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.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: San Diego Padres

I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaack. Well, as of writing this, I’m not back from Spring Break just yet, however I’m in a hotel with competent wifi now so I can make another go at 30 Clubs in 30 Days. I won’t be back at school until Sunday night. But in my absence, a LOT in sports has happened. Here are some things that I missed that I REALLY wanted to blog about but didn’t have the opportunity to because of conditions out of my control:

-#16 seeded UMBC upset #1 Virginia in the first ever instance of a 16 beating a 1 in the history of March Madness (1 seeds had been 135-0)

-Kirk Cousins signed with the Vikings, Sam Bradford signed with the Cardinals, Case Keenum signed with the Broncos, and Teddy Bridgewater signed with the Jets

-Bills traded the 21st pick and tackle Cordy Glenn to the Bengals for the 12th pick

-Jets acquire the 3rd pick from the Colts in exchange for the 6th pick and 3 2nd rounders, including 2 in 2018 (OUTSTANDING trade by the Colts, considering that, given the teams picking ahead of them, the move won’t cost them NC State edge rusher Bradley Chubb)

-Allen Robinson signs with the Bears, Sammy Watkins signs with the Chiefs, Jordy Nelson signs with the Raiders, and Michael Crabtree signs with the Ravens

-Richard Sherman signs with the 49ers, Sheldon Richardson signs with the Vikings, Muhammad Wilkerson and Jimmy Graham sign with the Packers

I could go on but the Padres have been patiently waiting for me to tell them how good or bad they’ll be this season for much too long so without further ado, let’s get into this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days featuring the San Diego Padres.

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2017 Results:

Record: 71-91, 33 games behind Los Angeles Dodgers, 16 games behind Colorado Rockies for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: 1B Eric Hosmer, SS Freddy Galvis, 3B Chase Headley, C AJ Ellis, SP Tyson Ross, SP Chris Young, SP Bryan Mitchell

Notable Offseason Subtractions: SS Erick Aybar, RP Kevin Quackenbush, RP Travis Wood, C/RP Christian Bethancourt, 3B Yangervis Solarte, SP Jhoulys Chacin

Best Offensive Player: 1B Eric Hosmer

Best Pitcher: CP Brad Hand

Depth Chart:

C-Austin Hedges, AJ Ellis

1B-Eric Hosmer

2B-Carlos Asuaje, Cory Spangenberg

3B-Chase Headley

SS-Freddy Galvis, Allen Cordoba

LF-Jose Pirela, Hunter Renfroe

CF-Manuel Margot

RF-Wil Myers, Matt Szczur

SP-Clayton Richard, Bryan Mitchell, Dinelson Lamet, Luis Perdomo, Colin Rea, Robbie Erlin, Tyson Ross, Chris Young

Bullpen-Brad Hand (CP), Carter Capps, Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen, Jordan Lyles, Kazuhisa Makita, Phil Maton

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Andy Green (3rd season with Padres)

Hitting Coach-Matt Stairs

Pitching Coach-Darren Balsley

1st Base Coach-Skip Schumaker

3rd Base Coach-Glenn Hoffman

Bench Coach-Mark McGwire

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The Padres had arguably baseball’s thinnest roster in 2017 yet still managed to avoid the basement in the NL West. They had 3 guys on their 25-man roster that were Rule 5 picks, which essentially means they weren’t good enough to be on their previous team’s 40-man roster. But they made some moves in the offseason to try and shore things up. Here’s how they’re projected to line up in 2018.

