Tag Archives: Anthony Davis

2021 NBA Awards Predictions: From AD to KD

The 2021 NBA season tipped off on Tuesday with a pair of intriguing matchups. With the rest of the league having tipped off Wednesday, it gives us a chance to make some predictions about who will win the NBA awards in 2021.

The Brooklyn Nets took the Golden State Warriors to the woodshed in the first game and the Los Angeles Clippers repeated their performance from last season’s opener and downed the Los Angeles Lakers who were receiving their championship rings.

Of course, we won’t have any idea how the season will play out. But having a little more vested interest never hurt anyone. And we’re going to cover them all. MVP, DPOY, Comeback Player, they’re all here.

Predicting 2021 NBA Award Winners

Most Valuable Player

Anthony Davis – PF – Los Angeles Lakers

Starting with a bang, it will admittedly be tough for Anthony Davis to win the most prestigious of individual NBA awards with one LeBron James as a teammate. After all, James finished second in the voting himself last season. Is there a path to Davis not only usurping him but also Giannis Antetokounmpo and any other contender? Put simply, yes.

Davis, who had 18/7/2 in the opener, came in sixth in MVP voting last season. He was sixth in scoring, fourth in rebounds, fifth in steals, and first in blocks all on a per-game basis. We saw him continue his strong play in the finals, ranking third in scoring, second in boards, third in steals, and again leading the way in blocks. Most of those stats trailed James.

The quick turnaround, in combination with James being another year older (and some media hype), could lead to such a changing of the guard. James played just 28 minutes in the opener; Davis 31. They were basically even last season, so the slide for LeBron could be Davis’ gain. Adding to the difficulty is the incredible efficiency of James. But, with the new league rules on resting, James could sit when L.A. faces teams against whom he could pad his stats. That’s where Davis swoops in.

Defensive Player of the Year

Bam Adebayo – C/F – Miami Heat

Part of a player winning one of the NBA awards is them getting on the radar of voters in advance, often in the previous season. Bam Adebayo fits this to a T. He saw his points per game output nearly double, going from 8.9 to 15.9 PPG. He also saw increases in his rebounding, assist, and blocking stats all coinciding with his increase in minutes from the previous campaign.

Adebayo, who has been dubbed a “point-center”, was 11th in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, per ESPN, but he was second among power forwards. That’s ahead of everyone who finished ahead of him in DPOY voting except for Giannis. Among the finalists for DPOY last season, he ranked sixth in steals and fifth in blocks. But his presence on the floor dropped opponents’ offensive rating two full points.

Antetoukounmpo, the reigning DPOY, is the biggest threat to Adebayo’s triumph. But the year we’re predicting for Davis will have him in this discussion as well. The thought here is Adebayo took advantage of the added attention of the bubble and is on enough short-lists to be a finalist. Another leap in production like he had last season will go a long way to making this happen.

Rookie of the Year

LaMelo Ball – G – Charlotte Hornets

We’re not going to overthink this. Yes, Anthony Edwards was the first-overall pick. And yes, James Wiseman did land in one of the best situations in the NBA. But it’s LaMelo Ball, despite the poor opener, who has the best chance at winning Rookie of the Year. This is a marriage of a player being high-profile and having a clear path to the kind of opportunity that makes this Ball’s award to lose.

The last four ROTY winners have either been point guards by trade or functioned as the primary ball-handler for their club. Going back to 2010, only three non-point guard or primary facilitators have won the award. So the path lies in the job description. Edwards will still have to contend with the 2015-16 ROTY, Karl-Anthony Towns, and D’Angelo Russell for shots. Wiseman, in addition to playing a position that has won the award just twice since 1990.

Terry Rozier and especially Devonte Graham won’t just go away so Melo will have some competition for stats. But as the undisputed face of the franchise, he should be given every opportunity to be “the guy”. Barring an implosion the likes of which only his staunchest detractors will have foreseen, Ball will prove his mettle as the best Ball brother and Rookie of the Year.

Most Improved Player

Michael Porter Jr – F – Denver Nuggets

Talent-wise, this shouldn’t even be a possibility. Michael Porter Jr. is one of those genetic freaks teams covet in today’s NBA: a wing player with big size and guard skills. Porter was forced to miss what would have been his rookie season in 2018 with a back injury that had many wondering about his longevity. Critics even went so far as to bring up his family medical history.

Porter appeared in 55 games, starting eight, in 2019. He averaged a crisp 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 16 minutes per game while slashing .509/.422/.833 from the field. He got a bump in playing time in the postseason and saw his output rise accordingly. Porter averaged 11.4 points and 6.7 boards in just over 23 minutes per.

