definitely some bias thrown in the mix when it comes to my answer, but look at the facts:-
* On a team with no active superstar, his spirited play and never say die attitude has the Bulls almost at the 50 win mark. Who foresaw that?
* The Bulls have played 78 games, he’s lead the charge playing in 76 of those.
* He leads the Bulls in assists, rebounds and blocks and is on pace to set career highs in two of those categories and also scoring. In fact, he only needs four more points, two assists and thirty two rebounds across the remaining four games to become only the fourth center in league history to average 12 ppg, 11 rpg and 5 apg in a season. The other three gentlemen he joins, Bill Russell, Wilt and Kareem.
* He’s tied with Lance Stephenson in leading the league in triple doubles (4), which is remarkable as it’s not a common feat for big men. In fact, he’s become only the fourth center in NBA history to have four triple doubles in a season, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and David Robinson. He’s also seventh in the league in double doubles.
* Also achieved his second consecutive All-Star berth this season. I’ve even left some other things of note out so as not to prattle on too much. Simply put, you take the emotional spark plug off that Bulls squad and they are nowhere near where they are in the standings right now.
Please note: In saying all this, I’ve had my money on Kevin Durant since the start of the year to take home the Maurice Podoloff trophy (I may be a Bulls fan but I’m also a realist). If KD doesn’t win it, I’m going to have some serious conspiratorial thoughts about Adam Silver and his cronies.
BH: Kevin Durant will be the MVP this year, and it will be thoroughly deserved. His season passes both the statistical and eyeball tests and the combination of his stellar performance and a bit of voter fatigue should see him awarded the trophy for the very first time. LeBron remains the best and most complete player on the planet though.
NC: This is so tough. I picked KD as the MVP at the start of the season, and honestly, he’s exceeded my expectations. The 40+ streak, the 25+ streak, countless game winners, defensive prowess not seen before and an ability to win games all on his own without his right hand man there to help him. I just cannot go past him. LeBron has had another great year, but hasn’t impressed me to the point where I believe he deserves the award over KD. Simple stats will tell you he hasn’t surpassed Durant in any area aside from FG%, and we all know LeBron’s points come primarily in the paint. With the current climate being very luke warm in the Eastern conference, I don’t see how LeBron James could be handed the trophy over Kevin Durant, who dominates the white hot west.
NS: In my opinion, Kevin Durant is the clear MVP. He has had a more consistent season where he’s improved (and beat LeBron James) in nearly every statistical category. Furthermore, his player efficiency rating (PER) is a league-leading 30.22, edging out LeBron’s 29.52. What more is there to say? Mr Durant deserves the award and it would be daylight robbery if LeBron won MVP.
TR: This isn’t a conversation… Kevin Durant is the MVP. You can make an arguement for LeBron James. But any other player in the NBA doesn’t deserve to be included in discussing an ‘MVP race’… There’s daylight between 2nd & 3rd.
4. It is sure to be a fascinating playoff series this year, with the West consisting of so many great teams, while the East has gotten considerably worse. What is your ideal meeting in each conference, and why would the two teams match up so well?
ND: Golden State Vs Clippers. Just look at how good their match-ups have been this season. Imagine that in the heat of the playoffs over 7 games. The rivalry between these two sides has just grown. Watching these two play, you can feel the emotion in the match. Plus they are two action packed teams to watch. Indiana Vs Miami. The only two teams capable of doing anything in the East. This would be a beast of a conference battle. George Vs Lebron will be massive and Hibbert trying to exploit the lack of reliable centres on the Heat line up. They’ve had some great bouts during the season and I would love to see Indiana roll the Heat in 7.
RO: As mentioned earlier, the Pacers have dropped off so much that the Eastern Conference Finals match-up with the Miami Heat that was anticipated all season might actually be a fizzer – if the Pacers even make it that far. You could argue that a Bulls vs Heat series would have more emotion and intensity, while the Nets swept the Heat during the regular season, which sets up a tantalising subplot should they meet in the Conference Finals. However, let’s not forget that even in the Pacers limp finish to the regular season, they still defeated the Heat in a close game in Indiana. Despite Indy’s offensive struggles, it’s still the series we want to see in the East. In the West, I’ll keep it simple: Spurs vs Thunder. They’re the two beat teams, and present serious match-up troubles for each other. It would be a great, great series, and a worthy decider of who comes out of the West, the far superior conference
when it comes to depth of quality teams.
