Tag Archives: Indiana Pacers

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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NBA teams make moves in preparation for another big free agency

As the NBA Draft came round the corner and free agency lurked on the horizon, it’s usually that time of year where teams begin to strong-arm themselves into a position. Whether that be a clear rebuild, shifting assets to have more money or adding players to look like a more enticing unit to a prospective free agent, everyone wants to show their hand.

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Teague is a super pick up for the Pacers. Source: slamonline.com

That started when the Indiana Pacers traded for Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague in a real statement move from a franchise ready to compete now. Teague is a former All-Star, an excellent scorer in the paint and should relieve some of the workload from Paul George.

Add those two to some interesting pieces like Myles Turner and the newly acquired Thaddeus Young and Indiana could be a dangerous team in the East. They pushed the Toronto Raptors to seven games and despite losing coach Frank Vogel, they are a side to keep an eye on going forward.

Atlanta are handing the keys to Dennis Schroder, who has impressed in spurts, as well as freeing up some cap space. They are desperate to resign Al Horford and Teague was seen as dispencable with the German waiting in the wings behind him.

They gained a first-round pick from the Utah Jazz, who selected Taurean Prince for them, and he at least defensively will be a replacement should Horford go. That also sets up a piece for their future, which must be the direction the Hawks will go in if they struggle to compete in the upcoming free agency.

Utah gain George Hill from this trade and it’s a tidy piece of business for them. They’ve struggled at the guard position and to get an underrated veteran that can play both the one and the two will help this team reach another level in terms of competing for a playoff spot.

Whether they will compete for some low-level free agents to push them even further on is yet to be seen but this was still a solid move. Whether it’ll be worth the 12th pick in the draft remains to be seen but they will not be disappointed with what Hill will bring to this team

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Rose to New York is a no-lose situation for the Knicks. Source: sportingnews.com

Another team that have made a big move is the New York Knicks, who traded for Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls. The Knicks definitely needed to get better and Rose is certainly an upgrade, even if he has lost a step since his knee injuries over the last few years.

He’s still a good driver and had a slightly better season last time out, which means he’s worth the one-year risk to see if he can become a great player in the league again. The only worry will be that he, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis all need to get their shots with none of them regarded as excellent assist makes.

Chicago needed this break as much as Rose did and with his deal winding down, they got as much as they could for him. Robin Lopez is a solid starter in this league, especially as they are resigned to losing both Joachim Noah and Pau Gasol, and Jose Calderon can be a stop-gap player while they find a new point guard.

It also opens up the fact that Jimmy Butler is now the star on this team but the fact they looked to deal him to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft night should worry fans. The Bulls look just about ready for a rebuild and this could be a tricky season for them.

Houston Rockets v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Five

If Ibaka can rediscover his form and gets more involved offensively, this could be a really good move for the Magic. Source: Sportal.co.nz

The final big deal happened on draft night itself as the Oklahoma City Thunder moved Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic. The team in the East get a solid-to-great player that has stagnated a little in the last few years, especially after looking like a defensive beast back in 2012-13.

He is solid from three-point range and if he can rediscover his form as a leader on a young, improving team then this is a great addition. It frees up Elfrid Payton as the starter at point guard, he’ll pull attention away from Nikola Vucevic and with new coach Vogel at the helm, the Magic are on the rise.

As for the Thunder, there is zero chance that this deal was not sanctioned without the explicit consent of Kevin Durant. A lot will be on hold while we wait to see where KD will be next season but OKC will do everything in their power to convince him to stay for at least one more year.

Victor Oladipo was a great pickup, who could even start at the two-guard and give the team another solid scoring option. He could even be a leader as a sixth-man if Dion Waiters bolts town and he should be a great third option for the team going forward.

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Has the East finally conquered the West in the NBA?

