Category Archives: NBA

The Celtics and 76ers pull off an even trade?

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On Monday, it was made official. The Boston Celtics are trading the number one pick in tomorrow’s draft to the Philadelphia 76ers, who in return will send Gang Green the third pick plus either the selection they gained from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 or if that stays protected, they’ll deliver a pick garnered from the Sacramento Kings in 2019.

Could this, in all honesty, be a great deal for both sides if all things come to fruition?

Starting with the team in Pennsylvania, adding Markelle Fultz to their growing core could be a potential blockbuster move. It allows them to move Ben Simmons into a more natural small forward role, or even as a combo guard next to the Washington standout, with both able to score and make plays for others.

Add the frightening talents of Joel Embiid, if he can stay healthy, and the surprising rise of Dario Saric into the mix and you have a young foundation of which a high-quality team can be built out of. Again, the sticking point is them staying fit and those high picks playing to their potential but with Brett Brown at the helm, there could be real hope of the 76ers being contenders in 2-3 years’ time.

Even if it does blow up, say that Embiid can’t stay healthy or the college form of their two number one picks doesn’t translate to the NBA, they haven’t given up a whole lot. They still own their own pick and should that Lakers one drops out of the 2-5 safety net, they’ll keep the Kings pick too, which at least for the time being looks like it could still be in the lottery bar a dramatic shift in California.

Trusting the process might have finally paid off.

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As for the Celtics, they can now stack up their options on their terms before deciding where their immediate future lies. They want to contend as soon as they can, they want to add another superstar in the mix and don’t want to overload a backfield in a year that they could challenge the dominance of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

For starters, drafting Fultz might have been a good move for the future but for the now, he would have been sitting behind both Isaiah Thomas, the face of the franchise, and Avery Bradley, one of the best two-way guards in the league.

That’s not to say a combination of him and Marcus Smart coming off the bench wouldn’t have been frightening, it’s just that bringing him on board might convince more than one of those three to jump ship. If you’re Bradley, for example, will Boston give you as big of a deal as you should be getting if they have a number one pick in your position on the roster?

So, dropping to three gives them the perfect opportunity to draft Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson, both forwards that could be solid enough to finally give them depth at the big position. Add to that, they give themselves a safety net should free agency not come together or an asset that other teams might covet in a trade.

It also doesn’t limit them come July to go after Gordon Hayward either. The team would be delighted to have a high draft pick off the bench while the current Utah Jazz forward supplements the already solid starting five and they could play a number of interesting small ball mixes with them as well.

Should they miss there, picking up another draft pick to dangle in front of teams looking at trades can also only be a good thing. That extra pick could be enough to push Chicago into a deal, with the Celtics having another in their back pocket should they decide to hand the Bulls a king’s ransom for Jimmy Butler.

The fact of the matter is, unlike most trades in any of the big American sports, there are big positives from both teams. Both still have options if the eventual results do not pay off, while they could be even competing toe-to-toe down the line if everything goes exactly to plan.

In that eventuality, one might be annoyed at the other for gifting them that win but if it pushes you closer to the promised land of the NBA Finals, are you really that disappointed?

Now it’s time to just sit back and watch the fireworks on draft night.

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Do the Boston Celtics stick or twist?

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It has been a pretty interesting week for the Boston Celtics.

On the court, they have reached the Eastern Conference Finals just four years removed from being outside of the playoffs looking in, while off it, their crazy trade with the Brooklyn Nets around the same time has earned them the top pick in a widely perceived loaded draft.

What a time to be in green.

If only they didn’t get blown out by 40 points in their own building by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then see their best player ruled out for the rest of the postseason.

Swings and roundabout. At least they’ve won a game now.

However, that could have been the perfect wake-up call to a team that might got a little ahead of themselves after finishing as the top seed in the East. The Cavs had a pretty poor end to the regular season but have been irrepressible in the playoffs, highlighting the gap that Boston still has to close to get anywhere near a championship.

So, with a handsome wealth of options to go down, which way should the Celtics go to push themselves into that Finals conversation? Do they keep their top tier picks or do they trade them away for proven talent that can match the riches in Cleveland and at Golden State?

