I am sure many sports bloggers are going to make some joke about Woj bombs and the actual pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats lately.
I, however, have some common sense and will not be one of those people.
But, I will still give some really quick-hitting points about the latest offer by the Houston Rockets to acquire Jimmy Butler. Check out what Woj tweeted:
Story posting soon: The Houston Rockets are making a renewed bid to acquire Minnesota All-Star Jimmy Butler, including four future first-round draft picks in their most recent trade offer, league sources tell ESPN.
How would this work? Isn’t there a rule about how many first round picks you can send in consecutive years. All good questions. First of all, The Stepien Rule prohibits teams from shipping off first round picks in consecutive years. That is hurdle number one, but Houston can jump over it.
Secondly, the picks have to abide by the Seven Year Rule stipulation. Bobby Marks of ESPN did a better job of explaining this than I could do. So, I will let him do the talking (writing) here.
7-year rule allows a team to trade up to 4 picks between 2019 to 2025. The first has to alternate each year (19, 21, 23 and 25) and cannot have protection unless the pick does not rollover to the following season. Ex: Protected top 14 and doesn’t convey if HOU is in the lottery.
The map is clear. Houston would most likely be sending over a package that included the 2019, 2021, 2023 and 2025 first round picks. My question: How do these picks align with the development of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Both players are locked up for the foreseeable future, as both former number one overall picks have either signed or agreed upon 5-year extensions.
Time for a chart
Andrew Wiggins Age: 23 Karl-Anthony Towns Age: 22
2019 pick Age: 24 2019 pick Age: 23
2021 pick Age: 26 2021 pick Age: 25
2023 pick Age: 28 2023 pick Age: 27
2025 pick Age: 30 2025 pick Age: 29
Time for a recap
When is a star considered to be in their prime? There is no true science to answer this question, although ages 25-30 seem to sound right. Sure, a player can perform well after and before that age (see James, LeBron.)
The question for Minnesota management (and fans, of course I have to shoutout armchair GMs!) is simple. Do these picks meet their team timeline?
Let us assume that the 2019 pick is some 19-year-old kid from UConn (duh, go Huskies.) in 2023, this kid would be close to or if not directly entering his prime at age 23. Wiggins would be in the last year of his contract, but entrenched in his peak star years, at least we hope. The same would go for KAT, except he would have more contract years remaining. This could be promising and something of a replication of what the Boston Celtics have tried to do.
Yet, the later picks will probably bring in draft picks that are better prospects, but less aligned with the team trajectory due to their presumably young age. Logically, the 2023 and 2025 Houston picks should be better than their 2019 and 2021 ones. Those years reflect a post-CP3 age and Harden will be starting the back 9 of his career, although probably still awesome.
Time for a question
It is a conundrum, isn’t it?
The later picks do not totally mesh well with the team’s timeline for its current studs. Yet, those 2023 and 2025 picks could be excellent. The 2019 and 2021 picks do mesh well with the rise of these two stars, but those picks could be late first rounders, which are often throws at the dart board. Decisions, decisions.
Of course, the personnel in this alleged deal matters as well. But, the picks are what is sexy here. So, what do you do if you are the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves?
The NBA season is finally here. Tuesday night will mark the start of the 2018/19 season, and it’s about time. With LeBron going to the Lakers, Cousins to the Warriors, and Kawhi to the Raptors, it was a crazy summer for the NBA. The offseason is what makes the NBA so much fun. It seems like there is a new storyline every week in the NBA. However, it’s time the real games begin. Here are “100 Bold NBA Predictions” for the 2018/19 season.
Markelle Fultz wins Most Improved Player.
Ben Simmons goes another season without a three.
Joel Embiid averages over 25 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Ben Simmons wins Rookie of the Year, wait a second.
Terry Rozier is traded before the NBA Trade Deadline.
Gordon Hayward makes the Eastern Conference All-Star team coming off his injury.
Al Horford flinches on over 10 free throws.
The Brooklyn Nets finish top ten in the Eastern Conference.
D’Angelo Russell averages over 20 points per game.
Allen Crabbe attempts seven threes per game and makes them at a 40% clip.
Kristaps Porzingis has a hard time staying on the court. Plays under 35 games.
Tim Hardaway Jr. has a 40-point game.
Enes Kanter gets ejected at least three times.
The Toronto Raptors finish with the best defensive rating in the NBA.
Kyle Lowry averages under 14 points per game.
Kawhi Leonard averages three steals per game.
Zach LaVine enters and wins the Dunk Contest.
Jabari Parker wins Sixth Man of the Year.
Justin Holiday shoots over 38% from three.
J.R. Smith drops a 30-point game on LeBron and the Lakers.
Kevin Love averages over 23 points and 10 rebounds per game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers win the Eastern Conference, just kidding (sorry Tristan Thompson.)
Andre Drummond shoots above 70% from the free-throw line.
Khyri Thomas makes an NBA All-Rookie team.
Blake Griffin posterizes Joel Embiid.
Victor Oladipo doesn’t make the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Myles Turner makes over 75 three-pointers.
The Pacers win less than 12 games on the road.
Giannis Antetokounmpo wins MVP.
Giannis Antetokounmpo averages 30 points per game.
Brook Lopez is an Eastern Conference All-Star.
The Miami Heat win a playoff series with Jimmy Butler on their roster.
D-Wade explodes for a 40-point game.
Hassan Whiteside puts forth effort.
Malik Monk has a breakout year. Shoots at least 40% from three.
Kemba Walker doesn’t make the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Miles Bridges makes the NBA First Team All-Rookie.
Kelly Oubre Jr. starts over Otto Porter Jr. by the end of the season.
The Washington Wizards finish in the top three in the Eastern Conference.
John Wall attempts close to 400 three-pointers.
The Atlanta Hawks win less than 15 games.
Trae Young attempts more threes than Steph Curry.
John Collins averages a double-double.
Aaron Gordon averages over 20 points per game.
Mo Bamba averages over two blocks per game.
Evan Fournier gets traded by the Trade Deadline.
Steph Curry shoots over 45% from three.
The Warriors are never fully healthy. Never have a game with Curry/Thompson/Durant/Green/Cousins.
Jordan Bell appears in at least 75 games this season.
Marvin Bagley III gets third in NBA Rookie of the Year.
Willie Cauley-Stein averages a double-double.
Buddy Hield has a breakout year. Averages over 16 points per game while shooting over 43% from three.
JaVale McGee averages 25 minutes per game.
Lance Stephenson blows in LeBron’s ear at least once during the season.
LeBron James starts at center for the Lakers at least once over the course of the season.
Tobias Harris averages over 20 points per game.
The Clippers beat the Lakers in each head-to-head matchup this season.
Lou Williams is the last one out again on the Western Conference All-Star team.
DeAndre Ayton wins NBA Rookie of the Year.
Devin Booker shoots under 35% from three.
