Saturday, January 30, 2016
The Toronto Raptors are currently on a league best 11 game winning streak, boasting wins over the Clippers, Heat, and Knicks. While everybody is rightfully talking about the Warriors, Spurs, and Cavaliers as the top teams in the NBA, the Raptors are making a name for themselves in their own right. At 32-15, the Raptors are currently the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, just 2.5 games behind the #1 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers and 5 games in front of the #3 Chicago Bulls.
The emergence of the Raptors as a contender is largely due to the sensational play of DeMar DeRozan and veteran leadership of Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is averaging 23.2 points per game and Lowry is averaging 21 points per game and 6.3 assists. In addition to those two stars, the Raptors have a very talented big man in Jonas Valanciunas (12.2 points and 9.6 rebounds) and two solid forwards in DeMarre Carroll and Luis Scola, who both score in double figures.
The Raptors have what is called "balance". They have an explosive scorer in DeRozan, a great facilitator and scorer in Lowry, a legitimate post presence in Valanciunas, and some solid role players to give that trio some support. The only thing this Raptors team lacks is a lot of experience, but they are starting to get that after going to the playoffs last season. With the way that they are growing and developing, they have the making of a team that will be very competitive for a very long time.
As far as whether or not they are a championship caliber team, it ultimately comes down to whether or not DeMar DeRozan has the makeup of a player who can lead a team to a championship. It's hard to see him being that kind of player, but on the other hand, the numbers speak for themselves as does his team's winning streak. While I don't see the Raptors winning the 2016 NBA championship, there doesn't seem to be a good reason to think they can't win a title in couple of seasons.
Ultimately, I cannot say with any certainty where the Raptors will be in a few seasons, but what I can say with certainty is that right now, they are a very good team with all the pieces to make serious noise in the playoffs this season. They have the scoring weapons, the post presence, and the depth. If you see the Toronto Raptors playing in May with a chance to go to the NBA Finals, do not be surprised. This team is for real and we should expect them to continue to be so for years to come.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
On Monday night, the Golden State Warriors (41-4) and San Antonio Spurs (38-7) faced off for the first time this season and boy did the Warriors send the Spurs a message. The Warriors won going away by a final score of 120-90 to the delight of their home crowd.
Stephen Curry was simply sensational, scoring 37 points on 12-20 shooting from the field, 6-9 shooting from 3-point range, and 7-7 shooting from the foul line. It felt like every time Stephen Curry threw something at the basket, it went in, which is something that we are accustomed to seeing. In addition to Curry going wild, the Warriors really fed off of the energy of their home crowd and turned a 10-12 point lead into a 30 point blowout. There's a lot of things we can take away from this game, but for the sake of simplicity, I have cut my list to five things.
The first thing we should take away from this game is that while the Warriors dominated the Spurs, this is just one game and it was on the Warriors' home floor. I know that Warriors fans see this game as proof that the Warriors are just going to steamroll every team in the playoffs, including the Spurs. While I agree that the Warriors should be the favorites to win the NBA championship, we need to keep in mind that Monday's game was only one game and that the Warriors had the advantage of playing at home. The Spurs are also undefeated at home on the season and they will certainly be eager to defend their home floor when they face the Warriors in San Antonio.
The second thing we need to take away from this game is that the Spurs need to be healthy in order to compete with the Warriors. Tim Duncan did not play in this game due to knee soreness and his absence was huge in this game. The Spurs are all about staying healthy for the playoffs and Monday night showed us why. The Spurs understand that if they don't have their guys at full strength or close to full strength, they cannot beat the Warriors in a 7 game series. Duncan's absence doesn't diminish the Warriors' win, but it does underscore the importance of Tim Duncan and the Spurs needing to be at full strength.
Third, we learned that the officials did not give the Warriors an advantage. The Spurs actually attempted 31 foul shots while the Warriors attempted 25 foul shots. When I said the Warriors benefited from home court advantage, I did not say that they got home cookin'. The officials officiated this game fair and square. The Spurs lost this game because they couldn't contain Stephen Curry and they turned the ball over 25 times and only had 21 assists.
