NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Saturday Slam: The Chicago Bulls need to either fire Fred Holberg or make a trade

Earlier this week, Marc Stein of ESPN reported that there is talk of Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg being in the hot seat due to his team's underwhelming start to the season. In addition to that, Rajon Rondo is unhappy with his role with the team, telling the Chicago Sun-Times earlier today that he would "Absolutely" look to get traded if he continues to see his minutes decline. The Bulls lost to the Bucks today by a final score of 116-96 at home in the United Center, falling to 16-18 on the season and 10th in the Eastern Conference.

The biggest problem the Chicago Bulls have right now is that outside of Jimmy Butler (24.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists) and Dwyane Wade (18.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists), they are getting virtually no production from anyone else. Rajon Rondo, Jerian Grant, and Michael Carter-Williams might as well go out for a Coke and a hot dog instead of spend time playing in the backcourt while Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott are playing solid in the frontcourt but not really shining either.

It is my opinion that the Chicago Bulls should be much better than 16-18. If you are an avid reader of my blog, you would know that I picked the Bulls to reach the Eastern Conference Finals this season and at the moment, they are far from getting there. When you have a guy like Jimmy Butler on your team you should be an above .500 team and then when you add a guy like Dwyane Wade who is still good for 18-20 points per game, you should absolutely be a top four team in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls have one of three options: They can stay the course and hope things get better, they can make a trade, or they can fire Fred Hoiberg. I will take a look at each of these options.

Stay the course: When it comes to staying the course, I really don't see much benefit to this path. Through 34 games, this team is not playing anywhere close to the level they were expecting to and neither Dwyane Wade or Jimmy Butler are part of the problem. Both of them are producing at a high level. The issue is that the rest of the supporting cast is letting them down and not giving Wade and Butler the support they need. Thus, it stands to reason a move has to be made.

Make a trade: Making a trade makes a lot of sense for the Bulls because as I said, the supporting cast around Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler isn't stepping up. Plus, what helps is that they have some attractive pieces that might fit better elsewhere. Rajon Rondo is a talented enough guy that someone would certainly be willing to take a gamble on him and Michael Carter-Williams is another guy who could benefit from a change of scenery. If the Bulls could find a team willing to offer something that fits better with Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, they should absolutely pull the trigger.

Fire Fred Hoiberg: The benefit of firing Fred Hoiberg is it's the easiest thing to do and also sends a message to the team that things need to change. It's not always easy to find a willing trade partner, but firing a coach is always an easy thing to do since you don't need two teams to make it happen. Plus, when looking at this roster, it really is hard to believe that this is a sub .500 team in the Eastern Conference. This smells like a situation where the the coach isn't getting the most out of his players, which makes firing him justifiable.

Of course, the Bulls could do a combination of options two and three, which is to make a trade and fire Fred Hoiberg, but breaking down that situation gets messy since you either need to assume that the players are the problem (letting the coach off the hook) or the coach is the problem (assuming the players just need a coach that can get them to gel).

The bottom line is that the Chicago Bulls are at a crossroads and need to make a change fast since the season is starting to slip away from them. I personally think trading Rajon Rondo would be a good first step since he's got the reputation of being a locker room killer and he's not putting up big numbers, so it makes a lot of sense to send him packing.

Firing Fred Hoiberg has pros and cons. If the Bulls really believe he's not getting the most out of his guys, firing him makes sense. However, firing a coach mid-season is really a desperate move that few teams recover from during the season. If the Bulls have any hopes of actually making some noise in the playoffs, keeping Fred Hoiberg for the season actually makes sense. Either way, the Bulls have to do something. Things aren't going well the way they are and unless they make some sort of change, things are guaranteed to not get much better.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Fadeaway Friday: The Sioux Falls Skyforce are off to a hot start

The top team in the NBA Developmental League right now is the Sioux Falls Skyforce, who are 14-4 overall, having won 8 of their last 10 games. The Skyforce are 9th in the league in scoring (108.2 points per game), 1st in rebounding (48.9 rebounds per game), 11th in assists (20.1 assists per game), and 3rd in points allowed (101.8 opponents points per game). All in all, the Skyforce are playing very good basketball on both ends of the floor and as a result, they have the top record in the D-League.

The Skyforce are led by 6'11", 235 pound center Keith Benson, who is averaging 18.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game. Benson has been key to the success of this Skyforce team, producing 19.1 points and 11.1 rebounds in games won and only 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds in games lost. The bottom line is that when Keith Benson plays well, so do the Skyforce and when he's not playing up to his best level, the Skyforce become vulnerable.

The other top players on this Skyforce team are power forward Okaro White (17.0 points and 9.1 rebounds), small forward Jabril Trawick (15.5 points per game), and point guard Briante Weber (14.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game). They have been producing well for this Skyforce team, giving Keith Benson the help he needs to lead this team.

