Predicting Landing Spots for Top 50 Free Agents

*Top 50 procured from Adam Fromal at Bleacher Report

This summer’s free agency period is only a mere few hours away, so we have to make predictions right? The storyline for this free agency is that it is headlined by Kevin Durant, and is seen as the warmup for next year’s star studded offseason. However there are still many valuable pieces to be had, and with the salary cap escalating to new heights, almost all teams will be buyers in the market. Most of the major names will probably stay with their current clubs, while lower-level free agents will be looking to cash in on huge contracts, which could make for some very interest signings. From what rumours I have read, along with my own opinion on what would be the best fit, I’ll make a prediction/case on where I think each of the top 50 free agents will end up.

1) LeBron James (SF) – Player Option

  • Finals MVP and Champion, will opt out and sign another 1 + 1 to remain the King of Cleveland.

2) Kevin Durant (SF) – Unrestricted

  • Had the Thunder flamed out earlier in the playoffs, there could be a real chance of him leaving. But after their great showing, (even with the collapse to the Warriors), he too will sign a 1 + 1 to maximize potential earnings next summer. This will give the Thunder one more year to prove that they are the contenders we saw during this past postseason.

3) Andre Drummond (C) – Restricted

  • Other teams will give him max-offer sheets, but they will be futile attempts. Drummond is the franchise piece on a rising Pistons squad. Expect to see him sign a 5-year deal very early.

4) Al Horford (C) – Unrestricted

  • Horford is an interesting case. The Hawks are a well-coached team, a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago. However, now that they’ve traded Teague I don’t think they have enough talent to challenge the Cavs. I think Horford would be a great fit for Boston, they could finally have a number one option, one that would fit seamlessly into their system on both sides of the ball. Max deals will come at Horford from many teams, but a 4-year max from the Celtics would be his best option.

5) Hassan Whiteside (C) – Unrestricted

  • Rumour is that Whiteside doesn’t want to wait around to see where other players end up, he wants to sign on July 1st; the first day of the free agency period. Because of this, I think he will leave South Beach. Pat Riley will want him to wait so he can make other moves, but with Whiteside finally getting an opportunity for major money it’s fair to see why he wants to sign fast. Expect the Mavs and the Hornets to be the frontrunners, and for Mark Cuban to finally get an athletic, defensive center on a 4-year max deal.

6)Mike Conley (PG) – Unrestricted

  • The only high-tier point guard this offseason, Conley will be able to field many offers. It’ll be interesting to see if his supposed “promise”with Marc Gasol will be kept, or if he’ll consider greener pastures; possibly a team that can actually shoot 3’s. I think he’ll stay in Memphis and sign a max deal, but if he chooses to leave Dallas has to be the only option.

7) Dwayne Wade (SG) – Unrestricted

  • Oh wouldn’t it be fun to see Wade team up with any of his banana boat buddies. Dream over, it won’t happen. Wade will take his sweet time, and then eventually return to Miami, probably on a short deal so he can get paid next summer if Riley can’t upgrade the roster.

8) DeMar DeRozan (SG) – Player Option

  • Going into the season, I thought DeRozan was already gone to the Lakers. But after reaching the Conference Finals and further showing his bromance with Kyle Lowry to the media, I think he’ll sign a 5-year max with We The North.

9) Nicolas Batum (SG) – Unrestricted

  • Batum is a very interesting player in this free agency period. Almost all teams would love to have his services after his strong showing in Charlotte as a top option, along with what he showed in Portland as a role player. Oddly enough, I think it would be great if he went back to Portland, but I see him getting maxed out by Michael Jordan and the Hornets.

10)Bradley Beal (SG) – Restricted

  • Injury concerns continue to plague Beal, but he still has the talent to be a fringe All Star player and will command offers. I expect him to stick around in Washington though, he is the perfect backcourt mate for John Wall, and the Wizards have been loyal to him through these many injuries.

11) Dirk Nowitzki (PF) – Player Option

  • The Warriors have been reported to be looking at Dirk. Yeah, not going to happen. Dirk is a Mav for life, expect him to take a pay cut once again so Mark Cuban can upgrade the roster. Could you imagine if Dirk did leave though? And not just leave, but went to Golden State? Watching Mark Cuban explode would be really entertaining.

