LeBron James Signs With the Lakers

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As I craftily predicted, LeBron James will be taking his talents out west to Hollywood. The deal, as Woj pointed out, is a league max of 4 years and $154M. It was also interesting to note that some of LeBron’s reps were in Philly meeting with the 76ers, who were the other team that seemed most likely to land his services. He was not present at those meetings, though, and he was in fact in Los Angeles. Now he joins the storied Laker franchise that has the second most titles among all NBA franchises (trailing the Celtics, of course).

So what does this mean for the NBA? Well, first and foremost the Western Conference is now even more of a bloodbath than ever. You have, of course, the Warriors, who have won 3 out of the last 4 titles and were a blown 3-1 lead away from having won 4 in a row. You have the Houston Rockets who took the Warriors to the brink and are bringing back their future Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul with a max deal (again, as I craftily predicted) as well as reigning MVP James Harden. You have the Thunder, sort of, who managed to convince Paul George to stay even though everyone and their mother thought he’d be joining LeBron in LA. And now you have the Lakers, who are mainly just LeBron James right now since he hasn’t really acquired any teammates yet. However LeBron has taken a worse supporting cast to the NBA Finals before so just because there isn’t a ton of talent around him now doesn’t mean that doesn’t make the Lakers contenders.

This also takes a mack truck and clears all the small children out of the road for the Celtics to reach their first NBA Finals since 2010 (which happened to be against the Lakers). There is virtually no competition for them. Yeah, the 76ers and Raptors are pretty good, but the Celtics curb stomped the 76ers in the second round of the playoffs last year while the Raptors got destroyed by the Cavaliers, whom the Celtics took to Game 7. And the Celtics did all that without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, who will both be healthy for the start of the 2018-19 season. The LeBron signing also opens the door for a potential LeBron James vs Kyrie Irving NBA Finals, which will just be a bonanza of storylines to work with.

So what do the Lakers need to do in order to unseat the Warriors? Well for one, they need another player. Since they traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance to the Cavaliers at the Trade Deadline (very sneaky play there, LeBron), the Lakers now have room for 2 max contracts in their salary cap. LeBron takes up one of them and they could use another one on one of the potential free agents still out there (DeMarcus Cousins) or pay Kawhi Leonard after acquiring him in a trade from the Spurs (or both, since Leonard has stated he doesn’t really care about the max contract, he just wants out of San Antonio). The development of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball is also critical, however the latter’s may take a little more time since he tore his meniscus and it is unknown how much time he’s going to miss. Provided, their development only matters as long as one or both of these two aren’t part of a package for Kawhi Leonard. However, since the Lakers have no other ammunition except the potential of Ingram and Ball, there really isn’t any other option for them if they want to land Leonard. I’m also interested to see how LeBron works with Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who was taken 31 spots after LeBron in the 2003 NBA Draft. Pretty much everywhere he’s been, LeBron has basically been the Jackie Moon of his organization and has been the alpha over his head coach. Walton doesn’t strike me as the pushover that Tyronn Lue does or David Blatt and Erik Spoelstra did so there could be some potential head butting.

But regardless, this coming NBA season will certainly be a lot more interesting than last season’s. That’s it for today’s blog, sorry about the brevity but I just came back from the beach and I am just dead, however I couldn’t NOT blog this news so I powered through it the best I could. Good on me. Let me know what you think of LeBron James joining the Lakers in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Top 10 NBA Free Agents

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Before I get into the blog, I’m sure many of you might have noticed that it wasn’t me writing the blog yesterday. That would be James Neary, who will be occasionally contributing to this blog now. He’s a friend of mine from high school with whom I played baseball and basketball. You’ll love him.

As for the blog itself, last night was the deadline for players to opt in or out of their contracts and the free agency class is finalized. So I figured it’d be fitting to look at the class this year and predict where everyone will wind up. So with that, let’s not waste any more time and get to it.

10. JJ Redick-G-Philadelphia 76ers

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Redick is the definition of a catch-and-shoot player with a 3-point shot that can fit pretty much any system. He was a big part of the 76ers’ emergence and if they don’t land LeBron James, I think they’ll put some of that cap space towards bringing the sharp shooter back.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Philadelphia 76ers

9. Marcus Smart-G-Boston Celtics

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Smart is one of the toughest players in the league and his defense and energy was critical in the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals despite injuries to key players such as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. There’s just one issue: he can’t shoot. Smart’s biggest asset, though, is his toughness and ability to draw fouls and get in the heads of opposing players and while he is looking for a large contract (he’s looking for an annual salary between $12-14M), I’m sure somebody will be willing to give it to him to bolster their depth and improve their defense.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Utah Jazz

8. Isaiah Thomas-G-Los Angeles Lakers

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What a crappy year for Isaiah Thomas. He was the man in Boston, got traded seemingly out of nowhere, and wound up being forced out of Cleveland before being forgotten with the Lakers. He has a chance to start fresh and he has shown he is very capable of leading a team on a deep playoff run.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Phoenix Suns

7. Clint Capela-C-Houston Rockets

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As bad of a year that Thomas had, Capela’s was that good. Capela was a revelation this season for the Rockets and made himself into one of the premiere defenders in the NBA. He was a big reason why the Rockets were able to give the Warriors a run for their money in the Western Conference Finals. He’s probably the best defender available and I think that any team that lands him will become that much tougher in the paint.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Houston Rockets

6. Chris Paul-G-Houston Rockets

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Like the emergence of Capela, the addition of Chris Paul was a major factor in the Rockets becoming a threat to the Warriors. His chemistry with James Harden helped the bearded one land his first MVP award. He is looking for a max deal but the Rockets have one to spare so if they’re smart, I think they keep the formula that worked so well last year and give it to CP3.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Houston Rockets

5. DeAndre Jordan-C-Los Angeles Clippers

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Jordan opted out of his deal with the Clippers at the last minute and became an unrestricted free agent. Jordan is another excellent defender and arguably the best rebounder in the entire NBA. The story about how his last free agency tour went is one of the oddest stories in recent memory and now that there’s nobody left with the Clippers to barricade him inside his house so that Mavericks officials can’t reach him, I do think a deal with Dallas does happen. They are, in fact, rumored to be heavily pursuing him.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Dallas Mavericks

4. DeMarcus Cousins-C-New Orleans Pelicans

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DeMarcus Cousins suffered an achilles injury midway through the season, which probably hurt his free agent stock. But he’s one of the most dominant big men in the game when healthy and he was just starting to form a strong 1-2 punch with Anthony Davis in New Orleans prior to the injury. He’s the type of guy who you can count on for a 20-10 season and be the vocal leader of your club house, provided he’s not in one of those “moods.”

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with New York Knicks

3. Paul George-F-Oklahoma City Thunder

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George was traded to the Thunder from the Pacers prior to this past season in what was then perceived to be a VERY lopsided deal for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. However Oladipo earned an All Star bid and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award while George played second fiddle to Russell Westbrook as the Thunder got bounced in the first round of the playoffs against the Jazz. George is still one of the better all-around shooters in this free agency class though and a star player who will command a max deal.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Los Angeles Lakers

2. Kevin Durant-F-Golden State Warriors

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Technically, Durant is a free agent, which is why he makes this list. However nobody believes he’s not returning to Golden State, as they can afford the potential deal despite the ludicrous amounts of talent on that roster. So I’m not going to give this much more thought for the 2-time NBA Finals MVP.