Fourth, the Spurs' desire to play fast may hurt them against the Warriors. A team that may give the Warriors more trouble is a team that slows it down and grinds it out. The Memphis Grizzlies don't have the firepower to beat the Warriors, but they have the style. If the Spurs want to beat the Warriors in a seven game series, they may not want to try to beat them at their own game, which is an up-tempo style of basketball. If the Spurs remain committed to playing at a fast pace, they probably won't find success against the Warriors regardless of what city they are in.
The final thing we need to take way from this game is that a lot can happen between now and May, which is when these teams are projected to face each other. If all stands pat, the Warriors probably win the NBA championship and defeat the Spurs in the Western Conference finals. However, if the Warriors start to get inflicted by injury and if the Spurs keep their core healthy, the Spurs may be the ones who win the NBA championship as opposed to the Warriors.
In conclusion, the main thing to take away from this game is that it really is just one game and there is plenty of basketball to play. These teams will face each other three more times in the regular season before the playoffs begin. While it's easy to look at this game as validation of the Warriors' supremacy in the NBA, they are called "defending champions" and not yet "back-to-back champions". The Warriors still have plenty of work to do as do the the Spurs. It's no question that they are the best two teams in the NBA, but it's still too early to say that one team has the clear upper hand at the moment.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
On Friday, news broke that the Cleveland Cavaliers fired their head coach David Blatt and made assistant coach Tyronn Lue their new head coach, giving him a multi-year contract extension. The Cavaliers, who are 30-11, have the top record in the Eastern Conference. This news is more weird than it is shocking. David Blatt getting the axe seemed like only a matter of time in the sense that it was obvious that LeBron James and David Blatt never really got along. They weren't close in a "Let's go to Cancun with our families" kinda way. LeBron James tolerated David Blatt and Blatt was grateful to have LeBron's tolerance for as long as he did.
What makes this news weird is the timing. Usually, head coaches only get fired midseason when the whole team is on the verge of blowing up and is in danger of missing the playoffs. The Cavaliers are the top dogs in the East and appear poised to make another trip to the NBA Finals.
With that being the case, why fire David Blatt right now? If you want to make a change after the season, that's fine, but why make a major move that could potentially distract the team? There's only one logical answer to this question which is that LeBron James ordered David Blatt's firing.
While the Cavaliers are trying to say that this isn't the case, the timing of this firing points to LeBron being the one who terminated David Blatt's contract. Why? Because if LeBron James wanted to keep David Blatt through the season, the Cavaliers would have done just that. Plus, with the firing of a coach potentially having a negative effect on your team, surely the Cavaliers made sure LeBron gave the ok before pulling the plug on Blatt.
Going forward, this is Tyronn Lue's team now, at least, that's what we are supposed to believe. In truth, we all know what's really going on here. LeBron James is the supreme ruler of this organization and he calls all the shots. David Blatt was completely at the mercy of LeBron James and once LeBron James wanted him gone, he was out the door in a New York minute.
The only thing that this really does is put even more pressure on LeBron James to deliver the goods because in a way, the message that is being sent is that David Blatt was an obstacle that was slowing them down. If the Cavaliers don't win a championship without David Blatt, the firing won't appear to have been the right move to get them over the hump. Instead, the Cavaliers will have to more critically examine the Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James trio and wonder whether or not those three guys have what it takes to win a championship.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Kings center DeMarcus Cousins is one of the best big men in the NBA if not the best. He's averaging 25.9 points per game, 11.1 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks. He's also shooting 33.9% from three-point range on 3.8 three-point shot attempts per game, which means he's averaging 1.3 three-point field goals per game. That's not too shabby.
Sadly, "Boogie" Cousins isn't yet getting the level of respect that he deserves. At least not from the fans. The fact that Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia (10.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals, and .4 blocks) has way more all-star votes than him isn't funny. It's sad and embarrassing. If there's any reason for why fans should not vote for all-star starters, the fact that Zaza Pachulia is carrying more weight in the polls than DeMarcus Cousins is a pretty compelling piece of data.
So, with all of that being true, one has to now ask why this is the case. There are two major reasons for why DeMarcus Cousins isn't getting the amount of respect he deserves. The first reason is that he plays in a small market and the second reason is that over the course of his career, he has been a bit of a drama queen.
