Western Shootout

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden have shot out of the gates this season. Being most people’s early season candidates to win MVP, it shouldn’t seem surprising that they’re in peak form. But the nature in which the former teammates are playing is unreal. 

Westbrook has embraced his new role as the franchise cornerstone quite nicely, coming out with something to prove following Kevin Durant’s free agency departure. He’s certainly on pace to put up career numbers and doesn’t look like he’s slowing down. 

Only a quarter of the way into the season, Westbrook is currently averaging a triple-double with 31.0 points, 11.3 assists and 10.8 rebounds—already tying the record last year for 8th all-time with 18 triple-doubles in a season, he’s got 11 through 22 games this season, while also having 18 double-doubles. 

James Harden has been cooking down in “H-Town,” showing he’s fully capable of running the show as a point guard. He’s flourishing as a passer in the Mike D’Antoni offense and is currently leading the league in assists per game, while still remaining a dominant scorer, (4th in the league.) He’s currently averaging 28.3 points, 11.8 assists and 7.6 rebounds. He has seen his team excel due to his increased distribution and has the Rockets currently sitting as the 4th seed in the Western Conference. 

Both of these players have been beyond impressive to start the year and look to continue to keep their teams on the winning side of things, giving us the opportunity to sit back and watch one of the most entertaining MVP races in recent memory.

Five landing spots for LaMarcus Aldridge

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Boston Celtics – The Celtics have plenty of assets that they could part with to add to their already stacked frontcourt. A package that could benefit both sides of this transaction would be: LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green in a trade centered around Avery Bradley, while also trying to get two of their forwards, (Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller.) The Spurs could find themselves with a better team than what they had, even while losing a superstar.

Denver Nuggets – The Nuggets have an assortment of talent that they could throw in a trade to acquire the power forward from San Antonio. The Nuggets could look to offer a package around Kenneth Faried and a combo player or two guard such as Wilson Chandler, Will Barton or Gary Harris. The Spurs could potentially bring in a starting power forward and a solid rotation player to their already strong lineup.

Detroit Pistons – The Detroit Pistons could find themselves fighting for a top seed in the Eastern Conference if they made a trade to acquire Aldridge. The Pistons could reunite the Spurs with Boban Marjanovic and stretch-4 in Tobias Harris for Aldridge. Detroit could have a star-studded front court that could quickly change their fortunes in winning the Eastern Conference, while San Antonio could bring in a player that already flourished in their system, (Marjanovic,) and an all-around stretch-4 in Tobias Harris that could look to dominate in a front court with Kawhi Leonard and Pau Gasol.

Phoenix Suns – Phoenix could look clear up their crowded backcourt by sending a trade of Brandon Knight and Alex Len to try and acquire Aldridge from the Spurs. They desperately wanted the power forward when he left the Trail Blazers and need an offensive post presence to play alongside Tyson Chandler. The Spurs could get a young and promising big man in Alex Len that would fit nicely in their system and could benefit from a season around Pau Gasol.

Washington Wizards – The Wizards are a team that seem to be one key piece away from contending in the Eastern Conference. In a swap of LaMarcus Aldridge for Markieff Morris and Andrew Nicholson, they could pry the power forward loose from the Spurs, giving them what would appear to be one of the better starting lineups in the Eastern Conference with Wall, Beal, Porter Jr., Aldridge and Gortat. The Spurs would virtually have a less productive version of Aldridge in Morris and a solid role-playing big man in Nicholson.

Is Ricky Rubio Dunn?

With Ricky Rubio catching a shin to the elbow during the fourth quarter of a game vs. the Kings, he has been ruled out indefinitely and gives the reigns of the offense to the number five overall pick, Kris Dunn, who is arguably one of the most NBA ready players coming out of the draft. Dunn brings lockdown defense, a pass-first mindset and an evolving offensive game. Dunn’s fortunate fall into the staring lineup could lead to big things for the already exciting Timberwolves.

The Wolves are a team of budding superstars in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and they will help Dunn have an easier transition into the NBA by not having to carry a team, but play a role within it. He should fit easily with Tom Thibedou’s defensive mindset with that being his most NBA ready skill.

Dunn can take control of what a lot of people consider to be a playoff team and run with this opportunity, potentially putting Ricky Rubio on the outs.