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Option one seems to be there forethought at the moment, holding their cards close to their chest. Regardless of which route they will take, unless they have a trade already set in motion, they will pick the best available player with that first pick in the 2017 draft with the view that they can develop him if they want to.

Their actual focus goes beyond that and into free agency. Numerous outlets are reporting Boston’s significant interest in signing Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, a first-time All Star this season and someone who could relieve some of the scoring burden off of Isaiah Thomas’ shoulders.

If Hayward does join, the Celtics have the cap space to make it happen and a better opportunity for him to win a championship sooner, then trading becomes an afterthought. Not only is he filling a hole both on a scoring and quality level, he also plays in the same position of their two rumoured trade targets.

Should the former Butler Bulldog stay in Salt Lake City, then they should be on the phone to other teams. With Jimmy Butler and Paul George both looking like the best options, they should go all in on getting one to boost the Green’s chances against the Cavaliers.

Both are quality scorers over a number of seasons lumbered on see-sawing franchises. Butler is the tougher deal but more likely to sign a long-term contract, George should be easier to move for but there has been much chatter about his desire to eventually join the Los Angeles Lakers, whether he’s traded this summer or not.

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Then the question becomes whether the price to get either of them where they also agree to an extension, will it be worth the price? That first pick in a loaded draft this year could give them an asset on a strong contract that if they are lucky, could contribute from the off.

Add to that the likelihood that they’d have to give away their 2018 pick from the Brooklyn Nets as well and it’s instantly looking more like a poor decision for the long term. With that draft choice likely to be a high one again, why mortgage a potential long-term future that could build another dynasty for a short-term goal?

That tends to be the thinking in basketball, trust the known commodity over the unknown potential when hunting for glory. In the modern era of the number of superstars dictating your number of championships, many feel the Celtics need to headhunt if they want to even think of challenging.

There’s no surprise that their first option is the one they feel strongest towards as keeping their cards in their deck only enhances their chances. Entice Hayward along, add him to Thomas and a solid starting line-up with the hope that the rookies over the next two years can not only contribute but push for starring roles.

Regardless of what happens, it will be an interesting future that could even shape the future of the NBA. When July 1st comes round for free agency, it will become much clearer as to which direction one of the most storied franchises in NBA history is heading.

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Why Erik Spoelstra should be Coach of the Year

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A few years ago, people would have you believe that the Miami Heat could have anyone coaching the trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to their two NBA championships.

Those voices are eerily silent now, wonder why that would be?

Maybe because Erik Spoelstra has knitted together a group of rag tag players that have rebounded back from an 11-30 start to the season to being on the brink of the Eastern Conference playoffs. If they finish above .500, they will be the first team to recover from a 19-game deficit to be above that average at the end of the season.

It started with the end of an era, as Dwayne Wade decided to say farewell to the south coast and returned home. Combined with the admission that Bosh would likely never play the game due to reoccurring blood clots, Miami looked to be resetting to a rebuild of their roster.

They started by making sure their best prospect didn’t skip town. Hassan Whiteside was tied down to a big deal, anchoring the team alongside the likes of Goran Dragic and youngsters like Justice Winslow.

As previously mentioned, they floundered around early on. What did come out of every defeat, from every coach and broadcasting team, was despite their record the Heat would put in maximum effort for the entire game and never allow anyone an easy night.

Seemingly out of the playoff run by the turn of the year, they all of a sudden clicked into place. The defensive principles that the coach reminded them every night, the system to get more threes into their game and adding that to the effort they were already showing mixed into a potent cocktail.

From January 17th, they rattled off 13 straight victories that included wins against the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and the Golden State Warriors. Including that run, Miami have gone 24-6 which has seen them go a game clear in the eighth spot in the playoffs and they have yet to lose two games back-to-back.

One factor in that has been their defence, which has been stellar all season. They rank 5th in the league in points allowed, they lead the league in three-pointers made in a game against them and every single night, just watching them rush round the court like a pack of Jack Russell’s, you know they play hard on that end of the floor.

What has changed in recent times is their offensive output, with their points per game average going up by a whopping 10 points per game for the months of February and March. The offence is finally clicking, players are believing in their ability and that confidence is flowing throughout the line-up.

