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Believe it or Not: NBA Season 2014/15 Predictions

This is one of my favourite times of the year. The NBA season is here. You’ve drafted players into your own world beating fantasy squad. Players have been chopped, changed and drafted all over the league. And it is also the perfect time to make predictions about the NBA season. My personal belief is that if your predictions are said loudly, told to many people and said with a great deal of overconfidence that they just might come true. Here are my Top 5. Believe it or Not.

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Patty Mills For PM

Politics and basketball. You wouldn’t think they go together, right?… Wrong! Both the major parties in Australia are struggling for support and I see only one solution to this. Bring in a new major party. The Spurs Party and have Patty Mills as Australia’s new Prime Minister.

Prime Minister

This is a no brainer. The popularity of Patty Mills is through the roof in Australia at the moment. He has given people with no interest in basketball a reason to watch and connect with the game. Patty has done his time on the bench and is ready to move up to the big time. Last season Patty was a glorified mascot. Waving towels and getting trash minutes at the ends of games to show what he could do. This season was a different story all together. Patty showed himself to be one of the better back up point guards in the league. A spark that Miami had no answer for in the NBA Finals. Patty was the dagger in the heart of the Heat fans and players alike in the third quarter of Game 5. The game was still a contest until Mills came out a splashed 3’s from everywhere and brought the crowd into the game with his energetic defense. This shows a new level of maturity for Mills. He made all the right decisions and is ready to become Australia’s Prime Minister.

Deputy Prime Minister

Technically Aron Baynes was born in New Zealand but Aussies love to claim a kiwi. Baynes now joins the likes of Phar Lap, Russell Crowe, Crowded House, Keith Urban and the somewhat contentious Weet-Bix as items and people that Australia have lovingly claimed as their own. Granted Baynes did not get a great deal of court time which means he will have plenty of time to help out his Prime Minister at anytime and we’ve seen that Baynes is also capable of stepping into a starting role for the Spurs and he did not look out of place.

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Logically this role has to go to Tony Parker. For starters he is French and it is difficult to say no to anyone with a french accent. Being on the Spurs lineup it is also obvious that Parker gets along well with people from other countries. The Spurs have the most nationalities represented in the NBA with  their roster registering 10 internationals at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season. Parker has also shown that he wants to be friendly with everyone. Parker proved this in his short lived marriage to Eva Longoria. Lovely lady and watching Desperate Housewives is worth it just for her but this wasn’t enough for Tony. He wanted more Foreign Affairs experience (see what I did there?) This is a great trait for Australia and will see Australia making many new international allies.

Treasurer

Kawhi Leonard. This kid (22 years old!) proved his worth in the NBA Finals, scoring points at will with aggressive moves to the hoop and deft jump shots but he also played outstanding defense against one of the best in the league, Lebron James. Kawhi has earnt his spot as Treasurer in the Spurs Party because he started at the bottom and wasn’t expected to rise so quickly so Kawhi understands the value of money but his endorsements and contracts are only going to grow bigger from here. This experience with discussing contracts with multi-billion dollar companies and understanding how to best spread the wealth will make Kawhi the perfect Treasurer.

Minister for Education

Coach Pop. All you need to do is look at what he has done for the Spurs to see this man knows how to educate others. Pop is arguably the most respected coach in the game and all players thrive under Pop’s coaching theories and ideals. On draft night Pop always manages to spring a few surprises. He was one of the first to see the value in drafting international ballers. Players who had already stood out in a team orientated style of play and players he knew would understand and respect a team game. Look at the expansion and growth of the team under Pop. Manu wasn’t always a superstar. He grew into the role and learnt from the best coach in the game. Parker is the same. If you need some more recent evidence just look at the growth of Belinelli and Patty Mills this season. Pop is the only choice for Minister of Education.

Minister for Communications

The leader of the Spurs. Tim Duncan. He doesn’t often say much but when he does people listen. Timmy knows when communication is needed and when it should be stopped. Remember back to Timmy dragging a talkative Tony Parker away from the officials to stop a certain tech foul. Tony did not complain. Tony, along with the Spurs lineup, know that when Timmy Duncan talks, you listen. Opposition players know that Timmy is the man to talk to when playing the Spurs. He has the respect of every baller in the NBA and was Lebron’s first point of call when it came welcoming the Spurs to the Finals.

Minister for Health and Sport

Will Sevening, the coaches and staff at the San Antonio Spurs. But mostly Will. Will is the Head Trainer at the Spurs. The Spurs aren’t exactly the youngest team in the league. They have an average age of somewhere around 30. Three of their main players; Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobilli are 37, 31 and 36 respectfully. Will has to put these “veterans” through their paces on a daily basis but also has to ensure Duncan and co. are at their physical peaks, remain uninjured and have the required rest breaks to thrive. It’s a fine line to walk but Will has done it with ease and thus gets the gig as Minister for Health and Sport.

Minister for Defence

Danny Green may not be the guy you think of when it comes to defence but look at the job he did throughout the NBA Finals. Scoring important steals. Swaying the momentum of the game to the favour of the Spurs and shutting down the potent offensive force that is Dwayne Wade. Green still has plenty of improving to do but he has shown the potential to be a star in the future. Not only did he shut down Wade and take countless steals, he is also a menace when shooting the long bomb, a pre-requisite when it comes to being a Minister for Defence.