Obviously, the strange nature of the D-League is such that when guys do well enough, they leave for the NBA, which is great for the players and the D-League as a whole, but not always great for the D-League team that lost the player. The good news for the Skyforce is that Keith Benson is now 28 years old and hasn't played in an NBA game since the 2011-12 season with the Golden State Warriors. He's played well enough to be a top player in the D-League, but oddly enough hasn't gotten a serious look from other NBA teams. With the way he's playing, it's possible the Miami Heat or some other NBA team calls him up, but I wouldn't bank on it. Odds are good he stays with the Skyforce for the entire season.

As for Okaro White and Jabril Trawick, neither of them has played in an NBA game and so it's hard to see either of them getting an NBA call up. It's certainly possible that their time is coming, but at the moment, I see them also sticking in the D-League and not making the jump to the NBA.

Briante Weber however has played in 7 NBA games in total and he played in two NBA playoff games last season for the Miami Heat getting garbage minutes but still playoff minutes nonetheless. Briante Weber appears to be the most likely guy to get an NBA call up since he's the guy who has most recently been in the NBA, but at the moment, he's not lighting it up like most NBA call ups need to be doing. So, I would say that he too stays in Sioux Falls for the rest of the season.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that at the moment, the core four of this Sioux Falls Skyforce team is on track to stay in the D-League the entire season which means that barring a trade, they'll remain in Sioux Falls for the rest of the season. This is obviously great news for the Skyforce's championship hopes. The fact that they are the top team in the D-League without having much risk of losing anybody to the NBA indicates that they should be favored to win the D-League championship. It will certainly be interesting to see if the Skyforce continue to keep up their successful play and also whether or not Keith Benson, Okaro White, Jabril Trawick, or Briante Weber get an NBA call up at some point in the season.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wednesday Windmill: Do the Boston Celtics need to make a trade?

The Boston Celtics are starting to make some noise, having won six of their last seven games. After a bit of a sluggish start, the Celtics are starting to find their groove, currently possessing a 19-13 record, which puts them just 3.5 games back of the #2 seeded Toronto Raptors.

A big reason for the Celtics' success is the play of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who is averaging 26.8 points and 6.3 assists per game on 43.9% shooting from the field, 33.2% shooting from 3-point range, and 89.4% shooting from the foul line. Despite being just 5'9" and 185 pounds, Isaiah Thomas knows how to get buckets. In a hostile Memphis environment, Thomas lit up the Grizzlies like a Christmas tree for 44 points en route to a 112-109 road win on December 20. Without his sensational play, the Celtics would not have a winning record.

In addition to Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics are getting quality play from their new center Al Horford, who is averaging 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Horford is proving himself to be a quality acquisition for the Celtics who they can to continue to build around for the coming seasons.

Jae Crowder is likewise having a strong season for the Celtics, averaging 13.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. At 6'6", 235 pounds, Jae Crowder is able to provide a nice inside-outside presence due to his size and quality perimeter shooting (40.8% shooting from 3-point range). Jae Crowder is without question the most improved player on this Celtics team, playing like a legitimate starter at the small forward position.

The only real question for this Celtics team is what they do at the trade deadline. They have a quality trio in Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, and Jae Crowder, but that trio isn't good enough to get them to the NBA Finals this season or next season, for that matter. This team might be good enough as is to get past the Toronto Raptors to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, but still, I would have to give the Toronto Raptors the edge at the moment.

With a quality trade before the trade deadline, the Boston Celtics might put themselves in a position to reach the Eastern Conference Finals and possibly threaten to reach the NBA Finals. The only question is what trade would make sense? One possible name to target is DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings. I don't know what the Celtics would have to give up, but DeMarcus Cousins has been linked to the Celtics in trade rumors before. If the Boston Celtics could somehow land him or even his teammate Rudy Gay, they could have the pieces to make a run at the Eastern Conference crown.

The bottom line for the Boston Celtics is that they have a good team as it is, but they need to get better in order to make serious noise in the playoffs. Whether or not Danny Ainge is willing to roll the dice and make a big move at the trade deadline remains to be seen, but either way, I'm sure he's planning some brilliant move to improve his team. We'll just have to wait and see to find out what that move will be.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tomahawk Tuesday: With Blake Griffin out, the Los Angeles Clippers need DeAndre Jordan to step up

                                          (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source) 

After the Los Angeles Clippers' 117-110 loss to the Washington Wizards on December 18, it was revealed that Blake Griffin would be out 4-6 weeks following a procedure on his right knee. Griffin is having another all-star worthy season averaging 21.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. Without his presence, it's little surprise that the Clippers are struggling, but after three straight losses at the Staples Center to the Mavericks, Lakers, and Nuggets, it appears as though the absence of Blake Griffin may be an even bigger deal than initially expected.

With Blake Griffin out, the Clippers will obviously need to rely more on their veteran all-star point guard Chris Paul as well as J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and DeAndre Jordan. All four of those guys will have to step up their game and have expanded roles until Blake Griffin returns. If there's any of those four guys who needs to step up the most, it's definitely DeAndre Jordan. Not only does he play in the front court, but he also is getting paid $87,616,050 over four years. DeAndre Jordan is viewed as the third guy in the Clippers' "Big Three" and so it's time he plays like it.