Projected Landing Spot: Stays with Golden State Warriors

1. LeBron James-F-Cleveland Cavaliers

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The one we’ve all been waiting for. It’s very unlikely that LeBron remains in Cleveland, as his relationship with team owner Dan Gilbert is pretty strained. Plus, the talent on the Cavs’ roster is nowhere near where it needs to be in order for the King to get his 4th ring. I’ve heard of a million different potential landing spots for him and I really don’t have the faintest clue as to where he’s ending up so for my Projected Landing Spot, I’m going with the team that I’ve heard the most about.

Projected Landing Spot: Signs with Los Angeles Lakers

Bonus: Kawhi Leonard-F-San Antonio Spurs

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No, he’s not a free agent, but Leonard wants out of San Antonio and the Spurs are fielding offers. With just a year left on his current contract, if a team is going to give up the king’s ransom it’s probably going to cost to get him, they’re going to want to ensure that they’re going to be able to lock him up to a multi-year deal. And based on some of the packages I’m hearing, there’s only one team that has the assets to land the former NBA Finals MVP.

Projected Landing Spot: Traded to the Boston Celtics for a package including the Kings pick, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier (Yes, I am aware that Danny Ainge just said the team isn’t looking to make a blockbuster deal. But I’ll believe it when I see it)

Let me know what you think of the 2018 NBA Free Agency class in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

What NBA Free Agency Can Teach Us about the International System & Political Signaling

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By James Neary

The intersectionality of politics and sports is an ever-present fissure in the harsh divisions of America today. You can yell back and forth across the dinner table about why players should or should not kneel, wear black hoodies, or lambast the president. But you can’t argue this: sports ​are politics. Power dynamics, economics, and public relations are obvious driving forces behind both the Warriors and the White House. While this article largely focuses on the context of the NBA and the boisterous atmosphere surrounding free agency headed into this weekend, the concepts mentioned here will be largely applicable to other leagues as well. While to most political scholars the metaphor is apparent, the sports fan less versed in the traditions of Capitol Hill stands to gain a lot from this discussion.

Although the metaphor isn’t perfect, the NBA today can be seen as an international system similar to the one every human on earth calls their own, except for maybe Marxists. Political scholars usually refer to our syste​m as ​anarchy ,which you know the meaning of. Despite the UN and other international organizations’ best effort to instill some rule of law on a global level, realist theory in political science argues that doesn’t mean much. How the NBA functions similarly to this follows: Each team acting as a nation, or ‘black box,’ in which you can hardly see the inner policy, practices, and traditions of the institution itself, but are left instead with the resulting implications of the choices made through their internal processes. There are institutions such as the NBA itself, the NBPA, the television and internet service providers, etc. that do impose rules over combat (games), economics (salary caps), diplomacy (trades), and ethics (dress code). Politically, either from a realist or liberal (not like that, idiots) perspective, the argument can be made both that these institutions do and do not play a leading role in the decisions made by teams.

Now that the overall framework and political theory is established, it’s time to take a look at this year’s NBA free agency circus and see how it corresponds to our political conditions. To be completely forthcoming, I’m a diehard Celtics fan, but I also appreciate the unprecedented grandeur of (IMHO) the greatest player of ever, Lebron. In our metaphor, the games these teams play against each other are representative of actual battle between states. This can be thought of as either military or economic competition, as the former seems to be traded for the latter in recent politics. If you are going with the most basic metaphor, games as battles, then in that context Lebron is equal to the largest concentrated nuclear payload on Earth. Golden State has the most combined nukes, and maybe even the second largest single concentration in KD or Steph. Draymond is kind of like a predator missile: easy to deploy and very destructive, but can cause a lot of unwanted damage. Teams, just like states, are in a constant struggle with others to secure these assets and deploy them effectively on the battlefield to maximize their returns.

As stated above, the metaphor isn’t perfect, but it’s obvious the teams in the NBA (and the WNBA, NFL, CFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, LLWS… maybe not that last one) function according to a framework of power dynamics similar to that of our international system. What prompted this discussion, however, is the ​seemingly exaggerated media circus leading up to Lebron, Kawhi, and PG’s decision to stay or leave their respective teams this year. Sorry to burst the bubble, but I’m of the school of thought that this is not out of the ordinary in any way. It’s the very nature of our political institutions and their derivative economy to systematically bombard us with information every hour of the day, every day of the year. This might be a phenomenon that has developed recently, seeing as the most unrelenting place it manifests itself, in both the political and athletic arenas, is my push notifications. The logic stands though, the NBA or any other sports organization has nothing to gain in a quiet offseason. They lose money, they lose ratings, and they lose traction. Michelle Beadle and Mike Greenberg, on GetUp! On ESPN following the NBA awards, pointed out the balance of awkwardness for having the show so long after the regular season (when the votes were cast) and of politics for having so much invested in such an ambitious event. So there it is, whether through free agency, championship parades, fallings out between superstars, or fashion shows, the NBA will always give you as much to talk about in the offseason as it can.

 

That being said, what was about this offseason in particular that prompted such a discussion on the intersectionality of sports and politics? To be honest, I think the average basketball fan is becoming increasingly aware of this connection due to the rate at and ease with which we see these developments. What has been particularly noticeable this offseason is the amount of political signaling going on between teams and parties. Magic Johnson, proving to be a very skilled statesmen, has executed some of the better attempts at this so far. Signaling to fans his resolve, he recently committed to stepping down as President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers if he were unable to land some big free agents this offseason or next. Signaling resolve is often used by leaders during international combat, but can be utilized in economic and diplomatic relations as well. Perhaps most similar to Magic’s case in a relevant American context, Republican Senate Candidate for Missouri Austin Petersen challenged grassroots Republican primary adversary Tony Monetti to a high stakes unofficial ballot in which the loser would resign. Both candidates initially agreed, but Monetti backed out, signaling weak resolve to his voting base while Petersen signaled strong. US Rep Maxine Waters’ call for private discrimination against members of the Trump administration and Senator Chuck Schumer’s condemnation of her remarks are also signals of resolve relevant to their respective voting bases. Magic Johnson’s recent strategic move, however, is also indicative another political phenomenon we’ve seen play out on the international stage recently. What Magic did was essentially ‘draw a line in the sand,’ as President Obama did in 2012 with his denunciation of the Assad regime in Syria. What weight these red lines actually hold in practice however, is up for debate.

Besides just the words of Magic Johnson, there have been numerous occurrences of political signaling in recent days of the NBA offseason. Perhaps the most obnoxious form of signaling is coming from Lavar Ball. When looking at the dynamics of the Kawhi Leonard situation, Lavar’s endless media stunts, self-promotion, and cold takes make perfect sense. The Spurs, a franchise notorious for flying under the radar and giving the media as limited access as possible, see Lavar as significant cost to obtaining Lonzo from the Lakers. The fact that it’s the Spurs makes that cost significantly higher than it would be for any other team as well. Knowing that the Lakers will probably have to deal Zo or Kuzma to San Antonio to grab Kawhi, Lavar is making it exponentially more difficult for that deal to happen with his son. Therefore, Lavar is setting up Lonzo, a pass-first and lanky rebounding point guard, to play with two of the greatest two-way wings of all time. A pretty brilliant move in my opinion, and one that echos Israel’s attempts to leverage as much power as they possibly can to shift the international relation strategies of the United States more in their favor.

