Tag Archives: James Harden

2017-2018 Southwest Division Projections

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X-San Antonio Spurs 61-21 (2)

There is consistency and then there is what the San Antonio Spurs have been able to accomplish. Since the Spurs joined the NBA in 1976, only four seasons have gone by where they have not reached the playoffs, and in each of the last 20 campaigns they’ve been postseason bound. Last season saw the Spurs win 61 games in the regular season as another deep run in the playoffs appeared to be in the works. The Spurs would advance to the Western Conference Finals where they were seeking to unseat the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs were able to build a 25-point lead on the Warriors in the third quarter of Game One on the road, however the series would change when small forward Kawhi Leonard was lost for the remainder of the series after he re-aggravated an ankle injury that he initially sustained during the Western Conference Semifinals versus the Houston Rockets. The Spurs would go on to get swept by the Warriors who went on to claim their second NBA Championship in the last three years as we’re only left to ponder what could have been for San Antonio.

Gregg Popovich is set to begin his 21st full season as the head coach of the Spurs and he is not showing any signs of slowing down. When watching the Spurs it is quite clear who is the boss and that is Popovich. With Popovich it is always about the team and not the individual as they are the New England Patriots of the NBA. And Pop’s philosophy means that anyone on the Spurs roster can get 20 points on any given night.

Kawhi Leonard

But Leonard is the engine of this squad as he makes this team go. In each of Leonard’s six seasons with the Spurs, his production has increased. Leonard is a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, as well as being a two-time NBA All-Star. And aside from Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James, Leonard is the best two-way player in the game as there are not that many flaws in his game which will keep him in the discussion to be the NBA’s MVP this season.

However as good as Leonard is, he cannot carry the Spurs team by himself. The summer of 2016 saw the Spurs sign power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to a four-year deal for $80 million. But in two seasons with the Spurs, Aldridge has underachieved which includes him failing to provide San Antonio with a consistent post presence. Aldridge was able to average 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds last season for the Spurs, but he has been too inconsistent which has not won him over that many fans in San Antonio. And if Aldridge continues to fail to meet Popovich’s expectations, don’t be surprised to see him traded.

Rudy Gay

Throughout the 11-year NBA career of small forward Rudy Gay, he has continued to put up quality numbers. The Spurs will be the fourth different NBA team that Gay has played for as he has gone on to average 18.4 points per contest. I don’t expect to consistently see Gay in the starting lineup for San Antonio, but what he can provide San Antonio with is a quality veteran scorer off of the bench who will be instant offense, while providing San Antonio with length that can be utilized at each end of the floor.

San Antonio continues to employ a selfish cast of veterans which includes point guard Tony Parker, shooting guard Manu Ginobili, and center Pau Gasol. Parker and Giniboli are legends within the Spurs organization, and although that each player is in the twilight of his respective Hall of Fame career, they know how to use craftiness in order to get the best of players who are least 10 years their junior.

Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge

Like Ginobili and Parker, Gasol will be headed for Springfield when his playing career is over, and at the age of 37 he is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. Popovich has been one of the best in regards to keeping his veteran players fresh for the stretch run. Gasol is still a player that can average at least 15 points per game, while also providing the Spurs with 7 or 8 rebounds per game as well the ability to pass and consistently block shots.

The Spurs are a team that could get off to a slow start, but this is a team that typically doesn’t get its stride until March which should once again be the case this season as San Antonio will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference.

Y-Houston Rockets 50-32 (6)

Each of the last five NBA seasons have seen the Houston Rockets reach the playoffs, but they’ve been unable to break through and get back to the NBA Finals since their last championship in 1995. By the time that the Western Conference Semifinals rolled around last spring, the Rockets were decimated by injuries as they would eventually succumb to the San Antonio Spurs. And after the Rockets fell to the Spurs, you had to expect that Houston would make a few tweaks to their roster, but not a mega trade.

Over the summer the Rockets were able to acquire All-Star point guard Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. However the acquisition of Paul was a costly one as Houston sent eight players as well as a first-round pick to Los Angeles. But what the Rockets now have is a back court that will help them keep up with the top teams in the Western Conference.

Chris Pail

Paul will team with guard James Harden who is coming off of his best season in the NBA as he averaged 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, while his 11.2 assists per contests led the league. Harden was able to accomplish this in his first season as a point guard, bur now the acquisition of Paul will not see him as Houston’s primary ball handler. However regardless if Harden is the Rockets primary ball handler or not, it does not take away from the fact that he is one of the game’s best scorers. For Harden’s eight-year NBA career he has averaged 22.1 points per game, while in five seasons with the Rockets that number is 27.4. Last season Harden scored at least 40 in 11 games and he should continue to flourish by playing alongside Paul in the offense of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni.

The Rockets will become the third different NBA team that Paul has played for and at the age of 32, he is still one of the top points guards in the league. Paul has led the NBA in assists on four separate occasions and he has a solid chance of doing so once again this season due to his ability to penetrate the lane as well as playing alongside Harden.