The Luke Walton effect

For the past three seasons, there hasn’t been much to cheer about in Laker Land.

Other than the departing game of Kobe Bryant where he dropped 60 points on the Jazz, things have been dismal. But man, what a time to be alive.

Bringing in former Laker Luke Walton as the new head coach was perhaps the best move the Lakers have made in years.

Mike Brown got the infamous Kobe death stare that ultimately led to his firing, Mike D’Antoni could’ve cared less about playing any kind of defense, (which was evident in the Lakers first game this season against Houston,) and Byron Scott was the coach every Laker fan loved to hate.

Walton has spoken openly about bringing a winning culture back to Los Angeles with the primary focus being the team’s defense, which has looked better in the preseason and the first quarter of the regular season.

Now entering the post-Kobe era, the Lakers look to their young core, specifically D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram to usher in a new generation of the Showtime Lakers.

With Bryant gone, Russell is looking to take over the leading role. Mr. Ice in his Veins has missed a few games due to injury, but he looks like someone the Lakers can look to in key moments when the clock is winding down. Ingram will also look to be someone who can fill this role, but with his current frame, it will take a little while longer for the young rookie to get situated in the NBA game.

Clarkson has taken to his role coming off the bench quite nicely, and Randle is just a straight up beast who seems to get in his opponent’s head every night.

Walton is definitely what the Lakers have been looking for: a young player’s coach who can relate to the team and actually has them playing a fun brand of basketball.

So here’s to the future—may it be filled with many more championships.

NBA Preview – Pacific Division

1. Golden State Warriors – Well, this should be interesting—the most exciting team to watch in the NBA just got more exciting. With the addition of Kevin Durant, the Warriors have potentially the best three shooters in the league, a walking triple-double in Draymond Green, and a number of solid role players.

We don’t expect the Warriors to have a better regular season record than they did last year, but we do expect them to be a better team. There really is no ceiling for the NBA’s newest villains, and a third consecutive trip to the Finals is definitely in reach.

2. Los Angeles Lakers – Coming off a franchise worst record of 17-65, the Lakers look to get back on track with a new head coach in Luke Walton. Walton is potentially the best move the Lakers have made in years, players included, and looks to bring a winning culture back to Los Angeles.

With a young core of players in D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, along with a number of solid vets and role players, the Lakers won’t get back to winning immediately, but the future is definitely bright. The likelihood of them keeping their top-3 protected pick is unlikely, but there’s a lot to be happy about if you’re a Lakers fan.

3. Los Angeles Clippers – With what seems to always end in a second-round exit, the Clippers will once again have one of the most talented rosters in the NBA. With a trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, they will try to cure their playoff woes in 2017.

Jamal Crawford is still one of the best sixth men in the league, and the Clippers got front court depth on their bench in Mo Speights and Brandon Bass, while adding Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone through the draft.

4. Phoenix Suns – With a loaded backcourt in Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and Brandon Knight, the Suns will have no problems finding offense—the only question that remains if if they can stay healthy, and will they keep all of their weapons?

Marquese Chriss could potentially be the steal of the draft, even coming in at pick number nine. He has shown in Summer League and preseason that he can score, grab rebounds and contribute in other categories. He could be a power forward of the future, along with Dragen Bender who has been less than impressive, but was always known to be a work in progress.

5. Sacramento Kings – Frank Vogel looks to bring a defensive culture to what’s been an underachieving Sacramento team. With DeMarcus Cousins contract expiring after the end of next season, this could be a make or break season for the Kings.

Sacramento added Ty Lawson who is still trying to find his stride since leaving Denver, along with Aaron Afflalo via free agency in the offseason. Afflalo is a defensive specialist and can be another scoring option. Other than adding more bigs to the roster, no major moves were made, and it leaves Cousins wondering exactly what the Kings are thinking. Expect another season of with a late lottery pick for Sacramento.

NBA Preview – Atlantic Division

1. Boston Celtics – With the addition of Al Horford in free agency, the Celtics finally have the big man they’ve been in need of. Isaiah Thomas is coming off his first All-Star appearance, and with Avery Bradley being one of the league’s top defenders, Boston has one of the best back courts in the NBA.

Brad Stevens is one of the top candidates for Coach of the Year, and should have no problem leading a very talented Boston squad back to the playoffs with home court advantage. The Celtics will be one of few teams in the East with a chance of knocking Cleveland out of the playoffs.