Whiteside was a beast all year and is still currently leading the league in rebounds while sitting third in blocks. Dragic is a great point guard in a league filled with them, but those two alone were never going to be enough to push the Heat into the postseason.

Their push starts with Dion Waiters, the odd man out for many years has finally come out of the shadows. Averaging 15.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, all career highs and he isn’t afraid to take that big game shot, hitting huge game-winning threes against the Charlotte Hornets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, his old team.

No wonder he feels he has that Philly Cheese swag.

Add to that the Johnson brothers, Tyler and James, who bring such a burst of the bench. The former is averaging 13.8 points per game, justifying his expensive extension in the summer, while the latter is not far behind on 12.3 ppg.

Both are averaging over four boards and three assists per game and bring so much energy in the second quarters. Neither has started a game all season but when they are on the court, they allow Miami to switch gears but lose none of the intensity.

That’s saying nothing of other role players like Wayne Ellington, who’s been dynamite from three-point range in recent weeks, or Rodney McGruder, who doesn’t fill the box score but brings great defence every night. Willie Reed does plenty in his short minutes to give Whiteside a breather, Josh Richardson is growing into a fine player and they all add something to this time.

When you also think they’ve missed Justice Winslow in that stretch, especially just as he was ascending into the line-up, and the Heat finally have direction. Unlike so many other mid-card teams in the NBA, they have an identity, they have the right kind of players and they have a foundation they can hopefully pull an interesting rebuild into quickly.

Those that are fighting for that first seed are praying that the Heat either finish seventh or fade away. Even if a series goes 4-0, all of those teams know it will be an incredibly hard-fought battle to sweep a team that brings everything night in and night out.

While Mike D’Antoni has done wonders for the offensive juggernaut that is the Rockets but Spoelstra’s efforts, should the Heat get to the post-season, are beyond miraculous. They aren’t just a team, they are a culture and after their boom years of buying big, they now have a network from which they can structure another championship run.

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Winners and losers of the NBA’s trade deadline

The NBA trade deadline is like their transfer deadline day, only things happen and less dildos are thrown by supporters outside stadiums. In this more civilised yet slightly more complex set-up, it can lead to some teams changing their seasons after the All-Star break while others decide to blow things up now ready for the summer.

So, with all that in mind, who came out smelling of roses and who had the scent of rolling around in a pig sty? Here’s a look at the winners and losers from last week’s deadline.

 

Winners

Houston Rockets

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Lou Williams was a super pick-up for the attack-minded Rockets. Source: The Undefeated.

If you want to see what a playoff team needs to do to give themselves an extra push at the trade deadline, you only need peer through the doors of the Toyota Center. They solidified their bench by adding Lou Williams, who could still be in the running for Sixth Man of the Year alongside new teammate Eric Gordon, while moving KJ McDaniel’s slightly weighty wage to make that much-needed room to breathe in the buyout market.

To say this team really need another shooter is like saying Scrooge McDuck needs more gold but then again, you can’t argue with a couple more doubloons to add to the collection. With the Golden State Warriors worrying about Kevin Durant’s health and the San Antonio Spurs not quite as powerful as before, the Rockets now see their chance to contend against the best in the Western conference.

They are fun, exciting and might have just elevated themselves into a real contender.

 

Toronto Raptors

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If Ibaka returns to form, this goes from a decent to a fantastic move. Source: NBA

With an almighty scuffle looking to break out at the top of the Eastern Conference, it was the Toronto Raptors that looked to try and steal a march on everyone else. Adding Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker to their ranks gives them more depth up front and should make the better on defence too.

If they can get the Spaniard back playing to his potential, Ibaka could be a steal and could even be a bargain come the summer to sign on a longer deal. Tucker has put in some solid displays for the Phoenix Suns this season and with other teams sniffing around, the Raptors will be delighted to have snapped him up too.

The injury to Kyle Lowry has probably killed any momentum towards the top of the playoff order but the Raptors will not be sorry come the postseason when the gloves come off.

 

Losers

New York Knicks

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The Rose experiment hasn’t worked and they should have done more to get Rubio through the door. Source: Daily Knicks

It seems like the Knicks can’t trade anyone away at the moment. They tried to kick Carmelo Anthony out the door and just when they thought they had found Derrick Rose a home, the Minnesota Timberwolves slammed the door in their face.