AH: In the East, I can’t go past the Heat vs. the Bulls. I’ve never heard anyone say they don’t enjoy watching those teams go head to head. The way the Bulls are playing out of their minds and with such confidence at this present time, I’m 100% positive they want that match up to happen as much as the fans do. Miami haven’t looked as sharp of late, but of course we know how they are capable of rounding into form once the Playoffs hit. The question is, with all the basketball mileage they’ve absorbed over the last three seasons, can they dig into those reserves of energy and experience to appear again on the grand stage? I’m not as confident as most Heat fans are and I know if they do meet Chicago, Tim Thibodeau’s team will be the toughest obstacle in the East that they have to get past. Key match-up to watch: Butler versus James. Jimmy has become an elite defender in his short time in the NBA, can he keep James’s output to a minimum and frustrate him on the defensive end? That remains to be seen. As for the West, in a perfect world it would be an OKC/GSW Western Conference Finals meeting, but even if that doesn’t take place I really want to see these two teams clash. You have two teams with volume scorers, you have a solid of mix of veterans and youth and on top of this you have two of the most exciting teams to watch that make a League Pass subscription one of the greatest joyful luxuries in our lives. Key match-up to watch: Hard to go past Curry and Westbrook, but from a purely Australasian standpoint, Andrew Bogut vs. Stephen Adams. Chippy doesn’t even cover it, fireworks is still understating it. Let’s just say it could lead to some hardnosed, gritty, slug fests.
5. The NBA draft is touted as one of the most talented in recent memory with a multitude of prospects impressing teams, players and fans alike. With the lottery just around the corner, how do you see the dominoes falling?
ND: Hopefully Boston gets whoever they want (Could be Dante Exum??) but I’ve always liked Jabari Parker. I think he looks like a complete player. Scores well. Can rebound and block shots. Things didn’t go his way this season but the dude’s a competitor. Has that winners instinct and you could tell that by how disappointed he was with Dukes performance this season. Wiggins will probably go #1 but I see Parker being the better player.
RO: Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’m not sure this draft is going to be as amazing as everyone – myself included – first thought. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very deep, and there are still a lot of very talented players in it, but is it really going to have six or more ‘can’t miss’ superstars in it? I’m not so certain. In terms of who is going to be drafted where? I’ve got no idea! Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Julius Randle could all go first overall, and then the rest could fall into any order imaginable. I’ve seriously got no idea, and a lot will depends on the draft order. I do like Randle though, if anyone’s asking . . .
AH: To be completely honest as someone who follows the NCAA from afar, in recent years I’ve paid little attention to the lead up to the Draft until the day arrives, but this year I’m definitely more engaged. In terms of who falls where, it’s hard to say at this point until a clear picture is painted of who is declaring eligibility. Of course the big names like Parker, Wiggins and Embiid will no doubt go high, but like majority of the avid basketball fans who reside in Australia, I’m most interested to see how things end up for our home grown top prospect, Dante Exum. Analyst Fran Fraschilla recently likened him to a young Michael Jordan, a comparison some thought was too much too soon. I’d made the same comparison in my own mind only days prior whilst watching THIS. Can he reach such levels of greatness? Will the lottery bound Lakers manoeuvre their way towards him as has been suggested? Will he become the next in line to take Kobe’s spot or is he just a more skilled Nick Young? Only time will tell.
BH: I foresee the 76ers usurping the Bucks and landing a much-needed number one overall pick which they will use on Andrew Wiggins and it’ll prove to be the right call. The city of brotherly love deserves a break. As for the Bucks, I see them landing the number two pick and doing the very Bucks like thing of drafting Embiid and using him as the basis of their franchise overhaul. From there a lot depends on how the balls drop as each of the different teams have very different needs. If the Lakers or Magic find themselves in the top-three then Dante Exum will find himself starting for one of those two franchises as each has a desperate need for a point guard. Outside of that I think it’ll come down to teams just picking the best players available. With the uncertainty surrounding several top prospects intentions, I hazard to guess who they’ll be.