                                                 (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source) 

DeAndre Jordan is having a nice season, averaging 11.5 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. With Blake Griffin out, he should see an increase in both his points and rebounds. Unfortunately for the Clippers, DeAndre Jordan hasn't exactly stepped up his game thus far in Griffin's absence. During this three-game losing skid, DeAndre Jordan is averaging 8.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 1 block per game.

Those aren't bad numbers if Blake Griffin is at full strength, but without Griffin, those numbers should be better. The bottom line is that without Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan has to be stepping up and earning his money. A big reason for why the Clippers are paying DeAndre Jordan so much money is to take some pressure off of Blake Griffin since he's had a history of getting hurt.

As I said earlier, DeAndre Jordan is supposed to be the third guy in a Clippers "Big Three" and so far he's not playing like it. This isn't to say that the other guys on the Clippers don't need to do their part as well. They do, but outside of Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan needs to be the guy who steps up in Blake Griffin's absence. Especially since he also plays down in the paint.

As far as what the Clippers' schedule looks like, they embark on a three game road trip to New Orleans, Houston, and Oklahoma City before coming home to take on the Phoenix Suns on Monday, January 2nd. If DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers don't wake up, they could come into Monday's game on a six-game losing skid and they don't want that.

At 22-11, the Clippers are currently the #4 seed in the Western Conference behind the Rockets, Spurs, and Warriors. With the Thunder on their heels just 1.5 games back of them, the Clippers better get out of this funk fast before they jeopardize home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Even though the NBA playoffs aren't for quite a while, seasons can be decided by bad stretches of play. The Clippers better snap out of this bad stretch fast before things start to really get out of control.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Skyhook Sunday: Previewing the NBA's Christmas Day action

When I think of Christmas Day, I have to confess that I first think of NBA basketball. As a Christian, this may not be the best thing to admit, but I comfort myself in knowing that Christmas Day derives from a pagan holiday that celebrates the winter solstice. It makes me feel more justified in associating Christmas Day with NBA hoops. Anyways, with that admission of guilt now out in the open, let me quickly dissect the five NBA games that will be played on Christmas Day.

Boston Celtics (17-13) at New York Knicks (16-13) (12:00 PM EST on ESPN): The first game of Christmas Day will the Boston Celtics at the New York Knicks. The Celtics come into this game as the 3rd overall seed in the Eastern Conference while the Knicks are the 5th overall seed just half of a game behind them. From a playoff positioning perspective, this game definitely matters. With the Knicks being at home and being behind in the standings, this game matters a little bit more to them. For the first time in a little while anyways, the Knicks are playing on Christmas Day while also being relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

If the Knicks want to win this game, Kristaps Porzingis (19.9 points and 7.6 rebounds) and Carmelo Anthony (22.5 points) need to have big days while also not allowing Isaiah Thomas (27.0 points) to go off.

As for the Celtics, they'll want to see if they can get more guys than just Isaiah Thomas going. If they could get a big game from Al Horford and maybe have rookie Jaylen Brown score in double figures, that would be huge.

Overall, this game should be a fun game to start off the holiday. It's a classic Eastern Conference battle with playoff implications, which is always a good combination to have in any game.

Golden State Warriors (27-4) at Cleveland Cavaliers (22-6) (2:30 PM EST on ABC): One of the best parts of Christmas Day is that over the past few years, it's always included an NBA Finals rematch. This time, it's the Cleveland Cavaliers who are playing on Christmas Day as the defending NBA champions. A major storyline in this game is the absence of J.R. Smith, who will miss the next 12-14 weeks due to needing surgery on his right thumb. It will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers play without him in such a big game.

If the Cavaliers want to win this game, they'll want to get really quality production from their big three of Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and of course LeBron James. In addition, the Cavaliers will really want to set the tone early and establish themselves as the defending champions. By adding Kevin Durant the Warriors are a different team than last year, but the Cavaliers can still remind everybody that they are the defending NBA championship team by setting the tone early.

As for the Warriors, they need to get out to an early lead with Kevin Durant playing very well. If the Warriors can get out to an early lead with Kevin Durant playing well, not only will they get the win, but they'll also send a message to the rest of the NBA that this year is different than last year and that they are the odds on favorite to win it all.

Overall, this game will be a fun one to watch. Seeing Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry go up against LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love will be really exciting and also informative as it will give us a window into what our likely NBA Finals matchup will be.

Chicago Bulls (14-15) at San Antonio Spurs (24-6) (5:00 PM EST on ABC): The San Antonio Spurs, led by Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol are all playing fantastic basketball right now, putting tons of pressure on the Golden State Warriors. As for the Chicago Bulls, they are a sub .500 team that is making me look like a fool for picking them to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

In my book, this game is all about the Bulls. The Spurs we know are a contender and will be there late in the season come playoff time. But the Chicago Bulls we are yet to be convinced of as a serious contending team. If Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo are looking for an opportunity to jump start the Bulls' season, Christmas Day against the Spurs isn't a bad place to start. If the Bulls can find a way to get this win, this could be the beginning of something very good.  

