If there was any doubt that Houston Rockets’ star James Harden is this year’s MVP, those doubts were cast aside this week. His jaw-dropping crossover against the Clippers left more than Wesley Johnson in a heap on the floor, it also left the rest of the MVP field in the dust.
Harden continues to play well on both ends of the floor, though his offensive exploits are always the bigger story. He has the Rockets playing like a well-oiled machine, having flawlessly adapted to a backcourt with Chris Paul also running point. The defensive end, however, is where Harden and the Rockets have made the most improvement.
The Boston Celtics appeared to have the key to ending Houston’s 14-game winning streak on Saturday, as the Rockets trailed by six late in the fourth quarter. The Rockets used their defense to spark a 10-2 run to close the game that extended the season-long winning streak to 15 games. Harden had an off night shooting, hitting just 6-of-18 from the field and 3-for-12 from three, but he contributed 10 rebounds, seven assists and five steals, all of which proved invaluable in the Rockets’ most impressive win of the streak.
The Rockets enter this week as the hottest team in the NBA, also leading the Western Conference by a half-game over the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Even as the Rockets are proving they are for real night after night, Harden is sending a message to the rest of the league that this is his year. It’s time for Harden to join Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone among the ranks of NBA Most Valuable Players.
Game to watch this week: Friday night’s visit to the East-leading Toronto Raptors.
This week reports surfaced that talks between Jordan Brand shoes and Spurs’ star Kawhi Leonard have stalled. Leonard’s camp wants a signature shoe to go along with a four-year extension worth in excess of $20 million. The report said it’s “unclear” whether Leonard wants to stay with Brand Jordan.
That’s not all that’s unclear about Kawhi Leonard these days.
Like those contract extension talks, the San Antonio Spurs have stalled. The team is perfectly constructed to complement Leonard is practically every way. They are not, however, built to have much success without him. Losers of eight of their last ten games, the Spurs are on the verge of being knocked out of the playoff picture as the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers are pushing to get into the West’s top eight.
The big question on everyone’s mind, of course, is: Where is Kawhi Leonard?!?
Leonard has been cleared to play, yet Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich says he doesn’t expect his star player to return this season. LaMarcus Aldridge is good, but he’s never truly embraced the role of star player. Around him are role players and aging stars who could probably make a deep playoff run if Leonard were healthy and in All-Star form. Without Leonard, however, the Spurs might just miss the playoffs altogether.
The folks at Brand Jordan appear to have questions about how much to invest in a player who has logged just nine games this season and is now refusing to play. Fans of the San Antonio Spurs, who aren’t accustomed to their team missing the playoffs, have similar questions.
The news that Dirk Nowitzki currently plans to play one more season for the Dallas Mavericks should be cause for celebration, but it also arguably keeps the Mavs’ long-term future on hold. The devotion between the Mavs and the best player in their franchise’s history is rare and wonderful. Is it the best thing for both parties, though?
One player who does not seem likely to figure into the Mavs’ long-term plan is Nerlens Noel. Noel has been less than stellar since returning to the lineup last week and there’s little doubt that failing to offer him the max deal he sought last summer was the right move for Dallas. The Mavericks’ search for a long-term solution at center continues. Luckily, there is a wealth of them available in this summer’s NBA Draft.
There is a positive for Dallas, however, as the season winds down. They actually got a win last week, taking out the Indiana Pacers 109-103 thanks in large part to the play of recent acquisition Doug McDermott. McDermott dropped in 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and has been a solid addition in his short time in Dallas. It remains to be seen whether or not that was the tanking Mavs’ last win of the season.
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbAradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy
“[Allen Iverson was the] greatest competitor of all time, toughest kid of all time, maybe the greatest athlete I've ever seen. I can't walk in an airport, walk into a gym where the kids in the gym don't come to me and ask me about Allen and tell me he's their favorite player of all time. And everywhere I go in airports, people look at me and they, ‘You're Allen's coach.’” — Southern Methodist University mean’s head basketball coach and former Philadelphia 76ers head coach Larry Brown, as told to Bryant Gumbel
The greatest player he’s ever seen? Any basketball mind knows that Larry Brown has seen a hell of a lot of basketball players in his storied career.
Let’s check the rundown:
So why doesn’t Allen Iverson get the love and recognition he so deeply sought? How is he not amongst the elite when it comes to top players when people talk about such things?
On the surface, it looked as if Iverson indeed was the answer to everything Philadelphia fans sought in their icons - grit, determination, street cred in an NBA arena, a man that symbolized the city itself - and yes, the aforementioned blood, sweat and tears.
But dig in, and you find that not everyone was on the same page.
Fans paid attention to things like missed practices, bowling alley altercations, concealed weapons charges, domestic disputes, gambling issues, and public urination.
“I think he liked stardom, money and fame more than playing basketball,” said longtime Sixers fan and Philadelphia native Vince Passio. “He let his ego and his friends control his actions off the court, which made me lose a lot of respect for him.”
A point that may be hard to argue, if you saw A.I. from the roughhewn streets he grew up running.
If you had grown up in the rough parts of Hampton, Virginia in the late-1970s to a 15-year-old mother, you too might enjoy things like money, fame and stardom.