In all honesty, they needed to push harder to get Ricky Rubio in and start this new era at Madison Square Garden. Finally, someone would have passed the ball on this team and maybe they could be moving forward but instead, Phil Jackson will keep fighting Melo and owner Jimmy Dolan will keep fighting the fans in what really is becoming a real miss.

Sorry, Kristaps.

 

Boston Celtics

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The Celtics are pretty good but could have been sensational if they had nabbed either George or Butler. Source: Business Insider

This is a little harsh, since they are still a pretty good team, but could they not get us so excited if it wasn’t going to happen? The Celtics were amping everyone up that they may pull off a blockbuster move for either Paul George or Jimmy Butler, yet neither managed to come to the TD Garden.

Either would have been a quality addition that would have pushed Boston into the upper-upper echelon of the NBA but they were thwarted. The Indiana Pacers wanted more than they were willing to play, while the Chicago Bulls are under some kind of spell that tells them the playoffs now are more important than their impending and almost certain rebuild.

A toast to what could have been, Boston, but don’t get our hopes up again.

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Who wins in the DeMarcus Cousins trade?

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This could be a dynamic duo. Source: Sports Illustrated

On Sunday, just after the conclusion of All-Star Weekend, the Sacramento Kings traded their only representative in the game DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans.

In return, they received young shooter Buddy Hield, returning from injury veteran Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and the Pelicans’ two picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, with the first rounder top-three protected. The Pels also acquire Omri Casspi as part of the deal.

Wait, there’s more.

Kings general manager Vlade Divac admitted he had a better offer for Cousins two days previously but decided against taking it at that time. He instead went with a weaker offer from New Orleans, with a number of teams also trying to pitch a deal in the final moments.

What is at least initially apparent are two things, one for each side. The Pelicans finally have an All-Star to go with the supremely talented Anthony Davis, creating a devastating two towers in the frontcourt, while the Kings signalled that enough was enough with Boogie.

A tempestuous six-and-a-half year stint of failing to have a winning season, throwing fits against coaches and teammates alike while consistently being a headache with attitude on the court finally meant a divorce for Sacramento and Cousins. They couldn’t take any more.

The Sac team couldn’t afford the risk of tying him to a big deal to keep him, despite Cousins’ desire to stay and earn the big bucks. The return they got was paltry at best, unless they can draft two big players in the summer to help start the rebuild, but there simply wasn’t a big enough market for him.

There’s no doubting Cousins’ talent, an All-Star player that had been overlooked for a few years before making it and a real pest on offense and on the boards. What you also gain is his 16 technical this season, a league high that led to a suspension, along with a raft of coaches that simply didn’t fit his mould.

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Pressure is on Divac to deliver after this trade. Source:

That’s also not to say that the road to redemption can’t lie in New Orleans. This is Davis’ team, a growing leader and someone that respects what Boogie brings to the table.

No longer is the burden solely on him, no longer should he feel the need to do everything on every single night. Both finally have someone to lean on, someone to learn from and someone they can potentially create a devastating core with.

At the same time, they need to keep their eye on Boogie. Help him mature, guide him in the way that’s needed to get the best out of him or this could explode in your face, which could even affect Davis’ future with the franchise as well.

Meanwhile, back in California, they can start anew. The owner, the GM and the coach are no longer tied to someone they were always uneasy with but attached to that is the fact that they now need to prove it was the right decision for everyone.

If they swing and miss in the draft, if they fail to show signs of a rebuild on a team that should have built around Cousins anyway, then it shows a real ineptitude on their end. When you lose a player of that quality, you need to show why and that could be involved in their downfall if they fail.

This is undoubtedly a huge trade that has big ramifications for both teams. Starting this Thursday when Boogie suits up with Davis for the first time against the Houston Rockets, we can start getting answers on whether this trade was a beautiful romance or a car crash waiting to happen.

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Russell Westbrook should be starting the All-Star game

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Westbrook is an All-Star starter in all but actually being one.  Source: Bleacher Report

Two players are currently the front-runners for the league’s Most Valuable Player trophy at the end of the season. However, only one of them will be starting the All-Star game, showcasing the NBA’s best talent, in November.