Two key players who were not traded to the Clippers were power forward Ryan Anderson and small forward Trevor Ariza who will once again be important to what the Rockets want to do. D’Antoni’s uptempo offense is all about spacing the floor and finding open shooters which is right up Anderson’s alley. For Anderson’s nine-year NBA career he has made more than 42% of his three-point shots, and that trend should continue now that he is playing alongside both Harden and Paul.

Ariza will once again be important to the Rockets due to his perimeter defense which will be important versus the top wing players that the Western Conference has to offer; especially since Houston was 26th in the NBA in points allowed last season.

With the Rockets losing their depth to acquire Paul, while also missing out on acquiring small forward Carmelo Anthony, as well as D’Antoni’s not being known for defense, they will come up short of being a championship team. The Rockets will be exciting, but the struggles of Paul when he faces Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry will once again be exposed as the furthest that this team will be able to advance in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks 41-41

After being one of the top teams in the Western Conference since 2000, the Dallas Mavericks took a huge step backwards last season as they lost 49 games for the first time since 1998. The Mavericks lost their first five games of the season and they were never able recover in the Western Conference Playoff race. And for Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, will he be able to reverse the fortunes of this franchise heading into a new season?

Dirk Nowitzki

For the Mavs, power forward Dirk Nowitzki has been the face of this franchise for nearly two decades. Hands down Nowitzki is the most prolific player in franchise history, but as he is 39-years of age, he isn’t the player that he once was. However Carlisle has done a solid job in recent years in regards to managing Nowitxki’s minutes which should once again be the case for the upcoming season. And it would not surprise me to see Carlisle utilize Nowitzki off of the bench at some point this season. But as Nowitzki is on the downside of his Hall of Fame career, the Mavs have begun the process of building towards to future.

Last year saw the Mavericks acquire small forward Harrison Barnes from the Golden State Warriors. Barnes was a member of the Warriors team that won the NBA Championship in 2015, but his skills at the offensive end of the floor were never going to be fully recognized as he was playing in the shadow of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. However Barnes’ first season would begin to see his potential recognized as he was able to average 19.2 points which led the club. And the good thing for the Mavericks is that Barnes has the potential to get better.

Barnes gives the Mavs a solid perimeter scorer, while he also knows how to get to the basket. And as Barnes and Carlisle are getting to get more acquainted with one another, the results will only be good for Dallas.

Dennis Smith Jr.

The Mavericks are high on point guard Dennis Smith Jr. who was their first-round choice this year. Throughout the NBA’s Summer League as well as training camp, Smith has shown that he has what it takes to be a solid floor general for Dallas as he has the ability to get his own shot, while also making the people around him better.

Shooting guard Wesley Matthews continues to be a solid perimeter defender, while both center Nerlens Noel who can clean up on the boards as well as being a rim protector and shooting guard Seth Curry who continues to improve as a three-point shooter could each be in the running to be the NBA’s Most Improved Player this season which fits into the Mavericks identity of being underdogs this season. However Curry’s season debut will be delayed after he suffered a stress reaction in his left tibia during the preseason. It will be important for Noel to remain healthy as he is a big part of what Dallas wants to do on defense as they were fourth in the NBA in points allowed last season and he can be an anchor on their back line.

Five of the Mavericks first six games this season will be against teams that made that playoffs last season. And the last thing that Dallas needs is another slow start as it would derail their season before it even starts.

Memphis Grizzlies 40-42

Each of the last seven NBA seasons have seen the Memphis Grizzlies qualify for the postseason which is the third longest current playoff streak in the league behind the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks. But unlike the Spurs who have gone on to win five NBA Championships during their postseason streak, the Grizzlies have only been able to advance to the Western Conference Finals once, while they were eliminated in the first round in each of the last two seasons. David Fizdale led the Grizzlies to a winning record as well as a playoff berth in his first season with Memphis. Fizdale did this with a veteran team that he inherited as it was vital for him to manage the minutes of the Grizzlies as the season progressed. But as Fizdale is set to begin his second season with the Grizzlies, his team will have a different feel to it as they look to make it eight consecutive trips to the postseason.

Power forward Zach Randolph spent the last eight seasons with the Grizzlies and in the process he became one of the best players in franchise history. Randolph averaged 16.8 and 10.2 rebound during his Grizzlies career. Randolph also became the franchise’s all-time leader in rebounds, while being third in points. Randolph turned 36-years of age this past July and he decided to join the Sacramento Kings on a two-year deal that is worth $24 million.

Marc Gasol

During Randolph’s time with the Grizzlies, his tag-team partner in the frontcourt has been center Marc Gasol. At the age of 32, Gasol is still one of the best all-around big men in the NBA as he it the total package due his ability to score, pass, facilitate, block shots, rebound, and defend. When Gasol is on the floor, the Grizzlies have the benefit of another point guard, while his blocked shots in the paint tend to lead to fast break opportunities on offense. And with Randolph no longer will the Grizzlies, Gasol will be more important that ever to what Memphis wants to do.