12) Dwight Howard (C) – Player Option

  • Oh Dwight. It’s starting to get difficult to remember the monster he was in Orlando, but luckily for him there’s so much money to go around this offseason that some team will offer him the max. And that team should be the Atlanta Hawks. If Al Horford leaves, (as I expect him to) bringing Howard into his hometown franchise would be a pretty good fit. Newly starting point guard Dennis Shröder is a pass first point who would excel in a pick-and-roll with Dwight. Not since the Orlando days has Howard played with a stretch-4, and pairing him up with Millsap would be a dream. Keeping Horford is option 1, but if that fails offering Dwight a max must be option 2.

13) Pau Gasol (C) – Player Option

  • At age 35, Gasol will be looking to win another championship. And with the Bulls nowhere near contention, I see a Texas move coming. Can you think of a more Spurs-ian player than Pau Gasol? Whether Tim Duncan retires or not, Gasol teaming up with Aldridge will make for one of the best frontcourts in the league.

14) Chandler Parsons (SF) – Player Option

  • Reports have said that Parsons wants nothing to do with Dallas, which is unfortunate because we won’t get to see any photos of him signing a contract in a nightclub. Philly will throw him a max offer, along with almost every other swingman type player like Parsons. If he wants to be “the man”, this will be the place to go. If not, Boston or Orlando would be good spots for him.

15) Evan Fournier (SG) – Restricted

  • After trading Oladipo to OKC, Fournier will be brought back to Orlando. With Hezonja as the only other shooting guard option on the roster, Fournier will be looked to contribute significantly on offense.

16) Kent Bazemore (SG) – Unrestricted

  • Bazemore may end up commanding more on the open market than the Hawks can afford, teams like Brooklyn, Utah, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and others who may not be able to attract the bigger names could offer him a large contract in order to hit the salary floor. My best fit for Bazemore would be Phoenix, one of their two point guards will probably be traded soon enough, Devin Booker is their young stud, but he is quite young, and P.J. Tucker may be slightly over the hill.

17) Harrison Barnes (SF) – Restricted

  • Even after such a horrible Playoffs and Finals performance, Barnes will still receive max contract offers, plural. I think Minnesota would be a very interesting fit, dependant on if he would accept playing the 4 nearly full time. A fully spaced out system centered around Towns would be unbelievable within a few years. Philadelphia will almost certainly offer him a max deal, however if Golden State fails to coerce Durant into joining them, they won’t let Barnes walk away.

18) Jordan Clarkson (PG) – Restricted

  • Teams needing a point guard will reach out with offers, such as Brooklyn, Detroit, and Sacramento, but expect the Lakers to match any offers. After the D’Angelo Russell snapchat debacle, Clarkson is a solid option for the future.

19) J.R. Smith (SG) – Player Option

  • J.R. will opt out in the search of more money, teams will pursue other players before him, and he will eventually return back to Cleveland. I mean, after a summer of not wearing a shirt, won’t he want to experience that again?

20) Bismack Biyombo (C) – Player Option

  • After Whiteside is gone, and with most seeing Howard as being over-the-hill, Biyombo will be the best available defensive anchor on the market. The Lakers, Trail Blazers, and Hornets will pursue him with near max, if not full max offers. If I were him, I would go to Portland, but the Lakers may offer him a shorter term max contract that could entice him more. He could get back into the market faster and earn even more.

21) Ryan Anderson (PF) – Unrestricted

  • Sacramento, Houston, and Toronto are a few of the teams that will be looking for an upgrade at power forward, and on offense the spacing Anderson provides comes at a premium. The Raptors don’t have a ton of space, but if Anderson is looking to compete a move to Canada would be the best fit for him. If he’s looking to shoot at will and provide zero defense, going to Houston to team up with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni will be his choice.

22) Tim Duncan (PF) – Player Option

  • Only two options here; take an incredibly cheap contract to return to San Antonio, or retire. I think the world would explode if he changed teams.