Another year under his belt, along with assuming a starting role in the lineup, have Porter poised to deliver on all the promise he showed in high school (he was injured in college too). The previous three winners saw jumps in their scoring output of around five or six points. That’s just one part of the puzzle for Porter, but it’s one he’s good at and a leap he’s capable of making.

Sixth Man of the Year

Derrick Rose – G – Detroit Pistons

After Los Angeles Clippers won Sixth Man of the Year in back to back years, it’s a rumored Clippers target that could walk away with the hardware this coming season. Derrick Rose has seen his career go through the full gambit of NBA awards. From Rookie of the Year to youngest MVP in league history and now, possibly, the top reserve. Rose averaged 18-plus points per game for the third time in four years coming off the bench for the Detroit Pistons last year.

He came in seventh in the 6MOTY voting last season, but there were plenty of shakeups that make a jump from seventh to first more plausible. First, Dennis Schroder and Christian Wood, two players that finished ahead of Rose in voting last season, are moving into starting roles this season. Montrezl Harrell moves to a slightly lesser role with the Lakers who also have a better bench situation, making his path tougher.

If those things stand, Rose is competing with Williams, George Hill, and Goran Dragic for the honor. He was already fourth among the finalists in scoring while tying for the lead in assists and steals last season. At this point, a move to the Clippers might be the only thing that can help make this a reality because there isn’t much more he can do for a bad Detroit Pistons team.

Comeback Player of the Year

Kevin Durant – F – Brooklyn Nets

The NBA hasn’t handed out this comeback player awards in quite some time; 1985-86 to be exact (shouts to Marques Johnson). But were they to reinstate it this year, Kevin Durant would have to top their list. He missed all of 2019-20 recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in the 2018-19 NBA Finals. But if what we witnessed in the opener is just a precursor then KD is back.

In his first NBA game action in 18 months, Durant had 22 points on 43 percent shooting and 50 percent from deep. He also had five boards, three assets, three steals, and a block. 13 players averaged at least 22/5/3 last year but not one of them averaged more than 1.8 steals per game. It’s highly unlikely, but if KD keeps it up he will be the first player since Alvin Robertson in 1990-91 to average three takeaways per contest.

If you want to harp on the overall efficiency, fine. But again, 18 months away. Durant could make a case for MVP this season if he keeps up the defensive efforts. We could also see a Finals run for the Nets in an Eastern Conference where last year’s champ was a fifth-seed. At the very least, he will remind everyone just why they call him the Easy Money Sniper.

Coach of the Year

Monty Williams – HC – Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns were just 34-39 last season, their first under Monty Williams. But that marked a 15-game improvement in the win column. They also went undefeated in the bubble but missed the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season. Phoenix was first in field goal percentage, first in free throw percentage, third in points per game, and fifth three-point percentage.

Nick Nurse was the 2019-20 Coach of the Year largely on the strength of losing a top-five player in the NBA and still guiding the Toronto Raptors to a two-seed and going seven games with Boston in the second round. Phoenix will probably need to make the playoffs to avoid this conversation going the other direction but several factors are playing into Williams’ hands.

The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t going to be the fifth-seed this time around and likely won’t make the playoffs. That’s one less team for Phoenix to contend with, though the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans will surely have something to say about it. As are the Houston Rockets (pending any James Harden trade) and possibly the San Antonio Spurs. But Williams will have Chris Paul on the floor. If he is able to do what he did for OKC last season, this will be an award for him just as much as it will be Williams

Early Aftermath of a Short (but Sweet) NBA Offseason

It’s been a week since the 2020 NBA Draft. With less than a month until the start of the 2021 season and free agency well underway, this is a good time to take stock of our favorite NBA offseason moves. Five teams, be it their draft decisions, free agency signings or trades, or both if they were really smart.

NBA Aftermath: Who’s Had the Best Offseason?

Honorable Mentions: Golden State Warriors/Miami Heat

You have to hand it to Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob. As trade acquisition Kelly Oubre said, Lacob is willing to spend to keep his team competitive. Oubre was taking a not-so-subtle jab at Phoenix Suns ownership, but the point stands. Lacob is spending upwards of $80 million due to the luxury tax. This even though Klay Thompson is out for the year with a torn ACL. It’s as easy to take Oubre’s words as just lip service as it is to dismiss the Warriors as contenders. But Oubre and James Wiseman is a good haul for a team in their particular situation.