Mike Conley

The summer of 2016 saw point guard Mike Conley Jr. cash in as he and the Grizzlies came to an agreement on a five-year that is worth $153 million. Conley did his part to live up to his inflated contract as he averaged a career-high 20.5 points to go along with 6.3 assists. Conley began to take more ownership on offense for the Grizzlies as he connected on 46% of his field goals which was a career-high, while he shot more than 40% from downtown for just the second time of his NBA career. But whereas that Conley is not considered a top-tier point guard in the NBA, will he be able to elevate his game once more in order to make Memphis a threat in the Western Conference?

In 2010, swingman Tyreke Evans was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year as he was able to do a little bit of everything for the Kings. That season Evans was able to average 20.1 points per game, however he has never been able to match the production that he had as a rookie. Since then Evans has bounced around with several teams, each time he has found himself that did not properly suit his skill set which is him playing in the point forward role. But Evans has an opportunity to do something special with the Grizzlies due to his ability to get to the basket, facilitate, and rebound as he should be able to play off of both Gasol and Conley.

Times have changed in the NBA as scoring is up. The Grizzlies were third in the NBA in points allowed last season in spite of the fact that they surrendered 100 points per game, and they should once again be one of the top defensive teams in the NBA due to the mindset of Fizdale, as well as having players such as Gasol leading the way.

The Grizzlies will be an up and down team this season, but they will continue to be a tough for their opponents.

New Orleans Pelicans 37-45

Five of the last six NBA seasons have resulted in the New Orleans Pelicans failing to make the playoffs. And ever before the start of a new campaign, the Pelicans find themselves at the crossroads.

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins

Last season saw the Pelicans acquire All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings with part of the compensation seeing New Orleans part with both of their draft picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. Cousins’ arrival in New Orleans saw him team with power forward Anthony Davis to give the Pelicans one of the top front courts in the NBA, but their presence wasn’t enough to get to the postseason.

However heading into a new NBA season, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has a tough task ahead of him which includes being able to utilize both Cousins and Davis, while keeping the other players involved.

What the Pelicans have in Davis is the best big man in the NBA as well as a player who will be an MVP candidate this season. There is not anything that Davis cannot do on the basketball court as he is the total package at both ends of the floor. The ability of Davis to score in the paint as well as on the perimeter will now be magnified as he is playing alongside Cousins which means that opponents of the Pelicans can no longer solely focus on trying to stop him.

Like Davis, Cousins is one of the better big men in the NBA, but he just does not have the perimeter game of that his fellow former Kentucky Wildcat possesses. Cousins is at his best when he plays angry as you can pencil him in for 25 points and 15 rebounds when that is the case. At the conclusion of the 2017-2018 NBA season, Cousins will be a free agent which means that he should have a big season as he is looking to get paid by the Pelicans or another team.

Jrue Holiday

The Pelicans do have a pair of quality ball handlers in veteran point guard Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans will mark the fifth different NBA team that Rondo has suited up for which is a reflection on his attitude. Rondo has led the NBA in assists on four separate occasions, however he been known to clash with his head coaches which has made him expendable. Rondo is 31-years of age and the Pelicans need him to be a leader for this team as opposed to being a combustible element like he has been in the past.

For Holiday, his passing ability should be magnified alongside both Davis and Cousins. Rondo will miss the beginning of the season due to sports hernia surgery. However when Holiday and Rondo are each healthy and with both players projected to be in the Pelicans starting lineup, who will be the primary ball handler for this club?

Veteran guard Tony Allen comes to New Orleans and he can provide the club with some much needed toughness. The upcoming NBA season will mark Allen’s 14th year in the league which has been highlighted by him being a three-time All-Defensive First-team member as well as winning a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008. At the age of 35, Allen still has the ability to slow down and frustrate perimeter scorers, and his experience in the NBA should benefit New Orleans.

Last season saw the Pelicans give up 106.4 points per game which was 17th in the NBA. However New Orleans needs to have a change to philosophy in order to maximize the ability of their personnel. With Davis and Cousins in the front court, New Orleans needs to run more half-court sets with their two All-Star big men in the paint as much as possible. And if done properly, Davis and Cousins could have a huge impact for the Pelicans. Defensively the Pelicans need to take more pride being that both Cousins and Davis are shot blockers as well as possessing the ability to clean up on the boards.

However the Pelicans have too many combustible elements on this team, while Gentry is not the right head coach to reign everyone in which means that the upcoming NBA season will be a train wreck on the Bayou.

X-Division Winner

Y-Playoff Berth

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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2017 NBA MVP Candidates

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It’s still early in the NBA season, but that doesn’t mean we cannot begin to look at who’ll take home some hardware in the spring as the league’s MVP. And although that Christmas has not yet arrived, here are some players that are right now a cut above the rest.

DeMar DeRozan-Shooting Guard-Toronto Raptors

Since the Toronto Raptors made shooting guard DeMar Derozan the ninth overall selection of the NBA Draft in 2009, he has been a work in progress. As a rookie, DeRozan averaged 8.6 points per contest, but he would make a huge leap in his second season as he netted 17.2 points per game. And by 2014, DeRozan had elevated his game to that of an NBA All-Star.