Minister for Arts

Marco Belinelli. Coach Pop has never been a fan of the three-point shot, openly stating he doesn’t like the role the shot has in the game. This season though things changed. Coach Pop started running plays for long range bombs. Embraced the shot and made it a huge part of the Spurs Championship winning attack. With shooters like Patty Mills, Danny Green, Manu Ginobilli and Marco Belinelli, Pop had little choice but to use the three ball. Belinelli’s shot is like a work of art. He has the balance, poise and a sense of occasion when pocketing the long ball. Not only is his shot a masterpiece but Belinelli is also Italian and everything sounds arty and awesome in Italian. Pizza. Spaghetti. Gelato. Point proven.

Minister for Agriculture

Honestly I found it hard to choose a Minister for Agriculture on the Spurs but Matt Bonner does look like the ultimate country boy. The ginger hair, beard, freckles and his awkwardness on the floor, all pre-requisites when it comes to being a Minister for Agriculture. Personally I think he’d be a better farmer than baller but he does have a Championship Ring which is more than I can say about myself.

Minister for Finance

Peter Holt is the owner of the Spurs. I’m not sure if it is entirely his doing but how Holt has managed to keep Manu, Duncan and Parker on the same team for so long when they could have been earning millions more elsewhere is some kind of voodoo magic. Each of the three are legit stars in their own right but have bought into the Spurs game and Holt is a wizard on the books. Not only has he kept the big three together but also brought in players with potential and has shown a willingness in keeping these potential superstars around and continued to develop them. Just look at Patty Mills, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Congratulations Peter Australia’s new Minister for Finance.

Minister for Social Services

A person who on the court is always looking out for others. More concerned with getting the assist. Hitting the right player at the right time in the right position. The choice for this spot was easy. Boris Diaw. A passing big man. A player who seems to have eyes in the back of his head. Kawhi did get Finals MVP but for me Diaw wasn’t far behind. Diaw doesn’t need to put the ball through the hoop to earn his pay, he does it through a subtle bounce pass through the key or a pass to the corner for the open three. Boris didn’t get many starts throughout the regular season but as soon as the Finals came Diaw stepped into the center position with ease and proved worth his weight in gold.

Minister for Trade and Investment

Tiago Splitter. A big man from Brazil. Splitter wasn’t brought over to the NBA straight away. He was given time to develop in European and Brazilian Leagues. Tiago would’ve been a superstar if he’d stayed in the Euro Leagues but once the time was right decided to ply his wares in the NBA. Splitter has proved to be adequate back up for Tim Duncan, giving the Big Fundamental time for his body to recover. All the time and effort that the Spurs invested into Splitter paid off with his huge block on Dwayne Wade during the NBA Finals (may have been a goal tend).

Minister for Employment

I was struggling at this stage to come up with positions but I had one spot left and one person to go so it is what it is. Manu Ginobilli you are now Australia’s Minister for Employment. It is because of you and your team orientated brand of ball that has allowed the Spurs to stay strong and consistent for many years. Manu, with Argentina, showed the rest of the world the importance of team basketball. Focusing on passing and team plays rather than individual brilliance. The NBA stood up and took notice incorporating this team style into NBA playbooks and also drafting many international ballers into the NBA. Thanks Manu.

There it is. Australia take note. The Spurs have solved all your problems. As you can see the entire roster has the resume required to thrive in their new positions and should obviously be brought in immediately (or not)…

 



The Big Man Curse

The NBA big man. Such an integral piece to any team hoping to be competitive in a sport basically designed to favour those who are giants. But through my research i’ve found out that it doesn’t always work out that way. Being tall doesn’t neccessarily make you a force in the hoops world. In fact I think i’ve worked out the fomula. It did require a few explosions and probes but I promise no baller was hurt in the making of this post. (more…)



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2014 NBA Nation Australia Awards

Welcome to the the highly prestigious 2014 NBA Nation Australia Awards! We’ve dissected the cream of the crop from this year’s high flyers of the NBA season and put a big old label on the best of the best of them! We’ve got awards for MVP, right the way through to best podcast, so grab a cuppa, sit back and enjoy!

MVP – Kevin Durant

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Is it any wonder? 9 out of 10 basketball connoisseurs will agree that there is only one option when it comes to the 2014 NBA season Most Valuable Player. In reality, the MVP discussion can really only include two players in recent years, and likely for a few to come. Kevin Durant and LeBron James’ battle for supremacy over the course of the next three to five years will be the delight of fans around the world, with both making great cases for the claiming of bragging rights. This season however, Durant IS the clear cut choice for Most Valuable Player. If for no other reason, KD has had to excel in all areas for the majority of the season in a tough western conference without Russell Westbrook, and still completely dominated. James’ defense speaks volumes for his case as the year’s MVP, but simply put, KD’s ability to take over and win games this season without any help is testament to his status as the best player in the game right now. Stats wise, Durant leads LeBron in almost every category, with his PER standing at a league best 30.22. No easy feat, and with the competition he has faced on the regular in the west, this becomes even more impressive. He is, unquestionably, the most fundamentally sound player in basketball, and should be recognized as such.

