NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tomahawk Tuesday: The Trail Blazers are securing their future

                                         (Credit: John Leyba/The AP) 

Earlier today, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that the Portland Trail Blazers have inked their star shooting guard C.J. McCollum to a three-year, $100M extension, giving him a five-year, $157M contract that keeps him in Portland through the 2023-24 season. This extension comes after Damian Lillard's five-year, $196M max extension, which keeps him in Portland through the 2024-25 season. By inking both of their star guards to long-term contract extensions, the Trail Blazers are securing their future.

This past season, the Trail Blazers made an impressive run to the Western Conference Finals before getting swept by the Golden State Warriors. Had Jusuf Nurkic been available, that series may have been pretty competitive. I'm not saying the Trail Blazers would have won, but instead of it being a sweep, it could have been a series that went six or seven games.

With the Warriors' dynasty appearing to be on the brink of extinction due to the departure of Kevin Durant and the torn ACL of Klay Thompson, the Western Conference is wide open, giving a team like the Trail Blazers a unique opportunity to make a run to the NBA Finals. These windows don't last long and the Trail Blazers know it, thus their efforts to secure McCollum and Lillard.

I'm still undecided of as to who I think comes out of the Western Conference next season. The Clippers are the easy choice after landing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but first year experiments don't always work out. I think it's possible the Clippers don't do as well as everyone expects. If they fall short of expectations, then it really is anyone's game. Including the Trail Blazers.

The bottom line is the Trail Blazers are giving themselves a shot to win a championship by securing one of the most electrifying backcourts the NBA has ever seen. Together, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard can take this Trail Blazers team to the promised land. Especially as their front office continues to put quality pieces around them.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Wednesday Windmill: Is Ben Simmons worth a max deal?

                                          (Credit: Mitchell Leff-Getty Images) 

The big news out of the NBA this week is the Philadelphia 76ers and Ben Simmons agreeing to a five-year, $170M max contract. Simmons is coming off his first All-Star season in which he played in 79 regular season games averaging 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. The only real knock on his game at this stage is his lack of an outside shot. In 17 3-point shot attempts in his career, Simmons has made zero. That's right, he is yet to make a 3-point shot in his career. So that part of his game definitely needs to improve.

Aside from his perimeter game, which needs to get to the level of respectable, there's a lot to like about Simmons. He's a 6'10", 230 pound point guard that knows how to create plays for his teammates, finish around the rim, rebound, and force turnovers. He's basically the closest thing we have to a LeBron James 2.0. On top of that, he's just 23 years old. When you are as young as he is and already playing at such an elite level, you are worth every penny a max contract can offer.

Now, a lot of why Simmons is getting this money is because of what he is projected to become. He is by no means a finished product. I've already touched on the 3-point shooting, but there are other areas of his game that need improvement. His foul shooting (58.3% for his career) is awful and he turns the ball over too much (3.5 turnovers per game). If he can become a better 3-point shooter, foul shooter, and improve his ball security, he'll truly take his game to new heights.

Assuming he is able to improve his game and become a better shooter, the 76ers are doing the right thing by giving Ben Simmons a max contract. He's got plenty of time to improve and is already one of the top players in the league. If he puts it all together, the 76ers could be looking at multiple trips to the NBA Finals. He's that special of a talent.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tomahawk Tuesday: How will Russell Westbrook fit with the Houston Rockets?

There has been so much happening in NBA free agency that sometimes you have to catch your breath and try to absorb what has just happened. Probably the biggest news that I haven't yet addressed on here is the Houston Rockets acquiring Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Chris Paul and a slew of draft picks. This reunites Westbrook with James Harden, whom he played with in Oklahoma City several seasons back.

                                          (Credit: Ronald Martinez-Getty Images) 

While the Rockets are certainly a different looking team than they were last season, it's fair to question whether or not they're really better. While he isn't a perfect player, Paul brought a lot to the table with his facilitating, toughness, and willingness to allow Harden to be the go-to guy. In a lot of ways, he was the most ideal player to pair with Harden because of this combination. The only real flaw in Paul's game is that he's had a tough time staying healthy, but that isn't really fair to pin on him. Especially when you consider the amount of minutes Mike D'Antoni was asking him to play.

That all said, the Rockets weren't winning a championship and so in that vein it makes sense for them to try something different and they are definitely doing just that by bringing in Westbrook. What I want to quickly address is how I think Westbrook fits with the Rockets and whether or not he'll bring forth the results they are looking for.

When comparing Westbrook to Paul, the first thing that jumps out is that Westbrook should bring more of a scoring punch. Westbrook averaged 22.9 points per game last season in comparison to Paul's 15.6 points per game. At times the Rockets did seem to lack scoring support for Harden, making Westbrook an upgrade over Paul in that regard.

As for rebounds, assists, and steals, Westbrook is better than Paul in two of those three categories averaging 11.1 rebounds per game last season compared to Paul's 4.6 and 10.7 assists per game compared to Paul's 8.2. As for steals, Paul has a slight advantage (2.0 per game) over Westbrook (1.9 per game), but it's pretty close to a toss up.

The bottom line is that when looking at the stats, it's clear that Westbrook on paper is a clear upgrade. He's a better scorer, rebounder, facilitator, and just as good of a defender. In that sense, this trade was a no-brainer move for the Rockets to make.