Last season saw DeRozan help the Raptors make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, and he’s doing his part to help Toronto take that next step in order to win an NBA Championship.

DeMar DeRozan

This season DeRozan is averaging 28 points per game, which has included a pair of 40-point performances. In all but three games this season DeRozan has scored at least 21 points as he is the focal point of the Raptors offense.

DeRozan deserves a ton of credit as after signing a five-year, $139 million extension to remain in Toronto over the summer, his production has increased which goes against the norm as athletes tend to regress after agreeing to a mega deal. But DeRozan is mentally tough and as he has the Raptors poised to make a title run, he cannot be overlooked in regards to being the NBA’s MVP.

LeBron James-Small Forward-Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James

Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James falls into that rare air. James has been one of the best players in the NBA since he first came on to the scene in 2003 which is evident by him being a four-time NBA MVP. James is always in the discussion to be the NBA’s MVP, and although that he’s only averaging 23.9 points so far this season, he is averaging 9.1 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per contest as he is still the game’s best all-around player.

Russell Westbrook-Point Guard-Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook

Since Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook made his NBA debut in 2008, he has been one of the league’s most explosive players. Westbrook is a five-time NBA All-Star in spite of the fact that he has spent his entire professional career playing out of position as he was always a shooting guard prior to joining the Thunder.

I expected Westbrook to have an increased role in the Thunder’s offense after small forward Kevin Durant left last summer in free agency and he has lived up to the expectations and then some.

In Westbrook’s first game this season, he dropped 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists on the Philadelphia 76ers. Westbrook follwed this up by torching the Phoenix Suns in the second game of the season for 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

For the season Westbrook has 11 triple-doubles to his credit which includes recording one in his each of his last six games. Westbrook is currently averaging 31 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.9 rebounds as he is seeking to become the first player in the NBA to average a triple-double for an entire season since Oscar Robertson in 1962. And if Westbrook is able to pull off that feat, he should receive very strong consideration to be the NBA’s MVP.

Kevin Durant-Small Forward-Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant

Small forward Kevin Durant shocked many people last summer when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder as a free agent to join the Golden State Warriors. And when Durant joined the Warriors, it was going to be interesting to see how he would play alongside point guard Steph Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson who are two of the premier scorers in the NBA.

But so far Durant hasn’t skipped a beat with his new team as he is averaging 26.5 points, 4.8 assists, and 8.4 rebounds which are a career-high. Durant has been consistent for the Warriors as he has scored at least 20 points in every contest in all but two for the Warriors. And as the Warriors once again find themselves in the title hunt, Durant’s contributions cannot be overlooked.

James Harden-Point Guard-Houston Rockets

Before this NBA season began, new Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni announced that he would be shifting James Harden from shooting guard to point guard. And whereas people such as myself laughed at the notion, D’Antoni has been right on so far.

James Harden

Harden has still maintained his status as one of the better scorers in the NBA as he is averaging 28.5 points per game. But the amazing feat is that Harden has done this while he is leading the league in assists at 11.4 per contest. Harden has four triple-doubles on the season. And in those contests the Rockets are 3-1 which includes victories over the San Antonio Spurs, along with the Golden State Warriors.

D’Antoni has maximized the ability of Harden which is leading to victories for the Rockets and the elevation of the all-around game of one of the best players in the NBA.

Anthony Davis-Power Forward-New Orleans Pelicans

Being that the New Orleans Pelicans are not one of the better teams in the NBA, the exploits of power forward Anthony Davis could go unnoticed to the casual fan. Davis was the first overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft by the then New Orleans Hornets, and he has been as good as advertised. Davis is a budding superstar which began to recognized as he was named to his first All-Star team in 2014. That season Davis averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks as he helped the Pelicans reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.

Injuries limited Davis to just 61 games last season, but this time around he is currently averaging 31.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks.

Anthony Davis

On the season Davis has 10 games in which has delivered at least 30 points and 10 rebounds which was highlighted by going for 50 points and 15 rebounds in an opening night loss to the Denver Nuggets, along with a 41-point, 16-rebound barrage last Tuesday in a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Pelicans don’t have a good team around Davis which will hinder his chances as far as making the postseason goes, but what he is currently doing the season cannot be discredited.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Fear The Beard

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James Harden

It’s no secret that Houston Rockets point guard James Harden is one of the better scorers in the NBA. In Harden’s four-plus seasons with the Rockets, he has averaged 27 points per game, but what about his ability as a passer? Last year Harden averaged 7.5 assists per game which was sixth in the NBA, however this season he is as deadly as a passer as he is as a scorer.

When Mike D’Antoni was hired over the summer to be the Rockets new head coach, he turned some heads when he talked about moving Harden from shooting guard to point guard. However D’Antoni has been right on with his decision this season.

Through 15 games this season Harden is averaging 12.5 assists per contest which is by far tops in the NBA. And Harden has done this while he has also managed to average 28.7 points per game. So far this season the Rockets are 9-6 as they are seeking to get to the postseason after missing out on it last spring, and you have to wonder how far that this brand of basketball can take them?