NC: As a Laker fan, the draft is actually stressing me out this year. It’s so important that LA drafts well, and acquires some young talent to be mentored by Kobe. That said, plenty of teams are thinking the same, With the Sixers, Bucks, Magic, Celtics and Jazz all vying for the top picks. Of course, the lottery means that standings are simply an indication of the chance you have at garnering the top pick. Nothing is guaranteed. I see the Sixers getting the top pick and taking Andrew Wiggins, followed by the Bucks and Joel Embiid, Magic with Jabari Parker, Celtics with Dante Exum and the Lakers with Julius Randle or Marcus Smart. As much as I’d love one of the top 4 picks, I don’t think the chips will fall the Lakers way there. I like Julius Randle however, and feel he could benefit the Lakers with some TLC throughout the next year. As far as these teams go, I think that’s not only how it will fall, but what is best for each team going into next season.
NS: The Bucks look like they will be getting the 1st pick percentage-wise but it is called a lottery for a reason, anything can happen. I have a sick feeling in my stomach that the Lakers will somehow end up with a top 3 pick no matter what their record is so here is my order for the first 5 picks based on absolute guess work and limited consideration for percentages: Bucks, 76ers, Lakers, Jazz and Kings. Once again, my Celtics will get screwed out of a top 5 pick, the “unluck” of the Irish…
TR: I still see Andrew Wiggins going #1. I think every team that could potentially land the #1 spot will pick him. He’s clearly the most talented & athletic player in the draft. He’s 6’8″, has a 7′ wingspan & clearly has the biggest upside out of anyone in the draft class. Whist he’s still very young & does have his flaws, such as his shooting, he’s got the basic skillset that can make him into an elite NBA All-Star. One thing I love about Wiggins is the fact he’s an elite defender for his age. This is something that he has over guys like LeBron James & Kevin Durant when they came into the league. LBJ & KD took years to become capable NBA defenders & Wiggins looks like he’ll be a solid defender from day 1. His ability to get to the hole, transition game & how effective he is in pick & rolls show that he’s tailor made for today’s NBA game. I see Jabari Parker going next. If Wiggins isn’t on the board, he’s a sure thing to go next. He’s a perfect 4 for today’s NBA game. He shot 47% from the field this year & 35% from beyond the arc (50% from 3 in November!). People say that the knock on him is that he’s a mesh between Carmelo Anthony & Rudy Gay… But, is that really a bad thing? I mean Melo’s one of the best scorers in the NBA & Rudy Gay isn’t as bad as people think he is. Under the right coach & situation, he could become a very dangerous offensive weapon. I actually think that Joel Embiid will fall out of the top 3. After the plethora of elite young big-men injuries over the last few decades, the fact that Embiid has had back & knee issues already in his short career will pose a red flag. I think he’ll still go top 5, but if the Lakers, Sacramento, Detroit or Orlando are picking at 3, I can see one of them taking Dante Exum. These 3 teams are really high on what Dante has to offer. He’s an athletic, big combo guard who can get to the hole & is an extremely creative offensive general. His biggest weaknesses are his ball handling & his shot. His arc is a big flat, but there has been noticeable signs of improvement on that over the last 6 months. People say he’s an unknown, but it’s really not the case. There are 4 years worth of footage of him playing in FIBA tournaments & invitational, against the very guys who he’s pitted against in the draft. He capably held his own against them all. Dante’s currently working out in Anaheim & from what i’ve heard coming out of there… Everyone who’s caught some of the workouts have been extremely impressed with what they’ve seen. Shout-out to Julius Randle, he’d be a great fit for Boston or Utah if they pick 3rd.
6. This season has seen many players improve, while also witnessing many regress. Who, in your opinion, has claimed the crown of ‘Most Improved’ and adversely, who has disappointed more than anyone else?
ND: This is always tough to pick. Do you pick someone who has gone from good to great or someone who has gone from nothing to something? I’d love to see Shaun Livingston get it just for the story that comes with it but I don’t think that MIP are based on heart warming stories alone. It’ll be either Bledsoe, Dragic or Green. These three turned Phoenix from nothing to something. I can’t give it to Bledsoe because of his injuries and Dragic has always been a solid baller but my pick is Gerald Green. From the D-League to dominating the NBA if that doesn’t hit the pre-requisites for MIP then I don’t know what does.As a Celtics fan I am constantly disappointed with Jeff Green and his inconsistent performances. This year was supposed to be his big break out season but it just did not happen. Anthony Bennett already looks a bust as the 2013 #1 draft pick and basically anyone on the Bucks roster has been a disappointment.