The Suns make the most trades at the Trade Deadline.
Dirk Nowitzki plays under 18 minutes per game.
Luka Doncic finishes second in NBA Rookie of the Year.
Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic combine for over 40 points per game.
Carmelo Anthony starts and plays a vital role for Houston down the stretch of the season.
James Harden drops a guy and stares him down again before shooting. Sorry Wes Johnson.
Clint Capela shoots above 70% from the field.
Anthony Davis finishes second in NBA MVP voting.
Nikola Mirotic shoots below 36% from three.
Jrue Holiday has his best year as a pro, averages over 20 points per game.
Despite injuries, the San Antonio Spurs make the playoffs for the 22nd straight year.
DeMar DeRozan is a Western Conference All-Star.
Jakob Poeltl averages at least 10 points per game, while splitting time in the starting lineup.
Memphis decides to sell at the Trade Deadline, moving Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
Kyle Anderson breaks out with heavy playing time. Averages over two steals per game.
The Memphis Grizzlies get another top-five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Isaiah Thomas is a starter for the Denver Nuggets at the end of the year.
Nikola Jokic makes his first ever NBA All-Star Game.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris combine to average over 45 points per game.
The Utah Jazz finish as a top three seed in the Western Conference.
Quin Snyder wins NBA Coach of the Year.
Donovan Mitchell posterizes Ben Simmons, allowing NBA Twitter to go crazy.
Russell Westbrook averages a triple-double for the third consecutive season.
Paul George sets a personal record for most three-pointers made in a season.
Dennis Schroder finishes second in NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Karl-Anthony Towns has a 50/40/90 season. 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% at the line.
Andrew Wiggins starts playing defense, sounds crazy, I know.
The Timberwolves get in a fight on the court with their own teammates. Shouting match and chaos breaks loose.
At one point in a scrimmage, sources said, Butler turned to GM Scott Layden and screamed, "You (bleeping) need me. You can't win without me." Butler left teammates and coaches largely speechless. He dominated the gym in every way. Jimmy's back.
There has been a lot of Carmelo hate lately. Conversely, this has led to a weird Carmelo revival. People are suddenly defending the star forward and claiming that NBATwitter has been too hard on him. Is there any truth here?
It would be a challenge to find some serious basketball pundits who have denigrated the entire career of Melo. Rather, people are just predicting that Carmelo is on the back 9 of his career. In fact, the guy may be on the last hole…
To continue the golf metaphor, perhaps Melo can pull off a final hole-in-one. What is more likely, however, is that Anthony continues to struggle. After all, how many times have we seen players take a steep decline in production? Sometimes it happens in a blink of an eye. One year, you’re hitting good percentages from the field, the next year you’re dealing with age-induced injuries and trying to find your rhythm. It’s natural.
Should we be reading the tea leaves with Carmelo Anthony? I certainly am. At least, I am confident in saying that his time in Houston will replicate his time in Oklahoma City. Before I get deep into my explanation, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.
In OKC, Carmelo played alongside Russell Westbrook, a ball-dominant guard with one of the highest usage rates in the league. His other co-star, Paul George, commanded a large percentage of the offense as well.
In Houston, Carmelo will play alongside James Harden, a ball-dominant guard with one of the highest usage rates in the league. His other co-star, Chris Paul, commands a large percentage of the offense as well.
See my point? The Westbrook-George duo combined for a usage rate of 59.8 percent. Last season, the Harden-Paul combo combined for a rate of 60.6 percent.
Am I going to make the old-man-on-the-porch/basketball-fundamentalist argument that there isn’t enough ball to go around? Kind of. As I have stated before, Carmelo relies on getting to the line to be an effective scorer. That means he needs the ball. Allow me to quote myself:
“For 12 out of the 15 seasons he played, Carmelo shot either at or below league average for field goal percentage. Surprising, I know. He is always within a couple of percentage points of the average, but tends to be slightly below…
Now let’s discuss three point percentage. Again, Melo saw himself finish at or below league average for 11 out of 15 seasons. 10 of these seasons were actually below league average. To be fair, Melo did not start hoisting a high volume of threes until his 2010 season. So, what do the stats look like from that point on?
…For 5 out of those 8 seasons, Melo shot at or below league average. “
In other words, Melo is an average shooter for his career. Blame this on the putrid teams he played on in New York. Blame it on shot selection and bailing out his team. I don’t care. The numbers are the numbers. He’s played on good teams and bad ones. In terms of skill, he is a brilliant shooter with a wonderful stroke. In reality, however, when the lights come on, Carmelo is a statistically average NBA shooter.
So what is my number one reason he will struggle in Houston?
1. Free Throw Rate
We know that Melo has picturesque shooting form. Yet, his shooting percentages do not reflect it. Despite this, Melo has been an effective scorer for much of his career. Notice the difference between shooter and scorer.
Why did Melo maintain efficiency prior to the OKC years? Great question.
I decided to look at Carmelo’s career averages for every year except the one he spend in Oklahoma. What were his averages?
Melo shot 45 percent from the field, which is about the league average depending on the year. From three he shot 34.6 percent and did so on 3.5 attempts per game. These averages are, well…average. In fact, his 3-point percentage is slightly below league average (usually 36 percent.)
So how was he efficient? Carmelo took 7.2 free throws per game and drained 81 percent of them. That’s about 6 extra point from the stripe per game, which is very impressive and would rank in the upper-echelon of the league. To see the stats, click here or look below.
The advanced stats paint an even clearer picture. For that same time period, Carmelo had a free throw rate average of 37.1 percent. That means that for every 100 shots he takes, he also takes 37.1 free throws. Compare this to James Harden, often the league leader in free throw attempts. Harden had a skyhigh free throw rate of 50.2 percent last season.
As their usage percentages already indicated, Harden and Paul need the ball in their hands. A lot. Harden needs it to do one of the three things he does incredibly well: drive & dish, shoot off-the-dribble threes, or get to the line. CP3’s usage rate is also very high.
What was Anthony’s free throw rate in Oklahoma City? It was 16.5 percent, which was 19 percentage points below his career average and by far the lowest of his career! See the correlation here? It is no wonder he had a challenging season in OKC. Melo never got the chance to play his game.
The same will surely happen in Houston, as Melo does not truly fit into coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense…which leads me to my next point.
2. How does Carmelo fit in?
D’Antoni’s offense predicates itself on two distinct offensive philosophies:
1. High pick and roll. There are 3 shooters on the perimeter, at least one in the corner, often two. Capela sets a screen and Harden/ Paul reads and reacts. If the defense is drawn in, the ball handler finds the roller for a lob or kicks to an open shooter. If the defense stays home, the ball handler gets to the rim for a bucket or foul. Boom.