Minnesota Timberwolves (9-20) at Oklahoma City Thunder (18-12) (8:00 PM EST on ESPN): In my opinion it's somewhat of a puzzle of as to why this game was scheduled for Christmas Day. On the one hand, the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA to watch and the Oklahoma City Thunder likewise play a very exciting brand of basketball. On the other hand, the Thunder are a much more mature and seasoned team while the Timberwolves are still young and figuring it all out. In other words, the Thunder should blow the doors off the Timberwolves, not making for a very exciting game.

While the game itself may not be very close, what will be fun is to watch Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn of the Timberwolves throw alley-oops to each other and throw down nasty dunks in transition while Russell Westbrook plays like a human video game, getting another triple-double.

If you are looking for lots of dunks and possible Sports Center Top Ten moments, this game might be the best game to watch on Christmas Day. But, if you are looking for a competitive game that is close in the 4th quarter, this game is probably the last game you'd want to watch.

Los Angeles Clippers (22-9) at Los Angeles Lakers (11-22) (10:30 PM EST on ESPN): I always find Clippers-Lakers games to be fun since I find it strangely entertaining to watch two teams from the same city face each other. I don't know why, but I've always been fascinated by inner-city rivalries in sports. It's like when I was a little kid, my brother and I used to go to the local amusement park just to watch the roller coasters. I don't know why we found it so enthralling, but we did nonetheless.

Anyways, aside from this being the "Battle of Los Angeles", this game ought to be a snoozer. The only thing that could make this game close is that Blake Griffin is out multiple weeks after undergoing right knee surgery, so his absence gives the Lakers a flicker of hope to win. Still, even with Griffin out, the Clippers still have Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, and DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers are still the vastly superior team and should win rather easily.

If you haven't yet watched Brandon Ingram, the Lakers' first round pick (#2 overall), play this season, then that will be an added bonus for you. Brandon Ingram has tons of upside and so watching him play in his first Christmas Day game in the NBA could be kind of fun. Plus, D'Angelo Russell is making strides, averaging 15.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. So, much like the Thunder-Timberwolves game, if you are interested in watching a competitive basketball game, this is not the game for you to watch. If you are wanting to check in on the future of the Los Angeles Lakers and see young talent on the floor, then this game will be fun for you to watch regardless of the outcome.

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday Slam: Looking back on the career of DeShawn Stevenson


Earlier this week, DeShawn Stevenson officially retired from pro basketball after having not played in the NBA since the 2012-13 season with the Atlanta Hawks. I thought that with him officially hanging up his sneakers, it would be good to reflect on his career.

When I think of DeShawn Stevenson, I still think of his early days with the Utah Jazz, who drafted him with the 23rd overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. When the Jazz drafted him, they were hoping he would become their franchise player for the future due to his athleticism and upside.

To give you a sense of how much upside he had, compared DeShawn Stevenson to Michael Jordan: "Special player. Extremely gifted athlete. Great ball handler. Very advanced shooter and scorer for his age. A showstopper. Can play the 1 or 2. Won the McDonald's High School dunk contest. Super character. As NBA ready as any HS player in his class." 

While he never lived up to the hype that created, DeShawn Stevenson still had a very good NBA career. Defense became his calling card and he was more than ok with that. He didn't care that he wasn't the star of the team. He took great pride in defending at a high level and making things as tough as possible on the opposing team's star player.

DeShawn Stevenson's defense was so good that it gave LeBron James fits back when the Cleveland Cavaliers would battle the Washington Wizards in the mid-late 2000s and once again when the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. DeShawn Stevenson's defense was a major reason for why the Mavericks won that series over the Heat. His ability to defend LeBron James at a high level and get in his head gave the Mavericks a significant advantage in that series that other teams didn't have when facing the Heat.

                                         (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here  for source). 

During the 2011 NBA Finals, DeShawn Stevenson was a bit of a crazy guy and in a good way. He had a Dennis Rodman like edge to him to accompany his stellar defense, which really made him a series changer. The fact that DeShawn Stevenson could defend LeBron James so well is reason enough to say he had a great NBA career and then when you consider that he lasted for 13 seasons and picked up an NBA championship ring along the way, his career suddenly appears to be a very good one.

If there is anything that DeShawn Stevenson exemplifies it is toughness. You have to be tough to play in the NBA for 13 seasons, especially if defense is your calling card. His career averages of 7.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game don't do a very good job at telling the story of his career. DeShawn Stevenson at his best was a game changer on the defensive end of the floor and he took great pride in being just that. He was selfless and put his team first. He's a player who more NBA players should exemplify from the standpoint that he was totally content with doing his job in the background.

In a league where too many players are concerned with how many points they score or how many all-star teams they make, DeShawn Stevenson was worried about how many points he allowed his man to score and whether or not he was getting inside the heads of his opponents. Guys like DeShawn Stevenson are hard to come by because what they do isn't glamorous and it takes a lot of hard work.

DeShawn Stevenson showed up every night and played elite defense night in and night out. That says a lot about the kind of player he was and the amount of character he had on the basketball court. More basketball players should try to emulate that same kind of character on the floor. If they did, they too would have productive and long careers in the NBA.