Russell Westbrook has been on a tear this season. With the departure of Kevin Durant weighing heavily on his shoulders, it’s pretty much his outstanding form alone that’s kept the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoff race.

He leads the league in points per game, averaging 30.6 a night and is currently the only player averaging a triple double, which is insanity. There has only ever been one player to maintain it throughout an entire season, the great Oscar Robinson, which just highlights how monumental that feat is.

Voting ended with the weighed rankings leaving him, James Harden and Steph Curry neck-and-neck. The fans ranked Curry ahead of Harden then Westbrook, while the player’s and media votes put number zero up top, Harden second and the reigning MVP third.

With that, Curry goes in ahead of Westbrook. Is that fair?

No. Curry’s role with the Golden State Warriors has unsurprisingly diminished this season with the introduction of Durant. He’s no longer the top scorer on the team, he’s not the leading assist maker and he’s barely the best three-point shooter ahead of Klay Thompson.

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Curry is a great player but this year, he should not be an All-Star starter. Source: nbabayarea.com

While he’s not putting up awful numbers, quite the contrary he’s still an exceptional player, he’s not killing it night in and night out like Westbrook. All of his averages are down this season, he’s not the key to the Warriors any more but he’s still a once-in-a-generation talent.

That still doesn’t mean he deserves to start over Westbrook. He’s pulling his team out of the mire on a nightly basis, bringing everything he has to get them in a position to win and even when he does go off, sometimes they don’t win.

The fan voting and popularity of Curry got him in over the body of work over the course of the current season. That’s not what these games are meant for, a reward for those who have earned it rather than a tool for fans to see an exhibition.

Some may dismiss it as that but at the end of the day, people still rank players on their All-Star appearances. Those that maybe only made one Finals or failed to get a ring are then weighed up on MVP wins and then All-Star appearances, so it can’t be said that it simply doesn’t matter.

There was a re-jig in the voting system this year after Zaza Pachulia got a ridiculous number of votes last year but it hasn’t worked. It still pulled the wrong names out of the hat and gave those deserving a cold shoulder.

Isaiah Thomas has been on a tear scoring this season and is another big miss but this one on paper is the more blatant. Westbrook has proven he’s a sensational talent and deserved the nod more than pretty much anyone.

Credit to him for saying he didn’t care, which is not surprising, but it will just add fuel to the fire. Fuel to win another All-Star MVP, fuel to push himself to being out alone to win the overall MVP and quite possibly push him to crush as many as he can take with him come playoff time.

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NBA’s most improved players so far

Easily the most interesting award come the end of the season, the NBA’s most improved player can go a number of ways. It can go to a superstar returning from a dreadful injury, a veteran rediscovering his powers, a youngster making the leap or even an unknown entity suddenly sprining into life. Here’s a look at the three best contenders so far this season:

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

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The Greek Freak is becoming a legit superstar before our very eyes. Source: USA Today

The Greek Freak is really a sight to behold. Standing in at 6’11” and a 7’3” wingspan, a physical specimen that has been spliced with great ball-handling skills that almost makes it seem like he was created in a laboratory.

The small forward always looked like he was destined for greatness in the NBA and it looks like this season will be the one where he breaks out into an All-Star level. Antetokounmpo is the only player in the league to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, showcasing just how big of a factor he is for the Milwaukee Bucks.

That was on full display in the victory against the Chicago Bulls last week, where he notched up 35 points off 13/19 shooting, nine rebounds, seven assists, seven block and two steals. It was a monstrous performance from a man that almost could have made that Monstars team back in the Space Jam days.

In fact, so far this season, almost all of his totals have gone up. His field goal percentage has risen from .506 to .536, he’s up to .295 from .257 from three whilst taking another attempt per game, he’s better from the line, he’s better at rebounding, he’s having more assists and steals while also posting almost seven more points per night.

Those numbers are outstanding.

He’s now become more of a guard too, taking more of a command of Jason Kidd’s offence and it’s paying dividends. The fact that Giannis can also cover any player in the NBA with his combination of size and surprising speed and athleticism, it’s a scary thought that it still looks like he’s not hit his peak.

At 22, the sky is the limit for this kid. With a real leap this season and a team slowly growing around him, there’s no doubt that the 22-year-old is so far the front-runner for this award come the end of the season.