2. Isolation basketball. If the defense doe their job for 16-17 seconds, Harden or Paul will take their man one-on-one.
Think I’m oversimplifying this? Guess again. Read what Jared Dubin of The Ringerhad to say about this:
“38 players finishing at least two possessions per game out of isolation, per NBA.com, there are only two averaging more than 1.2 points per play: Harden at 1.24 and teammate Chris Paul at 1.23. “
Yeah, that’s pretty damn good.
What’s more, Harden finished in the 95th percentile for isolation plays. It figures that 35 percent of his offense came this way. Paul finished in the 90th percentile and 29 percent of his offense was generated in iso.
Carmelo? Well he finished in the 58th percentile for isolation plays while using it 18 percent of the time. If you think that D’Antoni is going to defer to Carmelo during iso plays, guess again. He has two of the best iso scorers in the league, and neither of them are go by the alias “Hoodie Melo.”
Of course, we also know that the Rockets take a ton of threes. I mean, they take an ungodly amount of triples. They took 50 percent of their field goals from deep last year. The next closest team were the Brooklyn Nets (surprising, right) at 41 percent.
Wait a second, Carmelo is a great 3-point shooter, right? Why can’t he just take 7 threes per game? Allow me to answer.
As stated earlier, Melo is an average 3-point shooter at best. This can still be an asset however, the Rockets will surely ask him to take 7 threes per game. The guy he is replacing, Trevor Ariza, took 6.9 triples per game last year. Things should work out, right?
I’m not sold.
Carmelo first started truly making triples a part of his game at age 26. This is the year he got shipped from Denver. It is also the first year he took over 3 threes per game. I was generous and decided to get his 3-point attempt rate average starting from age 26 and lasting through his last season in New York (or, his first season before OKC.)
Melo had a 3-point attempt rate of 23.9 percent. This means that out of all of his shots, he took 23.9 percent of them from beyond the arc.
In OKC, Melo saw his 3-point attempt rate jump to 40 percent, the highest of his career by 10 percentage points! Needless to say, things did not work out for Melo in Oklahoma. Last year in Houston, Ariza had a 3-point attempt rate of 70 percent. Wow!
Will Melo be expected to take 70 percent of his shots from deep? No. But, we know the Rockets jack up threes. If Melo is asked to take 55-60 percent of his shots from three, will it work? I’m skeptical. This would be a drastic change for a man whose entire career had allowed him to pound the air out of the ball instead of catching and shooting. But, speaking of the Ariza guy…
3. Uhhhh defense…dummies
The Rockets finished 6th in defensive rating last year. If you think they simply tried to outscore opponents, you were watching closely enough.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Carmelo is a horrible defensive player at this point of his career. In fact, Bleacher Report once listed Carmelo as the second worst small forward defender in the NBA. What’s worse is that this ranking came in 2017. Do we think Melo is going to become a better defender in 2018-19? Nope.
But what about Trevor Ariza? Just how important to this Rockets team was he. Upon first glance, the metrics do not wow you. Yet, watch him pass the eye test. Ariza can switch onto multiple defenders, is a high-IQ player and gives effort.
Watch him switch onto Jordan Bell, a springy big, and then cover the ground to take a charge from Draymond Green. Will Carmelo do that for the Rockets next season. We all know the answer to that. Yet, these are the types of plays that win teams games.
Next up, watch him play defense on Kevin Durant AKA the best pure scorer in the league right now. How many guys can actually keep stride with KD and then contest him into a miss? Good luck, Melo.
Close your eyes for a second. Imagine D’Antoni gameplans for Carmelo’s defensive woes. So, he decided to stick him on Jordan Bell during the postseason matchup versus the Warriors. Now imagine Steph Curry bringing the ball up the court. What does he do? He simply points to Bell to set a pick. Melo is switched onto Curry. Ouch.
This will happen repeatedly in Houston. Teams will exploit Melo until he gets played off the court. Be prepared, Rockets fans. Between his defense and inability to adapt to playing with other high usage players, things could get very rough down in Houston.
The year is 1995. Hakeem Olajuwon just followed up one of the greatest individual seasons in ‘94 with an equally as great postseason run the following year. The Rockets plowed through the best the West had to offer. From the high-powered offense of the Utah Jazz led by Stockton and Malone, to Barkley’s ‘93 runner up champions, the Phoenix Suns, league MVP David Robinson’s hungry San Antonio Spurs, and eventually crushed the young tandem of Shaq and Penny in the finals, all while Hakeem dominated the box score series after series. Truly, one of the all-time great runs in NBA history.
But fast-forward 8 years later and another giant out West is giving teams all they can handle. Tim Duncan played like a man possessed in 2003. He went head-to-head with some of the games top talent at the time. Squaring off against a young, athletic frontcourt in Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in Phoenix. Had his hands full with a behemoth in Los Angeles, Shaquille O’Neal, who was accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Kobe Bryant. He dueled with the master of the fadeaway jumper Dirk Nowitzki down in Texas, and finally, annihilated J.Kidd’s Nets in the finals while putting up some of the most remarkable numbers in finals history.
So who had the greater the playoff run?
Was it Hakeem for defeating FIVE 50+ win teams and dragging the 6th seeded Rockets to their second straight championship? Or was it The Big Fundamental who took a young Tony Parker (20 years old) and an on-the-way-out David Robinson (37 years old) to the promise land and did it with no teammate averaging more than 15 points throughout the entire playoffs?
Well, we’re going to have to dig deeper. Starting with each players first round, working our way through the semi and conference finals, and all the way to the championship round.
Though the Suns might not have had any All-NBA or All-Defensive selections, they did have a Rookie of The Year winner in Amare Stoudemire, and two All-Stars in Stephon Marbury and Shawn Marion. Behind those three, the Suns finished 44-39 for an 8th place finish in the Western Conference.
The Spurs won the series in 6 games though it probably should’ve been over sooner if Suns didn’t steal the first matchup in San Antonio on a game-winning heave from Marbury.
Duncan had two monstrous performances coming at the most critical time of the series.
Game 5: 23 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 blocks in an 92-84 win.
Game 6: 15 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 blocks in an 87-85 win to closeout the series.
Duncan’s 20 defensive rebounds in game six were the most defensive rebounds in a single playoff game. He also finished the series with 21 total blocks. To put that into perspective, the Suns as a team had 35 blocks. It was just a dominating performance on both ends of the floor.
As mentioned earlier, the Rockets finished the season as the 6th seed, so right out the gate the odds were stacked against them.
They found themselves facing a tough and scrappy 60-win Jazz team that was equally good defensively (8th in defensive rating) as they were offensively (4th in offensive rating). John Stockton and Karl Malone – both members of the All-NBA first team that season – had the high pick-and-roll down to a science. Getting past them in the opening round would be a battle.
Hakeem did everything you could ask for on the offensive end and more.
He had two 40-point performances and two more 30-point games. And after going down 2-1 in the first three games, he helped Houston fight off elimination in the two biggest games of the series by averaging 36.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists while converting 12.0 field-goals on 19.0 attempts (63%).