 

The metaphors and political connections in this scenario between the Lakers, Spurs, and Lebron do not stop there obviously. You have virtue signaling, like in that horrible poem that Lakers intern wrote for softy Paul George. Commitment signaling, like in how Kyrie was absent from the Celtics bench in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this year. I think it could even be reasonably argued that Lonzo’s diss track to Kuzma was a signal to Lebron that he was willing to part ways with his good friend to make space for him. The Lakers, evidently thought this was poorly executed, as they reprimanded the two rising sophomores for their antics, thus signaling to Lebron their capabilities. Lebron has even engaged in this signaling himself, most probably by orchestrating leaks from his camp that he doesn’t want to hear any pitches, most absurdly by wearing a hat during the finals saying “There is no magic pill.” It seems that every year, every summer, there has developed this atmosphere of circus surrounding NBA free agency. I hope that I’ve established this atmosphere is far from unprecedented or unreasonable. Applying frameworks of political science, including organizations of international systems, political signaling, and power dynamics is useful for understanding the neverending onslaught of Joel Embiid’s tweets and Stephen A.’s rants involving the NBA.

Golden State Warriors Sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers to Win Their 3rd Title in 4 Years

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Finally, it’s over. An NBA season that was about as predictable as the sun rising has mercifully come to an end. Warriors-Cavs IV was kind of a drag when all was said and done. Yeah the Cavs kept it close a couple times (probably should have won Game 1), but I don’t think anybody really believed they were going to pull off the upset over Golden State. I figured they’d at least win one game, but alas, Golden State pulled off the sweep in convincing fashion with a 108-85 victory. Now that I think about it, there hasn’t been a sweep in the NBA Finals since the Spurs swept the Cavs in 2007, LeBron’s first ever trip to the Finals. So I guess I’ll give the NBA that. In all honesty, this was really the first time I didn’t give a shit. The first installment of Cavs-Warriors was basically “oh cool, two new teams even though one of them has LeBron James for the 5th straight year.” The Warriors won in 5 games thanks in large part to a Kyrie Irving knee injury. Cavs-Warriors II was like “oh…a repeat.” That one actually turned out to be a really good series as the Cavs won the city of Cleveland’s first title since 1948 in 7 games, a series in which the Warriors famously blew a 3-1 series lead. Cavs-Warriors III’s main storylines were “the tie breaker” and “can Kevin Durant get that elusive first ring?” Warriors won in 5. But what can you really do with Cavs-Warriors IV? There weren’t any interesting storylines and even the Warriors didn’t even look that excited that they won the Finals.

The Warriors won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, either. Kevin Durant can opt out of his contract basically whenever he wants but as long as this team is winning like they are, why would he? Steph Curry has 3 years left on a deal he signed last season, Draymond Green has 2 years left, and Klay Thompson will be a free agent after next season provided he doesn’t get a new deal before that. So this super team isn’t going anywhere and its nucleus will be firmly cemented next season.

As for the Cavaliers, this was most likely their last chance. LeBron James is a free agent and all signs point to him leaving the Cavaliers once again and it would be hard to blame him. There’s just no way the Cavaliers are going to be able to get much more help for him to get over the hump that is the Warriors. When a guy takes that supporting cast to the NBA Finals, you know he’s on another level. There’s a reason people are legitimately debating whether he’s better than Michael Jordan. The problem with his legacy, though, is that he’s now 3-6 in his NBA Finals career, a .333 winning percentage. The first title came in a strike-shortened season, the second came with the help of a CLUTCH Ray Allen 3-pointer to save them from elimination, and the third came after Draymond Green got suspended for a Finals game, giving the Cavs the momentum they needed to overcome the first ever 3-1 Finals deficit. I’m not one to say that these should be held against LeBron, because as far as I’m concerned, a win is a win is a win and the fact that he has played in 9 NBA Finals is incredible and he doesn’t get enough credit for that feat. But there will always be naysayers who will pick apart literally everything. I won’t delve too deep into where I think LeBron James will wind up in the offseason because, quite frankly, we don’t know shit yet. For a while I heard it was certainly going to be the Lakers, now I’m hearing 76ers. All I know is that I really want him to choose a Western Conference team so my Celtics can go to the Finals for the first time since 2010.

We also shouldn’t discount what LeBron has done in these last 8 years. Since 2011, every single Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals has featured LeBron James (4 years for the Heat, 4 years for the Cavaliers). The last time LeBron wasn’t in the Finals was 2010 when the Lakers beat the Celtics in 7 games. Where was I the last time there was an NBA Finals game without LeBron James? My middle school graduation dance, which had the horrifically poor timing of being during Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Here’s a picture of me from that day.

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In case you were wondering, I was mad because my crush was dancing with another dude. It was a rough night for me. She was with that dude and the Celtics were losing a sloppy game to the Lakers while I was stuck at this dance I didn’t want to be at but was morally obligated to because I would never see most of these people that I had grown up with ever again. Now look how far I’ve come since the last time LeBron James wasn’t in the Finals.

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I conquered Westeros, took my place on the Iron Throne, and got a much-needed hair cut. It’s unbelievable what can happen in 8 years.

So here’s to what should be a VERY interesting offseason in the NBA. Let me know what you thought of the Finals in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA Season Recap

The NBA regular season has come and gone and now we’ve got what feels like the longest postseason in sports to look forward to. The NBA playoffs typically last around 2 months, with the first playoff game starting up on Saturday and Game 1 of the NBA Finals scheduled for May 31. I think there’s one too many playoff rounds, but that’s neither here nor there. The point of this blog is to recap what was a pretty interesting NBA season, from giving out my personal awards to playoff predictions and every storyline in between. So let’s get to it.

Awards:

NBA MVP: James Harden-G-Houston Rockets

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This is probably going to be unanimous amongst the writers, as not only did Harden lead the NBA in scoring with 30.4 PPG, but the Rockets are now legitimate threats to the Golden State Warriors, something we haven’t had in the Western Conference since the twilight of the Spurs. Russell Westbrook may have averaged a triple-double for an entire season again, making him the only player ever to do so, and LeBron James was LeBron James, but Harden’s the pick here.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert-C-Utah Jazz

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This was tough because Gobert only played 56 games and it was really tempting to choose somebody else. But there’s no denying the impact Gobert had in those games. Utah’s defensive rating was the best in the NBA when Gobert was on the court and he himself had the best individual rating in the league. Other candidates include pretty much every member of the Celtics, DeJounte Murray, and Joel Embiid.

Rookie of the Year: Donovan Mitchell-G-Utah Jazz

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This might be a bit controversial because Ben Simmons is more than likely going to win this award. But if you’ve been reading my scarce number of NBA blogs, then you know my stance on what qualifies as a rookie and apparently, Donovan Mitchell shares that sentiment, as he’s been wearing sweatshirts that are seemingly against Simmons’ rookie eligibility. Mitchell has turned the Jazz from a team that was in an apparent rebuild to the 5 seed in the Western Conference in just his first season. Ben Simmons’ overall numbers are better, but again, I don’t consider him to be a rookie. He had his chance but missed his rookie year with an injury.

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown-Philadelphia 76ers

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I’m seeing that other coaches are getting more love than Brown, but when your team goes from 4th worst record in the NBA to 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference, that should make you a lock for Coach of the Year. I did predict that the 76ers would make the playoffs for the first time in years, but I didn’t expect them to be this good. Trust the Process, indeed.

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams-G-Los Angeles Clippers

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Lou Williams was a big part in keeping the Clippers from being an embarrassment this season. He averaged 22.6 PPG and while he did start 19 games this season, he primarily came off the bench. That scoring total was 18th best in the NBA and was best amongst players who primarily came off the bench. That’s going to win you the award pretty much every time.

Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo-G-Indiana Pacers

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Oladipo finally emerged as the star he’s always had the potential of being. He credits this to his year in OKC, as he got a chance to watch Russell Westbrook and mimic his work ethic. That has led to the Pacers being the 5 seed in the playoffs with a legitimate chance of taking down the Cavaliers. Oladipo scored 23.1 PPG, 12th best in the NBA, this coming after being a sidekick for much of his career.

Comeback Player of the Year: Jrue Holiday-G-New Orleans Pelicans

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This was a hard one to pick but I’m going with Holiday on this one mainly because he had a career year after many injury-plagued seasons. This was the first season since his 2012-13 All Star campaign that he was healthy for the entire season and he proved his health by scoring a career-high 19 PPG.

Playoff Predictions:

Eastern Conference:

Round 1:

1 Toronto Raptors vs 8 Washington Wizards

Not a hard one here. The Wizards have looked lost with John Wall injured while this may be the best team the Raptors have ever fielded.

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The Pick: Raptors

2 Boston Celtics vs 7 Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo may cause problems to this injury-riddled Celtics squad, but Boston is too deep to be overcome by the Bucks.

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The Pick: Celtics

3 Philadelphia 76ers vs 6 Miami Heat

The 76ers are arguably the hottest team in the NBA right now and they continue that momentum by easily dispatching the Heat.

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The Pick: 76ers

4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs 5 Indiana Pacers

The Cavaliers are their lowest seed by a LeBron-led team since the 2007-08 season (which was also the 4th seed) and the issues surrounding them have been well-publicized. But LeBron in the playoffs is nearly untouchable so while I do think the Pacers give them a bit of a scare, I’ve got the Cavs moving on.

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The Pick: Cavaliers

Round 2:

1 Toronto Raptors vs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

Yes the Raptors are really good, but it’s hard to bet against Playoff LeBron. I think the Cavs make the Eastern Conference Finals for the 4th consecutive season.

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The Pick: Cavaliers

2 Boston Celtics vs 3 Philadelphia 76ers

This is going to be a really fun series, one that was a lot more evened-out thanks to Kyrie Irving’s injury. But I’ve got the Celtics prevailing on the strength of their defense.

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The Pick: Celtics

Eastern Conference Finals:

2 Boston Celtics vs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

Things might go differently with a healthy Kyrie, but alas, that is not the case and the Celtics’ luck runs out against Playoff LeBron as the Cavs make a 4th straight trip to the NBA Finals.

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The Pick: Cavaliers

Western Conference:

Round 1:

1 Houston Rockets vs 8 Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves are ice cold and run into the best team in the NBA. This won’t take long.

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The Pick: Rockets

2 Golden State Warriors vs 7 San Antonio Spurs

Steph Curry will miss the series due to injury, but without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs never stood much of a chance anyway.

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The Pick: Warriors

3 Portland Trail Blazers vs 6 New Orleans Pelicans

This is the one series I have where a lower-seeded team wins and it’s mainly due to the stretches of dominance the Pelicans have had throughout the season. No knock against the Trail Blazers, but New Orleans is too hot right now.

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The Pick: Pelicans

4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 5 Utah Jazz

The Jazz had a fun run but Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and the Thunder will be too much for Donovan Mitchell’s Jazz squad.

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The Pick: Thunder

Round 2:

1 Houston Rockets vs 4 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Rockets stay hot and Harden beats his old running mate in Russell Westbrook. I still shudder to think of what OKC would look like if they kept the trio of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden together, especially with the versions of each player we have today.

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The Pick: Rockets

2 Golden State Warriors vs 6 New Orleans Pelicans

With a healthy Steph Curry, the Warriors squash the Pelicans’ momentum and return to the Western Conference Finals.

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The Pick: Warriors

Western Conference Finals:

1 Houston Rockets vs 2 Golden State Warriors

This is the first time in a long time that there was a legitimate threat to the Warriors’ chances of returning to the NBA Finals. I think this series goes a full 7 games, but I’ve got the Warriors emerging victorious once again.

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The Pick: Warriors

NBA Finals

2 Golden State Warriors vs 4 Cleveland Cavaliers

I would hate to see this matchup for a fourth consecutive season because I enjoy parity when it doesn’t involve my favorite team. But I just have a bad feeling that it’s going to happen again. I would love to see Raptors-Rockets in the Finals, but I think we’re going to get more of the same and I’ve got the Warriors once again wiping the floor with the Cavs.

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The Pick: Warriors

Congrats to the Warriors on another title, 3rd in 4 years. Don’t get comfortable, though. The Celtics are coming for you next season. That’s going to do it for my NBA regular season recap, let me know what you think in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

General Sports: April 6

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-My worst fears have been realized: Celtics guard Kyrie Irving is out for the season. He underwent knee surgery to fix a problem that had been nagging him all year and caused him to sporadically miss time throughout the season. This was something I’ve been worried about since Irving initially started missing time a few months ago. Now the Celtics’ top 2 offseason additions, Irving and Gordon Hayward, are out for the season. I was pretty distraught but a buddy of mine did alleviate my concerns by pointing out to me that this may suck for the 2017-18 Celtics but it’s great for the 2018-19 team. Think about it. The youngsters get a chance to show off their stuff in a more prominent role while Irving and Hayward rest up and get healthy for next season. They probably weren’t ready to unseat the Cavs or defeat the upstart Raptors without Hayward or with a limited Irving, so giving the young guys like Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown the reigns for the rest of the year will be a good way to advance their careers.

-The Patriots signed wide receiver Jordan Matthews to a 1 year deal, the financials of which are currently unknown. This is a great move. It’s low risk, high reward. Matthews is a wicked talented wideout who has struggled with injuries and drops in his young career. He looked on the brink of a breakout after his second season with the Eagles in 2015 but then the drops started catching up to him and he was dealt to the Bills prior to the 2017 season. Fully healthy, he could have a real impact as a bigger receiver that the Patriots have lacked since Randy Moss.

-Other free agency signings, Marquette King signed with the Broncos after being cut by the Raiders because new head coach Jon Gruden didn’t like his personality (which is that he has a personality. Punters don’t usually have that). He chose division rival Denver for “revenge.” I don’t know exactly how much revenge a punter can exact, but King is a fun punter to watch so I’ll be curious to see how he does with the favorable conditions that Denver poses to kickers and punters. Kony Ealy also signed with the Cowboys to help shore up their pass rush a little bit. He doesn’t solve their problem of a guy opposite Demarcus Lawrence, but he’s a solid rotational option who can provide some value. Just watch Super Bowl L where he came out of nowhere to record 3 sacks, force a fumble, and intercept Peyton Manning.

-The Red Sox stole one from the Rays in their home opener, much like the Rays stole one from the Red Sox in the season opener. David Price was dominant for 7 innings once again, allowing no runs and striking out 5. This his second straight start going 7 innings and allowing no runs to start the season. He hasn’t been dominating but he’s been doing what he needs to win, which is get outs. The concern is the bullpen, as Carson Smith let up a 2-run homer to Matt Duffy in the top of the 8th to give the Rays a 2-0 lead. The bats had also been silenced all game, which has been an issue as aside from Xander Bogaerts, nobody has really been hitting all that consistently. However they seemed to emerge in the bottom of the 9th as they scored 2 runs to tie it up and won in the bottom of the 12th when Hanley Ramirez hit one to the warning track with the bases loaded. The Red Sox starting pitching has been ridiculous to start the season but the bats have been underwhelming. They’re going to need to make some changes because the kind of success the rotation is having right now isn’t sustainable for 162 games and the bats will need to come through more consistently. However, as it is, the Red Sox have won 6 in a row and are sitting at 6-1 with the best record in the American League.