There is a sense of underestimation with what the Miami Heat have done this offseason. The reigning Eastern Conference champs have flown relatively under the radar in a surprisingly active offseason compared to the rest of the NBA. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been doing well though. Landing Precious Achiuwa with the 20th pick is a steal. In free agency, the Heat lost Jae Crowder, Derrick Jones Jr, and Solomon Hill but retained Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard. They replaced them with a pair of hard-working, two-way players in Maurice Harkless and Avery Bradley.

5. Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are in a new phase in which they seek to add impact veterans to supplement and aid in the development of their young superstar point guard, Trae Young. That didn’t stop them from taking athletic, shot-blocking forward Onyeka Okongwu out of USC with the sixth pick. They hit free agency hard, going after and landing playoff point god Rajon Rondo and certified bucket Danilo Gallinari. Then, they went with younger vets in landing tough defensive guard Kris Dunn and signing Bogdan Bogdanovic, who shot 37 percent from three last season to an offer-sheet.

4. Phoenix Suns

On one hand, you have to like what the Phonix Suns have done this offseason. Even more so if you include their perfect 8-0 record in the bubble. They took their slide in the draft thanks to the lottery in stride, landing Jalen Smith, a veritable Jonathan Isaac clone, out of Maryland 10th overall. Chris Paul comes with hopes of recreating some of his magic from Oklahoma City. Crowder brings toughness and perimeter shooting along with E’Twuan Moore and Damian Jones is a good backup for Deandre Ayton. It’ll be up to Paul and Devin Booker to prove Oubre wrong.

3. New Orleans Pelicans

David Griffin, you clever so-and-so. Not one to be overshadowed by the Prestis and Moreys of the world, the former Cavs general manager continued his facelift of the New Orleans Pelicans centered around phenom Zion Williamson. Gone are, Moore, Jrue Holiday (via four-team trade), Derrick Favors (FA to Utah), and Jahlil Okafor. Griffin replaced them with Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe (both via the Holiday trade), and guard Kira Lewis Jr. (13th pick). He also extended Brandon Ingram. This will be a tough defensive group at worst.

2. Portland Trail Blazers

This has to be People’s Champ for best NBA offseason. The Portland Trail Blazers brought back Carmelo Anthony (yes, there is some bias here) and Rodney Hood. They also brought rebounding savant Enes Kanter and potential-laden Harry Giles to bolster their big rotation along with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. They also signed Derrick Jones Jr, but the piece de resistance is Robert Covington. One of the absolute best 3-and-D players and just what Portland needs behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The rich get richer. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers are still celebrating their championship while reigning Executive of the year Rob Pelinka is right back at it. Securing Dennis Schroder early was smart. Who knows what Presti could have extracted out of him further along in the process. “Stealing” Montrezl Harrell from the “rival” Los Angeles Clippers is a work of art. Granted, Harrell wasn’t going back to the Clippers after this past season played out how it did. But he will be motivated by what he clearly saw as slight from them. Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews bring good defense and enough outside shooting.

We also have to look at what Pelinka kept and got rid of. Moving Danny Green’s deal while bringing back Markieff Morris shouldn’t go unnoticed. Unsung playoff-hero Kentavious Caldwell-Pope returns as well but, as a Klutch Sports client, duh. Ditto for the best “free agent” available in Davis. And they didn’t have to move Kyle Kuzma or Talen Horton-Tucker to do any of it. Losing Rondo and Howard can be overcome with the moves made. And they get to run it back with an integral piece from their Staples Center sub-lessee. The Lakers didn’t have many teams to be concerned over in the first place. It’s hard to imagine any team did enough to beat this squad fully-healthy.

 

The Bubble-Offs Have Finally Begun

Hoops fans we’ve been waiting for these upcoming moments for the last five months! The 2020 NBA Playoffs or what I’m coining the Bubble-offs. You all see what was done there? The road to this year’s championship will be like no other. It’s possible a team that had no business being in the tournament comes away with the trophy. Tell you one thing, if the bubble-offs are anything like the eight-game restart we’re in for some of the most exciting games you’ll ever want to see.