This would be the first of three MVP candidates Hakeem would conquer throughout the playoffs.
After getting bounced in the semi-finals by the Lakers the previous season, Duncan and the Spurs would have their revenge the following year.
The Lakers finished the season 50-32 and posted the 4th best offensive rating in the league. Going up against the defending champs and one of, if not the, best duos of all-time would certainly be a handful. And dealing with the massive giant known as Shaq down low would be no less difficult.
Duncan was otherworldly in this one. He played a brilliant offensive game, giving L.A. buckets in a variety of ways, held his own against Shaq on the defensive end, and led the team minutes, points, rebounds, and assists.
As expected, his two best games of the series came in the final two games:
Another series and another offensive juggernaut standing in front of Houston.
The Phoenix Suns finished 3rd in offensive rating, second in pace and had two all-stars in Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle. The offensive trio of Majerle, point guard Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley – member of the All-NBA second team – led the franchise to its third straight 55+ win season and the third overall best record in the NBA. This was a team that was determined to get back to the finals and redeem their ‘93 loss to the Bulls.
After going down 3-1 in the series, the Suns smelt blood and this one looked all but over.
Finding themselves facing adversity and on the brink of elimination yet again, Hakeem played out of his mind in the final three games, extending the series to a deciding game 7 on the road.
His averages during that stretch: 30.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.0 steals on 50% shooting.
Olajuwon closed out game 7 with a 29-11-4 (pts,rebs,asts) and the Rockets won 115-114 on a Mario Elie game-winning three-pointer, also known as “The Kiss of Death.”
The Houston Rockets became just the fifth team in NBA history at the time to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win the series.
Led by the All-Star tandem of Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki – who were also apart of the All-NBA teams (Dirk second, Nash third) – the Dallas Mavericks had an offense that was built to outshoot opposing teams and run up the scoreboard.
As a team, they finished first in the following categories: offensive rating, points, free throw percentage, and turnovers. They also finished third in three-point percentage at 38%.
A good ‘ol fashioned defense vs offense matchup down in Texas. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Tim Duncan played for San Antonio, not Dallas.
The Big Fundamental had multiple “holy s***, he had how much?” performances in this showdown. From a 40-15-7 with one block and one steal in game one – a game that San Antonio lost – to a 32-15-5 with three blocks in the following matchup, and then followed that up with a ludicrous 34-24-6 with six blocks and two steals in the third game.
Yes, you read that right. Tim Duncan had 34 points, 24 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 blocks and 2 steals in game freaking three. Wilt Chamberlain, who?
But hold on, we’re not done.
In those three games, he shot 37-for-60 from the floor for a field goal percentage of sixty-one percent! Spurs went 2-1 in that stretch and eventually found themselves up 3-1 in the series after Duncan delivered a 21-20-7 with 4 blocks performance in game four.
His dominance “calmed down” in games five (23-15-6) and six (18-11-4). The Spurs ended the series in six games after Dirk Nowitzki suffered a knee injury in game three and was sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs.
Duncan ended the series with 100 total rebounds. The next closest? Michael Finley with 38. If that’s not enough then how about this: Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki and starting center Raef LaFrentz combined for 99 total rebounds.
No one expected the Rockets to get this far, but if any team was equipped to tame Hakeem and crush Houston’s spirit, it was the San Antonio Spurs.
Not only did they have the league MVP, David Robinson, but his frontcourt teammate, Dennis Rodman, made All-Defensive first team that year. Oh, David Robinson was also apart of that same defensive team.
On the season, San Antonio finished top 5 in both defensive rating and offensive rating, and had the league’s best overall record at 62-20. It was obvious Hakeem would be in for a long series… or so we thought.
Hakeem downright embarrassed Robinson. He gave it to him inside and outside, showing him every move in his arsenal and putting on an offensive clinic. And it didn’t stop there. Hakeem went down on the other side and held Robinson well below his season averages. This was the MVP of the National Basketball Association and Hakeem made him look completely insignificant.
To say Hakeem had Robinson’s number would be an understatement. Hakeem had Robinson’s entire soul, and if you don’t believe me then maybe you’ll believe his teammate, Dennis Rodman.
“Before those games, he looked so f***ing scared in the locker room, he couldn’t stop shaking.” That was a direct quote from Rodman himself from his book Bad As I Wanna Be.
I mean, just look how demoralized David Robinson is in this photo.
Olajuwon had three 40-point games in the series. He led his team in nearly every category – points, rebounds, blocks, assists, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and minutes. He ended up with a whopping 212 points and had as many blocks (25) as the Spurs did as a team.
He put the finishing touches on the series and David by averaging 40.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 5.0 blocks on 63% in games five and six to put the Spurs away and send the Rockets to their second straight finals appearance.
Robinson still hasn’t fully recovered from that beat-down.
The New Jersey Nets were the best defensive team in the NBA. Ran by their All-Star floor general, Jason Kidd, the Nets had reached the finals just a season ago but were swept by the Lakers. If the Nets thought going up against Duncan and the Spurs would be any less difficult than dealing with Shaq and Kobe, then they were about to be in for a rude awakening.
Duncan did a lot in this series, and I mean A LOT.
After six games, he tallied 145 total points, 102 rebounds and 32 blocks – the most blocks in a 6-game series in playoff history. The Nets as a team only had six more blocks than Duncan did.
Timmy had himself another 30-20 performance in game 1. He dropped 29-17-4-4 in game 5. In game 6 he was screwed out of two blocks, so what should’ve been a quadruple-double ended up being a 21-20-10-8. Still ridiculous, I know, but why couldn’t they just give him the damn quadruple-double!? It’s all on footage, you can’t sit here and tell me those two blocks don’t count. Watch it for yourself if you don’t believe me.
Anyways, the Spurs sent the Nets packing in six games. Duncan led both teams in points, rebounds and blocks, he played an enormous role in effectively shutting down New Jersey – the Nets shot 37% from the floor as a team – and he was awarded with his second finals MVP.
It’s just a shame they robbed him of a quadruple-double.
Though Hakeem didn’t lead his team in nearly every statistical category like Duncan did against New Jersey, he did closeout the deadliest offensive team in the league and the only team to beat the Bulls from ‘91 to ‘98 in just four games.
After outplaying the league’s MVP in the previous matchup, Hakeem would now have to do the same against the runner-up, Shaquille O’Neal.
He did. In every game.
Olajuwon became 1 of 6 players in history to score at least 30 points in every game of a playoff series. And scoring wasn’t all he did. Take a look at his stat lines in each game.
Game 1: 31 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks and 2 steals.
Game 2: 34 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks, and 1 steal.
Game 3: 31 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals.
Game 4: 35 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals.
Hakeem also scored 56 field goals, giving him the record for most made field goals in a 4-game series.
Oh, and he also had one of the most forgotten game-winners in NBA history in game 1.