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Fadeaway Friday: Pierre Jackson is lighting it up in the D-League

One of the top players in the NBA's Developmental League right now is Pierre Jackson, a 5'11" guard who is averaging 29.1 points per game for the Texas Legends on 54.0% shooting from the field and 42.9% shooting from 3-point range. Pierre Jackson has always been able to "get buckets", but due to his lack of size, he's had a hard time sticking in the NBA. To his credit, Pierre Jackson keeps on grinding and keeps on putting up big numbers in the D-League, proving himself to be one of the top players vying for a spot in the NBA.

Hopefully the Dallas Mavericks will give him a shot sometime this season to give them some much needed off the bench scoring. Heaven knows the Mavericks need it and Pierre Jackson may be just the man to give them the off the bench scoring punch that they sorely need. He is an exciting player to watch and appears to be all the more ready to give some NBA team quality minutes off the bench.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wednesday Windmill: Breaking down the 76ers' dilemma in the front court

Whether 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo wants to admit it or not, his team has a bit of a dilemma in the front court. Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel are all competing for the bulk of the front court minutes and it appears as though Nerlens Noel is the odd man out. Despite being deemed healthy enough to play after dealing with some ankle issues, it appears as though the 76ers are electing to not give Nerlens Noel very many minutes, choosing to give the bulk of the minutes in the front court to Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor.

Bryan Colangelo has come out saying that Nerlens Noel is not getting benched and that he won't make a bad trade for his team.

 While I agree that it's not good to make a trade for the sake of a trade, the 76ers' front court log jam has been seen as an issue ever since they drafted Jahlil Okafor in 2015. With Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel all able to play, the 76ers really do have to make a decision about which of these big men they keep and which of them they let go. This log jam is similar to the log jam the Utah Jazz had when they had Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors on their roster. What did the Jazz end up doing? They traded Kanter to give more minutes to Gobert and Favors.

Similarly, I would expect the 76ers to trade one of their bigs to give the other two more minutes. As of right now, it appears as thought Nerlens Noel is likely to be the odd man out with both Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor as the building blocks of the franchise. At this point, what the 76ers have to do is find a way to not hurt Nerlens Noel's trade value until they find a deal for him. If they don't give him any minutes, not allowing him to showcase his skills, then his trade value will plummet and he'll become even more disgruntled. The 76ers have to at least give him some minutes so that they can make him more appealing to potential suitors. Otherwise, they won't get anything for him.

This log jam was designed to give the 76ers options on the trade market and now that they are ready to use one of their assets on the market, they have to make sure that asset looks good. If the 76ers don't want to hang on to Nerlens Noel for the future because they want to build around Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, that's fine. But, what is just flat out stupid is to lower the value of one of your best trade chips right as you are on the verge of no longer needing him on your roster. The 76ers are definitely mishandling the Nerlens Noel situation and they have to rectify it by giving him more minutes so as to up his trade value. Otherwise, he'll just end up being a wasted draft pick.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tomahawk Tuesday: The Memphis Grizzlies are poised to do some damage

As always, the Memphis Grizzlies are grinding away in the background, doing what they do best, which is score little and have their opponents score less. The Grizzlies hold a solid 18-11 record, having won 7 of their last 10 games while scoring only 96.4 points per game, which ranks 29th in the NBA. As one would have to expect, the Grizzlies are really excelling in opponents points per game, holding opponents to 96.7 points per game, which is second best in the NBA. Ironically, the Grizzlies actually average fewer points per game than their opponents, but somehow have a winning record. It's a weird statistical fact that just underscores what Grizzly basketball is all about: Placing a premium on stellar defense and essentially ignoring offense all together.

While the Grizzlies are probably ranking lower in points per game than they would prefer, it doesn't appear to be affecting them too much when looking at their record. Marc Gasol (19.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game) and Mike Conley (18.3 points and 5.6 assists per game) are both playing very good basketball while Zach Randolph is still getting it done inside averaging 13.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.  Despite not making much changes to their grit and grind roster, the Grizzlies are once again looking like a team that could do damage in the playoffs if given the right opportunity.

While it is true that the Memphis Grizzlies often don't do much beyond winning a first round playoff series, I would like to put forth some reasons for why this year could be different.

First, the Grizzlies are defending at a very high level. I've already mentioned how they are #2 in opponents points per game and to go along with that, they are #2 in opponent field goal percentage (43.0%) and #11 in the NBA in rebounds per game (44.5).  Their defense is stellar.

Second, the Grizzlies have a lot of experience with their core trio of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph. This is not the first rodeo for this Grizzlies team. They'e been through a lot together and they are all too aware of their playoff shortcomings in the past. With that in mind, they've learned a lot from those shortcomings and are a much more seasoned team than they were a couple of years ago.

Third, if given the right circumstances, the Grizzlies could shock the world. A lot of the NBA playoffs come down to matchups and staying healthy. The Grizzlies have had some bad luck with the injury bug over the years and have failed to be at full strength in the playoffs. If they are able to keep their key guys healthy and go against a couple of teams that are banged up and not at full strength, the Grizzlies could easily take advantage due to their physical brand of basketball.