The only thing the Rockets have to worry about is how things will go in the locker room. Westbrook has been known to be a difficult player to play with and he tends to get on guys' nerves with his pit bull personality. If he isn't able to get along with the rest of his teammates, tensions could escalate and this whole thing could blow up.

What should give Rockets fans' some optimism is the fact that the Rockets wouldn't have made this move without Harden's consent and so in that sense there appear to be at least decent to good odds that they actually like each other and will get along just fine. Westbrook is a guy who wants to win as much as anyone else and should view Houston as a place where he can win that elusive NBA title. The Western Conference is wide open and the Rockets should feel like they're in it as much as anyone else. Especially when you consider the fact that they have one of the top big men in the league in Clint Capela.  

In my opinion, the Rockets have nothing to lose by swapping Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook. They needed some sort of jolt and bringing in an electric talent in Westbrook is as good of a jolt as they could ask for. It may not yield a championship, but considering they weren't heading for a championship with Paul still on board, there's no reason for them to not at least see how things work out with Westbrook. If they didn't do this, they might look back in a couple of years and wonder about what could have been.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

Mock Draft Monday: Should the New Orleans Pelicans be worried about Zion Williamson's health?

                                          (AP Photo/Steve Marcus) 

After just nine minutes of action, New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss the rest of summer league. That's right. Nine minutes. On the surface, this may not seem like much of a deal, but if I can be totally honest, I think it's a bit alarming that Williamson is already on the shelf due to injury. Even if it is just for precautionary reasons.

In case you forgot, Williamson's shoe blew up against North Carolina, causing him to miss almost a month of his freshman season at Duke. It felt a bit odd that he was being so cautious, but at the same time understandable given that was a college kid protecting his future. This time around, he can't play that card. He's got a four-year guaranteed contract to fall back on, a shoe deal that is expected to be worth $100M, etc. He should be ready to ball out. The fact that we haven't even hit training camp yet and Williamson is already protecting his future by sitting out is cause for major concern. Especially since we've seen this from him before.

There are two reasons why the Pelicans should be worried about this. The first reason is that Williamson may not really be interested in playing for them. By sitting out of summer league, it could be an early indicator that Williamson views New Orleans as only a temporary home and that as soon as he gets the chance, he's going to leave. If this is the case, the Pelicans have to start thinking about an exit strategy and how to trade him for the maximum amount of assets.

The second reason why the Pelicans should be worried is that Williamson might be fragile. At just 6'7", Williamson weighs a whopping 285 pounds. That's a ton of weight on his joints that he's playing with. If he doesn't slim down and get off the excess weight, he could be looking at a shortened career.

You can accuse me of overreacting to Zion Williamson's summer league injury and that's totally fine. I hope I'm wrong and that there's really nothing to see here. But unfortunately for the Pelicans, you only know for certain what has happened in the past. In hindsight everything is 20/20 but in real time, the future is very much unknown. The Pelicans have a tricky assignment figuring out how to manage their top pick and have to consider this from all angles. If they're not asking themselves these tough questions, they could be in a for a rude shock.

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Saturday, July 6, 2019

Saturday Slam: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are heading to the Los Angeles Clippers

                                          (Credit: Frank Gunn-The Associated Press) 

On Friday night, I wrote a blog post for Saturday all about why Kawhi Leonard should stay in Toronto, why he would be foolish to leave behind a situation where he is the toast of the city and hero to all of Canada and then boom! News broke that Leonard was joining the Los Angeles Clippers! Even more amazingly, news subsequently broke that Paul George will be joining him as a result of being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick, and two pick swaps. The Clippers have also waived Tyrone Wallace as a result. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN has the details below.

With Leonard and George, the Clippers have a legitimate one-two punch that has the chance to win a championship. Aside from the photo, the one vestigial remain of my original Saturday Slam post for this weekend is that the Clippers are a better choice for Leonard than the Lakers.

The first reason is because the Clippers were a better team last season. Unlike the Lakers, the Clippers actually made the playoffs, giving the Warriors a bit of a scare in the first round. The Clippers looked like a team that was going places and by adding Leonard and George, they're more than just going places. They're entering themselves into the championship discussion.

The second reason is that the Clippers will be Leonard's team. Had he joined the Lakers, Leonard would have been second fiddle to LeBron James. Or at least that would have been the perception. Instead, Leonard gets to be the the man on this new and improved Clippers team, giving him a chance to go after James and prove himself to be the superior player.

Third, there's less pressure on Leonard. The Clippers have never won a championship before and quite frankly have never come close. By going to the Clippers, Leonard is able to be somewhat in the shadows of the Lakers, something that he doesn't mind.

Fourth, as was said above, Leonard gets to play with Paul George, one of the best wings in the NBA. George should play well alongside Leonard, giving the Clippers a legit second option. Together, Leonard and George have the chance to do a lot of damage and take the Clippers to even higher heights than they achieved during the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era.

I will later address what this all means for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors, but for now, I want to focus on the Clippers. For them this is huge. They're in the game now and a real threat to win the NBA championship. On top of that, they're set to form a really fun crosstown rivalry with the Lakers, something that is certain to boost ratings across the league. As exciting as this past NBA season was, I'm already eager to see what next season has in store.

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