Olajuwon and the Rockets did it. He was an NBA Champion once again and captured his second straight Finals MVP trophy. The Rockets became the lowest seeded team to ever win it all.
As head coach Rudy Tomjanovich shouted after game four, “don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”
You’re damn right, Rudy.
In the end, both Hakeem and Duncan ran through an entire conference without a single All-Star teammate, came away with the Larry O’Brien trophy, and gave us two of the greatest individual playoff performances in the process.
Olajuwon – and the Rockets – defeated 7 members from the All-NBA team (4 first team, 2 second team, 1 third team), 4 All-Defensive representatives (2 first, 2 second), the top 3 MVP candidates (Robinson, Malone, Shaq) and ended up with the third most points ever scored (725) in a single playoff run.
We can’t knock Duncan for playing lower seeded teams or only going up against one MVP candidate, because after all, HE was the MVP that year and HIS team lost the least amount of games. But, Duncan – and the Spurs – did win every series comfortably, never requiring a game 7 and without having any other player average more than 15 points throughout the run.
Well, the doldrums of the NBA offseason did not last too long. The NBA world was rocked as Kawhi Leonard got shipped to Toronto. Conversely, DeMar DeRozan is now headed to San Antonio. Still, we must strive forward and continue on with the untouchables list.
If you missed the Eastern Conference list, then click here.
1. Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic
This is a no brainer. The Mavs just surrendered a future pick for the Slovenian point-forward. Doncic has the potential to be a transcendent NBA player. This pick and roll maestro will enter the league as one of its premier passers. If you need a reminder on just how good Doncic is, I dug up his ProCity Hoops profile for you.
2. Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic
What gave this one away? Jokic just signed a 5 yr/$147 million deal. The center finished last season with a better field goal percentage that Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins. Plus, he is one of the best passers in the game, regardless of position. Jokic finished 15th in assists per game last year, and 12th for total assists. Wow. This kid isn’t going anywhere.
3. Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry
Let’s get this out of the way. No one on this roster is getting traded anytime soon. This team has a few more finals appearances on the horizon, despite any players that LeBron guy lands in LA. While I do not expect a trade, I still chose Steph here. Trading him would be detrimental to the team’s fan base. You simply cannot throw away a home grown kid like Steph and expect everything to be okay.
4. Houston Rockets – James Harden
Did you expect anyone else? Here is a clip of every stepback J Harden hit last season.
5. Los Angeles Clippers – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Although it is merely summer league, this rookie has looked awesome. His octopus tentacles doubles as arms nowadays, and he used them for stealing basketballs. Offensively, he has the potential to play both guard positions. Jerry West has a steal on his hands.
Jerome Robinson was considered but, he does not have SGA’s ceiling. Tobias Harris was also in competition here, but his trade value is high enough to warrant being available. Check out SGA’s scouting report.
6. Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James
7. Memphis Grizzlies – Jaren Jackson Jr.
This was an easy selection. Triple J has looked like he will immediately be an elite rim protector in this league. On the other side of the ball he has shown promise by draining 8 thress during his first summer league game. His full report is here.
More importantly, however, it seems as though Memphis is looking to make the playoffs. They added Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple this offseason and drafted NBA ready Jevon Carter. In a loaded Western Conference, is this feasible? Memphis should be looking to unload Conley and Gasol instead of making the postseason.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns
Kat is my most underrated player in this league. He put up statistics last year that have never been done before. Not one player in league history has put up a stat line of 54 percent FG%, 42 percent 3P% on at least 14 field goal attempts and 3.5 three-point attempts.
Offensively, he is the best scoring center in the league and it is not even as close as we think. Check out how his numbers from last season rank against the premier offensive centers in the league last year.
If you considered Andrew Wiggins for this list, seek help. Take a “me” day. With Jimmy Butler a free agent flight risk, KAT is the selection to go with.
9. New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis
The Brow is the future of the NBA. A 6’11” power forward (who should be playing center) who can shoot from all three levels and has DPOY potential? Sign me up. Davis was only 22-years-old when he led the NBA in both blocks and PER. He has an MVP season in him somewhere, hopefully the Pelicans can unlock it for him.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook
I debated Paul George here for a second. Why? A big name free agent signing like that in OKC will be rare going forward. What message would it send to the league if OKC just shipped him off? Despite this, Westbrook gets the nod. Not only is he an MVP player, but he is the heart and soul of Oklahoma basketball.
11. Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker
Because, duh. Devin Only two players have put up 24 point per game, 4 assists per game on 38 percent 3P shooting during their first 5 seasons in the league. One of them is Devin Booker. The other…Steph Curry.
DeAndre Ayton was never seriously considered here. He is a heck of a talent but, it is easier to find a rim protecting, three point shooting big than it is someone with Booker’s talent and ceiling. Josh Jackson was never truly in consideration.
12. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard
I struggled with this pick. Half of me thinks that Portland should just blow it up. The West has gotten even harder and they look to be a team with a second round ceiling. Why pursue the same result every year, if that result is not winning a title?
The other half of me thinks that Portland may have just enough assets to acquire a third star. Zach Collins still has a ton of potential and Portland is very high on him. Anfernee Simons balled out during summer league and turned the heads of many executives. Gm Neil Oshey should certainly consider bringing Kevin Love back to his home state. Send a package of prospects and picks over to Cleveland. Buddy up Love with McCollum and Dame, go all in.
13. Sacramento Kings – De’Aaron Fox
This selection was harder than it looked. Marvin Bagley is the Kings new toy. The 2nd overall pick in last year’s draft was not ranked as the #2 overall prospect by many scouts. Yet, the Kings loved Bagley and his desire to actually want to play in NoCal. I had Bagley ranked behind duke teammate Wendell Carter, and through summer league is appeared that I was right to do so.
Fox is a different story. He will help rebuild a culture in Sac’Town. Fox may possibly be the quickest end to end player in the league, and he has a developing jumper. Having already shown leadership and clutchness, I would be willing to trade Bagley before Fox.
14. San Antonio Spurs – DeMar DeRozan
Aw. So sad, DeMar.
Yesterday I wrote that no one on the Raptors should be untouchable, and apparently GM Masai Ujiri agreed with me. San Antonio clearly wants to take advantage of the remaining years that they have with Pop (bad decision.) So, they went out and traded Kawhi for DeMar. Shipping him off now would only would blow my mind, literally. GM R.C Buford had made brilliant moves for the Spurs for almost two decades now, but this move was horrendous.
15. Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell
Spida Mitchell made a bunch of GMs look dumb last year. He looks like a modern day D Wade. Mitchell has an All-NBA ceiling and I cannot wait to watch him develop. Gobert was never truly in contention here. In fact, I would consider trading the big man at his peak value.
During last year’s playoffs, we saw how stretch bigs can draw rim protectors away from, well, the rim. Ask Joel Embiid to explain what Al Horford did to him. Gobert will be less and less effective in the playoffs as teams play smaller. For now though, rejoice in having one of the most exciting players in the game back in Utah.