23) Marvin Williams (PF) – Unrestricted

  • While he doesn’t offer the premier shooting and scoring that Ryan Anderson does, Williams can provide more on the defensive end. Expect the Raptors to pursue him hard if Anderson doesn’t work out, along with teams like Portland, Utah, Washington, and Sacramento. In Washington would be the best fit other than Toronto, he would fill the Jared Dudley stretch-4 position incredibly well. Charlotte will try to retain him, but the price tag may become too high.

24) Allen Crabbe (SG) – Restricted

  • Crabbe will have plenty suitors, it will just depend on what kind of role he is looking for. If he wants to start, I think the Knicks could do much worse in finding a starting 2 guard. If he’s still willing to come off the bench, Utah or Washington would be good fits as well.

25) Jared Sullinger (PF) – Restricted

  • The Celtics, like always, will try to swing for the fences for a major name in free agency. If they are successful, Sullinger will not be matched, however if they fail they will definitely consider bringing him back to bolster their frontline. Teams that could have interest would be the Lakers, Nets, or Mavericks, dependent on their other pursuits.

26) Evan Turner (SG) – Unrestricted

  • Turner never lived up to expectations when selected 2nd overall by the 76ers, but playing for Boston has been the best situation for him. Reports are saying that he really wants to stick around and that would be the best option for him. The Celtics are a rising franchise, led by a great front office and head coach.

27) Ian Mahinmi (C) – Unrestricted

  • If the Lakers haven’t snagged Whiteside or Biyombo, Mahinmi will be their man. The Wizards should give him a look as well with Gortat getting up there in age, the Bucks would also love to add a long defensive anchor to their lengthy squad.

28) Luol Deng (SF) – Unrestricted

  • Deng is getting older but his corner 3 and strength at the power forward position is still worth quite a lot. His veteran presence would be great in situations like Toronto and Minnesota, both places where he could start at the 4 and play clutch minutes.

29) Jeremy Lin (PG) – Player Option

  • Brooklyn and Sacramento will be looking for a point guard, and with Rondo being the only other one available I expect the Kings and their horrible organization to throw the kitchen sink at Lin. Sorry pal, the money will be great but get used to disfunction.

30) Festus Ezeli (C) – Restricted

  • The Lakers are being linked to every center on the market not named Dwight Howard, so Festus very much so could end up there, who knows what the Lakers organization is thinking. But recent news says the Warriors are considering keeping Ezeli over Bogut, and it does make sense to do so. He’s much younger and still brimming with potential, so after the failed Durant sweepstakes they will have money to spend on matching any offer sheets.

31) Meyers Leonard (PF) – Restricted

  • Had an off-season last year, plagued with injuries, but still has a sweet stroke for a big man. I like him staying in Portland as a part of their young nucleus, but could fit well on a team like Memphis who desperately needs shooting off the bench.

32) Dion Waiters (SG) – Restricted

  • Before acquiring Oladipo, I would’ve expected to see Dion back in OKC after a strong playoff showing. But now, the outcome appears to be a bit murky. The two have a lot of comparable skills, and I can’t see them playing together off the bench. I see Dion’s hometown Philadelphia 76ers offering him a huge contract to come and start for them.

33) Mirza Teletovic (PF) – Unrestricted

  • There should be many power forwards pursued first, but Teletovic does offer a lot of spacing off the bench. The Pelicans could look to him as a cheaper Ryan Anderson, or teams that need spacing such as Memphis or Sacramento.

34)  Al Jefferson (C) – Unrestricted

  • Tough to find a spot for Big Al, his skills don’t translate to the modern NBA but he would make for a great scoring big off the bench.

35) Jared Dudley (PF) – Unrestricted

  • A do-it-all forward, Jared Dudley will be paid handsomely, both for his play and his locker room presence. I’d love to see him end up on the Pistons, a young up-and-coming team that needs backup help badly.

36) Rajon Rondo (PG) – Unrestricted

  • Brooklyn Nets, 100%. I have no idea who will score in order for him to get 10+ assists a night, but Rondo will find a way. There is no better situation for him to improve his value, he will play as much as he wants and will control the ball.