(Honorable Mention – LeBron James)

COACH OF THE YEAR – Gregg Popovich

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How can you go past a guy like Pop? Not only is he one of the most respected coaches in the league, he is a father figure to his players, and having crafted a family in San Antonio has once again proved that age shall be no burden when competing for a title. Now, one can look at this and say “hey, Jeff Hornacek took the Suns to 48 wins when they were supposedly lottery bound” or “Are you looking over what Terry Stotts has done with the Blazers?”. The answer is most definitely no. It’s impossible to overlook what those coaches have done for their teams this season, but Popovich’s complete devotion to the betterment and preservation of the players he sees as family is second to none. He cares not for fines, TV ratings, interviews or the expectations of others, and only for the well being of the playing group, and their complete effort as a team. The 19-0 streak the team went on during February/March was one of the most impressive in recent memory, given a lot of it was without Tim Duncan, and at times Tony Parker. He’s been able to condition Manu Ginobili into a potential 6th man candidate at 36 years of age, and ignited the careers of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Patty Mills amongst others. Here is a coach who, amongst a western conference where youth and ability reigns supreme, has rallied his troops and once again, proved the critics wrong and scared the hell out of everyone in the process.

(Honorable Mention – Jeff Hornacek)

6th MAN OF THE YEAR – Taj Gibson

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“Taj Gibson is all heart, hustle and determination; he represents what Chicago Bulls basketball has become. The 2013/14 Bulls season is the format for ‘how to over-achieve’ and a very large part of that is because a 6’9” 225 power forward who was drafted with the last pick of the first round back in 2009 has come of age. Gibson’s statistics are fairly impressive; he averaged 13.0 points, up 5.0 on last season, grabbed 6.8 rebounds and blocked 1.4 shots per game while playing 28.7 minutes each night. His assists per contest were also at a career high 1.1 and his free throws have improved out of sight, up to .751 but it’s the intangibles that make Gibson so special. He has this great ability to change a game, whether it’s a huge dunk when the woefully inept Bulls offense so desperately needs it, his world class defense on the other end of the floor or his willingness to hustle for a loose ball, Gibson is an integral part of the Chicago Bulls and it all happens from the bench. Gibson played in all 82 games for Chicago with only eight starts this season. There are others who have produced slightly better ‘numbers’ but no other bench player in the
league has been as important to their teams success as Gibson. He is a worthy candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award and a player with a very bright future ahead of him.” – Dan Attias 

(Honorable Mention – Reggie Jackson)

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – Michael Carter-Williams

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No one really expected what’s become of this young rookie from the Philadelphia 76ers, and considering their season, one may argue that this award could have ended up elsewhere. In a draft class that wasn’t highly anticipated, we got great production out of not only MCW, but also Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr and Mason Plumlee just to name a few. All have made their case, but none so much as Carter-Williams who started his season with 2 double doubles during a 3-0 start to season 2013/14, and has never looked back. In a tough season, he’s managed to lead every candidate with first season stats unseen since the like of Magic Johnson in his rookie year. He lead in points (16.7), rebounds (6.2) and assists (6.3) per game, well ahead of second and proving that he is indeed one to watch. He’s part of an elite class with numbers like those, joining Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only players to average over 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in their rookie seasons, and while his shooting is much less effective than those players (40.5%), it’s doubtful that we’ll see him regress in that area. As mentioned, this season hasn’t been as clear cut as recent times, but there is little doubt in our mind. Michael Carter-Williams is your 2014 NBA Nation Australia Rookie of The Year.

(Honorable Mention – Trey Burke)

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Joakim Noah

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To be clear, we had this award penned well before the announcement that Joakim Noah had won Defensive Player of The Year. As firm believers in Roy Hibbert early on in the season, there was going to have to be a real uprising from a competitor to change that fact, but we all know how the mighty have fallen in the latter part of this season. Hibbert has gone from defensive stopper, and veritable brick wall to the basketball equivalent of a wet paper bag, his reputation as rim protector all but diminished. Where he has despaired, Noah has prospered. Without their star point guard, many wrote the Bulls off this season, but it has been players like Joakim Noah that have said no to that theory. Averaging 11.3 rebounds a game (good for 6th in the NBA) and 1.5 blocks, no one who has really watched his progression this year should be surprised. Perhaps his most impressive feat however, is that he has kept opponents scoring to a mere 48.5% in the paint, making him an interior defender worthy of the name. Noah’s ability to change the game, and impact the outcome without superstar numbers is testament to how important he really is to this Bulls team going forward, and we can’t wait to witness it.

(Honorable Mention – Andre Iguodala)

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER – Anthony Davis

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Undoubtedly the most improved player in the NBA by a long, long way. The Unibrow has upped his scoring average by a whopping 7.6 points per game to 21.1ppg, and increased his rebounding average by over 2 per game. He’s also averaging 2.8 blocks (leads the league), a huge improvement from 2012-13′s 1.8bpg. To top it off, Davis is one of just five players in the NBA averaging 20+ points and 10+ rebounds. Hard to argue that with a significant improvement in every statistical category in just his sophomore year, Ant Davis is well on his way to NBA super-stardom. The Pelicans, while missing the playoffs, have a legitimate star on their hands, and would be wise to build around him in the coming years. To summarize, Anthony Davis is our most improved player of 2014, and the thought that he WILL ONLY GET BETTER is frightening.