The Bubble-Offs are Here

It all kicked off this past Saturday when the NBA had its first-ever play-in game to get that last coveted 16th spot for the playoff birth. The Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trailblazers didn’t disappoint either with rookie phenom Ja Morant and bubble MVP Damian Lillard going toe to toe. Now let’s take a look at some teams that could burst the bubble of the two top-seeded and finals favorites Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Time for the Bubble-Offs

Locked In

If you had the Monday blues the NBA had you covered with a full slate of games beginning with the Denver Nuggets taking on the Utah Jazz. Unfortunately, Utah was without starting point guard Mike Conley Jr., who left the bubble for the birth of his child.  The other games on the docket were the Brooklyn Nets facing the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers taking on the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers seeing the Dallas Mavericks.

The top seeds are locked in, Bucks who take on the Orlando Magic and Lakers battling the Trailblazers, but there’s this thing called upsets or we can call them “bubble-sets.”   See what I did there again?  There’s usually one or two every playoff season and this year is no different.  The rest of the field shapes out like so, the Indiana Pacers versus the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Houston Rockets.

Potential Bubble Busters

The first potential bubble buster is Dame Dolla and the Trailblazers. Upsetting the Lakers would be reminiscent of the ‘07 playoffs when Golden State defeated Dallas. They match up well but King James won’t be stopped, in year 17, averaging 25 PPG, and a league-leading 10 assists a contest. Also, they have to contend with Anthony Davis‘ 26 PPG. After those two stars, there’s a significant drop off in firepower especially with no Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo.

Portland has its own dynamic duo. Lillard is averaging 30 PPG, 8.0 APG, and is fifth in PER. Then you have CJ McCollum (22 PPG) who can light it up when he gets hot. Don’t forget, they also have an ‘03 draft alum in Carmelo Anthony; or should we say Slim Melo. Since the restart, he’s averaging 17.5 points a contest. The supporting cast appears to have the edge as well with Jusuf Nurkić averaging a double-double since coming back, Hassan Whiteside league leader in blocks at 2.9 and the bubble emergence of Gary Trent Jr.

The second team possibly popping bubbles is the defending champion Toronto Raptors. Though 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard left for sunny L.A. and nobody has to deal with Drake on the sidelines. Even as the second seed in the East, the Raptors are not getting their respect. They basically have the same team with a superb coach in former Coach of the Year Nick Nurse. Veterans Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka steady the team, Pascal Siakam continues to develop into a star. Lastly, we can’t leave out Fred VanVleet, who just came off a 30- point, 11-assist Game 1 performance. It’s highly likely the Raptors will clash with the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals again. Don’t be surprised if it’s deja vu.

Grab Your Front Row Virtual Seat

This year’s playoffs will definitely have a different feel. All the games are at one site, there’s no home-court advantage or crowds. Player reactions are different as the stars adjust to not being able to feed off the fans. Role players must step up without pressure from the fans. These are all factors that will bring more excitement to this year’s games.

Holy Bubble: Exploring Duo Dynamics in the NBA

The NBA departed from the “Big 3” formula of roster construction this season, leading to a slew of dynamic duos. The shutdown (and restart sans fans) means a financial crunch is coming; we could see this trend continue for the foreseeable future. So, let’s take a look at some of the top duos around the Association.

Duo Dynamics in the NBA

The King and Brow

We begin with the inspiration for this piece. Anthony Davis might be the best teammate LeBron James has ever played with. Perhaps you’ve heard, but James is in Year 17 of an illustrious career. His play, he’s averaging 25 points, eight rebounds, and leading the NBA with 10 assists per game. It’s important to note James leads the NBA in assists because Davis leads the Los Angeles Lakers in nearly every other statistic.

It’s understandable, then, that some would take umbrage with James garnering the MVP consideration. How can James be the best player in the league this year when he “isn’t even the best player on his own team”?

Aside from the Lakeshow looking completely lost without Bron on the floor, you mean? Take Thursday’s game against the Houston Rockets, for example.

With the Lakers clinching the 1-seed already, LeBron sat. Houston, though, was without Russell Westbrook (quad) too. This should have been a fairly even matchup, if not slightly in L.A.’s favor with Kyle Kuzma active and no comparable threat for the Rockets. Turns out, Kuzma certainly did his part to uplift the team in James’ absence. Davis, however, did not.

He didn’t have a bad game. 17 points and 12 boards is a solid performance for most guys. But it definitely wasn’t an ‘MVP’ performance against a depleted opponent. And it wasn’t befitting of the player deemed the heir apparent to the Lakers franchise.

This season, Anthony Davis has averaged 26.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game when he and LeBron are on the floor together (57 games). Without James (three games), Davis’ numbers take a hit, falling to 24 points and 1.7 assists. His blocks raise, but only slightly from 9.4 to 9.7 per game. Davis averaging fewer assist sans James is probably the most surprising stat.