-If James Paxton weren’t Canadian, I’d have to agree with PFT’s sentiment here.

The Eagle got loose and decided to chill on Paxton’s shoulder for a little bit as he was warming up. He did have a pretty strong outing, going 5+ allowing just 2 runs (both came on a 2-run homer by Miguel Sano in the top of the 6th) and struck out 7. It wasn’t enough for the Mariners to beat the Twins, but maybe an eagle landing on Paxton’s shoulder propelled him to the strong outing. You never know with sabermetrics.

That’s really all I got for today, kind of a slow news day in the sports world. Let me know what you think of the topics discussed in the comments section below and on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA All Star Weekend Preview

We’re at that magical time of year where it’s NBA All Star Weekend, which aside from the Super Bowl is really the only sporting thing of note in February. It’s in Los Angeles this year and I typically find that the challenges they do to be more interesting than the actual game itself. I’m writing this around 6 pm on Friday night, so I’m just going to give a couple of quick picks on the Celebrity Game and Rising Stars Challenge. I think that team Lakers, coached by ESPN NBA Analyst Rachel Nichols, is going to win mainly because they’ll have Candace Parker on their team, who is really the only person on either roster that I know for a fact is good at basketball. For the Rising Stars Challenge, I think Team World is going to defeat Team USA. I know, that’s very unpatriotic of me, but Team World has both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The best Team USA has to offer is Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Brown, two good players but not up to par with what Team World can offer. I’ll be rooting for Team USA, though, not just for nationalism purposes, but because they have 2 Celtics players (Brown and Jayson Tatum) whereas Team World has none. We’ll see how my picks did on Saturday morning when this blog is published. Let’s get into the festivities.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Are they not doing that Shooting Stars challenge this year? Damn shame, I actually really enjoyed that event, especially once everybody got to shooting half-court shots to try and beat the best time. Well as we get into the third year of the Skills Challenge obstacle course/gauntlet/whatever you want to call it, the new twist implemented has been pretty riveting. The 6 participants are not only just guards now, but big men as well and in fact, both years that this has been in effect a big man has won (Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porznigis). Granted both winners were genetic freaks of nature, which makes it surprising to me that Giannis Antetokounmpo is not taking part in this, as I feel he could totally keep the streak going for big men. But as it stands right now, the participants this year are guards Buddy Hield of the Kings, Jamal Murray of the Nuggets, and Lou Williams of the Clippers to go along with big men Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Al Horford of the Celtics, and Joel Embiid of the 76ers. Drummond’s involvement in this has to be a joke, right? The guy’s a terrific defender and post player, but handling a basketball? Come on now, the guy has a family. Of course, as soon as I say that he’s probably going to go and win the damn thing. I’ve got to imagine the favorite to actually win this thing is Clippers guard Lou Williams, but the way this competition has been going, it’s going to be an athletic big man. Al Horford is probably the most athletically gifted of the bunch but he gives off such a vanilla air that it’s probably going to be a colorful personality like Joel Embiid, who had a pretty great comment over the weekend. Paying homage to Dikembe Mutombo, Embiid was asked what his favorite pickup line is, to which he responded “who wants to sex The Process?” Legend. Embiid’s probably going to win.

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Projected Winner: Embiid defeats Williams in the final.

JBL Three-Point Contest

Wrestling fans will probably do a double-take at the sponsor, but no, it’s not that JBL, but a speakers company. Shame that there won’t be anyone yelling “ballgame” or emotionally (and in some cases, physically) abusing coworkers. But all tangents aside, the contest this year will feature reigning champ and former Indiana Hoosier Eric Gordon of the Rockets, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, Devin Booker of the Suns, Wayne Ellington of the Heat, Paul George of the Thunder, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, and Tobias Harris of the Clippers. Klay Thompson’s got to be the odds-on favorite to win this event as he’s arguably an even more prolific 3-point shooter than his teammate Stephen Curry is, but that’s probably because shooting 3’s is all Thompson is really known for while Curry has insane handles to go with his 3-point shooting prowess. But I actually think that Thompson won’t win. He did win it when the event was in Toronto two years ago, but I think the fact that he has won it before will kind of take the sense of urgency out of him. I’m actually going to go with a guy who’s star is on the rise…a star…rising to the sun? Okay, I’m saying I’m picking Phoenix Suns’ guard Devin Booker to win. He’s a very capable shooter and I think he’s going to be on a mission to make an impression on the rest of the league, considering he doesn’t get much respect being the best player on one of the worst teams.

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Projected Winner: Booker defeats Thompson and George in the final.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

Didn’t it always use to be Sprite sponsoring this? I wonder how Verizon is going to make their little scorecards look. But that’s neither here nor there. We’re at the Slam Dunk contest and here’s another event where I think the NBA is totally whiffing on an opportunity to have Antetokounmpo participate. A guy of his freakish athleticism would certainly shine. But we do have a pretty solid list of participants. We have rookies Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz and Dennis Smith Jr of the Mavericks, Larry Nance of the Lakers, and former Indiana Hoosier Victor Oladipo of the Pacers. No real household names (though the way Mitchell and Oladipo are improving, that may change), but some real hop from all of these guys. Oladipo lost in the final round of this contest in 2015 to Zach LaVine, which pretty much spells disaster if you have to face that guy. The fact that he still won in 2016 even though Aaron Gordon’s dunks were way better still doesn’t sit well with me. The reigning champ, Glenn Robinson III, is not participating this year in a dunk contest that was ultimately a letdown from the absolutely incredible 2016 affair. But I think Oladipo is going to come out on top this year. I don’t know if the contest is going to be great, as 3 of the 4 competitors will be making their first appearance in this contest so we don’t know how creative of dunkers they really are. But I do know that Oladipo is capable of some impressive dunks in games, plus he was pretty good when he lost to LaVine in ’16. I think he takes home the hardware this year.

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Projected Winner: Oladipo defeats Mitchell in the final.

NBA All Star Game

This one has an interesting component to it because the top two vote getters, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, picked their teams. On Team LeBron, we’ve got of course, LeBron James of the Cavaliers, Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, Kyrie Irving of the Celtics, Kevin Durant of the Warriors, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Spurs, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Goran Dragic of the Heat, Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Paul George of the Thunder, Victor Oladipo of the Pacers, Kemba Walker of the Hornets, and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder. On Team Curry, we’ve got of course, Stephen Curry of the Warriors, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors, James Harden of the Rockets, Joel Embiid of the 76ers, Jimmy Butler of the Timberwolves, Draymond Green of the Warriors, Al Horford of the Celtics, Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves. I’m not nearly as interested in the winner of this game as I am to seeing if a team reaches 200 points. They’ve come close each of the last two years, as the West hit 196 and 192 in 2016 and ’17, respectively. But I guess I have to pick a winner in this game and I think I’m going to go with Team Curry here, as I think they’re a little deeper than Team LeBron. Poor LeBron, can’t seem to shake that Curry kid.