Before we get into the “Top 25 Players in the NBA,” I need to preface by saying this is if everyone is healthy in the league. For example, I did not lower Kawhi Leonard’s rank because he barely played last season. So, here it is, my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#25: Ben Simmons
I have already prepared myself for the reactions to the 25th ranked player in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. People are going to say that Simmons is already a top-20, or even top-15 player in the NBA. However, why? I am not saying that Simmons is not going to be a top-10 player in the league one day, but I do not understand how people already have him ranked so high.
Simmons had a very good rookie year in the NBA. Averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, Simmons ran away with the Rookie of the Year. What makes Simmons’ stats even more impressive is the fact that he did not make a single three last season. With the way the modern NBA is trending, having a non-shooting ball-handler is uncommon.
While Simmons did not make any threes last season, that did not slow him down. Take a look at the GIF below.
It never seemed to matter how far off Simmons’ defender played him last season. Simmons would always find a way to get to the basket and finish at a high clip. Converting on 69.8% of his shots at the rim, Simmons was well-above the 63.1% league average. Just because Simmons is currently ranked 25th in my rankings, it will not be long before he slides into the top-15, and the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#24: LaMarcus Aldridge
NBA fans often forget how dominant LaMarcus Aldridge really is. Remember his days in Portland? The dude was a walking double-double. Then, he gets out of the spotlight in San Antonio and people forget about him. Aldridge is still one of the most dominating big men in the NBA.
Averaging 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, it is time to acknowledge how talented Aldridge is. LMA led a Kawhi-less Spurs team to the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. Yes, Gregg Popovich is a mastermind, but teams do not make the playoffs in the West without talent on the court.
Aldridge’s 29.1% usage rating last season was the highest it has been in his career with San Antonio. Aldridge made it work too. Developing his game to continue to fit the modern NBA, Aldridge posted the highest offensive rating of his career. Fans often forget about how good Aldridge is, it is time to continue to acknowledge that fact.
#23: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is one of my favorite players to watch in the entire NBA. His skill set for a center is wildly unheard of, but wildly productive. I mean, come on, how many NBA centers can make this pass?
Jokic’s basketball IQ and passing ability alone make him one of the top centers in the NBA. However, there is so much more to his game. With averages of 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game, Jokic brings it all to the table.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in his game last season was his three-point shooting. The Joker attempted a total of 280 threes last season, connecting on 39.6% of the attempts. Jokic has made it a point of emphasis to continue to adjust his game to stay up-to-date with the modern NBA.
Last season, 27.7% of Jokic’s attempted field goals were from three-point territory. The season before, just 16.3% of his shots were from three. This is a good sign for the Nuggets and their big man. Jokic has been able to adapt and stay productive while the league changes. This is why Jokic is in my top-25 and why Denver just inked him to a max contract.
#22: DeMar DeRozan
Another season has gone by and another season has ended for DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors at the hands of “The King.” After going into the playoffs as the top seed in the East, the Raptors did not even manage to win one game against Cleveland in the second round. However, this does not alter DeRozan’s playing ability.
Last season marked the fifth straight year that DeRozan posted at least 20 points per game. Recording 23 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game, DeRozan solidified himself as one of the game’s top two guards. Having his usage rate drop from 34.3% in the 2016-17 season to 29.6% in the 2017-18 season, DeRozan remained effective attempting the most threes in his career, and connecting at the second-highest clip on those shots in his career.
In addition, DeRozan posted a 9.6 win share stat, making him one of the most valuable players in win shares in the league. Most of the stats speak for themself. DeRozan gets to his spots on offense, and he takes advantage of his matchup. There was little debate in my mind when deciding if DeRozan belonged in the “Top-25 Players in the NBA” list.
#21: Rudy Gobert
Mark Rudy Gobert down as one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Gobert is not a flashy player by any means, which is why he is seldomly mentioned in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” conversation. Just because Gobert is not a three-point shooting five does not mean he is not one of the best centers in the league.
Gobert does most of his damage on the defensive side of the ball. Averaging 2.3 blocks per game last season, Gobert solidified himself as one of the best paint-protectors in the league. However, there is more to his game than his defense. Gobert recorded 13.5 points per game last season while shooting 62.2% from the field, a career-high. Yes, most of these points came on dunks or lobs from the “Spanish Unicorn,” but that is where Gobert does his damage.
It is mind boggling why Gobert is not talked about more often. His stellar 122 offensive rating and 99 defensive rating should put him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” with few questions asked.
#20: Victor Oladipo
Who would have thought that one year ago at this time that we would have Victor Oladipo in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA”? What a year it was for Oladipo with the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo silenced all his haters averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Vic led the Pacers, who were a projected lottery team, to the fifth seed in the East and took LBJ and the Cavs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
I had trouble finding a spot for Oladipo in the rankings because of how unexpected last season was. But, when you look at all the numbers as a whole, he definitely deserves to be in the top-20. In addition to his gaudy offensive numbers, Oladipo averaged 2.4 steals per game, ranking him first in the NBA last season. The winner of the Most Improved Player is bound for another successful 2018-19 season. His determination to win was on full display right after the game seven loss to the Cavs. The first thing he did after the game was text his trainer asking him when the work started up again.
#19: Paul George
Well, Thunder fans, PG13 is there to stay. Congratulations. One year after you traded for a “rental,” the team has convinced a top-20 player in the NBA to stay in Oklahoma City. Now, Thunder fans may be wondering why George ranks lower than others have him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. Averaging 21.9 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game, PG13 had an interesting season adjusting to the OK3.
In my opinion, George hasn’t been the same since his gruesome injury with Team USA. He has not been as explosive and does not show the same burst he showed in those playoff battles against LeBron and the Heat. This was to be expected based on the injury, but that is the biggest reason he is 19th in the rankings. In addition, George has never been a great clutch player, often underperforming in crucial situations.
This season, George shot 42.2% from the field in the fourth quarter. In addition, he shot 38.3% from three in the fourth quarter. Now, do not get me wrong, 38% from three is not a bad number, but it is lower than his 40.1% from three throughout the season. Finally, who can forget game six of the playoffs last season against the Utah Jazz. In an elimination game, George juiced just five points. Paul George is a great player, I am not trying to say he is not, but for me 19 is where PG13 belonged on the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list.
#18: Karl-Anthony Towns
The Big KAT had a terrific third season in the NBA, and now he is going to get paid. Karl-Anthony Towns is reportedly in negotiations with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a five-year, max contract. Towns made his first all-star appearance last season and he is not looking back.
Documenting 21.3 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game, Towns was one of the most versatile offensive bigs in the NBA. Notice how I said offensive, because his defense is a whole different discussion. Towns shot 42.1% from three-point range last season, the highest percentage of any Wolves player. Ranking 14th in the NBA in percentage from downtown, Towns has adjusted his game with the modern NBA.