But sports were the vehicle that brought Iverson from those rough streets and into the sports spotlight. Many know A.I. as a basketball player; but at Bethel high school, he helped win the state championship as the quarterback of his football team as well. Only makes sense that he would go on and direct the next generation of 76ers basketball players in the shadows of the great Dr. J, Julius Erving.
But coming up without a father was tough on young Iverson. For an old guy like me, someone who has seen his career from start to finish and beyond, you can see the people that got the best out of Iverson were strong male figures who he’d not only go to battle with but go to battle for and ultimately earn the respect of - John Thompson and Larry Brown.
“I’ve never seen (Allen) when he didn’t give a coach everything he had,” said Thompson of Iverson, who he admits he was a little reluctant to bring the young gun to Georgetown.
In the recent Showtime documentary ‘Iverson,’ Coach Thompson revealed that he “never recruited Allen at all - they recruited me.”
“They” being Iverson’s mother, Ann, and some words from his football coach, Gary Moore, who Iverson lived with in a move to keep young A.I. on the straight and narrow.
That proved to be a tough road, when it seemed everyone was in Iverson’s corner but Iverson - or at least the talented player’s behavior and seeming disregard for rules and boundaries … many of those challenged while under Brown’s tutelage.
“So many kids wanted to be like Allen,” Brown told CBS. “It’s something I tried to get Allen to understand when I coached him.”
“I wish I would have bought into what he was trying to give me all along,” said Iverson in a Sporting News interview. “I didn’t take constructive criticism the way I should have. Just being defiant, being a certified asshole for nothing when all he wanted was the best for me. God sent him to me and I was defiant at that time. To me, in my eyes, that’s the best coach ever.”
Of course, we all know, the coach that’s been in his corner the most is his mother.
In my years covering the league, I ran into Iverson numerous times. Typically, player speak, albeit frank when you interviewed him. Lucky if you got more than 30 seconds. Maybe a couple curse words if he had a bad night, that smirk if he went off scoring on that night’s opponent.
But always ‘Allen Iverson - The Facade.’ Whatever he wanted you to see and hear, and that was about it.
One night, that changed for me.
After a game in Phoenix in November of 2006, a night I’ll never forget, having just dropped 23 points and eight dimes on the Suns in a losing effort that dropped Philadelphia to 4-4, I tried to get anything out of Iverson post-game. He just stood silent at his locker, dressing slowly, keeping his back to the media.
When I asked him for a couple minutes of his time, he quietly said, “not tonight man” and began to don his jewelry and head to the team bus. I simply mentioned to him, “Okay thanks, man. Say ‘hi’ to your mom for me.”
He stopped dead in his tracks and asked how I knew his mom.
At the time, I was diving head first into minor league basketball as well as NBA in my writing and Iverson’s mother was someone I had been in contact with several times because she owned the ABA’s Richmond Ballerz.
As we talked about his mom, southeast Virginia, and his family’s love of and reverence for the game of basketball, you could see life in Iverson’s eyes. Though the 76ers had lost by a dozen that night, he left Phoenix with more of a smile than I’d seen all evening.
We talked almost 15 minutes. I never thought to turn my recorder on. This wasn’t news. This was special.
Twelve years later, maybe it should have been news.
Five minutes before, I stood at the left shoulder of what the world perceived as Allen Iverson.
Fifteen minutes later, I felt I met a man few knew, outside his circle of family and mentors.
And in that moment - as a fan, as a man, a fellow father and husband - all my chastisements, perceptions, and criticisms of Allen Ezail Iverson walked out that locker room door and into the Phoenix night, never to return.
A mere month later, Iverson would be headed in a new direction, traded to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two picks. Another new head coach - George Karl - who would be tough on him, yet later go on to compare Rajon Rondo to the likes of A.I. and to counsel him to “rise above” everything in his return to Philadelphia in 2009.
With stops in Detroit, Memphis, and overseas in Istanbul, Turkey with Besiktas Basketball, Iverson could never manage to find himself as age caught up with him.
No matter how many stops or fresh starts Iverson got, he still managed to carry his baggage along with him, though he has done his best to curb the talk as gossip, as myths.
What does any of this have to do with Iverson as one of the All-Time greats?
Quite a bit actually.
Though he considers himself as the greatest player ever, even above people like Michael Jordan and LeBron James, some may see that as ego talking. But take into consideration …
“I’m not disrespecting Michael (Jordan) or Magic (Johnson) or Julius Erving or any of those guys. I couldn’t have done what I did at my size if I didn’t feel that way.” — Allen Iverson
“I’m not disrespecting Michael (Jordan) or Magic (Johnson) or Julius Erving or any of those guys. I couldn’t have done what I did at my size if I didn’t feel that way.” — Allen Iverson
If you’ve ever gotten to talk to the real Allen Iverson - to Bubba Chuck - you’ll see that despite his size, he overcame and excelled. Despite his upbringing, he overcame and excelled. Despite whatever life and society through at him he overcame and excelled.
He may fall short against names like Jordan, James, Kobe Bryant, Pete Maravich, Jerry West and Magic Johnson when it comes to lists, stats, and jersey sales.