When they share the court, James is putting up 25.2/10.2/8.1 per contest. James, by himself, is throwing up 27.6/11.4/7.6 per.

The disparity has been even more pronounced in the bubble. James started slow, averaging 19.3/10.0/6.3 in four games and sitting a fifth before playing against Indiana. Davis was 23.2/9.2/3.8 in that same span and the Lakers went 2-3.

It was LeBron with the 20-plus point performance while AD struggled (mightily) and the Lakers lost to the Pacers on Saturday. The margin was smaller than any of their other bubble losses, though.

James has a higher offensive rating and a lower (better) defensive rating. In fact, L.A.’s defensive rating is better with Davis off the floor. Without Davis, the Lakers are 6-2 and score 121 PPG. Without James, 2-2 at 110.5 PPG. Which brings us to James, at 35, having played in more games than the 27-year-old Davis. And when you consider Davis’ statistical advantages aren’t as great as some would have you believe, it’s not really that complicated.

The Process and Big Ben

Heading East, we find ourselves with two very polarizing players; both enigmatic in their own way. Joel Embiid might be the most dominant player in the NBA since Shaquille O’Neal when he’s right; both physically and mentally. Ben Simmons is Magic Johnson-ish only bigger and faster. The lack of a jumper is a big hurdle for Simmons. For Embiid, it’s always a volatile mixture of health and focus.

Together, these two can be among the most fun to watch. But there are far too many moments of a lack of spacing due to Simmons’ defender sloughing off. And while Embiid has about as complete a game as you’ll find in the NBA, the most important ability is availability.

So who has been more important to the 76ers? The answer might surprise you if you didn’t answer “trick question”.

Like in the case of LeBron and AD, we see Simmons with a higher offensive rating but Embiid has a better defensive rating. But their records are very similar without each other, though this season it has certainly favored Embiid. Maybe these aren’t as good of indicators in this instance; or at least not in comparison to how they impact each other.

Embiid, in 165 games with Simmons, averages 24.9 points, 12.2 boards, and 3.4 assists. Without it’s 25.2/11.6/2.9; granted in a much smaller sample size of 10 games compared to 52 the other way. For Simmons, its 15.8/8.1/8.1 with Embiid and 18.3/9.0/7.5 without.

Philly is 27-25 with Simmons but without Embiid and 6-4 when the opposite occurs. Again, the sample size is an issue with deciding here.

But all of that is career numbers, what about 2020? Joel is 5-2 without Ben while Ben is 9-7 without Joel. Many will want to give Joel the nod for the higher win percentage but, clearly, after reading the first entry, you know we won’t be discounting availability here.

Simmons was putting up 11.7/7.0/4.3 in three games before being shut down and having surgery for a torn meniscus. While Embiid has been a monster in the bubble averaging 30.0/13.5/3.3 and the 76ers are 3-1 in Orlando, the injury looms large. Simmons will obviously miss the rest of the season barring, perhaps, a Finals appearance.

The comparisons to Shaq aren’t just hyperbole for Emiid’s stature, demeanor, and dominance. It also refers to the need to have that guard or wing player to truly unlock his, and his team’s, full potential.

Of course, the simpler answer is that they need each other. Ben needs Embiid to be the wrecking ball and Embiid needs Simmons to operate the crane. Together they have a win percentage well above .600, separate we see talented individuals that are missing something.

The Beard and Brodie

The Beard and Brodie were polarizing together before they were polarizing apart, reaching the NBA Finals with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011. But their lore has only since that time. Russell Westbrook won MVP on the strength of averaging a triple-double for an entire season (something he did two more times after) and is having his best scoring season since then.

James Harden is on his third-straight season scoring 30-plus points and actually won his own MVP the season after Westbrook. He has been vocal in his pursuit of another MVP and even went as far as to take shots at reigning (and likely repeating) MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

This one isn’t really a “who’s more important” (it’s Harden) as much as it is people might not realize how important Westbrook is to the Houston Rockets.

He had developed a pretty bad reputation as a guy who cared more about the stat sheet than the win column. For running off superstar teammates in Kevin Durant and Paul George (neither of which appears to be true).

Swap out Westbrook’s name for Harden’s and Durant/George for Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony and you can leave everything else the same.

But Houston went out and traded for Westbrook; “rescuing” him from the doldrums that were sure to hit the Oklahoma City Thunder (but never did). That sent two messages. First, it signaled Harden’s willingness to adjust, even if only slightly to bring in perhaps the only point guard who would need the ball more than Paul, and was a worse shooter to boot.