While it's unlikely that the Memphis Grizzlies get past the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs if they are at full strength, they could get past those teams should they lose some key players to injury. Injuries always play a major role in the NBA playoffs and if the Grizzlies navigate the injury waters better than any other team in the NBA, they could see themselves playing in the Western Conference Finals or even NBA Finals.

The bottom line when it comes to the Memphis Grizzlies is that they are still a very dangerous team with Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen as their core four guys. They defend at a high level, control the glass, and play a brand of basketball that nobody likes to play. Given the right conditions and opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies could make some noise this season and emerge as a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Tomahawk Tuesday is a weekly post that focuses on the Western Conference. 

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Slam: Remembering Craig Sager

                                          (Image via Chicago Tribune) 

Earlier this week, the NBA lost an important member of its family in Craig Sager, who passed away at the age of 65 after a long battle with leukemia. Craig Sager has been a staple of my NBA experience for as far back as I can remember. When I think of the NBA on TNT, I immediately think of Craig Sager. The two are inseparable for me and so to have him gone just feels weird. I feel like there's a void that cannot be filled with Craig Sager gone because he was truly one of a kind.

When I was a little kid, about four or five years old, I remember asking myself, "Who is that guy wearing all the bright colored suits reporting on NBA games? Why does he dress like that?" The fact that Craig Sager's bizarre attire caught the attention of a little kid in Mountain View, California really says something. That shows how much an original he was.

In addition to being an original in his attire, Craig Sager did a superb job reporting on the NBA. He was the kind of guy that players and coaches liked to be around, which speaks volumes of the type of reporter he was. Craig Sager was a guy who they could trust and as a result, he was able to get genuine reactions from NBA players and coaches that no one else could get. Craig Sager cared about the players and coaches he was covering and it showed in how they treated him. I mean, the fact that he got Gregg Popovich to choke up pretty much says it all.

Craig Sager will forever live on in the hearts of NBA fans, players, coaches, and media members who got to watch him work his magic on the sidelines. He made the league more fun and enjoyable for everyone. He had a unique passion for the game that still burns brightly even with him gone. While he is no longer alive, we can still keep him alive in our thoughts and memories. To his family and closest friends, I express my deepest sympathies at this time and I keep you all in my thoughts and prayers. Craig Sager inspired me to follow the NBA and helped instill in me a passion for the game that will never go away.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Fadeaway Friday: Utah Jazz rookies developing with the Salt Lake City Stars

Joel Bolomboy, Marcus Paige, and Tyrone Wallace, the three rookies for the Utah Jazz, are all currently playing for the Salt Lake City Stars, the D-League affiliate of the Utah Jazz organization. Here is  an update on how all three players are developing and what their outlook is at the moment.

Joel Bolomboy: Joel Bolomboy is a 6'9", 235 pound power forward out of Weber State up in Ogden, Utah. Bolomboy averaged 17.1 points and 12.6 rebounds per game in his senior season at Weber State and is the only Jazz rookie to actually get minutes in the NBA, playing in 8 games for the Utah Jazz, averaging 0.9 points and 1.0 rebounds per game.

In the D-League with the Salt Lake City Stars, Joel Bolomboy has been averaging 15 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 1 block per game. He's been putting up respectable numbers and has really been thriving in the pick and roll, getting easy buckets inside due to his length and explosive athleticism. His teammates are finding him inside and he is taking full advantage.

As far as his outlook is concerned, it's hard to see Joel Bolomboy getting very many minutes with the Utah Jazz this season due to the presence of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Trey Lyles. But, with Derrick Favors battling some knee issues, it is possible that Joel Bolomboy sees some more action this season. He's a talented big that can provide some energy off the bench and provide some relief to some of the Utah Jazz big men. In the meantime, look for Joel Bolomboy to continue to benefit from playing in the D-League. He's definitely a guy who could undergo a transformation playing for the Salt Lake City Stars.

Marcus Paige: Marcus Paige is a 6'1", 175 pound point guard out of North Carolina, who played four years in a Tar Heel uniform. Through 11 D-League games, Paige has been averaging 11.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. His season high is 24 points against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers back on December 5.

Marcus Paige has been shooting the rock well for the Stars, coming off screens and popping off threes with his quick left-handed release. He's been shooting 33.3% from 3-point range, which could definitely be better, but isn't bad, either. When given daylight, he has proven himself to be very effective from beyond the arc.

In regards to his outlook, the Utah Jazz have a ton of guards, so it stands to reason that he won't see any minutes with the Utah Jazz this season. But, if he does well in the D-League, he should expect to get another training camp invite and perhaps make another guard in the organization expendable like Raul Neto.

Tyrone Wallace: Tyrone Wallace is a 6'5", 205 pound point guard out of Cal. I got to know Tyrone Wallace well during his senior season at Cal since I cover the team for over at Tyrone Wallace has a ton of talent due to his size, ability to score around the rim, and versatility. Tyrone Wallace is a guard who can do a little bit of everything. He can defend, rebound, and facilitate in addition to scoring, so he's very much a multi-dimensional guard.