37) Eric Gordon (SG) – Unrestricted

  • He’s not the same player he was coming into the league, but if he stays healthy he is a great scoring option on the wing. Teams like Chicago and New York could use him, Memphis can always use 3-point shooting as well.

38) Joe Johnson (SG) – Unrestricted

  • Go and chase rings Iso Joe. Many expected him to end up on Cleveland last year before spurning them for Miami. Take the veterans minimum and play with LeBron and co.

39) Tyler Johnson (PG) – Restricted

  • Could command decent offers from teams that struck out earlier on better options, the Heat would love to keep him though as long as the price doesn’t get exponentially high.

40) Trevor Booker (PF) – Unrestricted

  • Great energy guy off the bench, teams weak on the bench like Houston, Detroit, and New Orleans should take a look at him.

41) Boban Marjanovic (C) – Restricted

  • First off, everybody loves Boban. He’s a bit old to command major money, but with the ridiculous amount of cap space the league has to offer, someone will swing for the fences by offering him a big contract. Atlanta could be a suitor, with Budenholzer coming from the Spurs system, Boban could fit in well as a bench contributor.

42) Deron Williams (PG) – Player Option

  • Definitely not a starting calibre point guard in this league anymore, but more than capable as a backup point guard. Could get looks from Detroit if they strike out on other options, but would be interesting if Philadelphia was willing to pay him an excessive amount.

43) Aaron Afflalo (SG) – Restricted

  • Not sure if he can find a starting job on a good team, but if he was willing to take a bench role the Clippers would be a great option for him. He could play the 2 or 3 off the pine, and possibly play in crunch time in small-ball lineups.

44) Matthew Dellavedova (PG) – Restricted

  • Dellavedova is one of the dirtiest players in the league, and that was confirmed by the players vote. He should accept this role and join Detroit, start the Bad Boy Pistons version 2.

45) Maurice Harkless (SF) – Restricted

  • Teams requiring wing depth; New Orleans, Memphis, L.A. Clippers, these would make for great fits for a young Harkless, a player who hasn’t been fully uncaged in this league yet.

46) Manu Ginobli (SG) – Player Option

  • Same options as Tim Duncan; either take a minimum salary, or retire. I think Manu retiring is more likely than Tim.

47) Donatas Motiejunas (PF) – Restricted

  • Wouldn’t it be funny if Stan Van Gundy lied about Motiejunas’s back problems in order to chase him in free agency without losing anything? Pistons make sense for him, he could allow them to play small and could play alongside Drummond when necessary.

48) Brandon Jennings (PG) – Unrestricted

  • Should not be looked to start for any team, but would provide a solid 15-20 minutes off the bench for an upper class team. Indiana and Atlanta could look for bench scoring and playmaking.

49) Matt Barnes (SF) – Unrestricted

  • Barnes is a veteran that hasn’t won anything in this league. However, with the cap spike, he could chase a long contract and financial security. It’ll be up to him, join a contender like San Antonio for cheap and a shot at a ring. Or go to Washington or another small-forward hungry team for a larger payday.

50) Joakim Noah (C) – Unrestricted

  • A reunion with Derrick Rose seems inevitable at this point. Signing with New York would be the best option for Noah, and if he somehow can rewind the clock back a couple of years the partnership with him and Porzingis up front could be amazing.
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My 2016 U.S.A. Olympic Basketball Team Roster

 

With the NBA postseason coming to an end, there are two important dates coming up this month in regards to basketball. The NBA Draft takes place on the 23rd of June, and Jerry Colangelo will be picking the final 12-man roster for U.S.A. Basketball at this year’s Olympic Games four days later on the 27th. The problem for Colangelo, Krzyzewski, and company is that eight of their best options have pulled out because of injury or personal reasons. These eight players include the back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Of these eight, four are point guards, and arguably are the top point guards the NBA has to offer. So what does this mean for U.S.A. Basketball this summer? They’re backcourt depth has been slashed, but they will still be the obvious favourites going into Rio. These losses just mean that Coach K will have to play slightly bigger lineups, he won’t be able to play three guard lineups as he has in past international competitions. However, they still have a ton of talent to choose from, and who better to help them with these decisions than me? First, let’s look at the pool of players that are still available.