The other message was that at least one organization outside of OKC felt he was the missing piece to the puzzle. If you don’t think so just look at the changes made to the roster following Westbrook’s addition.

Westbrook is shooting just over 25 percent from deep (yuck). He’s never been a great three-point shooter, save for one season when he shot 40 percent. Houston’s system is a percentages game where they only take threes or layup/dunks. They allowed some mid-range stuff when they acquired Paul but Westbrook provided the unique challenge of floor spacing.

Houston’s solution was to move center Clint Capela and run an offense where the tallest player on the floor at any given moment is 6-foot-7. Think Golden State’s death lineup but more concentrated.

That’s a lot to change just for a pice or someone you brought in to placate the face of the franchise. Clearly, they have a much higher opinion of him than that. We’ll see how it pays off.

A Fresh Pair of Jays

The youngest pair in our deep dive into duo dynamics across the NBA, Jayson Tatum entered the league with all the fanfare and continues to be the more publicized of the two. And perhaps that is rightfully so, but Jaylen Brown entered a year earlier and has developed into a very key piece for the Boston Celtics.

In case you haven’t noticed, this is another one where we’re more highlighting the importance of the “sidekick” than asking who is better. Though, the answer to that latter question might deserve more scrutiny than most realize.

Interestingly enough, they were both selected third overall. But the similarities don’t stop there. They were both taken after the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers picked first and second, respectively.

Taytum was in contention to be the first-overall selection in ‘17 before ultimately going behind Markelle Fultz and Lozo Ball; a mistake that probably haunts some in the 76ers and Lakers organizations to this day. Brown was never going over Brandon Ingram, let alone number one pick Ben Simmons.

Brown’s first year he averaged 6.6 points per game while mostly coming off the bench. Tatum started 80 games and scored nearly 14 points per as a rookie. Now it’s worth mentioning that Brown’s output jumped substantially with more playing time as a starter.

More important about that season is it was Kyrie Irving’s first (of two) seasons in Boston but he missed the postseason allowing Tatum and Brown to shine on the biggest stage.

Here’s where it gets interesting because Tatum got all the hype for his 18.5/4.4/2.7 and, at just 19 years old, deservedly so. But Brown was no slouch. He came in just behind Tatum with 18.0 points, 4.8 boards, and 1.4 assists of his own. Brown was even the high-scorer for Boston, with a 34-point performance against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round; a series Boston won in seven games.

We also have to consider Brown’s defense. It’s Tatum who has the better Defensive Real Plus-Minus, but it is Brown who regularly draws the tougher assignment. That is both in terms of individual talent as well as variety.

Tatum’s maturation into a two-way player should not be overlooked by any means. But context is key and if we are going to praise one for realizing his potential on both ends of the floor, Brown might need to get those roses first. So far in the bubble, Brown is putting up the better line, but that is largely due to a horrendous first game from Tatum. Minus that game, they’re within a point.

Again, this one isn’t about who is better. Just, whenever we mention how stellar Jayson Tatum has been, we need to be sure to mention how important Jaylen Brown is and how far he’s come.

Kyrie Irving is the NBA’s Broken Clock

“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”. That quote from Marie von Ebner sticks out as much of the conversation about returning has centered around Brooklyn Nets mercurial point guard, Kyrie Irving. Some peers have responded, but are they even disagreeing? That’s what you would think if you only saw it through the lens of social media.

Tweets get crafted to maximize the impact (see: likes and retweets) all the time. But in this instance, leaving out an entire part of Irving’s comments has led to a backlash that seems fueled more by his reputation than the actual content.

Kyrie Irving, a Broken Clock in the NBA

First, what exactly did Kyrie say?

“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving told the players. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.” – per Shams Charania

His reported words prompted responses from several other players including Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, who said “Hoopers say what y’all want. If @King James said he hooping. We all hooping. Not personal only BUSINESS.” His reference to LeBron James is fair because he regularly practices his activism while playing. But Irving’s comments weren’t really speaking to the ability to do both.

Former players-turned-analysts Jay Williams and Kendrick Perkins also spoke against Irving, with the latter going so far to say “He’s not a powerful voice; he’s a popular voice” and that “All he’s doing is ruffling the feathers for no reason. The NBA is going to continue.” That’s tough coming from a retired player and still misses Irving’s message.

