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 Trade Deadline Recap

I should probably rephrase that title. It should read more on the lines of “Cavaliers completely overhaul their roster.” But let’s take a look at what specifically happened during the Trade Deadline because there were some juicy moves.

Cavaliers trade Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance.

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What a rough go of it IT had in Cleveland. Injured for the first half of the season, then when he came back everybody hated him after he started butting heads with some of his teammates and the media. It’s hard to watch, being a Celtics fan because IT meant so much to the Celtics’ rebuild despite the fact he was only in green for about 3 and a half years. He went from one of the most beloved athletes in Boston to one of the most hated in Cleveland. But I think this trade is good for both sides. It became a pretty toxic situation in Cleveland so now one of the problems is out of the way and Thomas can get a fresh start with a Lakers team that could genuinely use him. Plus, IT was at his best when the Celtics were his show. Now he’s in a place in LA where he can be “the guy” while Lonzo Ball develops. I definitely think things will go better for him in LA than it did in Cleveland. Plus, IT is a free agent at the end of the season, which could open up a ton of cap space for the Lakers to make a run at another Cavaliers player… In return, the Cavs get some high-quality role players in Clarkson and Nance, who I think can really provide a huge spark off the bench, depending on who the Cavs decide to go with at point.

Cavaliers trade Dwyane Wade to the Heat for a Protected Second Round Pick

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This was pretty surprising to me since Wade and LeBron are as close as they are. But Wade goes to a place that probably never should have let him go in Miami. Sure his skills have deteriorated, but he is and always will be the face of Miami basketball after what he did with the Heat. It’s good to see him return. That’s all I really have to say on the matter, it’s more of a feel-good thing for me than a legitimate impact trade at this stage in Wade’s career.

Three-Way Trade Between the Cavaliers, Kings, and Jazz. Cavaliers Receive Rodney Hood and George Hill, Kings Receive Joe Johnson and Iman Shumpert, Jazz Receive Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder

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A lot to unpack with this one. Let’s start with what the Cavs are getting. Rodney Hood has gotten better and better with each season he’s been in the league and I think he’s going to replace Wade as the starting 2 guard. Hill could wind up getting the majority of minutes running point when LeBron doesn’t have the ball and I think he could wind up being a valuable asset, as he’s much more of a traditional point guard than IT is. He won’t be taking shots away from LeBron like IT has been, rather he may create even more shots. The Kings getting Joe Johnson kind of falls under the Dwyane Wade thing, Johnson is past his real usefulness and I don’t really understand the deal, except as I typed that sentence it was announced the Kings would be buying out Johnson’s deal, making him a free agent. Early reports are that the Celtics, Warriors, and Rockets are all interested. Shumpert will likely be a major part of their rotation as he immediately becomes arguably their best player, considering the overall lack of talent on the Kings’ roster. The Jazz receiving Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder is interesting to me. The Jazz are in the thick of a playoff race, currently sitting at 2.5 games out of the 8 seed in the West. This appears to me to be them more tanking a little bit and rebuilding around Donovan Mitchell than anything, as even if the Jazz make the playoffs, you can guarantee they won’t get far. They’d probably end up with the 8 seed and face the Warriors in the first round, which guarantees they won’t win a playoff game, let alone reach the second round. So it’s better to tank so you can get a higher draft pick than get a mid-first rounder and not have any chance of going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

Three Team Trade. Knicks Receive Emmanuel Mudiay, Nuggets Receive Devin Harris and a 2nd Round Pick, Mavericks Receive Doug McDermott

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This is a lower-profile trade but I still believe in Mudiay’s potential when put in the right circumstances that I feel like this could be a steal for the Knicks. I think once Kristaps Porzingis returns from his unfortunate ACL injury, he could elevate Mudiay’s play and vice versa. Harris and McDermott are more of depth for the Nuggets and Mavericks. The Mavericks are playing for the #1 pick at this point in the season while the Nuggets are surprisingly the 6 seed in the West. But I don’t think Harris is an upgrade over Mudiay so the move doesn’t really make sense for me unless the Nuggets are trying to lose their way out of a playoff position to try and land a top prospect in this year’s NBA Draft, which right now looks pretty stacked with talent.

Magic Trade Elfrid Payton to the Suns for a 2nd Round Pick

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This trade makes no sense to me from the Magic’s perspective. Payton is, in my opinion, an underrated point guard who I think could really excel if he’s got teammates to work with. He’s certainly worth more than a 2nd rounder. I actually think that Payton is an upgrade over Tyler Ulis and once Devin Booker is fully healthy again, I think he and Payton could form a formidable duo.

Trail Blazers Trade Noah Vonleh to the Bulls for the Draft Rights to Milovan Rakovic

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This trade is mainly just something that gets the Trail Blazers under the luxury tax as Vonleh is no more than a decent bench player. I’m mostly including this because not only did Vonleh play at Indiana, but he actually played against my high school a few times. I got to see him play twice as a high schooler. First time he absolutely whipped us, the second time we put on a full court press and totally frustrated him into a bunch of turnovers.

That’s going to do it for my trade deadline recap. The Cavaliers look totally different and this may be what they need to get themselves back on track. Also, in football news, congratulations to Jimmy Garoppolo on his 5-year $137M deal with the 49ers, the largest annual contract in NFL history. That’s what 5 starts can do for you. As a Patriots fan, watching Garoppolo succeed is like watching my son succeed. Let me know what you think of the NBA Trade Deadline in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10. Your move, MLB.

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.