But when it comes to never backing down from adversity, standing taller than his 6’ 165 lb. frame in the face of said adversity, and owning his mistakes as well as celebrating his successes, Allen Iverson is more than a basketball Hall of Famer in my book …
He will be one of the undisputed greats as a man, as an example of what you can do when you never give up. It’s sad that those kind of stats aren’t tracked.
On the court, they’re “hustle points.” In life, it’s growth and maturity.
As for any questions about his stature, there should be the only ‘Answer.’
Iverson for the win.
Tracy Graven has covered the NBA since 2001 with stops in Orlando, Boise, San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver, Oklahoma City, and Cleveland. He resides in Tennessee with his wife and five children, where he also reports on NCAA and SEC sports. He can be reached on social media at @RealTMoneyNBA and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank God for the Philadelphia Eagles. Thank God for Nick Foles.
Without the miracle of that combination and the incredible season Carson Wentz had before he went down with the injury, the addition of a small school product like Jay Ajayi mid-season and the masterful way Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson put it all together.
At long last, Philadelphians have a championship to call their own after a decade had gone by since the Phillies won their latest World Series, ousting Tampa Bay in 2008.
NBA fans have been waiting … and waiting … and waiting … for what has now been 35 years.
Larry Brown (Coach of the Year) and Allen Iverson (Most Valuable Player) got close in 2001, fighting and clawing their way into the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, but would fall 4-1 despite having Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo and Sixth Man of the Year Aaron McKie.
Since then, it’s been akin to watching the Agave franzosinii grow to the point of blossoming - a process that takes 40 painstaking years.
The process. Trust the process.
Tanks, but no tanks.
In some corners of thought, it appears that the process has worked, though I would call 32-26 (.552) nominal success, and that would be an optimistic perspective.
Injuries besieged the team’s draft picks early on in this process, with high draft picks like Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid spending more time on the pines than on the hardwood where former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie envisioned the team’s resurrection occurring.
Michael Carter-Williams’ best NBA season was in a Sixer uniform, but by fans’ expectations it wasn’t enough. There are those who even feel new head coach Brett Brown underperformed out of the gate, though I would argue that Brown is wrapping up his fifth season, which isn’t bad for someone who was painted tenuous at best.
The team had a losing streak of 28, not once, but twice during The Process.
Jahlil Okafor came on board thick with expectation and, although he had nice bursts here and there, Okafor would also under deliver in fans’ eyes and succumbed to a torn meniscus in his first season.
It’s the names that no one expected that have made The Process evolve into what it is today. Guys like Isaiah Canaan, Robert Covington, and of course, Jerry Colangelo.
Seemingly, despite coming from good stock in Daryl Morey’s front office lineup, Hinkie was the chink in the armor of The Process and ultimately had to fall on his sword, allowing former Phoenix executive like Colangelo to come on board.
With Colangelo in the front office, anyone who knew those names knew change was imminent.
Despite the numerous trades, stockpiling of draft picks, and seemingly good selections with the lottery picks he acquired, Hinkie proved he was no Danny Ainge when it came to running a basketball franchise.
Tanks for the memories, Sam.
However, Colangelo did acquire some gems from Hinkie’s moves. Many just needed time to heal. Some like Noel and Okafor needed to go, but Embiid is playing like a man on a mission and is certainly the anchor of this franchise.
Many would argue, just the way Sam Hinkie envisioned him playing had he never been injured.
Where would the kid from Yaounde, Cameroon by way of Gainesville, Florida have been in 2014-15 and 2015-16 had it not been for that bothersome right foot?
Likely where he is today, dropping 23.9 a night (13th in the league) and grabbing 11.1 (6th) while swatting 1.8 per game (tied for 5th with Houston’s Clint Capela). With 2017-18 maybe even being MVP-like numbers.
Pepper in players like Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick and Dario Saric, and you have a nice core - like the Atlanta Hawks had in Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford - before Hawks management dismantled the team.
To be honest, I’d put these Sixers up against those Hawks every day of the week. Because we all know Al Horford is no Joel Embiid - not by any stretch of the imagination.
And, of course, there are the complementary players of the franchise like Marco Bellinelli, T.J. McConnell, and the aforementioned Covington who is hitting from 40+ percent from the field and 12.6 a night.
Hinkie may truly have been onto something. Colangelo may very well have inherited a well-stocked team in the “Steve-Kerr-won-with-what-Mark-Jackson-built” fashion.
Brighter days seem to be coming in Philadelphia with this iteration of the 76ers.
If Colangelo can keep them together. If trainer Kevin Johnson and the medical staff of Christopher Dodson, Barry Kenneally, Brad Tucker and Peter Vitanzo, Jr. can keep everyone healthy. And if Coach Brown can get the most out of all this raw talent, better days than .552 are most certainly ahead.
I feel you, Philly fans. I’m watching for the blossoming right along with you.
But, at the same time, I’m truly hoping these Philadelphia 76ers are a better show than the Agave franzosinii.
As spectacular as that plant is, it dies right after it blossoms.
And Philadelphia fans have seen that happen far too many times.
By: Bill Ingram
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbAradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy.
When Tom Thibodeau took over the Minnesota Timberwolves he knew they had plenty of young talent. What they were missing was the right veteran leadership. He went about adding the right leaders, guys he was intimately familiar with from his successful tenure with the Chicago Bulls.