Through four games with the Salt Lake City Stars, Tyrone Wallace has averaged 18.25 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2.5 steals per game on 24-50 (48%) shooting from the field,  2-9 (22.2%) shooting from 3-point range, and 23-29 (79.3%) shooting from the foul line.

What's most encouraging from these numbers is his foul shooting. Tyrone Wallace struggled with his foul shooting during his time at Cal (61.3%) and I know for a fact that NBA scouts were hesitant to draft him as a result. They liked everything about his game, but they were unsure about his foul shooting and ability to shoot the ball in general.

With his foul shooting improving dramatically from last season, Tyrone Wallace's stock is going up considerably. The plan is for him to spend the entire season with the Salt Lake City Stars as a draft and stash kinda guy. But, should he continue to shoot well from the foul line like he is, he'll certainly get a training camp spot with the Jazz next season and figure to likely get a few minutes with the Utah Jazz in the NBA. The Utah Jazz still have a lot of depth at guard, so it's way too early to project him as a rotation player for them next season, but if he can find his way onto the training camp roster and make the team, he'll put himself in a position where cracking the rotation is possible.

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Note: If you love the Utah Jazz, check out my Utah Jazz blog This article also appears on there. Click here to view it. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wednesday Windmill: The Brooklyn Nets are a disaster

The Brooklyn Nets, to put it simply, are a disaster. While moving to Brooklyn was supposed to give the Nets franchise a much needed boost, it is has so far only given them a boost in the hip-hop world, which values their Brooklyn image and ties to Jay-Z. While becoming more relevant in the hip-hop world isn't a bad thing for an NBA team, at the end of the day, all that matters in the NBA is whether you win or lose games. As of right now, the Nets are doing a lot more losing than they are winning and that's a problem.

The Nets currently stand at 6-17, having lost 8 of their last 10 games while going an absolutely putrid 1-10 on the road. The only real bright spot on this Nets team besides Brook Lopez (20.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game), is Sean Kilpatrick who is having a very nice season for himself averaging 16.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting from the field and 35.2% shooting from beyond the arc. I remember when Sean Kilpatrick was an undrafted rookie playing for the Golden State Warriors in 2014. The fact that he has gone from being an undrafted rookie to a guy averaging 16.1 points per game in the NBA is certainly worth applauding. So, when I speak ill of the Brooklyn Nets, I by no means want to diminish the great story that is Sean Kilpatrick.

Sadly, outside of Sean Kilpatrick, the Nets have nothing to be excited about. Brook Lopez is a quality centerpiece, but he's been there for a while and watched them deteriorate into the mountain of rubble that they are now. This was a team that once had Joe Johnson and Deron Williams to go along with Brook Lopez. Back then, the Nets were a respectable team that had some people thinking they might reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, they are a bottom feeder of the Eastern Conference with no light to guide them out of the dark and gloomy tunnel that they now are dwelling in.

The bottom line for the Brooklyn Nets is that moronic Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov has driven them into the ground and crippled them for seasons to come due to a series of idiotic moves. Trading Derrick Favors for Deron Williams was just the first of several silly moves that set this team back and prevented them from becoming a quality team for the future. Prokhorov rolled the dice and got greedy, hoping to get winning results right away, but all it did was come back to bite him in the rear. Now, he has virtually nobody on his roster to be excited about outside of Sean Kilpatrick and while he's a nice player, he's not a guy who you can build a contending team around. At this point, the only thing that Brooklyn Nets fans can be excited about is the offseason so that they can officially have this abortion of a season put in the rear view mirror. It's a rough season in Brooklyn and what's sad is that it's not going to get any better.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tomahawk Tuesday: Russell Westbrook is simply ridiculous

                                         (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source)

Through 24 games, Russell Westbrook has the Oklahoma City Thunder off to a solid 15-9 start while also averaging a triple-double on the season with 31.1 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 11 assists per game. During this season, he has had seven straight games with a triple-double, which matches Michael Jordan's impressive triple-double streak in 1989.  This is simply historic stuff from Russell Westbrook, who has a frightening combination of size, speed, and freakish athleticism to go along with fantastic all-around skill.

Russell Westbrook has evolved into a complete basketball player that does it all. He scores from anywhere on the floor, he attacks the rim with reckless abandon, he defends at a high level, and he creates for his teammates. There really isn't anything he can't do right now and that's a problem for teams that are going up against him.

When watching Russell Westbrook play, he truly looks like a video game brought to life. He has no problem making pull up jumpers from beyond the arc, dunking in a guy's face, or making some ridiculous acrobatic shot look easy. His game is so fluid right now that it almost seems impossible. There are moments when watching Russell Westbrook that you are just in awe of what he's doing and you can't help but wonder if what you are watching is a human being or a machine.

Part of what I'm sure is fueling Russell Westbrook's MVP worthy season is the departure of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors. Russell Westbrook is not happy about the way things ended between him and Kevin Durant, feeling as though Durant abandoned Oklahoma City to buy himself an NBA championship ring in the Bay Area. If there's anything we've learned about Russell Westbrook, it's that you don't want to get him angry and Kevin Durant really poked the hornet's nest when he left Oklahoma City for Golden State.