(Honorable Mention – Blake Griffin)

MOST IMPROVED TEAM – Phoenix Suns

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Ah, everyone’s Cinderella story of the 2013/14 season. The Suns were, by all accounts, destined to be cellar dwellers. Bound for the misery of a losing season and the lottery in the offseason, eventually hoping to draft a quality player and rebuild from scratch. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth, and the Suns captured the hearts of the basketball world through some incredible performances, strength of character and the belief that they could compete with the best of them. The team just missed the playoffs with a 48-34 record (would have been good for 3rd in the East), and the majority of players exceeded expectations for the year. Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and the Morris twins, just to name a few, all became legitimate players in a conference dominated by super teams and proved you don’t need to be one of the big boys to have success. The future is truly bright in the desert, and it’s a team that the majority of basketball fans will tell you, is going to be extremely fun to watch over the next few years.

(Honorable Mention – Toronto Raptors/Washington Wizards)

VILLAIN OF THE YEAR – JR Smith

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We only put this award in here because we did it last year, and picked Dwight Howard to take it out. This season, 2012/13’s 6th Man of The Year JR Smith has fallen waaaaay down the scale of public perception from reformed bad boy turned NBA success, to shot jacking, hard-partying laughing stock. JR’s season went from bad to worse, and his team suffered big time. After the Knicks showed faith in Smith, extending a 3-year $18 million deal to him, he thanked them by advising them of a debilitating knee injury sustained during the offseason, which would sideline him for the early part of the new season. Amongst a myriad of other indiscretions, Smith was fined multiple times for hostile twitter spats, use of banned substances and the infamous “shoe gate” drama. Perhaps his worst offense however, is his much documented slide into irrelevancy, and showing Knick fans around the world that he could not care less. In January, an article by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski exposed Smith as the NBA’s “Clown Prince”, putting his integrity as a player, and a person to the sword. Woj’s article garnered the attention of the NBA world, and ensured that there is little doubt JR Smith is the league’s biggest villain.

(Honorable Mention – Larry Sanders)

HERO OF THE YEAR – Nick ‘Swaggy P’ Young

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We couldn’t help ourselves. In a year fraught with misery and despair there was one constant in the city of LA, and it came in the form of a 28-year old guard from Reseda, California. Swaggy P, as he is affectionately known came to the Lakers at the start of the season with the childhood dream of playing for his favorite team. It was a rocky start, but fans came to like that there was a player willing to give it all on a team that no one believed in. For a fan group waiting on nothing but a quick death and a lottery pick, there was one shining light for them. Nick Young. Swaggy P wasn’t your typical hero on the court, but he fought till the bitter end, inspiring a bunch of guys who knew the battle was lost, and their fates sealed. He is the embodiment of the ‘never say die’ attitude, and that’s exactly what Laker fans needed this year. He has the option the leave the Lakers, and will surely receive offers, but this writer for one, hopes his stay in the purple and gold armor is long and prosperous because right now, no one deserves it more.

(Honorable Mention – Steph Curry)

BEST AUSTRALIAN PODCAST – #BelieveTheHype with Tom and Benyam

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We can’t look past our boys in #BelieveTheHype this year. The undisputed kings of Australian basketball podcasting, this dynamic duo has gone from strength to strength having garnered some of the best interviews, insights, regular guests and more during the past year. Not only that, they’re also some of our biggest supporters, having helped us out since the early days. With the help of American correspondant Jamieson Welsh, Tom and Benyam have the chemistry and knowledge that is imperative when podcasting, and with a legion of fans growing every day, we can see these guys going a long way. If you haven’t already and you’re a hoop head, be sure to download #BelieveTheHype from the iTunes store today!

(Honorable Mention – The Hoops Podcast with Pumpa and Boof)

BEST AMERICAN PODCAST – The Starters

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Goooooood Day Sweet World!! The podcast (now TV show) formerly known as The Basketball Jones is in the first season of their re-imagining as the Starters, with JE Skeets, Tas Melas, Trey Kerby and Leigh Ellis. For years we enjoyed the Basketball Jones, before NBA.TV picked up the guys, and gave them a daily spot on their network. Now we not only get to enjoy the guys hilarity over the airwaves, but we can also watch them daily on the telly! The Starters is a funny, down to earth look at the game we love without the dribble. These guys are simply fans of the game, talking hoops and having a laugh in the process. This is undoubtedly a must listen/watch for every basketball fan. Download The Starters from the iTunes store today!

(Honorable Mention – Eye on Basketball Podcast with Matt Moore and Zac Harper)

Well, there you have it! Another year, another set of awards. Congratulations to all the winners! You now own ultimate bragging rights. We think we’ve covered it pretty well! If you’d like to have your say, or think we’re having a laugh, let us know @NBANationOz on Twitter.