RO: There are a lot of candidates for the MIP award, with Goran Dragic no doubt being a popular pick due to his ascension to bona fide star in a great season for the surprising Phoenix Suns. However, for me, it’s the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, who, in just his second season, made the leap from ‘potential star’, to ‘oh my god, he might be an all-time great!’. His all-round game and potential is scary, and he developed so much in his sophomore season that it suggests we may have something very special on our
hands. In terms of who regressed, an obvious answer might be Pau Gasol. Though questions remain over whether he’s regressed, aged, or has just been marginalised by a coach that has no idea how to use him and his skill-set. For me, the player that really took a downturn was Raymond Felton. He went from being an important part of the Knicks success the season before, to a liability on and off the court this season. In fact, can I name the whole Knicks squad here?
AH: Oooooh this is a tough call for me, I’d love to see Taj Gibson take it home as well as the Sixth Man Award. The Bulls have promoted him for both awards, but I’d say the chances of him being a recipient of both is slim. Besides field goal percentage and blocks, his numbers have increased across the board so he is a worthy candidate, but I think it may be Goran Dragic’s at seasons end. I’ll be Hulk like angry if Tajy Woo receives neither. Once again you have a player who’s numbers have increased across the board, with only a slight dip in the assist column, keeping in mind he does share the back court with another point guard who’s no slouch either (Eric Bledsoe) so that makes his numbers even more impressive. After Dragic was snubbed from the All-Star game, he’s been playing with a meteor sized chip on his shoulder and in the process helping lead the Suns to a Playoff berth that I don’t think many people saw coming before the season commenced. I think the panel of sportswriters that cast their votes for the award, will make things right for The Dragon. As for the most disappointing, I’m going to sum that up with one name in one sentence – J.R. Smith.
BH: Is there a way we can give this award to the entire Phoenix Suns team? The evolution of the games of Dragic, Green, Plumlee and both Morris twins borders on the unfathomable. Of these Suns I think Dragic is the pick of the bunch. He has developed into a genuine all-star caliber player and has become the face of the organisation in the process. He should have been an all-star. Suns homer picks aside, the other candidates for the award as I see it are Anthony Davis who at 21 years old is already an absolute monster and DeMarcus Cousins who finally seems to have grown into himself. My heart says Dragic, but my brain says this one is going to The Brow.
New Orleans played host to this years All Star weekend, which turned out to be a weekend of highs and lows. The All Star game itself played out just as it always has, a high scoring affair until the final quarter, when it became a real battle to decide who the winner was but the real talking point of the weekend was the new format for the dunk competition, and sadly most of it was negative.
The weekend began with the BBVA Rising Stars challenge, an event that showcases the skills of the NBA’s rookies and sophomore players.
Chris Webber and Grant Hill were the honorary team leaders and were in charge of team selections. The game itself was a highly entertaining affair and a great kick start to the weekend. Team Hill took out the victory over Team Webber 142-136. They were led by the play of big man Andre Drummond, who was named MVP and set a record for most rebounds in a Rising Stars game with 25. He added 30 points in his MVP performance and showed the world just how much his game is on the rise. Don’t be surprised should you see big ‘Dre in the All Star game in the near future.
The game was typical of one that features on All Star weekend, a real lack of hustle and defense was balanced out by some spectacular offense and scoring. New Orleans Pelican, Anthony Davis was impressive early in the game with a variety of dunks, including a spectacular windmill and some big blocks, befitting his status as the NBA’s leading shot blocker.
One of the better phases of play came late in the game when the Cleveland Cavalier’s Dion Waiters and New York Knicks Tim Hardaway Jr. went at it, one on one, delighting the crowd by trading buckets on consecutive trips up and down the floor. Waiters finished with 31 points, Hardaway with 36 including seven three pointers.
The presentation of the MVP award for the game was an interesting one. The award itself looked like it could have been made by a bunch of kindergarten students; the award fell apart while the BBVA representative attempted to present it, which then caused him to drop it amid much laughter. I hope for Andre Drummond’s sake he gets a new award and not the one he received in pieces!
The game was as entertaining as we’ve seen from the rookies and second year players for some time and left us all wondering if the rest of the weekend would live up to expectations following such an entertaining event.
All Star Saturday Night
There were four events that filled the NBA’s schedule on Saturday night, (Sunday here in Australia) the shooting stars, skills challenge, three point contest and what many consider to be the penultimate event, the dunk competition.
The four events were a little different this season with competitors split up into Eastern Conference and Western Conference ‘teams’ and the winners of each conference went on to play each other in the final.