The Rockets aren’t D’Antoni’s first time around in the NBA as he’s also been the head coach of the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Lakers. D’Antoni has always been known for the wide open, fun and gun brand of basketball which produces a litany of points. D’Antoni’s best run in the NBA came as the head coach of the Suns as he led them to a pair of appearances in the Western Conference Finals and his time in Phoenix was predicated by point guard Steve Nash who was a two-time NBA MVP under D’Antoni. D’Antoni has had other star players under his guidance which included small forward Carmelo Anthony, and shooting guard Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. But with Anthony, D’Antoni had a player that wasn’t on the same page with him system, and the same could be said in regards to Bryant who was also in the twilight of his career. However things are different with Harden.

At 27-years of age, Harden is in the prime of his career, and it hasn’t taken him and D’Antoni that long to click. Last year saw the Rockets concentrate more on isolation ball with Harden being the focal point, and at times Houston was playing one-on-five on offense. But under D’Antoni, ball movement has been the theme for the Rockets and everyone has been benefiting from it. The Rockets consistently find the open man of offense, while allowing Harden to maintain his status as one of the better scorers in the NBA.

In the Rockets season opening loss to the Lakers, Harden went for 34 points, 17 assists, and 7 rebounds. And in 9 of the Rockets 12 games, Harden has recorded at least 12 assists, while he had a 24-point, 15-assist, 12-rebound performance on November 9 in a victory over the San Antonio Spurs, and a 26-point, 14-assist, 12-rebound performance in last Thursday night’s 126-109 victory over the Portland Trailblazers which was his third triple-double of the season.

In the early stages of this NBA season there have been several players that have stuck out because of their extraordinary performances, and Harden finds himself right in the middle of the group. And if Harden can keep up the pace that he is currently on, the NBA’s MVP Award that has eluded for the past couple of years could finally be his as it is indeed a rarity to be a quality passer and scorer.

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2016-2017 Southwest Division Projections

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X-San Antonio Spurs 63-19 (2)

Last season saw the San Antonio Spurs win 67 games, but they were a team that most people were not talking about since the Golden State Warriors set an NBA single-season record for victories with 73. The Spurs were poised for another title run until they ran into the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals who knocked them out in six games. The loss to the Thunder signaled the end for power forward Tim Duncan with the San Antonio Spurs. For the last 19 seasons Duncan has been the face on Spurs franchise. With Duncan leading the way, the Spurs never missed the playoffs en route to winning five NBA Championships. But under the guidance of head coach Gregg Popovich, don’t expect the Spurs to slow down now that Duncan has retired.

In order to attempt to replace Duncan, the Spurs signed free agent center Pau Gasol. In 15 NBA seasons Gasol has averaged 18.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists as his skill set is an ideal fit for the Spurs system. Gasol is also a two-time NBA Champion and his leadership and knowledge of the game will be welcomed with open arms in San Antonio.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard

Gasol will team in the Spurs starting front court with small forward Kawhi Leonard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to give San Antonio one of the toughest trios in the NBA to match up against. In each of Leonard’s five seasons with the Spurs, his numbers have improved and he is becoming one of the best two-way players in the league. Last year Leonard averaged 21.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.8 steals as he finished second in the NBA’s MVP voting. Leonard should once again be a force to be reckoned with this time around. As for Aldridge, his numbers were slightly down in his first year with the Spurs which was the result of the constant ball movement that is orchestrated in San Antonio. However you can pencil in Aldridge for another All-Star caliber season, and he should also benefit from playing alongside Gasol who is one of the better passing big men in the NBA.

Tony Parker

Veteran point guard Tony Parker has seen his fair share of the NBA’s grind as he is set to begin his 15th season with the Spurs. And even at the age of 34, Parker isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as he is still one of better guards in the NBA when it comes to penetration. Veteran shooting guard Manu Ginobili is 39-years of age, but he will still be a vital member coming off of the bench for San Antonio, while shooting guard Danny Green is looking to bounce back after a subpar campaign last season from downtown. Power forward David Lee is set to begin his first season with the Spurs, and as he has averaged 14.2 points, along with 9.2 rebounds during his 11-year NBA career, he will be a valuable player coming off of the bench for the Spurs.

 

The Spurs are one of the most complete teams in the NBA, and being that they are led by Popovich, I don’t expect this team to take their eyes off of the prize as they will once again be a very formidable team when the playoffs roll around.

Y-Dallas Mavericks 49-33 (6)

The past five years have been a rough go at it for the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks do have four playoff appearances over that stretch, but they’ve been unable to advance past the first round of the NBA Playoffs. After winning the NBA Championship in 2011, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been hell bent on getting back to the promised land. And after Cuban and the Mavs were spurned several times recently in free agency, they could be ready to re-emerge as a contender in the Western Conference.

Dirk Nowitzki

Power forward Dirk Nowitzki is set to begin his 19th season with the Mavericks and he is still playing at a quality level. Nowitzki averaged 18.3 points per contest last season and you can expect another quality campaign from him due to the talent that has been assembled around him.