2. New York Knicks – The Knicks made a major move in acquiring former NBA MVP Derrick Rose and former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah from the Bulls. After beating his recent court case, Derrick Rose looks to return to All-Star form.

The Knicks could potentially be one of the best teams in the NBA, and if they can stay relatively healthy, they could give the Cavaliers a real fight in the Eastern Conference.

3. Brooklyn Nets – The Nets roster is in dire need of help. Not owning their own first round pick really hurt them in getting any quality young talent, though they brought in Jeremy Lin, who looks to fill in as the starting point guard and provide them with a reliable second go to scorer behind Brook Lopez.

Other than that, the Nets look to have a down season. They didn’t make a big splash in free agency and with a roster that lacks talent, it’s tough to see them winning 20+ games.

4. Toronto Raptors – Last years darling of the NBA had the best season their franchise has ever seen. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are set to once again be one of the top scoring back courts in the NBA, with Lowry being the perimeter threat and DeRozan having one of the best mid-range games in the league along with getting to the rack.

The Raptors have solid role players and an up-and-coming prospect in Norman Powell, who has shown he’s ready to be a key part in Toronto’s future. If Valanciunas can stay healthy, Toronto should be alright down low, even with the loss of key reserve big man Bismack Biyombo (Magic).

5. Philadelphia 76ers – The Sixers can’t seem to catch break after things were starting to finally look up. The number one overall pick, Ben Simmons, broke his toe during practice and looks to be out for the foreseeable future.

On a positive note, Joel Embiid has returned to the basketball court after three years and looks to be pushing his minutes restriction up nightly. The Sixers look to finally have a competent NBA roster filled with lots of young talent; unfortunately, they’ll still be looking at a high lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.

 

NBA Preview – Southwest Division

1. Houston Rockets – With James Harden being named Houston’s starting point guard, things are about to take a turn in the right direction for the Rockets. When Harden was in OKC, he was basically the team’s backup point guard, and now having the ball in his hands full-time will allow everyone else on the Rockets to get open looks. Expect a big year from Harden in both the scoring and assists columns.

The Rockets also brought in two shooters from the Pelicans in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson via free agency. Having a number of perimeter threats could lead to James Harden putting up MVP numbers and ultimately leading the league in assists. A lot of talk about Harden in this post, but let’s face it, the Rockets success starts and ends with him.

2. San Antonio Spurs – The team that always wins 50+ games looks to continue its winning ways post Tim Duncan era. They have retooled their roster with veterans Pau Gasol and David Lee after losing Duncan, Boris Diaw (Jazz), Boban Marjanovic (Pistons), and David West (Warriors).

With Superstars Lamarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard leading the charge, the Spurs should keep up their winning ways this season and be in the thick of fighting for a top playoff spot in the West.

3. Memphis Grizzlies – The grind house of the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies have a new first year head coach in David Fizdale, and have brought in injury-plagued Chandler Parsons in hopes of keeping their aging roster in playoff contention.

Having a team that always finds itself winning games on the defensive end of things will help their transition in playing coach Fizdale’s style of basketball. Unfortunately, this frequent playoff team will more than likely find themselves on the outs and be in the lower end of the lottery after this season.

4. Dallas Mavericks – The Dallas Mavericks brought in a couple NBA proven players this offseason to help out Dirk Nowitzki. Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry look to come in and provide quality shooters, along with Andrew Bogut bringing a defensive presence to what is already a quality NBA roster.

If Dirk can continue to create magic on the court, and the team continues to play team ball and stay healthy, the Mavs will be a middle of the pack playoff team in a loaded Western Conference.

5. New Orleans Pelicans – The injury-plagued Pelicans weren’t able to catch a break last season, and this season they look to return to being a competitive team. After the unfortunate news of Jrue Holiday’s wife having to have surgery to remove a brain tumor, the Pelicans have lost Holiday indefinitely. Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter are also out until mid December, and seeing Eric Gordon (Rockets) and Ryan Anderson (Rockets) leave in free agency doesn’t help the situation.

The Pelicans are looking for Anthony Davis to return to his MVP form from two seasons ago, and they also brought in collegiate sharpshooter Buddy Hield to give the team a consistent three-point threat. The Pelicans should improve from last season as long as everyone can stay healthy.