None of those veterans were more celebrated or more important to the growth of the young Minnesota core than Jimmy Butler, whom the team acquired by sending a bundle of young talent to the rebuilding Bulls. Butler had emerged as a top-tier talent in the wake of Derrick Rose’s injury and departure, making him just the right person to lead Minnesota’s young core into an era of perpetual playoff glory. That plan was going ahead full steam until Butler went down with a meniscus injury in the team’s first game after the All-Star break.
The injury required surgery, but the timetable for Butler’s return is unclear. Considering how tight the Western Conference playoff race is currently. The Timberwolves are all but tied with the foundering San Antonio Spurs, holding onto the fourth seed and a hand’s breadth away from the third. They have momentum on their side and have finally started to show the potential they appeared to have when the season started. What do they have to do in Butler’s absence to maintain their success?
The obvious answer is, of course, that other players must step up. More than 18 points per game are now up for grabs, and there are plenty of capable players ready to fill the void. Namanja Bjelica has a chance to show that he’s capable of playing a bigger role for the team. In the team’s recent win over the Sacramento Kings – not that beating the Kings is a major accomplishment – Bjelica had one of his better games of the season starting in place of Butler. Jeff Teague will have to do a little more shooting than passing, perhaps, and Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are more than capable of providing additional offense. Sixth-man Jamal Crawford also stands ready to fill the void with more of his patented offensive spark.
There is plenty of good news for the Timberwolves. Butler is expected back before the playoffs and perhaps his most valuable contribution – his veteran savvy – is not impacted by his inability to take the court for a few weeks. He will be well-rested when he returns, ready for what could be a deep playoff run. Injuries are never good news, but if he returns to a deeper, more potent team, there could at the very least be a silver lining to the injury cloud.
For the Minnesota Timberwolves, Butler’s injury is merely a road bump. The car is still on the road and headed for the playoffs.
By: Bill Ingram
When the Utah Jazz lost Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics in free agency last summer, it was like a gut punch to the organization. They had built a team around Hayward, one they felt strongly could be a solid playoff team for years to come. When Hayward left, many believed the Jazz would be headed for the lottery again.
That does not appear to be the case.
What the Jazz did not count on was that rookie Donovan Mitchell, drafted 13th overall by the Denver Nuggets and later traded to Utah for the 24th pick and Trey Lyles, would emerge quickly as a premier talent in their backcourt. The Jazz are very much in the thick of the hunt for home court advantage in the Western Conference playoff picture thanks to a recent 11-game winning streak. Mitchell has been the driving force behind this success, leading the Jazz with 21.6 points per game in the month of February. Their winning streak saw them topple top teams like the defending champion Golden State Warriors and East-leading Toronto Raptors, as well as two wins over conference rival The San Antonio Spurs. Mitchell even spent some time at point guard while Ricky Rubio was out nursing an injury.
Sources close to the situation tell us that missing the playoffs was never an option for the Jazz, even after Hayward left. They’re not interested in another lottery pick, preferring the invaluable experience that a playoff run would mean for their young core, especially Mitchell. Additionally, making the playoffs would make it easier for the Jazz to lure a top talent this summer, when they will have significant cap space to chase a big name free agent.
With former Indiana Pacers GM David Morway working alongside GM Dennis Lindsey in the Jazz front office, there’s reason for Jazz fans to hope they might get an audience with All-Star forward Paul George. George was the 10th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by Morway and the Pacers and told the media over the All-Star break that he’s looking for a long-term home after this season in Oklahoma City.
Mitchell could also be a cornerstone piece in helping lure a player like George to town.
Whether or not Mitchell wins Rookie of the Year, and he has a legit shot, he is certainly proving his value to the Utah Jazz. It looks like he will be a significant part of the next era of Utah Jazz playoff basketball. Utah is looking to build a long-term winner with character as central to their process as talent. Paul George would fit right in.
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbaradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy
by Tracy Graven
Senior NBA Analyst
Your 2018 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year?
Something that has been foreordained since losing his original rookie campaign in 2016-17 to a fractured right foot, people feel the award should be Simmons’ to lose with comparison’s to a young LeBron James.
But is that a fair comparison?
In James’ rookie season, he started and played in 79 games averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds in 39.5 minutes per night.
Simmons’ ‘first’ rookie season was a rough one, playing only in Summer League where he went for 10.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists through six games; and honestly, he only shone in three because his first three were outright disasters.
This year, through 54 games, Simmons is clocking a modest 16.4 ppg along with 7.8 rpg and 7.3 dimes.
MVP of the 76ers, maybe. But is it enough to be blessed with the Rookie of the Year Award? Just because he plays like a young LeBron? Because he has a similar physique to a young LeBron?
Lest we forget that Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is making foreordination difficult by throwing down a better ppg average at 19.6 and becoming the darling of NBA fans new and old with his domination of the Kia Slam Dunk Contest even though his shot went cold in the Rising Stars Challenge the night before.
People have such short memories when they are in love with something shiny and new. I may or may not be one of those people.
Mired in a cycle that was dubbed ‘The Process’ under former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, Simmons is caught in an unplanned part of that ‘process’ that seemed to have swallowed up current and former teammates in the City of Brotherly Love. Something in the water in Philly it seemed for awhile.