Helping lead the Wolves to their first playoff series in over a decade, Towns had a disappointing playoff series. Averaging just 15.4 points per game and shooting under 50% from the field and under 30% from three, Towns had a less than pleasing first playoff series of his career. However, in games three, four, and five of the series against the Rockets, Towns was back to averaging 21 points a night. He struggled mightily in the first two games, but seemed to overcome his struggles and put it past him.
As one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA, Towns already ranks in the top-20. But, it will not be long before he is in the conversation for the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#17: Klay Thompson
Mark me down as a firm Klay Thompson believer. What he does every night for the Golden State Warriors is invaluable. Thompson is one of, if not the best, shooter in the NBA. Averaging 20 points per game last season on 44% shooting from three-point range, Klay solidified himself as the best third option in the NBA. Imagine what Klay could be doing as the first option on a team? He is a free agent in 2019, could we see him as a first option?
Getting past his future with the Warriors, when we look at Klay Thompson’s game, it is nothing but good things. We all know about his stellar shooting and his ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the court, but what some people do not know about is his defensive ability. Watch below as Klay Thompson absolutely locks down Paul George as the shot clock expires. Not many people can hang with a top-level offensive player like PG13, but Klay Thompson can.
#16: Joel Embiid
Trust the Process. Well, the process is working. It will not be long before Joel Embiid is a top-10 player in the NBA. Playing in 63 games last season, the Kansas big man averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game. Embiid did work in every facet of the game shooting over 48% from the field and recording 1.8 blocks per game. However, there is still work to do if Embiid wants to be a top-10 or top-5 player in the NBA.
The first thing is development from three. In his “rookie” season in the NBA, Embiid shot 36.7% from three, a very respectable percentage for a big man. However, last season, that percentage dropped to 30.8%. There is potential for Embiid to have his downtown shooting percentage climb, and he will need it to climb to take the next step.
In addition, speaking in general terms, Joel Embiid has the mindset and attitude of a top-level NBA player. Embiid cares about one thing and one thing only: winning. Whether you like it or not, Embiid’s trash talking on the court helps him gain an edge and it causes problems for opponents. Joel Embiid is on his way. Even though I do not have him ranked as my top center, it should not be long before “The Process” claims that spot in “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
I already know it is coming. People are going to think I am crazy for putting Cousins ahead of Embiid. Since these rankings are not taking injuries into the picture, Cousins still ranks as my top center. People forget of how dominant Cousins is. Players feed the ball down low and Boogie gets a bucket, it is usually as simple as that.
Cousins was having a career-year before going down with injury last season. Posting 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, Cousins looked primed to appear in his first playoff series. Unfortunately, the NBA Gods had different ideas. But, the injury does not take away from the player Cousins is. DeMarcus Cousins is, plain and simple, dominant. His footwork on the low-post and his continued development from three make him the most effective center in the NBA and 15th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#14: Draymond Green
There are fans of the NBA who cannot stand Draymond Green, and I am in the same boat. However, I respect him as a player and the energy that he brings to the game. It hurt me to put him 14th in these rankings, but it was what he deserved. Green affects the game in so many ways that the Warriors would not be the same without him. He does it on offense, defense, leadership, and of course, in trash talking.
There is not a player in the NBA that I can think of who plays with more energy than Draymond Green. Green is pure heart and effort every time the ball goes up in the air. Yes, his passion for the game can get him in trouble from time to time, but his passion is usually used positively. Green averaged 11 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game last season. However, it is what does not show up in the box score that makes Green a difference maker. Green’s 105 defensive rating and 6.1 defensive win shares make him one of the top defenders in the NBA.
Another part of Green’s game that makes him so good is his ability to play the five. The Warriors made the small-ball lineup a thing, using Green at the five. This death lineup is what makes the Warriors so good. Teams can try to put Green in a pick-and-roll when he is at the five, but Green has the ability to switch onto guards and shut them down. It is unfair at times and part of the reason he ranks 14th in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#13: Damian Lillard
“Dame Dollar.” “Big Game Dame.” Whatever you want to call him, Damian Lillard is a special talent. While he has never found much success in the postseason, Lillard is one of the best guards in the NBA. His shiftiness and sudden explosion make him a must-watch. Filling it up with 26.9 points and 6.6 assists per game last season, Lillard had arguably his best season in his career.
Lillard made 227 threes last season, just two less than his career-high, which he posted in 2015-16. Dame kept defenders guessing last season. If the defense came up and pressed Lillard, he would explode past them and finish at the rim. If the defense laid off, Lillard would pull up from Mars and drain a long three in your face. Don’t believe me? Check out his game-winner against the Lakers below and think again. There’s no reason that Lillard should not be in the top-15 of any “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#12: John Wall
Why is everyone starting to hate on John Wall? He gets hurt for one season and everyone is starting to act like he is falling off. No way. Not a chance. John Wall is still one of the most dominant and explosive points guards in the association. Even after injury last season, Wall managed to post 19.4 points and 9.6 assists per game. No, he was not his normal self, but that is expected coming off an injury that sidelined him for more than a month.
No matter what anyone says, there shall be no John Wall slander. Wall is one of the toughest covers in the entire league, and when he brings out the gang signs, it is over. The speedster has never been a great three-point shooter or defender, and he might never be. However, the way he attacks the rim and creates for his teammates, Wall deserves to be 12th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#11: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Buckets. All kinds of rumors are surrounding Butler and the Timberwolves this summer. There have been recents reports that Butler will not re-sign with the Wolves. There has been reports that he is unhappy with the effort shown by Karl Towns and others. If you need a refresher on the whole situation, I broke it down in an article. Anyways, on to Butler as the player. Butler is the second-best two-way player in the NBA (behind Kawhi.) There are no words to describe his value to the Timberwolves last season. Without him, the Wolves would have been in the lottery and nowhere near a playoff team.
To further prove that point, Butler missed 23 games last season. The Timberwolves were 10-13 without Butler last season. With him, the Wolves were 37-22. Butler was one of just a handful of Timberwolf players that decided to play defense last season. Butler’s defense was so good that the Wolves held opponents to 7.2 points lower in offensive rating when Jimmy was on the floor. Jimmy, along with other veterans like Taj Gibson, was the main reason the Wolves did not allow 150 points per game.
In addition, Jimmy got his buckets. His 22.2 points per game led the Timberwolves. Furthermore, Butler was who the Wolves went to when the team was in dire need of a basket. Butler was the go-to man down the stretch and led the Timberwolves to the playoffs.
#10: Chris Paul
What could have been. That will be the question in NBA and Rockets fans head for the months leading up to the 2018-19 season. The Rockets were one game away from defeating the “undefeatable” Golden State Warriors. Then, Chris Paul went down with an injury at the end of game five that kept him out of game six and seven. Paul’s value to the Rockets was much more than scoring, finding teammates, and defending. Paul was a leader on and off the court for Houston.
