Tag Archives: Julius Randle

NBA Teams Getting Hot Just in Time for the Playoffs

The 2021 NBA playoffs are set to begin in just over two weeks and, if you’ve been keeping track of all the injuries, they can’t start soon enough. But a more direct question is which teams are getting their act together just in time for the second season. The ones that have weathered the storm and now have their collective sights set on a greater accomplishment than a top-seed.

Which NBA Teams are Getting Hot at the Right Time for the Playoffs?

The Grinders

Washington Wizards

We keep trying to write the Washington Wizards off and they just won’t go away. After an 0-3 start to April, the Wizards went 13-3 the rest of the month. They’ve split their two games so far this month, but are now in 10th and have a shot at the playoffs via the play-in. Say what you want, but this is a team that was supposed to be dead in the water. All of this is gravy for Russell Westbrook and puts Bradley Beal in an interesting position regarding his long-term future.

Denver Nuggets

Everyone (present company included) thought the Denver Nuggets ship was sunk when Jamal Murray went down. Well since then, Denver is 9-2, the second-best record in the NBA over that span. Nikola Jokic has averaged 27.1 PPG, 10.9 RPG, and 6.9 APG. Those numbers are down from his full-season averages, but part of that is due to the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. He’s been a top-20 scorer since Murray went down, averaging 25.0 PPG while shooting nearly 57 percent from the floor and over 49 percent from deep.

The Surprises

New York Knicks

A hot start by the upstart New York Knicks gave way to a lull that most probably saw coming. After all, this team is overachieving by most standards. It would make sense for a late-season swoon from a bunch of guys not used to winning. But the bounceback was strong with this one and the Knickerbockers, fresh off of a 6-9 stretch, have won 12 of 13, including nine in a row. There aren’t many teams that want to face this team in the postseason.

Phoenix Suns

We did an entire write-up on Chris Paul and how his impact on every team he’s been on has allowed him to be one of the few who escape the “rings or bust” narrative we often see around the game’s greats. Pairing him with Devin Booker has proven to be trouble for the rest of the West. Granted, injuries have run amuck in the NBA and Western Conference teams haven’t been immune. But, at a certain point, durability is just like any other skill.

The Disappointments

Lake (No) Show

Injuries have been a constant this season so barring any extenuating circumstances, it isn’t an excuse for our purposes. As such, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are limping their way to the finish line as Anthony Davis and LeBron James both knock off the rust from extended absences. It isn’t wholly unexpected, they and the Miami Heat (who have also been ravaged by injuries and COVID protocols) had just a little over two months between seasons. Basically, in this case, “disappointment” is less of a pejorative and more so just an acknowledgment.

Boston Baked Cs

Another focus of a Clocker Sports write-up, the Danny Ainge Boston Celtics have seen the sheen wear off of them. So much so that there were even questions of whether or not Brad Stevens was the right man for the job. They too have dealt with injuries and shook up their roster with mid-season trades. But for a group that has reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four years, anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be viewed as a failure. They’re 2-4 over their last six but they do have one of the easier remaining schedules.

Risers and Fallers Ahead of NBA Playoffs

The NBA Playoffs are right around the corner and most of these teams are doing the right things to get themselves prepared. But things can change so they have to keep up the intensity down the stretch. For those on the skids, at least those in our examples, returning players and weaker opponents appear to be saviors on the horizon.

Well-Deserved 2021 NBA All-Star Nominations and Snubs

When the NBA All-Star reserves were announced on Tuesday, there was a lot to talk about. There were a couple of first-timers who have ground in anonymity for some time but are finally getting their due. Some are putting together quality and even breakout seasons but find themselves on the outside looking in.

You’ll never satisfy everyone. Some fan bases say their guy was snubbed. Others get indignant at the thought their guy doesn’t belong. It’s almost as if the league does this on purpose to keep the conversation going. By the way, this is all in the East. We can address why the West got it right next time.

Best 2021 NBA All-Star Game Selections and Snubs in the Eastern Conference

The Noobs

Zach LaVine – G – Chicago Bulls

It’s been a tumultuous career for Zach LaVine. Since entering the league in 2014. He had four different head coaches over his first four seasons in the NBA. Then he dealt with Fred Hoiberg and Jim Boylen; back-to-back! They tried turning him into point guard as a rookie. But he’s turned himself into one of the best scorers in the NBA. This season he’s averaging a career-high 28.6 points per game.

But while we’ve known LaVine could score for some time, his efficiency has taken him to another level. A career .438 shooter, he’s up to .518 this season. He’s extended that beyond the arc, too. LaVine’s canning threes at a .434 clip; also a career-high. Many felt he was snubbed last season when the game was in Chicago. There is no such controversy this time around.

Julius Randle – F – New York Knicks

The New York area has done well with reclamation projects from the Los Angeles Lakers. First, it was the Nets and D’Angelo Russell. We see where they are now. But now the New York Knicks are making waves in the East with one Julius Randle at the forefront. Randle is averaging 23.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists.

He’s one of just three players this season averaging at least 20 points, 10 boards, and five assists; Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic are the others. Randle has been a 20-point-per-game scorer so he’ll likely miss out on winning the Most Improved Player award, but he and the Knicks are rolling towards their first playoff appearance since the 2012-13 season.

The Snubs

Trey Young – G – Atlanta Hawks

How does one go from starting the All-Star game one year to being completely left off the roster the next? One word: regression. Last season, Young averaged 29.6 points on .434/.361/.860 shooting. His effective field goal percentage has also taken a hit this season, dipping to .498 after being .519 a year ago. This despite his increased playmaking and a better record for Atlanta.

You also have Kyrie Irving back healthy and Bradley Beal who led all Eastern Conference backcourt players in all voting categories. For Young personally, he’s seen his average ranking between the three votes go from second to about seventh. His largest dip? In player voting. His peers have a lesser opinion of what he’s done this season than last. That’s pretty damning.

Jerami Grant – F – Detroit Pistons

This one stings as someone who has been rooting for Jerami Grant since he entered the league with Philadelphia. He’s the current betting favorite to win Most Improved Player this season, but he wasn’t good enough to make the All-Star roster? It’s actually very on-brand that Grant, despite the breakout campaign that’s seen him double his points per game and more than double his assists, remains an All-Star hopeful.

Just as it was with LaVine before him (and Beal before him), voters obviously need to see it done consistently to not write it off as an anomaly. LaVine had to improve his efficiency before being selected as a reserve this season. Beal had to prove he could be a primary scorer, when teams would know he was getting the ball, before earning his nod. Grant will have his time, eventually.

City of Brotherly Snubs

The Philadelphia 76ers offer the singular best display of the depth voters actually have when picking these rosters. Ben Simmons is averaging 15.7 points, 7.9 assists, and 8.3 boards a game. The former two numbers represent drops over his previous season’s output. But Simmons’s defensive presence and playmaking are empirically vital.

Tobias Harris is averaging career-highs in points, assists, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage, and is averaging the second-most rebounds of his career. One has to believe it’s Simmons’s defensive prowess that offset and overtook what Harris has brought this season. That isn’t to diminish Harris’s contributions, just to say there’s more nuance to the voters than we give them credit for.

The East’s NBA All-Star Nominations and Snubs

All in all, the East got it right. We just may not like how they got there. But even that shows a level of depth to the voting process that we have long felt was missing. Who was your favorite NBA All-Star selection or worst snub?