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Projected Score: Team Curry: 187 Team LeBron: 181

That’s going to do it for my NBA All Star Weekend preview, let me know what you think is going to happen in each event in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA Midseason Awards

So it’s roughly the halfway point in the NBA season and I’ve barely blogged about basketball since the preseason, so I feel it’s high time I said something. I have been following basketball, I just haven’t found anything blog-worthy of late. Except that whole exchange between the Rockets and Clippers, but I had already written my McCutchen blog by that point. I guess what I will say about that is I’ve never seen anything like it. For those who missed it, apparently the Rockets and Clippers were jawing at eachother during the game. Then after it was over, a few Rockets players, namely James Harden, Trevor Ariza, and Gerald Green, made their way to the Clippers’ locker room in an attempt to “confront” Clippers guard Austin Rivers. Security did escort them out before anything violent could break out. How did the Rockets get to the Clippers locker room you might ask? Well new Rocket Chris Paul was a Clipper last year…nothing has been confirmed outside of the fact that the three aforementioned Rockets players tried to confront Rivers in the Clippers locker room. The NBA is currently investigating. Once we have all the details I’ll try and get something complete out there. Now with that, on to my midseason NBA awards.

NBA MVP: LeBron James-F-Cleveland Cavaliers

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Believe it or not it’s actually been a while since LeBron won an MVP. He’s won it 4 times but last time was 2013. There hasn’t been anything wrong but he’s been so consistently great that people have come to expect it of him and it would take an otherworldly performance for him to actually win the award nowadays. I wouldn’t say his numbers are otherworldly this year in particular, but I do think he’s most deserving of the MVP out of all the other candidates. He’s 4th in the NBA with 27.3 PPG while playing the third most minutes, 26th with 8 RPG, and 5th in APG with 8.8, which is 1.2 per game more than the next closest non-point guard, Draymond Green. LeBron continues to do it all and while I do think that the Cavaliers are overall having a disappointing year, you can’t put that on him.

Others Receiving Consideration: Giannis Antetokounmpo-F-Milwaukee Bucks, James Harden-G-Houston Rockets, Kyrie Irving-G-Boston Celtics

Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Drummond-C-Detroit Pistons

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Andre Drummond is the best rebounder in the league and the only other guy you can make an argument for is DeAndre Jordan, who also could’ve won this. But I’m going with Drummond for a couple reasons. One, he’s the number 1-rated defender in the NBA. He’s the only guy with a rating under 100 (the lower the better) at 98.5. Two, he’s tops in the NBA in rebounding at 14.9 per game. Three, he’s one of the best shot blockers in the game at 1.3 per game. I gotta go with Drummond. He may be statistically the worst free throw shooter of all time, but that doesn’t matter for this award.

Others Receiving Consideration: Kyle Anderson-F-San Antonio Spurs, Clint Capela-C-Houston Rockets

Rookie of the Year: Jayson Tatum-F-Boston Celtics

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As I highlighted in my preseason awards, I don’t count Ben Simmons for this award even though he qualifies as a rookie. He had his chance and missed last season due to injury. But I do think he’s going to win the actual rookie of the year award because NBA writers don’t think the way I do. I’m going with Jayson Tatum because he’s blended into the league seamlessly and is a well-deserving starter on arguably the best team in the NBA in the Boston Celtics. In fact, he leads the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at 45.9%, better than even notorious sharpshooters like Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. He’s also shooting 49.9% from the field on top of that so if there’s a more efficient offensive rookie, I’d like to see him. Donovan Mitchell was also heavily considered as he has basically already become the face of the Utah Jazz. I’d make him a close second.

Others Receiving Consideration: Donovan Mitchell-G-Utah Jazz, Dennis Smith Jr-G-Dallas Mavericks

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown-Philadelphia 76ers

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Spoiler Warning, this is the only award that has remained the same from my preseason awards. The 76ers have done what I anticipated them doing, which is playing significantly better than in year’s past but not quite where they could end up. They currently sit on the brink of a playoff berth at 20-20 and are 1 game behind the Pistons for the 8 seed. If the 76ers manage to get in, consider Brown a lock for this award.

Others Receiving Consideration: Brad Stevens-Boston Celtics, Erik Spoelstra-Miami Heat

Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo-G-Indiana Pacers

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I’ve always been a fan of Victor Oladipo even before I declared my intentions to attend Indiana University, Oladipo’s alma mater. He was just oozing with talent and we saw occasional flashes of it when he was with the Orlando Magic and as Russell Westbrook’s sidekick in his brief pitstop in Oklahoma City last year. Well the Thunder traded him to the Pacers for Paul George and every Pacers fan I knew was HEATED by that trade because they felt it wasn’t a fair swap. Since then, Oladipo has the Pacers in the thick of the playoff race, as they’re currently the 6 seed at 24-20. Oladipo is 11th in the league in scoring at 24.3 PPG on 49% shooting with 5.2 RPG and 4 APG. He’s really come into his own this season.

Others Receiving Consideration: Dennis Schroder-G-Atlanta Hawks, Jaylen Brown-G-Boston Celtics

Comeback Player of the Year: Tyreke Evans-G-Memphis Grizzlies

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After missing half of last season due to injury, it seemed that the former Rookie of the Year Evans was at a crossroads. He had yet to realize his full potential since a stellar rookie season in Sacramento. Well he’s pretty much returned to that form this season, as his 19.6 PPG is the best rate he’s had since his rookie year when he averaged 20.1. Evans is back to being an offensive threat and despite the fact that the Grizzlies have had a terrible season, Evans at least has been a bright spot.

Others Receiving Consideration: Michael Beasley-F-New York Knicks

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams-G-Los Angeles Clippers

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Williams is averaging 23.3 PPG coming off the bench, which is just absurd. Out of all the players in the top 25, Williams is the only player that hasn’t started every game. In fact, he’s only started 12 out of 42, yet he still plays just as many minutes as a lot of the others on that list. That just goes to show how much the Clippers value him. One could argue that Williams should start at point guard over Patrick Beverley, but he has played so well in this role for so long that it appears that Williams is becoming this generation’s version of Jamal Crawford.

Others Receiving Consideration: Eric Gordon-G-Houston Rockets, Rodney Hood-G-Utah Jazz

That’s going to do it for my NBA midseason Awards. Let me know what you think in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

NBA Top 10 Players by Position

This is the next in my NBA season preview. You can check out my playoffs and awards projections here. In this, like my MLB postseason review, I will be ranking the top 10 players by position. All players on active rosters are eligible to make these lists, except for rookies, since they have yet to really show if they can make it in this league, however they will, of course, be eligible for the postseason version of this list, which will likely come out in April. As for the Top 100 that is set to be released tomorrow, I have yet to decide if I should break that up into smaller articles. Probably should get on that. Without further ado, let’s see the lists.

Point Guard

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The reigning NBA MVP, Russell Westbrook consistently stuffs the stat sheet for OKC (photo credit: NBA.com)

1.Russell Westbrook-Oklahoma City Thunder

2.Stephen Curry-Golden State Warriors

3.Kyrie Irving-Boston Celtics

4.John Wall-Washington Wizards

5.Isaiah Thomas-Cleveland Cavaliers

6.Damian Lillard-Portland Trail Blazers

7.Chris Paul-Houston Rockets

8.Kyle Lowry-Toronto Raptors

9.Kemba Walker-Charlotte Hornets

10.Mike Conley-Memphis Grizzlies

I was torn between Westbrook and Curry. On the one hand you have Curry, who drains shots like it’s nobody’s business and has some elite moves to go with it. On the other, Westbrook literally does everything well, as evidenced by his being the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double for an entire season. I gave the nod to Westbrook since I have a soft spot for statsheet stuffers. 3-6 was pretty tight, and I would probably have IT a little higher if not for the hip injury that he’s dealing with that could cost him significant time to open the season. Kemba Walker has a special place in my heart because it was his UConn Huskies team in 2011 where I picked my first champion in a March Madness bracket. I’ve only done it twice, the other being Anthony Davis’ Kentucky team the following year, but I don’t brag about that one because literally everybody picked Kentucky that season.