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NBA Nation Australia’s Roundtable Featuring Adam Howes, Tom Read and NBA Slander – April 2014

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?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New York Knicks

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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

BH: I know it’s probably sacrilege not to say the Heat and the Pacers in the East, but there’s a part of me that really wants the Raptors to find a way into a conference finals showdown with the Heat. It’d be an amazing story, and would gift the Heat haters a fun, underdog team to pull for, while giving the profile of basketball in Canada a massive boost, perhaps finally making Toronto a destination city for free-agents like it deserves to be. RAP, RAP city bitch, will lose in 5 or 6.  In the West, I’ll take anyone vs anyone and be happy, however in an ideal world I’d like to see the Western Conference finals be a Thunder vs Clippers affair, with the Clippers reigning supreme so we can have ourselves a Hollywood as hell finals series. Either team would prevailing would make for a worthy finals though. My head says it’ll come down to the Spurs vs Thunder though, with the Thunder prevailing in 6.
NC: The West NEEDS Memphis to claim the 8th seed and face the Spurs in the first round. What could easily be a WCF series in the first round would set in motion a playoffs series for the ages, with the grit and grind of the Grizzlies, against the fundamental dominance of San Antonio playing out in an epic battle of two western conference powerhouses. In the East, bring on the Bulls and Nets. The Bulls have prospered without Derrick Rose and are still a threat in my eyes, while the Nets have overcome early struggles to become a very legitimate force in an average conference. Their playoff experience is invaluable with guys like KG and Pierce at the helm, and would go a long way in helping them overcome this first round match up with Chicago.
NS: There are too many fun matchups in the West but I’ll be looking forward to a Spurs Vs. Thunder conference final. It would be a great rematch of the 2012 Western Conference Finals where the Thunder won 4-2.In the East, a Bulls Vs. Heat conference final would get me as happy as a clam. LeBron James has averaged only 18.3 points against the Bulls and with the exception of the Spurs, he has averaged around 27.4 points against the rest of the league (I’ve done the Math). Yep, you guessed it, defense and LeBron struggling makes me happy.
TR: Houston v Portland is a potential series that i’m really looking forward to. These two teams match-up really well & have had some high-scoring encounters this season. Patrick Beverley should be back in time for the Playoffs & he defends Damian Lillard better than most other point guards. It’s a match-up of two top 5 offensive teams & it should be a super-fun first round series. Plus, Dwight Howard hasn’t won a Playoff series since 2010.

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?

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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?

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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. 

NC: Anthony Davis. Undoubtedly the most improved player in the NBA by a long, long way. The Unibrow has upped his scoring average by a whopping 7.6 points per game to 21.1ppg, and increased his rebounding average by over 2 per game. He’s also averaging 2.8 blocks (leads the league), a huge improvement from 2012-13’s 1.8bpg. To top it off, Davis is one of just five players in the NBA averaging 20+ points and 10+ rebounds. Hard to argue that with a significant improvement in every statistical category in just his sophomore year, Ant Davis is well on his way to NBA super-stardom. (Honorable mention to Jodie Meeks). Adversely, it’s hard to go past the Bucks’ $24 million man OJ Mayo. Mayo, who was showing real promise with the Mavs just last season, has regressed with the Bucks shooting a career low 40% from the field for 11.8 ppg, down signifigantly from last season where he averaged over 15 points a game. Assists and per/48 are also down, indicating that Mayo is in fact one of the worst performing players on the team. Not exactly what you expect when signing a guy to 3-years/$24 million. (Honorable mention JR Smith).

NS: There have been many surprises! Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic but I’m going Anthony Davis. His numbers have gone from 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 51.6 FG%, 75.1 FT%, 21.7 PER in his rookie year (2012-2013) to 21.4 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 52.7 FG%, 78.7 FT%, 27.1 PER, this season. I’m looking forward to seeing another big leap from him next season. The biggest disappointment has been Larry Sanders, hands down. I thought he would build upon his great season last year where he averaged 9.8 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.8 BPG. I was dead wrong. What’s wrong with him? Everything is wrong. He managed to take himself off the court with a bar fight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJ7KceTzB-s that tore a ligament in his right hand, which caused him to miss 25 games. And when he managed to get on the court, he didn’t stay there long, racking up fouls and ejections at an alarming rate. Not to mention his violation of the league’s anti-drug policy. The hits just keep coming (pun intended). Hang in there Milwaukee, only 4 years left on his $44 million dollar contract. 
TR: Blake Griffin has been the most improved player for me this season. I truly believe that the leap from NBA All-Star to Superstar is a bigger leap than from being an ok-to-good NBA player or from good-to-All-Star. His offensive game has come on rapidly. He’s developed a dangerous mid-range game & has implemented some very good post-moves. Furthermore, his leadership & ability to close games when Chris Paul was injured earlier on this season has just highlighted how far he has come.As for the most disappointing player this year… You’ve got to go with Andrew Bynum. I mean, yes he does have some very bad injury problems that must be very hard to deal with. It takes him forever to get his body ready for games & he spends hours after a game he plays icing his knees & warming down. BUT, the way he just threw away the opportunity that the Cavs gave him & he just didn’t seem to care, THEN demanding that he’d only sign with a contender for the remainder of the season makes you realise just how out of whack his priorities are. The only side note is that when he has been on court & engaged this season he has been very effective. Now if he could just change his attitude & seemed like he cared, maybe I’d have a bit of sympathy for how difficult it is for him to play basketball these days. Either that, or retire. It kills me seeing him like this.
There you have it folks! Another cracking Roundtable with some of the best this country has to offer. Thanks for reading, and a special thanks to Adam Howes, NBA Slander and Tom Read for taking part. You can find their twitter handles and where else you can find them below!
NBA Slander: Pick n Roll AU Twitter: @NBASlander
Tom: Believe The Hype Podcast Twitter: @traread


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Allen Iverson – The Highs and Lows

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Image courtesy of http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/nba/

“We’re talking about practice. I mean listen, we’re sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last but we’re talking about practice man.”