In four seasons with the Golden State Warriors, small forward Harrison Barnes saw his points per game average increase, but he was still under utilized. With the Warriors, Barnes took a backseat to shooting guard Klay Thompson and point guard Steph Curry. But after the Warriors signed small forward Kevin Durant over the summer, Barnes became an afterthought there. And once Barnes hit free agency, the Mavs welcomed him with open arms to the tune of $94 million dollars over the next four years. Barnes will definitely see more shots per game and he should be able to average at least 16 points per game in Dallas.

The Mavericks also landed another player formerly with the Warriors in center Andrew Bogut. The Mavericks acquired Bogut from the Warriors over the summer, and like Barnes, he saw a dip in his production there. Bogut won’t look to be a scorer in Dallas, but what you can expect from him is a solid rebounder, while he is also a quality facilitator from the center position.

Wesley Matthews

The summer of 2015 saw the Mavericks sign shooting guard Wesley Matthews, but he spent his first season in Dallas attempting to get back on track after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the previous season as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. However Matthews is now healthy and he should able to contribute as a solid wing player; especially at the defensive end of the floor.

 

In 65 games with the Mavericks last season, point guard Deron Williams showed flashes of what made him a three-time NBA All-Star. And even at the age of 32, if Williams is once again motivated, it will be a huge plus for the Mavericks.

 

Rick Carlisle

Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle is one of the best in the business when it comes to dealing with different personalities while getting the most out of his team. And the Mavericks could be set up to have a very productive NBA campaign.

 

 

Y-Memphis Grizzlies 46-36 (7)

The past six NBA seasons have seen the Memphis Grizzlies be the little engine that could of the Western Conference. The Grizzlies have made the playoffs in each of the last six years, and although that they have been unable to advance to the NBA Finals, they continue to be a tough out in the postseason. But things are once again changing for the Memphis Grizzlies as after compiling a 147-99 record over the last three years, Dave Joerger was fired as the team’s head coach.

Dave Fizdale

Joerger was replaced in Memphis by Dave Fizdale who has spent the last 14 years as an assistant coach in the NBA; most notably as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat for the last nine seasons. Fizdale has inherited a veteran team that he must find a way to keep healthy for the riggers of the long haul that is the regular season in the NBA.

A broken foot forced center Marc Gasol to miss 26 games last year, along with the playoffs. Gasol is a catalyst for the Grizzlies at both ends of the floor as he is an all-around player. In 2013, Gasol was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, while in each of the last four seasons, he has averaged nearly 4 assists per contest. Gasol has good court vision which can see him pass the basketball from the top of the key as well as in the post equally which always keeps an opposing defense on its toes.

Zach Randolph

Like Gasol, power forward Zach Randolph has been a recent fixture for Grizzlies basketball. In seven seasons in Memphis, Randolph has averaged 17.2 rebounds and 10.5 rebounds as along with Gasol, they give the Grizzlies one of the better front courts in the NBA. But at the age of 35, Randolph has 15 years worth of mileage on his legs from playing in the NBA. Fizdale understands that and he is looking to preserve Randolph which will see him come off of the bench this year, but he can still be extremely effective in that role.

Point guard Mike Conley Jr. has spent his entire nine-year NBA career with the Grizzlies and this past summer saw him become a very rich man as he signed a five-year, $153 million deal to stay in Memphis as it was one of the largest contracts in league history. For Conley’s career he has averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 assists, and now the pressure is going to be on him to increase those statistics due to the lucrative deal that he agreed to.

In two years with the Dallas Mavericks, a bad knee kept small forward Chandler Parsons from reaching his full potential. But if Parsons is healthy, he could have a big impact in Memphis due to his shooting ability which compliments the playing style of Gasol, and Conley’s ability to penetrate into the paint.

Small forward Vince Carter is 39-years of age, and although that he isn’t able to crank it up and thrown down thunderous dunks as often as he once did, he is still brings a tremendous skill set to the table, along with a plethora of NBA experience. And along with guard Tony Allen who is still a solid defender, Carter adds to the Grizzlies depth off of their bench.

The Grizzlies will be a work in progress as the season goes along, but once the postseason rolls around, they will once again be a tough out.

Houston Rockets 40-42 

The past NBA season saw the Houston Rockets wilt under the lofty expectations that were thrust onto them. The Rockets made the Western Conference Finals in 2015 and there was hope within the organization that they could build off of that. But after a 4-7 start, the Rockets decided to part with head coach McHale. McHale would be replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff who was able to get the Rockets to the playoffs, but they could never rekindle the magic from the previous season.

Mike D’Antoni

The Rockets have now turned to Mike D’Antoni to be their next head coach. In 12 seasons in the NBA as the head coach of the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Lakers, D’Antoni has a record of 455-426. D’Antoni has six playoff appearances to his credit as his teams have been known to very offensive oriented. The Rockets scored 106.5 points per contest last season which was fourth in the NBA, but they surrendered 106.4 points game which was 25th in the league. And being that D’Antoni is now running the show in Houston, you can expect that trend to continue.