The shooting stars event was taken out by Team Bosh which consisted of Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and WNBA player Swin Cash. The ‘highlight’ of the event, if you could call it that, was Chris Bosh hitting back to back half court shots to take his team to victory.
The shooting stars challenge is simply each team seeing how quickly they can hit four shots from four different spots on the court. Not the most challenging or entertaining event but one in which the fans get to watch some of the older generation of NBA stars as well as some of the WNBA’s finest talent. This years event included players such as the aforementioned Dominique Wilkins, Karl Malone, Dell Curry, who played alongside his son Steph Curry and Tim Hardaway who also played alongside his son and namesake Tim Hardaway Jr.
Next up was the skills challenge which took on a new format as well this season with the event becoming a team one with two players per team. It was taken out by Damian Lillard, who featured in every single event this All Star weekend, and Trey Burke. There was little effort imparted into the competition by any of the four teams. This was Lillard’s second consecutive win in this event but all in all it wasn’t what any fan of the game would call spectacular.
The three point contest was probably the highlight of the day. Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs won the event thanks to some great shooting in the final.
He beat out hot favourite Steph Curry, Kevin Love and Damian Lillard to advance through as the best from the west while Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards defeated last years defending champion Kyrie Irving, Arron Afflalo and an extraordinarily slow shooting Joe Johnson to be the eastern conferences best.
Belinelli beat Beal in a tie-breaker as he finally got the hot hand despite numerous air balls throughout the competition.
Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb, all names that bring back memories of acrobatic, high flying feats that will be forever a part of NBA history, but this years dunk contest raised more concerns about the competitions viability than any other year has before it. It wasn’t so much a lackluster performance from its participants, rather its ridiculous format which gave a team and not an individual the win and never let the viewers see the competitors really get the chance to show what they could do.
John Wall was the ‘dunker of the night’ as it was officially called and the Eastern Conference were the winners of the event. Some great dunks were performed but the format totally killed off the one on one battles that we have seen so often in the past and thoroughly enjoyed. I can guarantee that the dunk competition will fall by the wayside should the NBA continue with such a ridiculously bad format. Disappointing to say the least but I’ll let you all make up your own mind.
All Star Game
The pre game entertainment was big, you know just like the commercials, but this was the kind of big that existed around the year 2002. Nelly, Pharell, Snoop and an over sized Busta Rhymes were on hand to entertain the masses and I’m guessing that even Steve Nash would have felt young were he witnessing the pre-game flair. All in all though, the pre-game entertainment did enough to hype the introductions of the players.
The game started well for the Eastern Conference team with LeBron James scoring at will early on and the East went on an 11-2 run thanks to some unselfish play from the whole team.
The Western Conference team fought back thanks to the all too familiar Clippers connection of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The lobs were coming from all directions and Griffin was in a league of his own in the first term as he racked up 18 points on 9 of 11 shooting, two shy of Glen Rice’s 20 point third quarter in 1997, which remains the most points scored by one player in any quarter of an All Star game. The high scoring first term finished with the Western Conference leading 44-42.
The second quarter began in much the same fashion as the first with lots of buckets, but rather than each team putting on points in runs they both traded baskets for quite some time.
Anthony Davis gave the hometown Pelicans fans something to cheer about when he put together three spectacular alley-oops in an Eastern Conference 13-2 run as Kobe Bryant joined the commentary team and shared his feelings about missing his first All Star game in 16 years. Kobe’s rivals from the Eastern Conference continued to run and gun, pushing the ball which resulted in some big dunks on the fast break before the West decided they could beat the East at their own game with a little bit of their own fast break ball.
The halftime score broke a few All Star records, with the leading Western Conference team scoring the most points by a team in All Star history in a half and the two teams combining for the most total points in a half ever.
The half time show impressed with artists including Gary Clark Jr., Janelle Monae and even an appearance from Earth, Wind and Fire!
Carmelo Anthony, who was on a tear from behind the arc, continued his hot shooting to start the third term and the man the whole basketball world has been raving about of late, Kevin Durant, came back with some treys of his own but it was Melo who would tie the record for three pointers in an All Star game with his sixth coming in the third.
The defense continued to lack any kind of intensity and even looked as if it were becoming even more lax to start this third quarter, but it wasn’t to last too long. The West held a commanding lead at the start of the third but to close the term the Eastern Conference went on an 18-3 run in the final four minutes thanks to some nice defense and solid scoring. The Western Conference led the East 126-123 to start the final period.