Former 76er Nerlens Noel tore his ACL prior to the 2013-14 season. Michael Carter-Williams backed into that year’s award. I’m still determined to find the ‘Michael Carter-Williams: Rookie of the Year’ on milk cartons strewn around Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Charlotte … but I don’t think anyone has seen that guy since that season.
Current Sixer center Joel Embiid was sidelined for the 2014-15 season with foot issues, essentially handing the award to Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins, a guy who might get dealt by the Wolves this summer … but at least he hasn’t disappeared like MCW.
Karl-Anthony Towns deservedly took home the hardware in 2015-16. But, Embiid has made a monster comeback the last two years, averaging 22.3 ppg, 9.8 rebounds (11.1 this season - 2nd in the league this year) and 2.1 blocks in the two seasons he’s been able to play.
And then there’s former Los Angeles Clipper Blake Griffin, who - like Simmons - lost his true rookie season (to a broken left kneecap). Griffin came back man on a mission the next season to claim a 22.5 point, 12.1 rebound campaign in 2010-11 … and Rookie of the Year.
Simmons 2.0? Not as resounding a run as Blake 2.0 had.
Others like Julius Randle of the Lakers, Greg Oden of the Trailblazers, and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker came out with promise and ended their young seasons on the injured list as well.
Not to sound heartless, but I’ve always wondered aloud whether people like Griffin and Simmons deserve to be considered for and/or win the ROY in what is arguably their sophomore campaigns in the NBA. I get the notion that they never stepped foot officially on the court in an NBA game that counted, unlike Randle who was deemed ineligible for the award because he played 13 games in his rookie year.
And, yes, Griffin’s injury allowed Tyreke Evans to win in 2010 and Simmons’ injury last year certainly spelled success for Malcolm Brogdon.
But it also cheats players like John Wall and Donovan Mitchell, in my opinion.
The argument could be had that Griffin was flying higher in Lob City (off a mended knee, mind you) that Wall was in DC. He won Western Conference Rookie of the Month all six months of the season, while Wall edged out Landry Fields for the Eastern Conference honor four months of six. Different players, different styles.
Okay, so maybe Griffin did deserve it. But does Simmons?
LSU, led by Simmons, failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 2016; Mitchell’s Louisville Cardinals at least went past Jacksonville State before bowing to Michigan last spring. And Simmons’ number this year are similar to his sole year of college while Mitchell’s improved his ppg average versus college and already surpassed NBA and Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone in number of 20+ point games with 19.
Also, Simmons and Mitchell are neck-and-neck with two ROM awards apiece in their respective conferences (February not yet tabulated) while L.A.’s Kyle Kuzma grabbed the honor in October/November in the West and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics owned December in the East.
There are those that will say that Simmons deserves it. Others will argue on behalf of Mitchell. Such a divided nation we are.
In the end, it circles back to those comparisons to LeBron James.
The court awareness. The passing ability for someone of his size and stature. Things Mitchell can’t compare with because his style of play, physique and athleticism are night and day to Simmons. Again, different players, different games.
So records? Team leadership skills?
The Philadelphia 76ers are playing at just above .500 after 56 games of Simmons’ “rookie” season at 31-25, currently seventh in the Eastern Conference and third in the Atlantic Division.
Cleveland went 35-47, finishing 5th in the Central Division in James’ rookie season under Paul Silas, in a much-less competitive Eastern Conference era than today’s East.
Maybe the best comparison is the anointing and foreordination.
After all, LeBron James went on to become The King and arguably the best basketball player in the modern era.
Since Simmons has a LeBron-esque physique, here’s hoping that he can shoulder the kind of load that this passing of the torch can bring.
But I’m betting Donovan Mitchell leaps right over those shoulders …
By Richard Anselmo - Contributor
Well, well – the All Star Game is behind us and we have reached the two thirds of the season mark, so let’s take a look at the players that were hot – or not – before the break.
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers – Jordan has had an up and down season but really picked his game up after the trade of Blake Griffin to Detroit. Jordan was in a slump before the trade but getting new teammates invigorated him and it showed in his game. Once he got used to playing with Tobias Harris (who came over in the trade) his offensive game made strides and the two of them continue the tradition of Lob City. Being more involved offensively (he had a 30-point game against the Celtics) showed in his work ethic, and he even is improving his free throw shooting. He has a true shooting percentage of 65.6
Playing with another stellar defensive player in Avery Bradley (also received in the same trade), Jordan has improved his already outstanding defense. In the minutes they have been on the court together they have a 13.9 net rating, and a defensive rating of 91.7. If they can keep this up it could mean a playoff push – and new contracts all around.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz – Mitchell has taken on more of a role in the Jazz offense, which is unusual for a rookie. He has improved by the month, and in the last 10-15 games his numbers have improved. This shows in his usage rate, which is 28.7. Mitchell is doing this in only 32 minutes per game. He is improving as a passer and is increasing his ball handling duties by the week. In a recent game he played point guard due to the absence of Ricky Rubio and acquitted himself well. His shooting percentage is not off the charts but he is the main offensive threat on the Jazz roster. His true shooting percentage is 54.4 He works hard on both ends of the floor and is one of the main reasons the Jazz have won 11 games in a row.