Multiple times throughout the season, the Rockets looked like they would fall apart during a game; however, they held on. Why? Chris Paul. Paul kept the team together in games that were spiraling out of control. Paul got the team buckets when they needed them most, and he controlled the game like a true floor general. While CP3 posted his second-lowest assist total of his career, the ball was out of his hands a lot. People wondered how he and James Harden would co-exist. And to put it lightly, I think they did just fine.
Chris Paul seems to fit in nicely with whoever he plays next to. He is the true definition of a great leader and a great teammate. The only thing preventing CP3 from being ranked higher than 10 is the other unearthly players sitting higher in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#9: Kyrie Irving
Another great “what if” story from the NBA last season. The Boston Celtics took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics did so without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. So, Boston fans everywhere are dreaming over what could have been for the team last season if even Irving stayed healthy. In his first season post-LeBron, Irving averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. His handles and offensive wizardry continued to dazzle in Beantown.
I have Irving ranked as my third best point guard, behind Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry. However, at just 26-years-old, Irving is bound to soon be the top point guard in the league. It is amazing what Irving is doing at such a young age. If injuries stay out of his way, top-5 is on the way for the former Duke guard in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#8: Giannis Antetokounmpo
For the longest time, the Greek Freak was on his way. Well, it is official, he has arrived. Now the best player in the East with LeBron gone, Antetokounmpo is just what his nickname says “a freak.” Giannis recorded 26.9 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. Every season that he has been in the NBA, Antetokounmpo has made a jump in PPG from the previous season. If that continues, it will not be long before Giannis is averaging 30 PPG.
In addition to his ridiculous scoring numbers, Giannis is a terrific passer and defender. Averaging 4.8 assists per game last season, Giannis made defenses pay when they doubled him. On defense, he recorded 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. His length and athleticism makes him a top-five two-way player in the NBA. Before you start debating whether Giannis should be ranked as the top player in the Eastern Conference without LeBron, chew on this:
#7: Russell Westbrook
For the second season in a row, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double. I do not care what you think of stat-padding or anything of that nature, averaging a triple-double is impressive. The amount of energy Westbrook puts forth every night is next to none. Westbrook plays with a similar intensity as Draymond Green. Ever since Kevin Durant left the Thunder, it seems like that energy has doubled. Westbrook is out to prove something, and he wants to prove it with a championship.
Ranked as my number two point guard on the list, it is Westbrook’s explosiveness and offensive abilities that get the job done. Averaging 25.4 points per game last season, Russ shot 44.9% from the field. His 5.5 offensive win shares makes you realize just how great Russ is on that side of the ball. If Westbrook could develop a 36-40% three-point shot he would be virtually unstoppable. The only chance teams have of stopping Russ is letting him shoot and hoping he misses. Because once he gets to the rim or on the fastbreak, it is game over.
#6: Kawhi Leonard
The summer of LeBron was quickly flooded by the summer of Kawhi. After requesting a trade out of San Antonio, fans have been on the edge of their seats waiting to find out where Leonard will land. Leonard has been on the record saying he wants to be in Los Angeles, but there might not be a deal that makes sense for the Spurs/Clippers/Lakers. Wherever Leonard lands, the team will be getting the top two-way player in the game.
After basically sitting out an entire season, it is easy to forget just how good Kawhi is. He is nicknamed “The Klaw” for a reason. Kawhi absolutely shuts down the opposing team’s best player each and every night. He has made a living on the defensive side of the ball. His defense is what got him into the NBA. Kawhi was never a great offensive player coming into the league, but his defense was enough to get him a spot.
Since he has been in the league, Kawhi has developed his offense. Kawhi is now one of the biggest offensive threats in the NBA. His ability to knock down shots and over power people on the way to the rim make him such a scary matchup. If Kawhi Leonard played last season, and we were able to see his further improvement, he very well could have made the top-5 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#5: James Harden
Yes, your eyes are not lying. I have the MVP ranked fifth in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. James Harden is great, that is not a question, but there are just players that do more than Harden. Harden makes his living on the offensive side of the ball, and in particular, at the free-throw line. Harden attempted over 10 free-throws per game last season. His 8.7 points per game that come from the stripe accounted for 28.6% of his total points.
There is no doubt there is a skill in getting to the free-throw line, but sometimes the way Harden gets to the line is hard to watch. His flopping and wild body movements draw the refs into a ton of whistles when there is really no contact. This, along with his sub-par defense, which is recently improved, made Harden land in the five hole in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#4: Steph Curry
The former two-time MVP and unanimous MVP has a great story. The sharpshooter was labeled as “too small” coming into the draft. People thought that he was just a cinderella story that went to Davidson, and they predicted Curry would fall off the map. Well, Golden State took a chance on Steph, and boy has it paid off. Curry takes the most threes out of anyone in the NBA. Curry attempted 501 threes last season in just 51 games, that is almost 10 threes a game. And, while he attempts those 10 threes a game, he connects on 42.3% of them.
Hats off to Steph Curry. The NBA has arguably changed because of guys like Curry who attempt threes in bunches. Curry has no problem pulling up and shooting from anywhere on the court. He is one of the deadliest offensive players the NBA has ever seen. Widely regarded as one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA, there was little doubt to put Curry in the four spot in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#3: Anthony Davis
When DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury last season, most thought the Pelicans playoff hopes were over. Anthony Davis had different ideas. Davis averaged 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season. He continued to develop his game to fit the modern NBA, shooting 34% from three. In addition to the offensive work he put in, Davis showed his worth on defense too. Recording 2.6 blocks per game, Davis made any player think twice before testing him in the paint.
Davis has the potential to be one of the all-time greats. Yes, I said it. At just 25-years-old, Davis is showing how good he can be. If Davis can continue to develop his three-pointer and start winning more playoff games, he will be first on the list before too long.
#2: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is great. There is no other way to put it. What KD does on a nightly basis is unheard of. The two-time champ is the best pure scorer the game has ever seen. Durant fills it up in so many different ways. He will take you off the dribble and finish at the cup. Durant will explode by you just to stop and pop from mid-range. Or, he will not worry about dribbling at all and just take a 30-foot bomb that he knocks down with ease.
There are so few words as to how one would describe Kevin Durant and the way he can score. So, I am going to leave it as that. As the best pure scorer the NBA has ever seen, KD will go down as an all-time great.
#1: LeBron James
LeBron James tops off my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list. When I said it was hard to describe Kevin Durant? It is even harder to describe LeBron James. What LBJ did this past season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading the team back to their fourth straight finals appearance is only supposed to be possible in movies. LeBron James single-handedly dragged the Cavs to the finals, and that is an understatement. And if it was not for J.R. and his foolishness in game one of the NBA Finals, who knows how that series plays out.
LeBron James is simply great. Perhaps the greatest to ever play the game. Now, in Los Angeles, LABron will continue to cement his legacy as the best player in the NBA.
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