Fans don't care to vote for players who they have no respect for and since DeMarcus Cousins over the years has brought a lot of negative attention on himself, the negative attention is all that the casual fan outside of Sacramento knows about him. They don't look up his numbers and see all the amazing work he's doing on the court. They don't know that he makes more than 1 three-point shot per game, etc. They don't know that because they hardly ever see him play. The fact of the matter is that if DeMarcus Cousins played in a large market like Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago, he would have a lot more respect around the league from fans.
As far as the mainstream basketball analysts are concerned, the ones on TNT and ESPN, those guys know how good DeMarcus Cousins is, but even they have their doubts due to his lack of an ability to lead his team into the playoffs. They know the numbers he's putting up, but they question his leadership. This I think is a more fair criticism to have of DeMarcus Cousins. His numbers are great, but can he lead a team deep into the playoffs?
I think the answer to that question is only time will tell, but with the way he's playing, there's not a good reason to really think he can't. Leading a team deep into the playoffs requires experience and having a team around you that is capable of doing serious damage. DeMarcus Cousins hasn't yet had that, but it's finally starting to come together.
I'm confident that in time, DeMarcus Cousins' numbers will translate to playoff success and that the Sacramento Kings will once again be a force in the Western Conference. It may take a couple more seasons, but so long as DeMarcus Cousins continues to deliver like he does, the Kings will be competitive for a very long time.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
On draft night, many New York Knicks fans were not pleased with Phil Jackson's decision to select Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-footer from Latvia, with the 4th overall pick. They were primarily upset because they had no idea who Porzingis was and they associated European big men as guys who don't pan out in the NBA. Given that they are fans, I give them a hall pass. Especially since their team over the years has let them down and proven to be inept.
However, I do not give the same hall pass to Stephen A. Smith, who likewise ripped the pick to the delight of ignorant Knicks fans. Stephen A. Smith is supposed to be an analyst who knows more than the average fan. He is supposed to do his homework and actually have an educated opinion on such matters as opposed to being a guy who gets paid millions of dollars to be a voice for the ignorant New York sports fan.
If he actually did his homework and researched Kristaps Porzingis like I did, he would have found Porzingis to be a very good pick because of his length, mobility, athleticism, and overall potential. He would have recognized that considering they were picking 4th, Kristaps Porzingis was definitely the best player to roll with.
Thankfully, Kristaps Porzingis has proven his doubters wrong. He has averaged 13.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game this season as one of the league's most exciting young talents. He is making Phil Jackson look really smart while simultaneously making Stephen A. Smith look like nothing more than a clown and a buffoon.
So, what do I want Stephen A. Smith to do? I want him to admit he was wrong. I want him to apologize to Kristaps Porzingis and own his mistake to rip the young man on national television. More importantly, I want Stephen A. Smith to spend more time researching and gathering information as opposed to just spouting off whatever comes into his mind like he doesn't care if he's wrong.
The bottom line is that Stephen A. Smith prides himself on being a well-respected journalist and more importantly, he prides himself on having a very high basketball IQ. So far, Stephen A. Smith has done nothing to convince me that he is a quality journalist or one with a good understanding of the game of basketball. Unless he admits he was wrong about Kristaps Porzingis and also admit that he didn't do his homework, he will continue to be nothing more than an entertaining buffoon who speaks only opinion without any facts to back up his claims.
Note: Click here to read my 2015 NBA mock draft. I was very high on Porzingis.
Saturday, January 2, 2016
The Golden State Warriors have rightfully been the team in the NBA with the most attention: They are 31-2 and on pace to eclipse the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' 72-10 record. Every second of attention they get is well deserved because they have been nothing short of phenomenal. However, did you know that there is another team in the NBA that is just 3 games off their incredible pace? If you did not, let me introduce you to the San Antonio Spurs, who are 29-6 and currently riding a 4 game winning streak, having won 9 of their last 10 games.
The Spurs may not have started the season on a league-record winning streak like the Warriors, but they too are playing as good of basketball as any team in the NBA, including the Warriors. Today's game against the Rockets was a perfect example. The Spurs won handily by a final score of 121-103 with five guys scoring in double figures, four of which scored at least 18 points. LaMarcus Aldridge has found a perfect home as their new low-post threat for the future and Kawhi Leonard is very quietly leading the NBA in three-point field goal percentage.
