Tag Archives: NBA

The Celtics and 76ers pull off an even trade?

boston-celtics-clinch-no-1-seed-as-eastern-conference-playoff-picture-set

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.

585cb72613cec.image

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do the Boston Celtics stick or twist?

WIZARD_CELTICS_BASKETBALL_30602147_t1170 (1)

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?

gordon-hayward-122914-getty-ftrjpg_wqfrrr1g069o1nc0qpa17td6e

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.

1178161_1280x720

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

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

ap_3457212461

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

serge-ibaka756x450

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

9654191-derrick-rose-nba-new-york-knicks-chicago-bulls-850x560

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

the-boston-celtics-are-the-nbas-biggest-x-factor-2-days-before-the-trade-deadline

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Who wins in the DeMarcus Cousins trade?

demarcus-cousins-trade-grades

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.

vlade-divac

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

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

USP NBA: MILWAUKEE BUCKS AT NEW YORK KNICKS S BKN USA NY

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

zach-lavine

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

9790629-myles-turner-nba-brooklyn-nets-indiana-pacers-850x560

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

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.

russ

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Oklahoma City Thunder will benefit from a Russell Westbrook scorned

westbrook

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.

102515_russadams

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.

Tagged , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,