Even the most casual of NBA fans would be familiar with the quote above. Allen Iverson was a man who created headlines. In his 14 years in the NBA, the diminutive point guard certainly lived large on and off the court. His brash attitude and ‘street look’ were often the focal point of the mainstream media and despite being one of the greatest to ever play the game he suffered from such scrutiny, whether fairly or not.

Whatever off-court issues Iverson had, and he had a few, the way he played the game was mesmerizingly beautiful. As a six foot, 165 pound guard, he was always up against it, every time he stepped foot on the court, but he never backed down and his talent shone through over the years. He was honoured by the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday, with the franchise retiring his jersey to the rafters.

Iverson’s NBA career began back in 1996 when he was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the number one pick. He would go on to win Rookie of the Year honours that season whilst putting up 23.5 points, 7.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game but the 76ers finished with an abysmal 22-60 record.

Iverson’s numbers in his rookie season were impressive but the team’s horrible record caused some to blame Iverson for his score first attitude. In John N. Smallwood’s book entitled Allen Iverson: Fear No One Iverson was quick to point out the lack of support from a team of role players with little ability to score.

“You saw the team we had last year, who was going to score? I’d throw a pass; somebody would miss, the next time I’d say I’d rather do it myself. That’s not the right way. You have to go to the guy again. People said I was trying to win Rookie of the Year, but I was trying to win games.”

This kind of criticism was to follow Iverson throughout his whole career. Being a shoot first point guard was a fairly new thing in the late ‘90’s, unlike today, where the league has so many scoring point guards so it was Iverson who really paved the way for guys like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose but it was also Iverson who would have to take on the critics too.

Iverson would endure a second season with a team that struggled and failed to make the playoffs and the question marks over Iverson’s ability to be a team player and guide his team to the playoffs continued.

Thankfully, the following season, the 76ers reached the post season and whilst the criticism didn’t completely disappear, it wasn’t as loud as it had been previously.

The 76ers would reach the playoffs for the next four seasons, led by the play of Iverson and along the way he would pick up a league MVP in 2001, as well as numerous All NBA first team selections, All Star appearances, including two All Star MVP awards as well as his much vaunted scoring titles.

The 2000-01 season will forever be remembered in NBA folklore as A.I’s year. He was named MVP, putting up 31.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game and took a rag tag bunch of players all the way to the NBA Finals. Iverson exploded for 48 points in the first game of the series, including an amazing crossover, step back jumper over a falling Tyronn Lue, the ensuing images of Iverson stepping over Lue’s fallen body will be forever ingrained in hoops fans minds. The Sixers took the first game of the series against a Laker team stacked with stars that were on a 19 game winning streak and were supposed to just turn up to win the title. Iverson explained via ESPN.com what drove him when interviewed after the historic victory.

“I’m glad nobody bet their life on it because they’d be dead now. Everyone says we can’t do it, and that drives us.”

The game was indicative of what Iverson was all about, an underdog who always came to fight. The fight however was one that was unwinnable. The star studded Lakers, led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant would win the next four games and take out the championship.

Iverson would never again experience finals basketball. He would toil away in Philadelphia with mixed results, a few playoff appearances and a few disappointing seasons before he was traded away to the Denver Nuggets.

He would see his scoring output decline whilst playing for the Nuggets but they were to have some successes, even making the western conference finals in 2009 but once again it was the Lakers who stood in his way.

He would endure a few seasons of trades and clashed with management and coaching staff on both the Nuggets and Memphis teams before finally ending up back where it all began in Philly, but it wasn’t to last long.

The NBA career of Allen Iverson ended in 2010, he was seen as too demanding and troubled for any franchise to risk signing him and he went overseas to continue playing. His marriage fell apart and he’d spent most of his career earnings, he had reported alcohol and gambling problems and it all looked very bleak for the once mighty Iverson.

He has since retired from playing all forms of the game and it was yesterday that his jersey was retired to the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and there was an outpouring of respect and gratitude from many players, coaches and fans for what was an incredible, albeit controversial career.

Allen Iverson did it all his own way and whilst he made many mistakes along the way he will be remembered as one of the greats of the game. Perhaps he summed it up best himself after the ceremony.

“It feels good, but some part of my heart hurts because I know its over.”

His playing days are over, but they will never be forgotten.



KD

Kevin Durant – By the Numbers

Image courtesy of ESPN

Image courtesy of ESPN

 

Kevin Durant continued his unbelievable run of big scoring games this season when he scored 41 points against the New York Knicks in a 112-100 victory for the Oklahoma City Thunder today.

The Thunder were in the driver’s seat for most of the contest and not only did Durant notch up another 40 point game, his eleventh this season, but he kept fellow superstar forward, Carmelo Anthony to a season low 15 points on 5 of 19 shooting.

Durant shot well, 12 of 22 from the field and added 10 rebounds and 9 assists, just one assist short of a triple double in the win.