1. Manuel Margot-CF

2. Freddy Galvis-SS

3. Eric Hosmer-1B

4. Wil Myers-RF

5. Chase Headley-3B

6. Carlos Asuaje/Cory Spangenberg-2B

7. Jose Pirela/Hunter Renfroe-LF

8. Austin Hedges-C

9. Pitcher’s Spot

Eric Hosmer, of course, is the big signing here. The hero of the 2015 World Series, he signed an 8-year $144M deal. I did say that Hosmer was the luckiest hitter in baseball last season, however that doesn’t mean he can’t hit. Far from it. Last season Hosmer hit .318 with 25 home runs and 94 RBI while being worth 4.1 WAR. He’s also just now entering the prime of his career at 28 years old and will be switching to a more hitter-friendly ballpark. Petco Park still tends to favor pitchers even after they moved the fences in a few years ago, but Hosmer’s old stadium, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, is about as pitcher-friendly as stadiums get so one can expect an uptick in Hosmer’s offensive production in 2018. Wil Myers is the only holdover from last year’s team of note, though. He started at DH for the National League in the 2016 All Star Game but had a down year in terms of his rate stats in 2017. Last year he slashed .243/.328/.464, which is underwhelming, however he did manage to hit a career high 30 home runs while also stealing 20 bags. He’ll be moving from first base back to the outfield with the arrival of Hosmer and will likely be the thumper in this lineup. After those two, though, there isn’t much to go off of. Chase Headley isn’t nearly the player he was the last time he wore a Padres uniform after a disappointing tenure with the Yankees and Manuel Margot is more or less just a speed threat at this stage of his career. Austin Hedges, whom the Padres were very excited about when he was coming up, so far has only shown that he’s an excellent defender behind the plate and hasn’t given any reason to be excited about his bat. This lineup is definitely better than last year’s, though that’s not saying much considering the Padres scored the fewest runs in baseball in 2017.

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The pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired. Clayton Richard is currently their ace and that’s a very bad sign considering he had an ERA of 4.79 last season. He’s a #4 starter at best and he has never cracked 7 K/9 in his Major League career. Dinelson Lamet is a guy that has shown a ton of talent but hasn’t quite put it all together yet. Lamet had an excellent 10.94 K/9 in 21 starts last season, which would’ve ranked 6th in the Majors had he pitched enough innings to qualify (he would’ve trailed only Chris Sale, Robbie Ray, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, and Chris Archer). He’s got the stuff to make guys miss, however he’s had trouble with his command and when guys do make contact, the ball tends to go a long way. He had a 4.57 ERA last season while walking over 4 batters per 9 and giving up 1.4 HR/9. There is some talent with this kid, it’s just a matter of whether he can learn to pitch rather than just throw. After that, though, there really isn’t much of note in the Padres’ rotation.

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San Diego’s bullpen has a couple of interesting arms. Brad Hand was mainly just a quality middle reliever for much of his career until he burst onto the scene in 2017. He was the Padres’ lone representative in that year’s All Star game and finished the year with a 2.16 ERA and saved 21 games while striking out almost a dozen batters per 9 innings. He’ll open the season as the team’s closer. Carter Capps is a guy that really intrigues me. He used to have the funkiest windup in the world, where he would basically crow hop from the mound towards the plate and it really helped him dominate in 2015 with the Marlins, where he posted a 1.16 ERA and struck out almost 17 batters per 9. However, he missed all of 2016 due to injury and by that time his funky delivery had been banned by Major League Baseball. His return from injury and a normal windup really hurt him upon his return in 2017. He only pitched 12.1 innings and posted an ERA well over 6 and a K/9 rate of 5.11, nearly a third of what he had posted the last time he pitched. If he can somehow recreate that magic he had in 2015, the back end of the Padres’ bullpen could quietly become one of the most lethal in all of baseball.

Overall, I don’t like the Padres’ chances in 2018. It’s already hard enough that they have to try and follow up a season where they went 71-91 despite having just Wil Myers, but they’re also in a division with 3 playoff teams from last year and a fourth team (the Giants) who had a fluky 2017. It’ll be damn near impossible for the Padres to not find themselves in the cellar in 2018 given their overall lack of Major League talent and the tough division they’ll be playing in. They can look forward to their prospects arriving, though, as they feature the likes of Mackenzie Gore, Luis Urias, Cal Quantrill, Michel Baez, Adrian Morejon, and in a couple years Anderson Espinoza. So the future is bright for the Padres, they just have to suffer through the present.

Projected Record: 70-92, Last in NL West

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Thanks for the wait on this one, it sucked not being able to write these for a few days, though I survived (the alcohol helped). Join me tomorrow when I discuss the San Francisco Giants, who look to bounce back and continue their trend of success in even-numbered years. Let me know what you think of the Padres’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

General Sports: February 18

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-Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell won the Slam Dunk contest in what was a decent event compared to years’ past. Far from being the worst but not nearly as good as the one in Toronto two years ago. There were two dunks where my eyes popped out of my head, that being from Dennis Smith Jr and Larry Nance Jr. Here’s Smith’s.