James Harden

When you think of Rockets shooting guard James Harden, you think of instant offense. Harden is always in the MVP discussion as he is one of the best scorers in the NBA. Harden averaged 29 points per contest last season, and in D’Antoni’s “fun and gun” offense, you can expect him to be off to the races. Harden averaged 7.5 assists last year, and you can expect him to play the point guard position more this season which should be very interesting.

But aside from Harden, the Rockets don’t have any other players that can step up and put the team on their back. Small forward Trevor Ariza is a solid defender, and guard Patrick Beverly plays with tremendous heart, but will that be enough to make the Rockets a playoff team for a fifth consecutive year?

Daryl Morey

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is a huge proponent of analytics to build his team from which hasn’t been produced as many wins lately and it will once again be put to the test this season. Seven of the Rockets first eight games will be on the road which includes two meetings with the Dallas Mavericks, along with games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs which won’t be a picnic.

New Orleans Pelicans 38-44

In 2015, it appeared as if the New Orleans Pelicans were destined for greatness until they shot themselves in the foot. The Pelicans made the playoffs for the first time in three years and they appeared ready for an upswing under head coach Monty Williams. But surprisingly, Williams was fired by the Pelicans and replaced with Alvin Gentry. Under Gentry, the Pelicans got off to a slow start last season with a record of 1-11 and they were unable to recover as they only managed to win 30 games. The Pelicans were also done in by injuries with their best player in center Anthony Davis missing 21 games. But as a new NBA season is set to begin, will the Pelicans be able to pick up their production in the Western Conference?

Anthony Davis

Any chance that the Pelicans have for a turnaround begins with Davis. Davis is one of the NBA’s rising stars and he will be the MVP of the league at some point. If Davis is healthy, you can pencil him in to average at least 22 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest while he makes the players that are around him better due to the attention that he receives. Last year Gentry had Davis take more perimeter shots, but if he concentrates on his post game, there won’t be too many defenders in the NBA that will be able to stop him.

The Pelicans will definitely miss the contributions of point guard Jrue Holiday who has stepped away from the basketball team to care for his wife as she deals with a brain tumor, and although that it won’t be easy, New Orleans will have to find a way to replace his production as he averaged 16.8 points and 6 rebounds last season.

With Holiday away from the team, Tyreke Evans should see more time at point guard this year, and getting the basketball to Davis early and often should be his main priority.

Buddy Hield

Shooting guard Buddy Hield was the Pelicans first-round past June and he should have an immediate impact. Hield comes to the NBA as a very decorated player which included him being the Naismith Player of the Year as the nation’s top men’s basketball player during the previous college basketball season as he averaged 25 points per game in helping the Oklahoma Sooners reach the Final Four this past April. Hield is one of the players that can heat up from behind the three-point line rather quickly and playing alongside Davis should see them help each other.

The Pelicans should be a little bit better than last year, but being that the Southwest Division is one of the toughest in the NBA, they will be fighting an uphill battle as far as making the postseason in the spring.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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The Wide World Of D’Antoni

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Mike D’Antoni

As Mike D’Antoni is set to become the new head coach of the Houston Rockets, it marks his fifth head coaching gig in the NBA. In parts of 12 NBA seasons, D’Antoni has had an up and down career which is evident by his career record of 455-426. The highlight of D’Antoni’s coaching career was when he led the Phoenix Suns to consecutive trips to the Western Conference Finals in 2005 and 2006. But the downside to D’Antoni’s time in the NBA has included a pair of 50-loss seasons with the New York Knicks, while also going 27-55 as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2013-2014 NBA season. D’Antoni has most recently worked as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers as he was seeking another opportunity to be a head coach in the NBA which he now has with the Rockets and it will be interesting to say the least.

D’Antoni has built a reputation in NBA circles for his innovation on offense. D’Antoni’s teams are typically amongst the leaders in the league as far as points per game, and three-point attempts. However defensive basketball is not one of D’Antoni’s specialties which tends to show up during the postseason, while in his last season with the Lakers, his team gave up 120 points or more in a game on 16 occasions. This past season the Rockets were 26th the NBA in points allowed at 106.5 points per contest, and once you factor in D’Antoni’s overall dismissal of defensive basketball, there won’t be that much optimism as far as the Rockets and winning basketball next season.

James Harden

Looking at the Rockets roster, they do have a bona fide star in shooting guard James Harden. This past season Harden was second in the NBA in scoring at 29 per game. However Harden’s game is very one-dimensional as he is mainly an isolation player on offense. Harden should see more opportunities to score under D’Antoni, but it won’t result in winning basketball for the Rockets as this is an organization that is in dire need of structure, instead of the wide open theatrics that will come with his brand of basketball.

This past season saw the Rockets as a team of dysfunction. After leading Houston to the Western Conference Finals last year, Kevin McHale was fired as the Rockets head coach 11 games into this season. J.B. Bickerstaff served as the Rockets interim head coach and guided them to the postseason where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. But Bickerstaff was fighting an uphill battle all season long due to the team that was constructed by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey relies on analytics and sabermetrics instead on relying on the eye test as to whether or not that the guys that he brought in could actually play together. And with the Rockets roster in the state that it currently is, don’t expect any improvement next season from them.