This season has been nothing short of amazing for KD. He has laid to rest any discussions over who the best scorer in the NBA is, see Zach Harper’s article,  and has gone as far as challenging the perception that LeBron James is still ‘The King’ of this league.

Sure LeBron is the proven talent, with multiple MVP awards and championship rings to prove it but if this season is anything to go by, so far, Durant is right there with him.

Forget the LeBron comparisons for a moment, they are sure to ignite heated discussion and it’s true that James deserves to be labelled the best there is right now, if only for his proven track record.

Let’s for a moment look at what we are witnessing so far from Durant this season.

Durant’s overall stats for this season are phenomenal; 31.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.5 spg, shooting .511 from the field and .415 from behind the arc. His points per game, assists per game, steals per game and field goal percentage are all at career high levels. Then there’s his advanced statistics that are also at career high levels; usage rate, assist percentage, effective field goal, offensive rating and PER.

These numbers are out of this world, but surprisingly, it seems Durant is still on an upward trend when it comes to his numbers.

For the month of January, Durant put up numbers that haven’t been seen since the great Michael Jordan was gracing the NBA’s hardwood. He averaged 35.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 6.1 apg and shot .549 from the field and .436 from three point range including a career high 54 point performance against the Golden State Warriors. Add in another four 40 plus point scoring performances for January and you have a month of basketball that sits up in the heavens with regard to its greatness.

We’re only halfway through a gruelling 82 NBA game schedule so you know nothings a given right now but we have seen enough from KD to know that anything is possible with him and many are predicting he will receive his first MVP trophy this season and if he continues to play like he has, an MVP trophy and a championship ring aren’t out of the question for this young superstar.



James-Durant

Finally, a legitimate NBA MVP debate – @RyanOak

After a number of seasons of forced and artificial debate over which NBA star is the Most Valuable Player, the 2013/14 season has finally provided us with a race worthy of heated discussion.

In recent times, LeBron James has had a mortgage on the prestigious award. Over the past five seasons, ‘The King’ has taken home the trophy four times, and rightfully so.

During that span, the lone time LeBron didn’t win was in 2010/11, when Derrick Rose was named the league’s best player. Rose had a fine season, yet it’s debatable whether he should have even been the runner-up, let alone the winner.

However, it was a ‘nice’ story to have the classy Rose named MVP, while conversely the same could not be said if LeBron took home the silverware that year.

It was LeBron’s first season in Miami after unceremoniously dumping his previous team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, via the now infamous The Decision television special on ESPN. As such, LeBron was public enemy No.1, and the voting journalists appeared unable – or unwilling – to see past that.

Conspiracy theorists may claim that it was a calculated move by the journalists, as the snubbing of LeBron helped grow the narrative of LeBron’s newfound villainy and the drama surrounding it. Drama which, in turn, sold papers and increased hits on sites.

However, whatever you believe, LeBron simply couldn’t be denied his greatness the two following seasons, with his sublime play resulting in two historically brilliant statistical campaigns, two championships and two MVP trophies.

Though some pundits made a half-hearted case for Kevin Durant in that time, it never carried any serious weight, for LeBron was simply better in every way you could conceivably measure.

This was especially true last year when LeBron was just one vote shy of becoming the first unanimous MVP in history.

Of 121 journalists, 120 placed LeBron number one on their ballot. Somewhat comically, in hindsight, the lone other vote didn’t even go to the eventual runner-up Durant.
Instead, some idiot – Gary Washburn to be precise – voted for Carmelo Anthony. That decision still defies belief, but I digress.

This season is a different story.

Though LeBron has once again been outstanding, he has slipped ever so slightly, while players like Paul George and LaMarcus Aldridge are playing outstanding ball and have their respective teams racking up the wins.

Yet it’s perennial bridesmaid Kevin Durant who has taken his game to another level, and threatens LeBron’s stranglehold on the MVP plaudits.

Missing fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook through injury for the majority of the season, Durant has put his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates on his back and carried them to the second best record in the league.

Durant is leading the league in scoring – nothing new, as he’s already achieved this feat three times in his young career – by a full four points per game over Melo, and is shooting with his usual eye-popping percentages.

He’s also improved his playmaking and defence, while his rebounding has remained extremely impressive for a small forward with a slight frame.

Perhaps most remarkable, Durant leads the league in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), a category that LeBron has finished first in for the past six seasons.

Yet it’s Durant’s leadership and intensity that have really stood out this season.

He’s now willing to get in the face of teammates when required, or talk trash to opponents. Furthermore, he rarely lets the game drift away from him without attempting to ‘take charge’ of the game situation.

Though the improvement has come somewhat through necessity, courtesy of Westbrook’s absence, one cannot deny that it’s definitely helped Durant’s game, and his team.

So much so that should he maintain his play, he very well may steal LeBron’s MVP trophy.

LeBron’s fans will rightly point out that the season is only halfway over. ‘The King’ has plenty of time to defend his throne, and he’s realistically only slightly behind Durant on the imaginary MVP ladder.

The second half of the season may see an intense race to the finish line, and ensure that we have a legitimate MVP debate on our hands.

(This content was originally published on The Roar at www.theroar.com.au)



Stop with the Comparisons!