 

Zach LaVine – Minnesota Timberwolves

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Source: SLAMonline

The two-time and reigning dunk contest champion has gone from sideshow act in Minnesota to legitimate claim of the young Wolves having their very own big three. LaVine’s athleticism has never been in question, it was more to see whether his basketball skills could reach the same kind of level.

The 21-year-old has started every game for the first time in his NBA career but it’s the new rotation under Tom Thibodeau that has seemingly benefitted him the most. LaVine tends to play the traditional start of the first quarter then rests towards the end of the first period but he does start with the second unit at the start of the second quarter.

That has allowed him to get in a much better rhythm, emphasised by his big jump from 14 points per game last season to 21.1 this campaign. Not only that, he’s taking almost double the amount of three-point shots and is making more of them, from .389 percent beyond the arc to .417.

When he’s part of that starting unit, he can be another offensive weapon for Ricky Rubio to supply with the ball. When with the second unit, he can dictate things as the primary scorer and has helped the teams make runs that have kept them in games.

That is not to say he’s perfect just yet, he can sometimes be too easily outmuscled defensively and needs to work harder on that end of the floor. His offensive production is masking it a little, especially when he got bowled past by Joel Embiid a few nights ago but Thibodeau will make him better.

He also needs to be a little better with the basketball, as he’s averaging three assists to two turnovers. It’s not abysmal numbers but the fact that he’s second on his team behind Rubio shows that he needs to facilitate for others a little more to get this team moving in the right direction.

However, there is no doubt that LaVine has turned himself into a real player in this league. Not just a walking highlight reel, the former UCLA man is proving he can be so much more.

 

Myles Turner – Indiana Pacers

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Turner is an inside beast thatSource: Sports Illustrated

Roy Hibbert looked like the future for the Indiana Pacers as he became a wall at the centre of their team for precisely about a year. With his fade into obscurity, there were real worries about where this franchise would be heading as they looked to maximise Paul George’s championship window.

Insert Myles Turner, who was good in his rookie season but is turning into a fantastic player in his sophomore campaign. He exploded out of the box with a sensational performance against the Dallas Mavericks, posting a career-high 30 points alongside 16 rebounds and four blocks.

It’s only got better for him from there. A regular starter averaging almost 30 minutes per game, the 20-year-old is averaging over five more points per game, almost two more rebounds and just above a bloke more a game than his rookie season totals.

Not only that, his field goal percentage is up from .498 to .538 but even more impressively is the addition of a three-point game to his arsenal. He takes 1.6 attempts per game but with a .429 percentage, which shows that he’s keeping defences on their toes in the fact they may soon have to close him down and leave where he operates best free.

There is still a little more you’d like to see in his game in terms of consistency. Turner recorded 15 rebounds the other night against the Brooklyn Nets and 12 two games prior against the Orland Magic but failed to hit double digits in the entirety of December, including notching just three against weak rebounding teams like the Chicago Bulls and the LA Clippers.

Regardless, Larry Bird and his team will be delighted on how this young man is progressing. A real part of the reinvigoration of the centre position, he could be a key part for the Pacers for many years to come.

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Kevin Love is breaking out of his Cleveland funk

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Love has been excellent and had a real statement performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. Source: Sports Illustrated

Often seen as the third wheel, the one that could be discarded if the cart started rocking, Kevin Love never quite hit his stride in his first two years with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unable to replicate the form he showed in Minnesota with the Timberwolves and the definitive option C behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, many thought that the power forward would always stay as the odd man out.

However, the first third of the 2016/17 NBA season says different as Love has broken out as a real breakout option on any given night.

The first glaringly obvious difference is the points he’s putting up on every night he’s on the field. So far this season, the former UCLA man has averaged 22.3 points, up a huge six points per game compared to his averages in the first two seasons at The Q.

That added firepower in his game was emphatically emphasised in his first quarter outpouring against the Portland Trail Blazers. Love notched 34 points, the most ever in the opening portion of a basketball and only second to Klay Thompson’s 37 points in a quarter from last year.

He shot 11-from-14, outscoring the entire Blazers team and hit eight of his 10 three-point attempts. Six of those were off assists from James and all but one of the shots he hit were from assists either from James, Irving or Iman Shumpert.