All of this is in addition to some prominent commentators like Stephen A. Smith. But it has been Houston Rockets guard (and coach’s son) Austin Rivers’ reply via a lengthy Instagram post that has gotten the most publicity. The well-stated rebuttal spoke of being able to both play and affect social change. It also said that for the majority of the players in the league, sitting out isn’t feasible as “99% of the NBA hasn’t made the money” Kyrie has.

Rivers wasn’t wrong in anything that he said.

But there is a problem: Irving AGREES with him. And any other player that wants to return, for that matter. It’s just that his reputation has preceded him.

The former Cleveland Cavalier and Boston Celtic earlier opined about the freedoms players would have when in the NBA’s “bubble”. Those concerns included spa treatments and were roundly met with virtual side-eyes.

This time was different, though. Yes, Irving said that he would rather focus on social justice reform. But he also said something else that has gone underreported.

“If it’s worth the risk, then let’s go and do it,” Irving said on the call, sources said. “But if you’re not with it, it’s OK, too. We’ve got options for both ways. Let’s just come to a middle ground as a family.” – per Chris Haynes

In Regards to the Money

Irving said, “There’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that. Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us.” Some say Irving has is backward and that the max contract system keeps the disparity in check, but again they are missing the point. Players who have yet to land that contract would logically be less inclined to rock the boat.

See, an important bit of information to remember is that Irving was voted as vice president of the NBPA. That means raising the concerns of the many, no matter how trivial, to the attention of the few most powerful is quite literally his job. So while you may think some of the points were silly, that doesn’t mean they weren’t brought up in private.

That’s the other part that seems be getting swept away. With all the talk of what the stars want (we already know the likes of LeBron, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, and Anthony Davis want to return), the dissenting voices have already been drowned out.

Lakers big Dwight Howard, well-traveled and mercurial in his own right, has voiced support for Irving. He went even further suggesting the NBA needn’t return until “we get things resolved.” Lakers guard Avery Bradley also spoke up on the call in which Irving aired his grievances.

Other Players Spoke Out Too

Donovan Mitchell spoke about the dangers of returning after a layoff and is pushing for insurance for players. CJ McCollum voted ‘no’ to returning but also warned players of potentially contentious negotiations when the CBA expires should players sit out. Kyle Kuzma is also seeking insurance but flat out said, “Some of us want to hoop and compete don’t get that twisted.” He too seems to have only heard part of Irving’s argument.

That’s what is so telling about the backlash Kyrie has received. It is disproportionate to what he said.

He rightfully expressed issues that, as we see, aren’t necessarily his own. This is especially true with the increase in the number of cases in the host-state of Florida. But even more than that, he left the door wide open to continue the season if that is what the majority want.

But because of his history of being me-first and that whole flat-earth thing, people readily dismissed what he said. The best part is that they are all agreeing with Rivers even though he said the exact reason why Irving was speaking out against returning amid all the civil unrest in the country.

“Not saying that basketball is a cure for that but basketball can maybe provide a distraction.”

Bingo

The distraction is the part Irving (and Howard) are trying to avoid. And it’s already happening as we see the push to return ramp up even amid continuing concern over COVID-19 and protests. But all the other stuff is true too and that’s the issue. We are so busy trying to pick a side, that we forgot we are all on the same side. No person has embodied that more than Kyrie, the NBA’s broken clock

The NBA is Getting Set for Second Act

The NBA returns to action Thursday and the second act is set up to be just as thrilling as the first. With that in mind, we can take a brief moment and assess some burning questions. Some are award related while others will be about playoff seeding and advancement. And then some pertain to player movement this offseason.

NBA Second Act Sure to Deliver

The Bearded Freak

This year’s MVP is seemingly down to two people in most eyes, with the Houston Rockets James Harden defending his mantle against the Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is not an easy choice, Harden leads the NBA in numerous categories (scoring, minutes per game, box plus/minus, and PER to name a few) and mostly increased his counting stats over last year’s MVP-winning effort. Likewise, Giannis has increased his numbers while leading the NBA in defensive rating, defensive win shares, and total win shares. His team also sits atop the East at the moment.

Harden leads the NBA in turnovers and some even consider his high free throw totals a knock. He leads in usage rate due to the rash of injuries the Rockets have sustained. Harden carried the team through stretches this season but even he conceded the team would not keep winning playing exclusively through him. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon are healthy and Clint Capela is set to join them, so it remains to be seen if Harden’s numbers take a hit. The biggest thing working against him, specifically in this conversation, is the Rockets record. If they finish top-three and his numbers stay close, he could repeat.