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans – Holiday, coming off an injury started the season off slowly and was limited in minutes played as well as being not available for all back to back games. Over the past month his improvement is off the charts. A true point guard and team leader, Holiday has really proven his worth since the injury to DeMarcus cousins. All of his shooting percentages are solid, and improving with added responsibility. His effective field goal percentage is up to 54% (which is a career high) with a solid usage rate of 22.3 – an outstanding number for someone who has improved to 19 ppg. He is playing at the best pace rate of his career, and his defensive rating is outstanding. Holiday is leading the team on both ends and will have to continue if the depleted Pelicans are to make the playoffs.
Kyle Singler, Oklahoma City Thunder – Since coming to the Thunder in a trade in 2015, Singler has seen his role diminish by the month. Continuing the least productive season of his career, he is averaging under 2.2 ppg and has shown little of the ball handling skills that were on display earlier in his career. His effective field goal percentage, pace rating and usage rate are all at career lows. His true shooting percentage is only 46.5, easily the worst in his career. If he is not helping a team offensively he won’t be on the floor much, as his athleticism is not conducive to effective defense. He showed some promise early with the Pistons, but it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing that again any time soon.
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks – Hardaway started the year off hot and then got injured. By the time he came back his timing was way off and it has barely improved since his return. Outside of one good half his game has fallen to that of a replacement level player. Although he is averaging a career high 17.7 ppg, his usage rate has stayed even while his effectiveness has dropped. He is at near career lows in true shooting percentage and effective shooting percentage. He is hurting the team defensively and using too many possessions to be a contributor. Hardaway is long past any lingering effects of the injury but his production is consistently worse. He will need to step up his game in the absence of Kristaps Porzingis or the Knicks will go into a deeper freefall than they already are.
Nicholas Batum, Charlotte Hornets – The Hornets have underachieved all season as Batum was injured early in the season. Since he has been back the team and his individual play have regressed. In February, Batum has slipped in every category and has not been himself defensively. He has been involved in the lowest percentage of his team’s points since he arrived in Charlotte. His scoring average is down despite playing nearly identical minutes. His true shooting percentage is the lowest it’s been in years and his usage rate is down, despite playing at a faster pace than in recent seasons. His numbers are getting worse as the season goes on, and his defensive efficiency has also dropped. He is only 29 so he should be able to get back to what he was, but he is going in the wrong direction.
About the Author
Richard Anselmo is a former Houston Rockets scout, the current director of scouting for AND Sports and a regular guest on the nbAYD Show. Follow him on Twitter: @RichA_NBA
by Tracy Graven
Senior NBA Analyst
Well, it’s over.
NBA All Star 2018 has come and gone with format changes, defense and one of the most competitive All-Star games in recent memory.
While it evolved into one of the best, edge-of-your-seat games and will go down as one for the ages, it truly was a metaphor for the remaining two months of the NBA season.
It may last a tad longer than the Kentucky Derby, but it won’t seem like it with the breakneck style of play that the NBA has evolved into in the last decade.
Gone are the days of the Bad Boys. Showtime has exited stage left for a few years. The Celtics are a few shades away from their dynasty days. And the Bulls? Well they’re a couple bars above Fergie’s National Anthem performance when it comes to the front office.
It’s the year in, year out tango between Cleveland and Golden State. Stephen Curry and LeBron James. Draymond Green’s karate kicks and anyone’s crotch who gets in the way.
But as fans, that can get old and stale outside Oakland and Cleveland. And to be great, someone has to actually win it at least two years in a row - right Boston, Los Angeles and Miami?
So who’s going to knock the King off his throne in the East? Who will bottle up the Chef like he was on Sunday night as the season’s game clock runs down over the next two months?
I’ll look at three teams that may surprise you in that quest, and three who may have their scouts booking flights to Boise, Pittsburgh, Wichita and Nashville as the next eight weeks race by like a Mike D’Antoni fast break.
The Rockets have been my pick for 2018 NBA Champion since before the pre-season. Not only has James Harden made sobering improvements in his overall game offensively, but the myth that Chris Paul’s presence was going to cut into Harden’s shots has been laughable at best. Despite his early season injury, Paul’s veteran leadership and presence has been felt, and he may have just been the steadying voice in the Houston locker room that D’Antoni needed.
Plug in Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright, as well as the development of Clint Capela, and D’Antoni’s frenetic plan to outscore everyone on the way to a championship might be finally coming to fruition.
Fifth time’s a charm, right Mike?
Not to mention that this season’s Most Valuable Player Award was presented in everyone’s minds to No. 13 mere seconds after Russell Westbrook accepted the trophy last summer. However, with a 31.3 point, 9 assist, 5.1 rebound stat line through 50 games, he well-earned what’s coming to him this summer.
And if there’s a tie-breaker with Westbrook, there’s always that State Farm commercial where he says hell to the nah on the Backstreet Boys (shame on you, Trevor Ariza).
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Throughout much of the season, the Thunder have been about as predictable as any given day this time of year in Oklahoma. One day ready to tear through the league like an F5 twister; the next looking as frigid and stale as the Plains landscape they represent.
Credit Billy Donovan for somehow getting Carmelo Anthony and his ego to a point where he’s playing team basketball, instead of counting and expecting how many shots he can get per night. And, of course, credit ‘Melo as well. The maturation process is a shade behind LeBron James’ but it’s coming around. I haven’t seen this much open-mindedness and unselfishness from Anthony since he was coached by the great George Karl.