That one was my personal favorite, followed closely by this one from Larry Nance Jr, which gets bonus points for creativity for me.

Nance’s father, Larry Sr, was the first ever winner of the Slam Dunk contest and paid homage to his old man with his first dunk. Fun fact, the people who helped dress him were some clothes magicians I actually saw perform during the halftime show of Indiana vs Michigan State a couple weeks ago. They’re extremely talented. Another fun fact, Donovan Mitchell went to my high school’s arch rival, Brewster Academy. I actually got to watch him play in high school but I was somehow more focused on one of his teammates than I was him and I’m kicking myself for it. I was focusing more on Isaac Copeland, who ended up committing to Georgetown without realizing the future Slam Dunk Contest winner was playing on the same team. Copeland is currently at Nebraska after transferring from the Hoyas. Here’s my favorite dunk from Mitchell on the night:

And here was my favorite dunk from the guy I thought would win but ended up finishing last, Victor Oladipo.

What ended up hurting him in the competition was the fact that he couldn’t land his first dunk and once that happened you knew he was done. But it was nice seeing him pay homage to the Black Panther movie that came out on Friday. Plus he received the mask from the Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman, who also played Jackie Robinson in the movie “42.” From what I’ve been able to gather, not only is Black Panther allegedly really freaking good, but it’s supposedly supposed to be really important to the black community. Plus that’s a fucking awesome mask. Probably the best superhero mask there is in my humblest of opinions.

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-I royally messed up in my All Star Weekend picks blog. For the Skills Challenge, I forgot to list two participants: Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen and Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Well I got my comeuppance because guess who were the final two. If you guessed Joel Embiid and Lou Williams like I did, you’d be wrong. It was Markannen and Dinwiddie. Though Embiid didn’t make the finals not from a lack of trying.

CHEATER! Oh well, it didn’t end up mattering, Markkanen ended up burying the final 3-pointer ahead of Embiid to advance to the finals. He eventually lost to Dinwiddie, who basically just won the “who the Hell are you?” award. I mean I feel like I’ve heard his name in passing, but nothing really of substance. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what team he played for had he not been in the competition in a Nets jersey. But nonetheless, congrats to Dinwiddie.

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-I damn near freaking nailed my 3-point contest prediction. Devin Booker not only won it, but in the final round he broke the record for points in a single round with 28, defeating Klay Thompson (who I accurately predicted would be a finalist) and Tobias Harris (who I did not expect to make it this far). I had Paul George ahead of Harris, but George went and had arguably the worst 3-point contest round I’ve ever seen, scoring just 9 points. And people say that the Lakers are going to go after him hard, he can’t even shoot in their building! That probably will make very little difference, but it’s still fun to bitch about. But congratulations to Booker, who continues to be one of the more underrated players in the league.

-Poor Bob Huggins. Note to anybody who puts on dress clothes: your belt is extremely important, no matter if it’s going to be covered or not.

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-One of the most confusing moves I’ve ever seen occurred while the 3-point shootout was happening. The Tampa Bay Rays acquired first baseman CJ Cron from the Angels (which I expected to happen, not necessarily Cron winding up on the Rays, but Cron being on the move after the arrival of Shoehei Ohtani) for a player to be named later. The confusing part is that the Rays then promptly DFA’d Corey Dickerson, who was their DH and leadoff hitter last season. Uhhh, wtf Rays? Dickerson was arguably your best hitter last season. Dickerson was the starting DH for the AL in last year’s All Star game. He was hitting over .320 at the time, however he hit .240 after the break to bring his line to a more than respectable .282 with 27 home runs and 62 RBI. Plus he’s 28 years old, in the athletic prime of his career, and he’s only owed about $5M. I guarantee you he won’t be in limbo for long as teams will be rushing to claim him off waivers. But a really bizarre situation. CJ Cron is talented, believe me, I know. I was there when the Angels beat the Red Sox 21-2 and Cron went 6-6 with 2 home runs and was a triple away from the cycle. But you’re trying to tell me he’s a better option at DH than Dickerson? Sure Cron is only going to cost about $2.3M after his arbitration hearing with the Angels in January, but his numbers last year were not nearly good enough to warrant DFA’ing Dickerson over. He hit .248 with 16 home runs and 56 RBI. The DFA’ing of Dickerson in response to adding Cron continues to make less and less sense to me the more I think about it. Not only is Cron the same age as Dickerson with significantly less overall production and at half the cost, but there was definitely room on the roster for both guys. Right now the Rays first baseman is slated to be Brad Miller, who can play pretty much any position so you have some flexibility with him. You could very easily have plugged in Cron at first then put Miller at second and had Daniel Robertson come off the bench like where I think his talent merits while still having Dickerson as your DH. There has to be something going on with Dickerson that we don’t know about to warrant this move.