The Greek Freak

Antetokounmpo — the Bucks Swi…Greek-army knife – is also seeing a jump in his stats, albeit to a lesser extent. He leads the team in points, assists, and rebounds. He is shooting a lower percentage from three and the stripe this year, but he raised his attempts per game on such shots. His biggest positives, at least for purists are his team’s record and his effort on the defensive end. If they win the East it will be hard not to give the award to the best player on the best team in a conference; a feat the Rockets are unlikely to achieve.

Stats will favor Harden and even Giannis’ lead in win shares is only .1 with the former’s offense nearly countering the defensive edge of the latter. Harden’s detractors will say he has been stat-chasing this year. It is not unfair to keep bringing up the injuries to Houston but Milwaukee just seems to be put together better and, most importantly, around the Greek Freak. That might hurt him in the eyes of some, but again, the best player on the team with (potentially) the best record may be enough to override that.

Playoff Hokey Pokey

The Los Angeles Lakers are in year one of the LeBron show in Hollywood and have dealt with numerous injuries including a groin injury to LBJ. The first has typically been a transitional year when Bron has changed teams in the past, but he does not have many of those left. They have the horses to make the playoffs but will need to get things together because their remaining schedule is the ninth-toughest with games against the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, and two against the Bucks. If they make it and catch the Dubs early in the postseason things could get interesting.

Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo ruptured his quad at the end of January but the team had won six straight before losing to the Bucks before the break. Their remaining schedule is the eighth-toughest and has two more road games than home games; notable given their 16-12 record away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They are not a team built around a single player, per se. But he was their best player and that matters down the stretch and in the playoffs. Their remaining slate features the Bucks, Warriors, and two apiece against the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder. All of those could very well be losses.

West Coast Royalty

The Sacramento Kings currently reside in the ninth spot in the West. They made the surprise acquisition of Harrison Barnes and went 6-4 in before the break. They will also face one of the easier schedules the rest of the way. The Los Angeles Clippers (the team currently occupying the eighth-seed) have a slightly easier schedule but the Kings are the more talented group. It has been a long time (13 years) since they have even sniffed the playoffs but this year is a fun story to watch that may get an extended run.

Back East, the Brooklyn Nets are very similar to the Kings. They have been toiling in the doldrums of the league as they recovered from their failed attempt at a super team. They made some shrewd moves and drafted well and now sit sixth in the East. D’Angelo Russell has blossomed and even made his first All-Star appearance as an injury replacement. They are a young team though and that could hurt them down the stretch. They face the third-toughest schedule in the NBA.

Send Me Your Location

Before the break, we had the drama of Anthony Davis trying to fly the coup after the New Orleans Pelicans rebuffed the Lakers offers. The belief was that New Orleans wanted to wait for more potential bidders this summer, namely the Boston Celtics. That decision cost GM Dell Demps his job. While it is understandable after trading for and then losing Boogie Cousins, who was brought in to aid in retaining Davis, how does this help with getting close to fair trade value?

A video surfaced from All-Star weekend of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spending a lot of time together. The two are friends and Irving even bristled at the notion that a particular clip constituted any basis for hints at the pair teaming up on the New York Knicks. Irving may not want to entertain the potential team-up, but it will not stop the rumor mill from swirling. Some of it is certainly noise, but both stars have given somewhat vague answers regarding their futures. Again, that is their prerogative. Irving’s response was even Durant-like in its defiance.

Dame’s Lane

Damian Lillard recently reiterated he would rather stay with the Portland Trailblazers without a championship than “sell himself out” for one. That is a noble and refreshing take, especially with the current landscape of the Association. This could be a situation where a team has to ‘save’ Liilard from himself. It is possible he could win a championship in Portland, but his current team’s roster does not stack up well against the rest of the continuing teams. It will be interesting to see what happens with Lillard and backcourt mate C.J. McCollum.

Raptors fans had to have been thinking things were looking up when it came to keeping their prized trade-acquisition, Kawhi Leonard. That is until he came out with this during this past weekend’s festivities. It highlights a fundamental snag in their plan from the start. He is from California and has been determined to get to L.A. or bust. That may be the Lakers with LeBron, it may be to the Clippers with KD. Whatever the case Leonard is not a fan of snow and Canada won’t be getting rid of winter anytime soon.

Let the NBA’s Second Act Commence

No one knows how the second half of the season will unfold. You can bet it will be full of surprises and upsets but please hold the injuries, basketball gods. That way we can focus on if one of the favorites wins MVP, who makes the playoffs and who misses, and where will all the pieces land when the dust settles after free agency this offseason.