Jordan, Kobe, Lebron. Lebron, Jordan, Kobe. Kobe, Lebron, Jordan. When will it stop? Why does there need to be such a constant comparison between the three? They are three of the best to ever grace the game. Each has brought something different to the court. You could even say that each has revolutionised how the great game of hoops is played. But do we really need to say who is the best? Personally, I’m over it. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to put the whole comparing thing to bed. Finish it once and for all so that we never need to hear about how so and so is the best.

The whole conversation reminds me of my childhood. You’d have your mates over for a party. Mum would make fairy bread. You’d drink so much soft drink you’d be physically ill. Lollies would be found in the dirt but you’d still force them down but as the day turned to night the conversation amongst the friends would become heated. As adults you never talk about sex, religion or politics at the dinner table. The equivalent for children was to decide who had the best dad. “My dad is better than your dad because he made me a sweet cubby house”. “Pfffft! My dad is better than your dad because he built our house”. “Whatever! My dad is better than your dad because he built Sydney. All of it!”. “Well my dad wrestled an elephant!” “My dad punched out Chuck Norris!” and so on and so forth. It was a discussion that could never be won no matter what anybody would say because you already had your mind set on your dad being the best and were determined to one up everyone else even if it meant stretching the truth. Jordan Vs Kobe Vs Lebron is exactly the same. Consider them your basketball fathers. Everyone has a favourite and it doesn’t matter what anyone else says your mind will never change. If anyone badmouths your basketball dad you come out swinging with stats and stories and whatever else you can think of and ignore what anybody else has to say.

All great players. But they cannot be compared. Each plays a different brand of ball. Lebron has size and muscle that the other two don’t, meaning Lebron can rely on his physical strength to get to the rack or back down a defender. Jordan would make every player around him better. Look at what he did for Scottie. Jordan made his weaknesses strengths. Critics said he couldn’t shoot. So he proved them wrong. Critics said he couldn’t play D but MJ worked as hard, if not harder at the defensive end of the floor. Kobe has his self belief as a massive strength. Kobe believes he can win in all situations.

But Lebron had to move to Miami to win his championships. Kobe couldn’t do it without Shaq. MJ couldn’t beat the Bad Boy Pistons. Kobe and Jordan stuck with the one team. Kobe only has one MVP. Lebron only gets awards because Stern loves him. Jordan can’t win without Pippen… Sound familiar?? I’m sure it does. It’s because of conversations like these that there will never be a consensus. Because there cannot be a consensus there’s no point to the conversation. It’ll just be a never ending circle of one upmanship of why your basketball dad is better than someone else’s basketball dad.

Nathan Darby 



DRose+Breaks+His+Silence

Bulls on Parade

It wasn’t too long ago that the Chicago Bulls were considered one of just a few teams that had a legitimate chance of taking out an NBA title. Fast forward almost two years and it seems most followers of the league have too many doubts to name the Bulls as legitimate contenders.

Sure, a lot has changed since Derrick Rose became the youngest MVP in NBA history. Firstly there has been the highly publicised and lengthy ACL injury and subsequent rehab for Rose, then the team’s ‘benchmob’ was dismantled and injuries to Noah and Deng at times throughout last season have all but kept the Bulls from reaching any potential they may have had.

The imminent return of Derrick Rose is almost upon us and a new look Bulls team are ready to tackle a much improved Central Division and Eastern Conference. The question however remains, as to how lofty ambitions should be for Chicago.

The biggest factor in how well Chicago basketball will fare this season has to be the ability of Rose to come back and contribute as well as he did pre injury. It’s been 17 months since the injury occurred and despite some public backlash during the 2012-13 playoffs it’s seen by most as the smartest move Rose could have made, regarding his long term health, to sit out the entire 2012-13 season. A player such as Rose who’s known to have a good work ethic, combined with the recovery time taken, leaves me with little doubt Rose can be as good, if not better than the player he was before the injury.

The Bulls need for a shooting guard to complement Rose in the back court has long been a focus and whilst the Rip Hamilton signing was mostly seen as a failure, the emergence of swingman Jimmy Butler has many fans excited. Having Butler play the majority of his minutes at the two gives the Bulls a big upgrade over the ageing Hamilton and his continued improvement will go a long way to a successful season.

The off season additions of Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell and Erik Murphy gives the Bulls much needed shooting. Chicago’s three point shooting was dreadful last season, with the team shooting .353 from behind the arc, 21st in the league and their 5.4 average makes per game was second last in the league.

Dunleavy shot .428 from behind the arc last season, a mark which was good enough for eighth in the NBA. Rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy should also help the Bulls spread the floor with their outside shooting, much like Dunleavy will, but with fewer minutes being afforded them.

The 2013-14 Bulls will rely on the return of Rose to change their fortunes but it’s the versatility of the squad which gives me the feeling the Bulls will be back with a vengeance. With Butler, Hinrich, Deng and Dunleavy you have a bunch of players who will be able to play more than one position. Butler will play both shooting guard and small forward, as will Dunleavy, giving the league leader in minutes per game, Luol Deng a much needed reduction in workload and the ability of Rose and Hinrich to possibly switch between the point and two guard gives the new look Bulls a plethora of options.

If the Bulls and Rose can stay relatively healthy and coach Thibs can get the most out of his younger players we could very well see the Chicago Bulls on parade come the end of the season.