Shooting Guard

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Since joining the Rockets, James Harden has been a scoring machine (photo credit: Grantland)

1.James Harden-Houston Rockets

2.Klay Thompson-Golden State Warriors

3.DeMar DeRozan-Toronto Raptors

4.Bradley Beal-Washington Wizards

5.Andrew Wiggins-Minnesota Timberwolves

6.CJ McCollum-Portland Trail Blazers

7.Avery Bradley-Detroit Pistons

8.Victor Oladipo-Indiana Pacers

9.Nicolas Batum-Charlotte Hornets

10.Devin Booker-Phoenix Suns

James Harden was a pretty easy selection for number 1 here for me. Despite the fact that he plays less defense than the Mountain in the Trial by Combat with Oberyn, Harden scores enough where I’m willing to look the other way. Also, he has a delicious candy that a coworker of mine randomly found at a mini mart down the street from where I work.

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James Harden was actually delicious

Gummi beards, I guess they’re called. They look terrifying but are actually quite good. After the top 6, this list got pretty difficult. I went with Avery Bradley at 7 and I think he is one of the most underappreciated players in the NBA. He plays fantastic defense and is quietly a very good shooter as well. Plus he has the respect of his peers:

One voter did claim that he left Bradley off of his All-Defense team because of the 70-point game by Devin Booker. Bradley did not play in that game.
Small Forward

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics

LeBron James is the best athlete perhaps in all of sports today (photo credit: Fortune)

1.LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers

2.Kawhi Leonard-San Antonio Spurs

3.Kevin Durant-Golden State Warriors

4.Paul George-Oklahoma City Thunder

5.Jimmy Butler-Minnesota Timberwolves

6.Gordon Hayward-Boston Celtics

7.Khris Middleton-Milwaukee Bucks

8.Andre Iguodala-Golden State Warriors

9.Otto Porter-Washington Wizards

10.Robert Covington-Philadelphia 76ers

LeBron James is a guy a lot of people like to compare to Michael Jordan, with many saying he’s better than MJ. I’m going to have to disagree with that, in fact, I would put Kobe ahead of LeBron. However, I think once LeBron is done I’ll have him above Kobe, maybe even Jordan. But with the body of work right now, he’s not there yet. That being said, LeBron is still the best player in basketball today, maybe even the best athlete in sports, period. As I wrote in my awards predictions yesterday, I have Kawhi Leonard taking home MVP honors this season. He is one of the more special talents I’ve seen in a while. I cringed at putting Kevin Durant at number 3, it just didn’t feel right. But in my heart and mind I feel that I would rather have LeBron or Kawhi than KD. Robert Covington is probably the more surprising entries on this list and that’s a shame. Sure, he’s not a household name by any means, but he’s a better player than most people give him credit for and I think that his name will gain more recognition should the 76ers improve the way I expect them too. However he will still be overshadowed by Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz.

Power Forward

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Anthony Davis has been one of the most dominant forwards in the game since entering the league in 2012 (photo credit: SLAMonline)

1.Anthony Davis-New Orleans Pelicans

2.Giannis Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee Bucks

3.Draymond Green-Golden State Warriors

4.Kristaps Porzingis-New York Knicks

5.Blake Griffin-Los Angeles Clippers

6.LaMarcus Aldridge-San Antonio Spurs

7.Carmelo Anthony-Oklahoma City Thunder

8.Serge Ibaka-Toronto Raptors

9.Julius Randle-Los Angeles Lakers

10.Harrison Barnes-Dallas Mavericks

Anthony Davis’ unibrow is one of the most recognizable body features in all of sports, if not the most. Right up there with James Harden’s beard or Dennis Rodman’s…whatever it is he’s feeling like having on his body on a particular day. This may be because my brain is just geared towards sports, but anytime anyone mentions a unibrow (or monobrow, if you’re weird), I immediately think of the one living on Davis’ face. Davis is more than just a unibrow, though. He’s perhaps the most dominating forward in the game on both ends of the court. Giannis (please don’t make me write out his last name again) is one of the craziest athletes I’ve ever seen. He can make his body do things that just aren’t natural. I mean, look at this:

That’s just not right. Carmelo Anthony comes in here because he’s slated on the Thunder depth chart on RotoWorld as the team’s power forward despite playing small forward in Denver and New York. I’m still not totally convinced that Big 3 in OKC is going to work. Serge Ibaka’s a guy you can’t sleep on, especially since his 3-point shot has gotten better every season. He might not be as prolific as he was with the Thunder, but anytime you have a big that can defend the paint and pop threes, you’re going to have a good time.
Center

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves

KAT has revolutionized the center position in the NBA (photo credit: Stack.com)

1.Karl-Anthony Towns-Minnesota Timberwolves

2.Rudy Gobert-Utah Jazz

3.DeAndre Jordan-Los Angeles Clippers

4.Hassan Whiteside-Miami Heat

5.Kevin Love-Cleveland Cavaliers

6.DeMarcus Cousins-New Orleans Pelicans

7.Joel Embiid-Philadelphia 76ers

8.Nikola Jokic-Denver Nuggets

9.Marc Gasol-Memphis Grizzlies

10.Al Horford-Boston Celtics

Karl-Anthony Towns, like Ibaka, is a sharpshooting big man who actually beat Isaiah Thomas in the NBA Skills Challenge a couple of years ago. Considering that IT is one of the fastest and quickest players in the game with great passing and shooting abilities, it’s no wonder Towns tops this list. Rudy Gobert is a guy I don’t think gets enough love, as I wrote yesterday in my awards predictions, and I think he got robbed for Defensive Player of the Year. Full disclosure, I totally forgot about Kevin Love while making this list at first, though to my credit, the Cavaliers plan on moving him to center and having Tristan Thompson come off the bench this year with the arrival of Jae Crowder in the IT-Kyrie trade (both Thompson and Crowder barely missed out on these lists). But Love is still one of the best big men in the game despite the fact that he’s kind of become the Chris Bosh of this Cavs team, being the big man that doesn’t get enough respect for what he brings to this team. Joel Embiid is a guy I just couldn’t leave off this list despite the fact that if he blinked wrong he’d be out for an unknown period of time. He’s just such a wonderful dude. How many guys can wear their own jersey to a night club and everybody still loves him for it?

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Where’s Joel? (photo credit: Twitter)

Guarantee you if any other player did that they would get crucified. But not Embiid. Nikola Jokic is another guy who is under the radar, but that tends to happen when you’re an eastern European with a difficult name to pronounce. The guy had a big season for the Nuggets last year and could be a sneaky contender in the Most Improved Player list.