The integration of Paul George has been just as much a challenge because you get the sense that George has one eye on the L.A. situation and maybe even fleeting thoughts of trying to get other L.A. boys to join him (i.e. Westbrook, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan and L.A. transplant, Hollywood producer, school-enrolling, home-purchasing LeBron James).
About eight years ago, I wrote that Westbrook is a barometer for the Thunder’s success. In 2018 and for the next eight weeks, that mantle goes to one Paul George of Palmdale, California.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti has always pulled the rabbit out of the hat and done the impossible. Hopefully, this one doesn’t backfire. Despite the $205 million extension signed by Westbrook last fall, he can’t do it alone. Even the Energizer bunny runs out of batteries.
I would have liked to have seen Presti deal at the deadline for Kenneth Faried and/or Tony Allen to bolster the Thunder’s defense. Alas, crickets. But if the Big Three of Anthony, George, and Westbrook (again, only done alphabetically, Russ) can meld into a force, they might have a chance of putting a dent in the Warriors come May.
Seems an unlikely choice, I know, to include the Jazz in this mix when they are on the outside looking in at the eighth seed and a potential first-round dance with the Rockets.
Maybe I should recognize what the Denver Nuggets are doing or give my hometown Trailblazers a bit more credit. But you can’t discount what Quin Snyder has done with this franchise, through personnel changes and significant injuries in his time with the Jazz.
Granted, Salt Lake City was blessed with 13th pick and grabbed your 2018 NBA Slam Dunk champion from Louisville in Donovan Mitchell.
His 19.6 points per game leads a team with veterans like Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. He made Joe Johnson and Derrick Rose expendable - okay, Rose made Rose expendable. But Mitchell is the real deal and the player Utah was looking for when they selected the likes of Dante Exum (the Australian Kobe Bryant).
Factor in that the Jazz posted 11 straight going into the All-Star break and you’d have to agree that Snyder and Mitchell are giving Utah fans plenty to tap their toes to in the near future and going into the next few years.
What can I say? I’m a believer.
I felt the Wizards really missed the boat when it came to rumors about where DeAndre Jordan would land running up to the trade deadline. I mean, Marcin Gortat’s game has a nice blue-collar feel to it, but I would have liked Kelly Oubre better in a Clippers jersey and Jordan a dominating force in the center-starved Eastern Conference (all respect to Hassan Whiteside).
Eventually, the people that already haven’t are going to figure out the John Wall-Bradley Beal tandem and force the ball into the hands of the Jodie Meeks’, Otto Porters and Kelly Oubres of the world and that’s not going to win Scott Brooks any more championships that the like of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant did … and those are high-caliber guys.
They’ll make a nice run, but it’s time to face facts and if the Wizards want to be in the Top Four in the East for more than a few weeks, then it’s time for Ernie Grunfeld to pull out what he has left, show us if there’s anything in his bag of tricks and set Brooks up for success.
It’s a tall order.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
This is the team whose picture and logo are at the forefront of every definition when it comes to the words “franchise,” “leadership,” and “teamwork.”
That’s what makes it such a bitter pill to swallow that this 20-plus year era that began in 1996 when Pop - then general manager - assumed the role of head coach after firing Bob Hill and has re-written coaching history may be nearing its inevitable, yet incredible run.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been along for the ride since 2001 and 1999, respectively, but are due to hang up the sneaks any day now. While Kawhi Leonard has become the new face of the franchise and seems adept enough to fill the large shoes left by the likes of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, like Westbrook he will not be able to shoulder the load alone - no matter how many games off Pop gives him.
Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton may be the next seven-footer in silver and black, and Jaren Jackson, Jr. might be in a Spurs uniform longer than the four years his dad spent in one from 1997-2001.
For now, the Spurs sit on a potential first-round home court advantage at 35-24. But with the aforementioned Nuggets playing well and the Minnesota Timberwolves nipping at their heels, Spurs may not be enough to keep teams from taking down an aging San Antonio squad.
‘The Process’ is still in play, though Sam Hinkie isn’t in house to see it.
As ballyhooed as this team was at the beginning of the season, they’ve comfortably slid into the .500 mark just before a five-game streak prior to All Star. Five hundred. Average.
It’s a marked improvement over where they’ve been in recent season, without doubt. And average may still get you a playoff spot in the East. But it’s not enough to get past the Cavaliers, Celtics or even the Raptors. Not yet.
What Philly has done has made itself a sexier destination again. It didn’t hurt that the Eagles won the Super Bowl, either. The City of Brotherly Love is on a winning track again, but they’re still a few pieces away from elite status.
It doesn’t hurt that there are guys like Jackson, Ayton, and the (unrelated) Bridges boys on the board this summer. But I think the Sixers ought to be sending Milt Newton out anywhere Oklahoma’s Trae Young is playing. He would be the perfect complement to Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz once he comes back around.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
I expected bigger things from Magic Johnson in his first foray into being a participative NBA executive. Okay, he hasn’t really disappointed me other than his decision to draft Lavar Ball. No, that’s not a typo - when Magic selected Lonzo Ball, he got Lavar as part of the package and anyone could have told you that spelled T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
Mr. Interference is the epitome of one living vicariously through their sons’ achievements. Truth be told, the kids could be solid ball players without the distractive PR. But his overbearing demeanor could mean his dream of his son(s) playing for the hometown team may be short-lived. Yes, he is rumored to insist that LiAngelo and LaMelo must be signed by the Lakers or Lonzo will not re-sign with L.A.