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-Shortly after acquiring CJ Cron, the Rays continued to make moves, this time trading pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a package that includes shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios. Originally it was believed that Dickerson would be a part of this deal, but it doesn’t appear that he is. But Odorizzi is a good acquisition for the Twins, who badly need starting pitchers. He’s been battling injuries over the last few seasons, but when healthy I think he’s a quality #3 option, maybe even a #2. Last season, in 28 starts, Odorizzi went 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA but he’s capable of better, as he went 9-9 with a 3.35 ERA in 2015. Right now the only quality starter on the Twins is Ervin Santana, who is 35 years old right now. Jose Berrios is extremely talented, but he hasn’t been able to put it altogether yet. Odorizzi’s a solid guy to have around as you try and build your pitching staff.

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-And finally we have the biggest bit of baseball news of all. I had already scheduled this article when he was signed so I had to hop right back in and make some edits. But Eric Hosmer has finally signed with the San Diego Padres on an 8-year deal worth $144M. He signed the deal at around midnight, or 9:00 west coast time. The deal is pretty front-heavy, as Hosmer will average $20M a season for the first five years of the deal, after which he’ll be able to opt out. After those 5 years, he’ll be making $13M a year plus a $5M signing bonus. I actually like this layout because it better protects the team from those nasty back-loaded contracts that end up biting them in the ass down the line. Plus for Hosmer he’ll be making his money the first five years of the deal, then if he decides to remain in San Diego, he’d be taking a paycut at a time when his skills will likely have deteriorated, as he will be 33 when the opt-out option kicks in and likely headed towards a decline. Hosmer had an excellent season in 2017, hitting .318 with 25 home runs and 94 RBI for the Royals, though I did mention buyer beware, as I rated him as the luckiest hitter in the majors last season. Hosmer and the Padres have been linked for a while now and I think Hosmer was just trying to wait out the Padres for a larger deal for as long as he could before deciding to sign with Spring Training starting up. Here’s what the Padres lineup looks like with their new first baseman, though it is worth noting that their best hitter Wil Myers currently occupies that spot. I’m willing to bet that Myers returns to the outfield, though, where he began his career.

1. Manuel Margot-CF

2. Freddy Galvis-SS

3. Eric Hosmer-1B

4. Wil Myers-LF

5. Chase Headley-3B

6. Cory Spangenberg-2B

7. Austin Hedges-C

8. Hunter Renfroe-RF

9. Pitcher’s Spot

That’s probably not going to be enough to keep the Padres out of the cellar in the NL West this season, but if the younger guys, particularly Margot and Hedges, develop the way the organization hopes, this could be an exciting team in the near future. As for the Royals, the team Hosmer’s leaving, they had to have expected this to happen, though they reportedly did try and bring him back while the market wasn’t biting. Hosmer was a big part of their championship run in 2015 including his famous mad dash that tied up Game 5 and sent it to extra innings, a game that the Royals ultimately won, leading to their first World Series title since 1985. Here’s the play in question.

That play will forever live on in Royals lore. But with Hosmer signing with the Padres, that pretty much just leaves JD Martinez, Jake Arrieta, and Mike Moustakas as the biggest free agents still without a team. Spring Training games start on Thursday, fellas, let’s get a move on.

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports. Let me know what you thought of NBA All Star Weekend and the Rays’ roster moves in the comments section below or 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.