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These three finally feel like a real “Big Three”, even after a championship last season. Source: Sports World Report

And it wasn’t all from one spot either, with only two of the threes coming from almost an identical place on the field. Two were from the right baseline, one from the opposite side, two on either wing and one from the top of the key, while only one score came from in the paint.

Love was also a perfect four-for-four from the free throw line, just to add one last superlative to a superb performance. It displayed his ability to shoot from anywhere behind the three-point line, which is rare for a player of his size to hit with such consistency but also highlighted the fact in how Tyronn Lue is trying to get him more involved with the offence this season.

Like previously mentioned, all but one of his shots came off assists, which just tells you a little bit about the Cavaliers offensive movement in the new season. They are moving the ball more, doing that extra pass to find the open man more often than not, which is only to Love’s benefit.

The fact that it was James, who is an excellent passer in his own right, dishing the dimes only serves to highlight how this team aren’t afraid to pass the goalscoring burden onto another teammate. The King saw how hot Love was and when someone is in that kind of mood, keep feeding the basketball until they find a way to stop him.

The Blazers did to some degree afterwards but the damage was already done.

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Maybe the UCLA man got some tips on how to rise from the dead from this man? Source: Sky Sports

His field goal percentage is up to .468 even off more shots, his three-point percentage has lifted from .360 to .412 and he is posting a career-best FT percentage. All of those mean that Cleveland have another great scoring option in the prime of his career, which can only benefit an already superstar team.

However, it’s not just in scoring where Love has evolved with the Cavaliers, his entire game has benefitted from being more involved. He’s averaging 10.7 rebounds per game, the first time he’s averaged double figures since the 2012/13 season, which includes more offensive rebounds than his last two years and he’s also posting a career-high in steals with 1.1 per game.

Maybe it’s a bit of great coaching, Lue has this team playing possibly better basketball than their championship campaign last season and getting Love more involved seems like a no brainer. It makes such a difference to his game overall, with more confidence surging through his veins and that’s only a benefit to the Cavaliers.

It’ll also simmer down any silly trade talk that we’ve had over the last few years. Much like Chris Bosh in that superstar Miami Heat team, the third man is sometimes forgotten but can become someone extra they can rely on when the chips are down.

With another option when times get tough, especially come playoff time, the Cavs can make a real charge at the championship and they have evolved along with their rivals. If the star-power of the Golden State Warriors seems too much for James or Irving on any night, they now have one more trusted option in their arsenal.

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Are James Harden and DeMar DeRozan legitimate MVP candidates?

Toronto Raptors beat Indiana Pacers in game five 102-99 in their first round NBA playoff series

DeRozan has become an offensive machine and could be a dark horse for MVP. Source: The Undefeated

After the first month or so of the NBA season, there are already whispers about the MVP award. With Kevin Durant unsurprisingly impressing in his new surroundings at the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James doing things only the king does and Blake Griffin rebounding on the best team in the league, there are a fair few candidates putting themselves forward.

Two that have really caught the eye are two that could be there if they keep this kind of form going. DeMar DeRozan has elevated his already great offensive game for the Toronto Raptors and James Harden is simply adding to his special tool-set down with the Houston Rockets.

DeRozan is playing some of the best basketball of his life and it’s a marketed step up from someone who is already at an All-Star level. The 27-year-old is averaging 30.9 points per game, over seven points better than his career-best set last season and is a solid .491 from the field overall.

Those are some great numbers highlighted by the fact he takes just under two three-pointers a game. With a game that is only getting more shooter-happy, it’s great to see a midrange guy showing his excellence on offence from inside the arc.

USP NBA: PLAYOFFS-HOUSTON ROCKETS AT GOLDEN STATE S BKN USA CA

Source: For The Win

That is also emphasised by his ability to get to the line when he does slash into the paint. DeRozan averages 9.6 free throws per game and is .807 from the line so far, solid numbers that help pad what has been an outstanding scoring run so far from him.

Another player who is great at getting to the line is fellow early season MVP candidate James Harden, who has taken the move to point guard like a duck to water. He’s averaging 28.6 points per game, a relative standard for a high-volume scorer like him, but his league-leading 12.4 assists per contest highlights the influence he’s having on his entire team this season.