Those are my top 10s. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA Season Preview

The NBA season opens on October 17 in a game between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, which couldn’t be more perfect considering these two teams pulled off a huge trade a month ago where they swapped superstar guards. I felt that just under a week left until the start of the regular season would be the perfect time to give my predictions on how this season will play out. This will be a 3-part series, much like my postseason MLB series, with top-10s by position coming tomorrow and a top-100 coming Friday. However that one I’m considering breaking up into multiple parts. Stay tuned for that. For this preview I will project awards, All-NBA teams, and the playoffs. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Awards:

NBA MVP: Kawhi Leonard-F-San Antonio Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard already has a Finals MVP on his resume, now he looks for League MVP (photo credit: Slam Online)

After flirting with the idea of Leonard as MVP for a few years now, I think this is the year he finally gets it. Leonard has been the best player on the Spurs for some time and that’s saying something, considering the team is typically littered with Hall of Famers and has the best coach in the game in Gregg Popovich. Leonard is a stud defender who also puts up over 20 points per game and will lead this Spurs team on another deep playoff run.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert-C-Utah Jazz

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Rudy Gobert has been a nightmare for anyone brave enough to enter the paint (photo credit: Salt City Hoops)

Truth be told, I thought Gobert should have won this award last year. His 8-foot wingspan along with his 7’1 height make it damn near impossible to score in the paint, as he consistently swats away any shot that has the audacity to approach his territory. I think he gets this award this time and gets the recognition he deserves after a few years of really strong defensive play.

Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala-F-Golden State Warriors

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Andre Iguodala looks to add another trophy to his mantle (photo credit: Sporting News)

This is always a hard award to predict and it feels like kind of a cop out to pick Iguodala here. The guy could not only start for most teams, but be their best player (looking at you, Nets). Yet on this stacked Warriors team, he comes off the bench and he does it as well as anybody. How many players can say they were Finals MVP while coming off the bench? Just Iggy.

Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr-G-Dallas Mavericks

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Dennis Smith Jr has looked really impressive in his small body of work with the Mavericks (photo credit: Sports Illustrated

I was really tempted to choose Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, or De’Aaron Fox for this spot, but I felt that Dennis Smith Jr would ultimately be the guy to go with. He’s locked down the starting point guard job for the Mavericks already, coming off a really strong summer league performance that reminded me of Damian Lillard’s quick ascension. I think Smith is in the best position to succeed early out of any rookie in the league (and I’m not counting Ben Simmons for this even though he technically still qualifies. He had his chance at a ROTY in my book and couldn’t stay healthy).

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown-Philadelphia 76ers

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Brett Brown looks to reward Philly fans’ patience with a playoff berth (photo credit: CSN Philadelphia)

I don’t know if Brown will do anything otherworldly, but if you check my playoff predictions below, you’ll know why I have him winning coach of the year. After years of Trusting the Process, it seems that the 76ers are primed and ready to be relevant again. I think they have the pieces in place to make a playoff run if they can stay healthy. And that’s a BIG “if.” But I think they will be healthy enough and capture the 8th seed in the East. And since Brown will be at the helm of this resurgence, he will get the honor of Coach of the Year.

Comeback Player of the Year: Chandler Parsons-F-Memphis Grizzlies

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The normally deadly sharpshooter didn’t look like himself in 2016-17 (photo credit: Sporting News)

Parsons struggled mightily in the first year of his big contract from the Grizzlies. His points per game was cut in half, his FG% dropped from 49.2% to 33.8% and his 3-point shooting, his best trait, was down from 41.4% to 26.9%. A shooter of his caliber should not have a lower 3-point percentage than DeMarcus Cousins (36.1%). I think he bounces back this season and gets recognized for his return to shooting prominence.

Most Improved Player: Myles Turner-C-Indiana Pacers

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Myles Turner looks to take a big step in his development (photo credit: NBA.com)

Myles Turner is a guy oozing with ability and I was praying he would fall to the Celtics at 16 in the 2015 NBA Draft. The Pacers took the Texas product at 11 and have reaped the benefits thus far, as he has averaged 12 points per game and 6 rebounds per game over his career. However when you watch him play, it is pretty clear that those numbers should be higher as he is seemingly always around the ball and the loss of Paul George for the Pacers will open up more opportunities for him to get big numbers this year.

All-NBA Teams

First Team

G-Stephen Curry-Golden State Warriors

G-James Harden-Houston Rockets

F-LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers

F-Kawhi Leonard-San Antonio Spurs

C-Anthony Davis-New Orleans Pelicans

Second Team

G-Russell Westbrook-Oklahoma City Thunder

G-Kyrie Irving-Boston Celtics

F-Kevin Durant-Golden State Warriors

F-Giannis Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee Bucks

C-Karl-Anthony Towns-Minnesota Timberwolves

Third Team

G-Damian Lillard-Portland Trail Blazers

G-John Wall-Washington Wizards

F-Paul George-Oklahoma City Thunder

F-Kristaps Porzingis-New York Knicks

C-Rudy Gobert-Utah Jazz

Projected Playoff teams with Seeds

Eastern Conference

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Detroit Pistons
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. San Antonio Spurs
  3. Houston Rockets
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trail Blazers
  7. Los Angeles Clippers
  8. New Orleans Pelicans

Playoff Round-by-Round Predictions:

Eastern Conference:

(1)Cavaliers def. (8)76ers

(2)Celtics def. (7)Pistons

(3)Wizards def. (6)Hornets

(5)Bucks def. (4)Raptors

(1)Cavaliers def. (5)Bucks

(2)Celtics def. (3)Wizards

(1)Cavaliers def. (2)Celtics

This conference is really a 2-man race between the Cavaliers and Celtics. The Wizards and Raptors may make things interesting, but overall Cleveland and Boston are the teams to beat as they will duke it out for the Eastern Conference championship for the second straight year. I have the Cavs winning it over the Celtics for a second straight year and fourth straight overall as they are just too deep for the much-improved Celtics to compete with. It won’t be as lopsided a series as it was last year, but the Cavs will prevail.

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The Cavaliers and Celtics are the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference (photo credit: Newsday)

Eastern Conference Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers

Western Conference:

(1)Warriors def. (8)Pelicans

(2)Spurs def. (7)Clippers

(3)Rockets def. (6)Trail Blazers

(5)Thunder def. (4)Timberwolves

(1)Warriors def. (5)Thunder

(2)Spurs def. (3)Rockets

(1)Warriors def. (2)Spurs

Unlike the East, the West has 5 teams that I could envision winning it, however the Warriors will win once again because they are just that much better than everyone else. As long as Gregg Popovich coaches the Spurs, they will compete for a title but they aren’t quite as deep as they have been in years’ past. The addition of Chris Paul will be big for the Rockets as James Harden has a world-class distributor to feed him the ball. The Timberwolves had a fantastic offseason and they have the look of a team that is sick of losing. I think the Thunder will struggle out of the gate with their new Big 3, but I think they will put it together by the end of the year in time for a run. There are a lot of mouths to feed in OKC and that could lead to some on-court issues between Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony. But again, the Warriors are just better than everyone else and they will win the West.

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs

The Warriors and the Spurs have been two of the elite teams in the West for the last few seasons (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

Western Conference Champion: Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals:

(1)Warriors def. (1)Cavaliers

I’m getting pretty sick of this matchup but it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. I have the Warriors and Cavs meeting in the Finals for the fourth straight year, which has never happened before and will beg the question: is this a better inter-conference rivalry than Celtics-Lakers? I think the Warriors take it in 7 and Steph Curry wins Finals MVP. Fun fact, Curry didn’t win Finals MVP either time the Warriors won under his tutelage.

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Could we really get a fourth consecutive Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals? (photo credit: Sporting News)

NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors (MVP: Stephen Curry)

Those are my picks for this NBA season. I’ll revisit them at some point this year. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.