As expected both teams started to contest their oppositions shots and the lanes closed up for the most part in the fourth. Kyrie Irving, who would go on to be named the games MVP, was one player who would find his way to the rack though. He repeatedly scored on his drives to start the final term, including an impressive dribble-drive that had big man Dwight Howard totally lost. Carmelo Anthony continued his hot shooting hitting his seventh three of the night and taking the record outright, also tying the game 140-140.
Eastern Conference rivals LeBron James and Joakim Noah then put together a series of pick and roll baskets that had many wondering just how good those two could have been together had things been different.
The final minutes of the fourth quarter belonged to the Eastern Conference as they gained the lead and built on it during a 10-0 run to finish the game and taking out the win 163-155.
Kyrie Irving was named MVP of the game, scoring 31 points on 14 of 17 shooting with 14 dimes and 5 boards. Carmelo Anthony had 30 points including 8 of 13 from behind the arc.
Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin both scored 38 points for the Western Conference team, just five points shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s all time record of 42 points in an All Star game.
One of the two high profile free agents this morning chose to sign on with current team and Pacific Division Champions the LA Clippers. Chris Paul tweeted in the early hours of Tuesday morning that he had decided to accept the Clippers’ 5-year, $107 Million offer which will see him in Los Angeles until 2018, with an opt-out clause after four years tweeting “I’M IN #CLIPPERNATION“. Under the new CBA, other NBA clubs could only offer Paul a maximum four year deal as is the case with crosstown rivals the LA Lakers and Dwight Howard.
There had been some speculation about whether Paul would stay with the club following a tumultuous month of coaching changes and indecision, but ultimately the hiring of former Boston Celtics Championship winning coach Doc Rivers was enough to convince him that the Clippers are indeed the right place for him. At 28 years of age Paul averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals last season and will be looking forward to leading the surging Clippers even further in their quest for title number one.
Jimmy Kimmel has long been a supporter of the NBA, and often likes to invite players and personalities on his show for various segments. In this hilarious bit, Kimmel invites stars like Kobe, Chris Paul, Metta World Peace and Blake Griffin on the show to share some of the ‘meanest tweets’ they’ve received since joining booming social network Twitter. Twitter does provide athletes and fans with the opportunity to connect with each other, but every now and then, that connection isn’t so pleasant. Enjoy.
In news this morning reported by Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski, The LA Clippers have informed coach Vinny Del Negro that he will not be returning after 3 seasons with the club. After months of speculation surrounding his job’s stability, the team finally informed Del Negro of their intention to not renew his contract following the team’s disappointing first round exit of the 2013 Playoffs.
Vice President of basketball operations Gary Sacks had this to say of Del Negro:
“We would like to thank Vinny for everything he did during his three years with the organization. Vinny helped this team win a Pacific Division title and we greatly appreciate all that he and his staff helped us accomplish. This was a difficult decision, but we feel this is the best decision for our franchise moving forward.”
Some have questioned the move considering Del Negro guided the Clippers to their most successful season in franchise history including their first 50 win year, a 17 game win streak, a 16-0 line in December, and their first ever Pacific Division title ever. One has to wonder if the playing group had lost their respect and desire to play for Vinny Del Negro with the rise of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin being the team’s main focus moving forward.
There is no word as to what the Clippers have planned in regards to a replacement, but the rumors are sure to escalate as time goes by. Byron Scott has been mentioned as a possible candidate considering his close relationship with Chris Paul. We’ll keep you updated.
Portland Trail Blazers rookie, and 6th overall pick in the NBA Draft Damian Lillard has won the 2012/13 Kia Rookie of The Year Award, the NBA announced this morning. 22 year-old Lillard had a phenomenal year and was considered the clear frontrunner for the honor for the better part of the season, averaging 19 points and 6.5 assists per game over an average of 38 minutes (lead NBA). He was voted as the winner unanimously by a panel of sports journalists totaling 605 votes, nearly double that of second placed Hornets/Pelicans center Anthony Davis. It is the first unanimous vote for the award since Blake Griffin in 2011. Congratulations, Damian Lillard.
Read the NBA’s press release HERE.
With the season creeping ever closer to it’s exciting completion, us at NBA Nation Australia were interested in who would be the best selling jersey of 2012. We had our suspicions, and have listed below the top 10 selling jerseys as announced by the NBA.
Did you have a guess at the top 10 jerseys? Were you right? How many jerseys did you buy this year?
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