Guards: Andre Igoudala, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, Jimmy Butler, Mike Conley, Paul George, Damian Lillard

Forwards: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Gordon Hayward, Kawhi Leonard

Centers: Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan

Now let’s break it down:

  • In the 2014 World Championships, Team U.S.A. brought three point guards along; Curry, Irving, and Rose. There are only three point guards left in the pool; Irving, Conley, and Lillard. Will they take all three?
  • On that same team, there were only four swingmen on the roster; Thompson, Harden, Gay, and DeRozan. This summer they will definitely take more than that.
  • Without the clear number one center Anthony Davis, who will be protecting the rim for this team?

My Picks:

Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving

  • MVP of the 2014 World Championships, of the three point guards remaining he is the only one with national team experience. He has to be the obvious choice at point.

SG: Klay Thompson

  • The second half of the Splash Brothers, think about all the open shots he gets within an offense where he is the second option. What happens when he’s the 4th, possibly 5th option? I foresee many open corner three’s.

SF: Kevin Durant

  • A near 7 footer that can score at will inside and outside, could you imagine a better player for the international game?

PF: LeBron James

  • He may choose to skip the Olympics after playing in his sixth straight Finals, but if he decides to play he will be the point forward for this team.

C: DeMarcus Cousins

  • It’s possible that DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard could be looked to start for their defensive abilities, but with the perimeter length this team will boast Cousins offensive abilities should trump all the others.

Bench Guards

Damian Lillard

  • Between him and Mike Conley, Lillard deserves this spot much more. He’s an incredible shot creator and three point shooter.

Paul George

  • George was essentially promised a spot on this team if he wanted it following his horrific leg injury. He’s a proven first option and will provide great shooting and defence off the bench.

Jimmy Butler

  • While DeRozan was a member of the 2014 team, I have Butler beating him out. He can make outside shots at a much better rate and his defensive prowess puts him over the top. Unfortunately, not sure how many minutes he will accrue on this squad.

Bench Forwards

Kawhi Leonard

  • Defensive player of the year. Think back to 2012 when Igoudala was on the Olympic roster solely as the lockdown perimeter defender. Now make Iggy’s hands larger, bump his intensity up a bit, and improve the three point shot and you get the beast that is Kawhi Leonard.

Carmelo Anthony

  • Best highlights of his career occurred during his time playing with the national team. Melo won’t be winning anytime soon in New York, so let the guy get a third gold medal.

Draymond Green

  • Another defensive, ball-handling forward that will have a large role on this roster if selected. Can you imagine a 5 man defensive lineup of Lebron, Kawhi, George, Durant, and Green? Oh boy.

Bench Center

DeAndre Jordan

  • This was tough. Drummond played well in minimal minutes in 2014 with the national team, but after selecting the score-first Cousins I decided to go with a defensive backup. After watching Dwight play for Houston this year, it was easy to pick between him and DeAndre. He may not play a lot, especially if Draymond sees minutes at the 5-spot, but could be a great rim-protecting option at the end of the bench.

No baby-faced MVP, no triple-double machine at the point, no bearded foul creator, but none of these losses will make a difference. This U.S.A. roster will clean house down in Rio this summer, even if they play defensively at 50%, they are that long and disruptive. Hopefully one day I will be able to make tough cuts for the Canadian national team, but until then I’ll just have to cheer for our neighbours to the south.

 

 

NBA Finals Preview/Prediction

First, may we all have a polite golf clap for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even though they lost 3 straight games when up 3-1 it was against the historically great Golden State Warriors, and nobody honestly expected coming into the postseason that they’d stand a chance. However, now that the Finals are upon us, it’s time to forget the past and focus on this upcoming rematch between the top teams from each conference. The Warriors, a 73-win juggernaut lead by a baby-faced assassin, and the Cavaliers, lead by 6 straight Finals participant/player-coach/overall beast LeBron James. This is a tough series to predict, you might think, “the Warriors are the best regular season team ever, you have to pick them to win!” But, they just went through an incredibly tough series that exposed a few of their weaknesses. Plus, while the Warriors are a dominant 3-point shooting team, the Cavs are actually leading the playoffs in 3 point attempts per game (34.6), and percentage made (43.4). This is going to be a good old fashioned shoot out.