Three years ago center Dwight Howard was a highly sought after free agent as he decided to sign with the Rockets to play alongside Harden. Howard and the Rockets agreed on a four-year contract that is worth $88 million. But Howard’s numbers have decreased in each of his three years with the Rockets as this past season he averaged 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds which is his worst statistical season since his rookie campaign during the 2004-2005 NBA season. Howard can be disinterested at times as the Rockets offense doesn’t go through him, while he hasn’t played with a top-tier point guard. With one year remaining on Howard’s contract, he can opt out of his deal this summer. And I highly doubt that you’ll see Howard in a Rockets uniform next season as D’Antoni’s “run and gun” offense doesn’t fit his playing style which was highlighted in their one season of working together with the Lakers.

Dwight Howard

If Howard were to leave Houston, it would open up more than $23 million of cap space for the Rockets for next season as they will look to lure other players Houston that could compliment Harden. But it isn’t that cut and dry due to D’Antoni’s track record as he doesn’t rely in stars players as much as he does his system. With the Suns, D’Antoni made point guard Steve Nash a household name. But with the Knicks, D’Antoni’s system never fit the skill set of small forward Carmelo Anthony, and it wasn’t conducive to shooting guard Kobe Bryant with the Lakers either. Scoring wise Harden should be comfortable playing for D’Antoni, but there will plenty of losses associated with it.

The NBA isn’t any different from any other sport in the sense that offense wins games and sells tickets, but at some point teams must clamp down on the defensive end in order to be assured of a win. D’Antoni has yet to figure this out yet, and neither have the Rockets if they believe that his coaching style can produce an NBA Championship.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Trouble On The Launching Pad

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After making a trip to the Western Conference Finals last spring, the Houston Rockets felt that they would have what it would take to win an NBA Championship this year. The Rockets have one of the best scorers that is currently in the NBA in shooting guard James Harden along with one of the best rebounders and interior defenders in center Dwight Howard. And after acquiring point guard Ty Lawson from the Denver Nuggets last summer, the Rockets appeared ready to be ready for lift off.

But the Rockets got off to a slow start with a record of 4-7 which would cost head coach Kevin McHale his job as he was fired. The Rockets are currently 17-19 which finds them in fourth place in the Southwest Division and seventh place overall in the Western Conference. The Rockets still might be able to make the NBA Playoffs this spring, but they are far from having the look of a title contender like they once expected.

Daryl Morey

Whereas McHale might have been the fall guy for the Rockets on-court performance, their problems primarily fall into the lap of general manager Daryl Morey. Morey has been the Rockets general manager since 2007 and he has been the victim of “analysis paralysis”. Instead of Morey seeking to build a team of players that can co-exist and win together, Morey relies too much on sabermetrrics which should be a part of putting a team together, but not everything. And with that mindset by Morey, he tends to overlook players that possess intangibles that could potentially help the Rockets win.

James Harden

The Rockets have lacked chemistry all season. Harden remains as one of the top scorers in the NBA as he is averaging 28.1 per contest which is second in the league, while Howard is still one of the top rebounders as he is pulling 11.7 rebounds per game which is third. However, Lawson has never been a fit for the Rockets this season as he has only started 11 games in Houston while averaging career-lows in points (6.5), and assists (4.2). Lawson is a point guard that thrives off of penetration to the basket and it has been tough for him to get it going being that Harden is an isolation player which can slow down the tempo of the offense. Lawson is currently seeking a trade out of Houston, while the Rockets have also been a team that has lacked leadership all season long.

The Rockets lost their first three games of the season, each by 20 points which was a harbinger of things to come. The Rockets also lost to the previously winless Brooklyn Nets while their longest winning streak of the season has only been four games. The Rockets have lost four out of their last six games which included them being unable to take advantage of the Golden State Warriors this past Saturday night who were playing without the reigning NBA MVP in point guard Stephen Curry.

A big part of the Rockets problem this season has been on the defensive end of the floor where they have lacked an overall intensity. The Rockets are tied for 26th in the NBA this season in points allowed (105.8), while being 28th in opponents field-goal percentage (.464) as opponents are making nearly 40 field goals per contest. As good as Howard can be individually, he is known to check out mentally; especially in key situations while Harden will never be known for being a good defender. And without an emphasis on the defensive end of the floor or solid leadership, the Rockets stand to be a mediocre team this season.

J.B. Bickerstaff

When McHale was fired, J.B. Bickerstaff was named as the Rockets interim head coach in a move that was expected to jolt the team, but it hasn’t. The Western Conference is a bit down this year which does mean that the Rockets could make the playoffs, but with a large possibility of them meeting either the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the postseason, their chances won’t be good as far as advancing.

Morey has survived this long in Houston, but a philosophy change is needed there. Harden will is still one of the best scorers in the NBA, but lately it has been him and four other guys on the floor that are waiting for him to get something done as there is nobody else on this team to take some of the scoring load off of him; especially in the fourth quarter as all that the Rockets currently are is a pretty sports car that simply lacks an engine.

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