Add to that some solid rebounding (7.8 per game) and a solid .365 from beyond the three-point line and you have a stat-padder ready to take on anyone in the NBA. He’s probably the best player in the entire league at getting to the free throw line, leaving teams off balance as whether to close him or to stand off him.

When they attack, he punishes them with speed and a likely foul, which a .810 FT shooter tends not to miss. If they stand off, he rises and shoots from anywhere with his beautiful arching shot that seems to touch the roof on occasion before gliding through the hoop. There is a reason many tipped him to be a dark horse in this year’s MVP race.

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Westbrook is a bigger front-runner than the two, they both need to emulate his influence. Source: Bleacher Report

However, they are both without initial deficiencies that will hold them back unless they expand their game. DeRozan is simply a scorer and while ok on defence, he isn’t quite doing enough to keep his team winning while Harden can fall asleep when holding off the opposition.

Comparing them both to another big MVP candidate in Russell Westbrook just proves that both will need that bit more to legitimately chase that title this season. He’s better than both on average at scoring, he’s hit 10.4 assists per game and 9.6 rebounds, almost a triple-double a game.

All of their teams have similar records, all are doing a great job but Westbrook is doing literally everything he can to push his team on almost single-handedly. There’s no doubting their quality and the real positive is that there is plenty of time for them to help push their games to the next level along with their teams, which will only strengthen their candidacy.

Both are going to be All-Stars this year if they keep going and both of their teams should be shoo-ins for the playoffs. The real question is, can either of them push themselves to the point where they can be considered in the running for the MVP award? Only time will tell on that one.

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Oklahoma City Thunder will benefit from a Russell Westbrook scorned

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Westbrook can carry this team and he looks ready for the challenge. Source: newsok.com

In a terrific piece by Adrian Wojnarowski on The Vertical, Russell Westbrook did not dither or waste any moment worrying about a future without Kevin Durant. All he cared about was what would be next.

What looked like coming was a trade away from the Oklahoma City Thunder, with a number of clubs willing to take his services. The team needed an answer now, not content with losing another superstar for nothing next summer and if Westbrook gave them the indication, they would find him another basketball franchise.

Instead, Westbrook did what many did not expect him to do, including myself. He took Durant’s want away attitude personally, dusted off the news and showed his loyalty to the team that had crafted him into a special point guard.

On Thursday, he signed a three-year deal that includes a player option in that final season, potentially worth $85.7m if he completes the contract. It does inflate his pocket but at the same time, Westbrook has taken the baton to be the heart and soul of this team and he is planning to run away with it.

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks

This will be an interesting meeting, which reportedly will take place in November. Source: nesn.com

It’s the kind of loyalty we rarely see, especially in smaller market teams, but Westbrook has a sense of belonging in OKC. He doesn’t have a great number of friends on other teams, he feels responsible for those around him in the team and it’s clear that he does not want to let them down the same way he feels Durant has.

To say he hit another level without the small forward back in 2015 may be putting a bit lightly. He bumped his average points per game to 28.1, posting career-best averages in both rebounds and assists and while it wasn’t quite enough to get him team into the playoffs, it made everyone stand up to take notice.

This season he continued that form, except from his points average took a dip along with his shots per game with Durant back in the starting five. However, he was a triple-double machine that even improved on last year’s averages in rebounds and assists, reaching double figures in the latter for the first time.

It really showed his evolution as a player and he excelled in the post-season as well, almost lifting OKC to the NBA Finals. A humbling fightback from the Golden State Warriors halted that run but that will just be another burn that will fire up Westbrook to go one stage further.

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Still the greatest Halloween costume, which just highlights his loyalty to his teammates. Source: CBS Sports

With the additions his team has made, it’s hard to see the Thunder as contenders but whenever you have someone of that quality, you always have a chance. Almost like a saiyan in Dragonball Z, Westbrook grows in strength with every heavy blow he’s faced and his desire to succeed will frighten many teams to death this upcoming season.

The NBA should be wary of a Westbrook scorned. Already at an elite level, this could be the extra motivation to push himself to be the best of what he can be and could elevate him to an MVP he feels he deserves.

Step in front of this runaway freight train if you dare.

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