 

Key Matchup: Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving

  • Kyrie will have to show up on both ends to give the Cavs a shot at winning a championship. He’s shown us his defensive abilities at the 2014 FIBA World Cup where he was named the tournament MVP. Irving is known for his offensive prowess, but matching up against the back-to-back league MVP on offence is a tough task for almost anyone. We all know that Steph will continue to make video game level shots, but if Kyrie can annoy him defensively and tighten the gap of this matchup then anything can happen.

 

Things to consider when watching:

  • Is Andre Igoudala going to have enough energy to slow down LeBron James after chasing Durant around for 7 games?
  • Which J.R. Smith shows up, the guy who plays through the offence and knocks down his open 3’s? Or the guy who will think whatever Klay can do, I can do?
  • Will Kevin Love play in the final minutes of fourth quarters? Will the Cavs gamble on the defensive end in order to have him space the floor offensively?
  • How many dirty plays will Matthew Dellavadova pull throughout this series?
  • Which is a bigger disappointment; Curry and the Warriors losing after a 73 win season, or LeBron losing his 5th NBA Finals?

 

Prediction: Warriors in 7

  • LeBron has a lot more help this time. But is that for the better or worse? Last year they had to play slowly in an attempt to disrupt the Warriors offensive flow, but now with Kyrie and Love healthy, their best offence is also quite fast. While their offensive numbers are way up, they haven’t faced a team anything like these Warriors on the East side of the bracket. I want to pick the Warriors in 5, but after the slugfest they just went through I have to favour the home team in each matchup. There will be that Kyrie explosion game, along with a poor shooting night from Steph, or Klay, or both. As much as I’d like to see LeBron’s legacy not get tarnished, and have him win one for the Land, I can’t see the greatest regular season team ever lose this one. This could be the start of a dominant, new-era, 3-point shooting dynasty. All I ask is for Durant not to join them. Please.

Thoughts on upcoming Game 6’s

Both of these series have gone differently than I had expected. I never could’ve guessed that the Thunder would’ve been up 3-1 in the series prior to Game 5. I never could’ve seen the Raptors taking more than a game against LeBron and co. But now here we are, both series set at 3-2 heading towards potentially decisive Game 6’s. Coming into this round, I predicted the Cavaliers moving on to the Final’s in five games, that prediction is already out the window. On the other side, I trusted my mind more than my heart and went with the Warriors in 7, which is still plausible. It’s tough for the Warriors to win 3 straight to come back in this series, but last night they got the first one. And while it’s nearly impossible to come back down 3-1, if any team can do it, its these 73-win Warriors.

 

Cavaliers vs. Raptors

Headed back to Toronto down 3-2, the Raps are about to play the biggest game in their franchise’s history. And as they’ve held their home court against the Cavs so far this season and and in this series, it appears that they may be destined to play a third game 7 of this postseason. Big games from the All Star backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan will obviously be necessary, but this is a game where the role players will need to step up once again. Cory Joseph will be tasked with shutting down Kyrie Irving, Patrick Patterson or whoever is matched up on Kevin Love will need to stick to him on the perimeter, and Bismack Biyombo has to show why the media has been talking lately about him earning 15+ million dollars on the free agency market. In the two games at home, Biyombo has 40 rebounds. Yeah, you read that correctly, 40. Obviously this is a must win for Toronto, but either way making it this far gives the franchise a lot of hope going forward. Going toe-to-toe with the unanimous pre-season favourite Cavaliers has put the 6 on the map, and while I have them winning at home, I don’t see them moving on to the Finals.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 7

 