The Cavaliers lead the charge but the rest of the East has improved.  Source: Bleacher Report

The Cavaliers lead the charge but the rest of the East has improved. Source: Bleacher Report

It has been a running joke for almost the past decade that the Western Conference has held complete dominance over the Eastern equivalent in the NBA. Despite the East winning four of the last 10 NBA Finals, they have been demolished in terms of regular season wins and inter-conference games by those that play a little later here in the UK.

However, the balance of power looks to have shifted this year and in striking fashion.

The Eastern Conference have 10 players over .500 this season, similar to what we saw in the West last season, after just five teams managed that total in 2014/15. Whether that record continues will yet to be seen but adding to that, the team with the best record last season, the Atlanta Hawks, are currently outside of the playoff places despite going 14-12.

So how has this happened? The simple maths tells you that teams that struggled with injuries or chemistry last year have managed to pull it together. Other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were excellent last season too and could get better, most teams have had something that has changed their season.

Going down the confernce standings, the Chicago Bulls have a new coach that emphasises on offence and that’s getting the best out of the likes of Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott. It hasn’t been a rousing success, they are still waiting for Derrick Rose to return to MVP-like form that he may never reach and Jochaim Noah to find himself, but Chicago were pretty good last year too.

Paul George, a certainty for comeback of the year.  Source: Fox Sports

Paul George, a certainty for comeback of the year. Source: Fox Sports

The Indiana Pacers have been dramatically changed by returning All-Star Paul George, who is really playing on an MVP level.  He’s averaging 26.2 points per game, fifth best in the NBA, along with 7.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists. George put the power forward experiment to bed quickly and he’s proving why they should have never considered it in the first place.

Miami have all their pieces they traded for fit and ready to play. They have gelled well, they play some serious defence again and they have enough firepower to deal with any team. Dwayne Wade is ageless, Chris Bosh is still great, Hassan Whiteside is a monster in the making and Goran Dragic is the ideal point guard to add to that great mix.

Toronto haven’t changed too much, with DeMarre Carroll adding some strong defence, but they need to find more offence from somewhere other than DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They are possibly the best backcourt in the league and Jonas Valanciunas was growing into a solid piece until his injury, his return might be the spark they need.

The Hornets have just found their chemistry in Charlotte, especially after Lance Stephenson left. Nicolas Batum was always a good pickup, Jeremy Lin is actually playing good basketball and Al Jefferson is still a beast, before his silly suspension, then add the surprise form of Jeremy Lamb.

Orlando were a solid team just waiting to grow. They have three great guards, Nikola Vucevic is a really solid player and their coach is pulling them together. Detroit Pistons are another team that just needed to reduce the log jam as Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson look like pieces for their present and future.

The Magic, led by Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, have been a nice surprise.  Source: sircharlesincharge.com

The Magic, led by Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, have been a nice surprise. Source: sircharlesincharge.com

Teams like Atlanta are just outside, Boston have a good solid team that are well coached and New York have finally found some traction despite their poor record. Even the Milwaukee Bucks, who everyone thought could make the leap, have shown in flashes real brilliance and are certainly a team to keep an eye on. That’s also considering that Washington Wizards have a good team but just aren’t competing right now.

Looking into the deficiencies of the other conference and it’s the usual mix, big teams underperforming and players injured. The Los Angeles Clippers look to have finally got out of their early hump and the Houston Rockets are hanging in there despite still being in a funk.

New Orleans have had an abysmal injury crisis and Anthony Davis is not playing at his full level. Phoenix and Utah have not met expectations, the Kings are good but only on their day and Portland are really missing the star power behind Damien Lillard.

So is the East better now? On current evidence it’s hard to deny. Back in early December, the East was 57-55 on games against the West and that just shows you that the gap is not as big as it looks on paper comparing conferences.

It is good to see both conferences be competitive but at the same time, it is weighed against the dramatically poor starts from the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the real question becomes that come playoff time, can anyone knock off the Cavs? I’m not so sure yet.

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