That’s a lot of Balls. But Magic has brains.
Surely he’s learned that old adage - “You marry Lonzo, you marry the family.”
So, as everyone asks aloud … is LeBron James coming to the Lakers? Well, Isaiah Thomas is there. He couldn’t co-exist with him for the brief minute he was in Cleveland. If King James can’t stand IT, how will he handle Lavar? Quite simply, he won’t. And he likely won’t have to.
To further cloud the situation, Johnson has already put forth the perception that the Lake Show is focusing instead on the 2019 Free Agent market. Really? That reeks of handshake deals, in my opinion.
You have a chance at guys like James, Durant, George, Anthony and DeMarcus Cousins and you’re going to instead wait for Chandler Parsons, Wesley Matthews, Enes Kanter and DeMarre Carroll? (Okay, maybe you want Klay Thompson - I get it).
My mind, conventional wisdom, and common sense tells me that Johnson is catfishing us. The old rope-a-dope. The same guy that paid a $50,000 fine for ‘tampering’ with comments about Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokuonmpo is now going to wait another year?
Uh uh. Nope.
Johnson’s a planner. He will execute those plans that are in his head. He’s a winner. And he will win, as an executive, by putting together his own Dream Team. And it won’t be through the lottery. It will be the allure of L.A. - where certain players are from. Where certain players already have homes.
What’s the alternative? That team in the other L.A. locker room that is dumping salary faster than people getting off of Harvey Weinstein’s speed dial.
Johnson won’t get trumped by the likes of Gillian Zucker, Michael Winger and Doc Rivers.
He just can’t say it right now - because even to Magic Johnson, $50000 is a lot of coin.
And by saving that $50000, he can hire better singers to sing the National Anthem in Staples.
by: Bill Ingram
If you’re looking for consistency in the NBA’s Western Conference, you need look no further than the Houston Rockets. Sure, the defending champion Golden State Warriors are the heavy favorites to repeat as champs, but when the dust settled on the pre-All-Star schedule it was the boys from Clutch City sitting atop the standings and in the midst of a 10-game winning streak. Only the Utah Jazz were hotter going into the break, having won 12 straight, but they are not yet in the playoff picture.
Those who thought the backcourt combination of James Harden and Chris Paul wouldn’t work have been silenced, as that duo has proven to be all but unbeatable. Harden is averaging 31.3 points per game in what is almost certain to be a Most Valuable Player season, while Paul is second in scoring with 19.2 points per game while also dishing 8.3 assists per contest. Eric Gordon, leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate, is adding a huge lift off the bench with 18.5 points per game and key additions Gerald Green and Joe Johnson have rounded out a lineup that looks as formidable as any in the NBA.
Speculation about the possibility of LeBron James landing in Houston went into overdrive as the Cleveland Cavaliers blew up the team around him, but the Rockets don’t look like a team that needs another star to compete for a championship this season. Houston has already player all of their regular season games against the aforementioned Warriors, winning the series 2-1, and it looks like their roster additions give them everything they need to expect to give the defending champs all they can handle come playoff time.
San Antonio Spurs
The burning question in San Antonio is, more than ever, who exactly are the San Antonio Spurs?
All-Star and MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard has made little more than a cameo appearance this season due to multiple injuries, Tony Parker and Rudy Gay have missed substantial time with injuries, and head coach Gregg Popovich continues to use his healthy starters sparingly in the interest of long-term health. Even with all of that going on, the Spurs still sit in the West’s third seed.
It’s easy to write off the Spurs because they can’t seem to get healthy, but what happens if they do get everyone back and up to speed before the playoffs start? They looked like a team to reckon with before Leonard when down in their series with Golden State last postseason, and they have given their role players considerably more experience since then. Gay has also been an inspired addition when he’s been healthy.
No one questions that Popovich is the best coach in the NBA, and if you give him a full complement of healthy players come playoff time, the Spurs might still be title-worthy. It’s just hard to anticipate such a turn of events given their constant onslaught of injuries to key players.
The Mark Cuban era Dallas Mavericks have never been rebuilding the traditional way. They prefer to chase big-name free agents and then add as many veterans as possible when the big names land elsewhere. That method has kept them squarely in the Western Conference’s twilight zone since their impressive Finals run in 2011. They’ve been a playoff team, but first round losers, until last season.
Missing the playoffs netted the Mavericks Dennis Smith, Jr., who is clearly going to be a part of the next perennial playoff team in Dallas, as is Harrison Barnes. What the Mavericks really need now is a lottery pick that lands the next franchise player as Dirk Nowitzki plays out the twilight of his career. They’re in the running for the league’s worst record, which could mean they have a shot at one of the premier front court players currently expected to dominate the 2018 NBA Draft.
For now, the Mavericks are in a holding pattern, just giving their young guns as many touches as possible to prepare them for life after Dirk.
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbaradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy.
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