The Spurs are just as team centered as the Warriors, which is why they are hot on their coattails. They move the ball with ease, find the open man for the easy shot, and turn the ball over just 13.5 times per game. They lead the league in field goal percentage, are second in three-point percentage (behind the Warriors), and are second in assists per game (also behind the Warriors).
The Spurs are playing just as good of basketball as they have ever been playing and if it wasn't for the Warriors playing out of this world basketball, the Spurs would be the #1 seeded team in the Western Conference. While it's great that the Golden State Warriors have brought a ton of excitement to the NBA at a time when most people are focused on the NFL or college football, it's somewhat of a shame to see the San Antonio Spurs' sensational play go unnoticed to the casual sports fan. The Spurs are a team that everybody knows is really good while also not getting much attention. It's a weird world that they live in.
However, I think the San Antonio Spurs are probably ok with everybody sleeping on them. They like to do things surgically and quietly. That's the Spurs way. They don't look all that intimidating when they walk onto the basketball court, but when they start to play, they slice up opponents like they are fruit and their opponents leave the game not knowing what happened to them.
While the Spurs would prefer to fly under the radar, you being aware of their incredible play is good for your overall knowledge of the NBA. Don't be an uneducated fan who isn't aware of the damage being done by the San Antonio Spurs. Be one of those fans who knows the Spurs are just as much in the mix for the NBA championship as the Warriors.
To be clear, I think the Golden State Warriors are the best team in the NBA and they are currently my pick to win the 2016 NBA championship. But, if there is one team out there who I would have to pick to dethrone them, it would be the San Antonio Spurs. As a matter of fact, they are the only team who I think has a legitimate shot at doing so.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
The Phoenix Suns have gone from being one of the up and coming teams in the NBA to a team that is on the verge of exploding. They are 12th in the Western Conference with a 12-21 record and are currently dealing with injury, coaching woes, and drama in the locker room. Any of those three things can hurt an NBA team's season, but when all three are happening to a team, it's a sign that things are going really bad.
On the injury front, the Suns have lost their star combo guard Eric Bledsoe for the season due to a torn meniscus in his left knee. Bledsoe was having his best season in the NBA, averaging 20.4 points per game, 6.1 assists, and 2.0 steals per game. With Bledsoe now done of the season, it'll be up to their other star guard Brandon Knight to keep the already sinking ship afloat.
But, remember what I said in the opening paragraph. The Suns have coaching and locker room issues in addition to Eric Bledsoe's season-ending injury. The coaching issues came to our knowledge when the team fired assistant coaches Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting earlier in the week. Earl Watson and Nate Bjorkgren were promoted to fill their roles, indicating that Jeff Hornacek's job as head coach is safe for the time being.
As for drama in the locker room, Markieff Morris was suspended two games for throwing a towel at head coach Jeff Hornacek after the team's loss to the Denver Nuggets. Morris' blowup on the bench indicates that things internally are not going well for the team, either. While it's possible that Morris' act was rogue, it certainly seems to indicate that inside the locker room, things aren't going well for the Suns in addition to their struggles on the court.
The only good news for the Phoenix Suns right now is that despite their struggles, they are still just 3 games back of the Utah Jazz for the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs. It's certainly possible that they right the ship and find a way to sneak into the playoffs. But even if they do, without Eric Bledsoe, there is little to no hope of them getting out of the first round of the playoffs. With him gone, they have virtually no chance at making noise in the playoffs.
This doesn't mean that they should pack it up and tank like the Philadelphia 76ers. They still have lots to play for in terms of building momentum for next season and ending their season on somewhat of a high note. If they were to make the playoffs, that would serve as such a high note and give them optimism that at full strength, they could be a team to make some noise in the 2016-17 season.
Still, even with all of that as something to shoot for, it's very alarming that they have fired a couple of assistants and had one of their players have a temper tantrum on the bench. These are usually the signs of a team that is going to get a lot worse before they get better.
What alarms me the most is that there were no signs of this kind of thing happening two months ago. I thought of the Suns as a well-managed team that was on the rise with a quality head coach. For Jeff Hornacek to suddenly be on the hot seat and for things to be on the verge of exploding just goes to show how fragile things can be in the NBA.