As one who loves the NBA and watching basketball being played at its highest level, I hope Russell Westbrook continues his high level of play. It's fun to watch the very best players in the world play at the highest possible levels and Russell Westbrook is doing just that. We may never see another guy put up numbers like this with regularity for quite a while, so I suggest that all NBA fans sit back and enjoy the special show that Russell Westbrook is giving us on a nightly basis.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tomahawk Tuesday: Golden State Warriors are in the zone

The team with the best record in the NBA at the moment is the 18-3 Golden State Warriors, who have won 9 of their last 10 games. On Monday night, Klay Thompson exploded for 60 points in the Warriors' 142-106 win over the Indiana Pacers and what's perhaps even more scary is the fact that he's the third best scoring option on the team behind Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

If there was any concern about this Warriors team going into the season, it had to do with whether or not there would be enough shots to go around and also whether or not they would miss the presence of Andrew Bogut, whose size down low was seen as integral to their championship success. However, it appears as though they are doing just fine with Zaza Pachulia as their primary big man and that they really don't need to play that many big lineups. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala is the lineup they most favor and by starting Zaza Pachulia at center, they are able to bring Andre Iguodala off the bench, a role that he loves and thrives in.

As far as whether or not there are enough shots to go around, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson seem to be doing just fine with Kevin Durant being added to the fold. While Durant is leading the team in scoring with 27.0 points per game, he is doing so on fewer shots (16.9 field goal attempts per game) than both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry is scoring 26.2 points per game on 17.5 field goal attempts per game while Thompson is scoring 22.5 points per game on 17.6 field goal attempts per game. Durant is letting Thompson and Curry take more shots and as a result he is being more effective.

While it is true that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were used to being the top two shooters on the Warriors last season, it appears as though they still are, but don't have the pressure of having to take as many bad shots. Similarly for Kevin Durant, he too is able to get all the points he wants without having to feel pressured into taking bad shots. He can let the game come to him and be more efficient when he is on the floor.

The bottom line is that so far, I have to say that this Warriors team appears to be better than last year. While I don't see this team eclipsing 73 wins, I do think they are really benefiting from having the extra offensive weapon in Kevin Durant. He is making life easier on Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry by not making them feel as much pressure to generate so much offense. Likewise, Kevin Durant doesn't feel the need to take as many bad shots with those guys around. All in all, these guys really do work well together and it is showing night in and night out. Look for the Warriors to continue to dominate the Western Conference and remain atop the standings throughout the season. It will certainly be interesting to see where these guys are after a couple more months of gelling with each other. It's scary to think about.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Fadeaway Friday: Northern Arizona Suns are off to a sizzling start in their new location

     Starting this season, the Phoenix Suns have their own D-League affiliate located in Prescott Valley, Arizona called the Northern Arizona Suns (formerly Bakersfield Jam).  Despite having a totally new coaching staff and a new location, the Northern Arizona Suns are off to a fantastic 6-1 start, which is good enough for 1st in the Western Conference.
     The Suns are led by former Colorado guard Askia Booker (22.4 points per game) and guard Elijah Millsap (20.7 points per game), who is best known as Paul Millsap's younger brother.  The Northern Arizona Suns have really been playing some good basketball, holding opponents to just 91.0 points per game, which is second best in the NBA Development League. A big reason for the Suns' defensive success is they are holding opponents to just 41.1% shooting from the field and 28.0% shooting from 3-point range while also controlling the glass 44.7-41.0 on average. They are doing a really good job defending the perimeter and limiting second chance points.

     The fact that they are doing so well so quickly is really impressive and says a lot about the players they have on their team and their ability to buy into what the new coaching staff is telling them. Usually, it takes teams a little while to get rolling when they are brand new, so what the Northern Arizona Suns are doing is really impressive.

      As far as NBA talent is concerned, Elijah Millsap has been in and out of the NBA while Askia Booker has only had NBA Summer League stints. However, with trade rumors surrounding Suns point guard Brandon Knight, it's possible that the Phoenix Suns will call up Askia Booker and give him a shot should they deal Knight for some other pieces. In addition to his 22.4 points per game, Askia Booker is averaging 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and only 1.6 turnovers. Booker's 3.375 assist-to-turnover ratio is really impressive and really speaks to his potential as an NBA point guard.

     Going forward, look for the Northern Arizona Suns to continue to do well in the NBA Development League due to their team defense, rebounding, and overall efficiency. As far as Askia Booker is concerned, don't be surprised to see the Phoenix Suns call him up in the near future. Especially if they deal Brandon Knight for someone that isn't a point guard. Part of the reason for the Brandon Knight trade rumors could be a function of Askia Booker's success in Prescott Valley and his potential to provide quality off the bench point guard production for a fraction of what they are paying Brandon Knight. The NBA is all about doing what makes the most economic sense in order to help your team win. Trading Brandon Knight and giving Askia Booker a shot to shine could be a very beneficial move for the Phoenix Suns.

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