Warriors vs. Thunder

The Thunder have been playing absolutely amazing. Not many had them moving past the Warriors, but after Game 4 it’s hard to see them losing three straight to collapse. Although last night they lost to bring the series to 3-2, the game was in the Oracle, an equal if not tougher place to play than the Thunder’s own Chesapeake Energy Arena. And now going back home for Game 6 OKC has to be massively favoured. Russell Westbrook is playing at an MVP level, distributing the ball and not forcing too many shots. (I mean, he’s still forcing some here and there, but I’ll take the many positives he adds to a couple negatives.) Serge Ibaka has woken up and realized how athletically gifted he is. And can we talk for a second about the biggest surprise of this series, ANDRE ROBERSON?!? A couple of weeks ago, if you asked me to describe Roberson I would say, “Great perimeter and on-ball defender, long and athletic, but offensively he’s a pilon. If my life came down to Roberson making a corner 3, I’m dead.” And now, I’m eating my words. The dude is playing out of his freaking mind. Back-cuts, 3-point shooting from all around the arc, making plays out of the pick and roll, it’s been absolutely beautiful. Steven Adams is also becoming an offensive force, and I swear that every time he gets hit or kicked he gains more power. There’s some weird kiwi-magic behind that guy. But anyways, in this upcoming game 6, if Draymond continues to lose his mind, the Warriors will lose the series. With the Chesapeake crowd getting on him and the rest of Golden State, I think we’ll finally get the Lebron-Durant Finals rematch we’ve all been waiting for.

Prediction: Thunder in 6

East and West Conference Finals Previews/Predictions

We’re down to the final four teams, two of which were expected, one is a slight surprise, and the other is making their first Conference Final in their franchise’s history. Yup, we get to watch Drake scream from the sideline for at least one more series. Congratulations to the Raptors, I had zero faith in DeRozan and the Raps to come through in the clutch, especially against “Father Prime”, Dwayne Wade, but they managed to annihilate them at home in the deciding game 7. The slight surprise are the Oklahoma City Thunder out in the West. They are a surprise because they knocked off the San Antonio Spurs, a team who won 67 games and only lost once at home in the regular season. Media and fans alike were already looking forward to the “Almost Finals”, AKA Spurs vs. Warriors, completely writing off the Thunder. However, it has to be seen as only a slight surprise because the Thunder have two top-five talents in Durant and Westbrook.

Eastern Conference Finals: CAVALIERS vs. RAPTORS

Key matchup: LeBron James vs. DeMarre Carroll

  • It has to be this matchup. This is why the Raps brought Carroll to the 6 in the offseason. The Lowry/Irving matchup is interesting as well, but if Carroll can’t limit LeBron this series will be over quickly. The question is, who will guard LeBron when Carroll takes a breather? Terrence Ross is too small, Norman Powell is too young and fell out of the rotation against the Heat, and James Johnson looks like he’s put on a few pounds.

Things to consider when watching:

  • Can J.R. Smith play good enough defense on DeRozan, while continuing to shoot the lights out from 3?
  • Who wins the battle of the boards, Bismack Biyombo or Tristan Thompson? Also, can Valanciunas get healthy in time to play in this series?
  • Can the Raps guard the 3-point line? The Cavs have four players shooting 50% or better from 3 this postseason; Channing Fyre (57.1%), Kyrie Irving (53.8%), Richard Jefferson (53.3%), J.R. Smith (50.8%)
  • Which bench point guard can make a bigger impact, Matthew Dellavedova or Cory Joseph?
  • Can Patrick Patterson find his outside shooting stroke? He can be an x-factor in this series, especially with how small both teams will end up playing.

 

Prediction: Cavs in 5

  • The Cavs have swept both series so far, and I wanted to pick them to sweep this one too. But while rest can be good, it can also be detrimental. Teams can lose their mojo, and with Lowry and co. coming off a great win, I see them potentially stealing the first game. However, after that, I don’t see the Raps having enough to put up a fight. The Cavs will wake up, take both on the road, and then close it out at home.

 

Western Conference Finals: WARRIORS vs. THUNDER

Key Matchup: Stephen Curry vs. Russell Westbrook

  • Steph will probably be matched up on Roberson on defense so he can conserve his energy. However, on the other end, Russ will be attempting to shut Steph down. Physically he has the tools, Chris Paul is well known as a great Steph defender, and Russell is much larger than CP3 is. If Russ can use most of his seemingly unending energy on the defensive end, not gamble on steals, and play through the offense, the Thunder have a real shot to reach their second Finals in the Durant-era.

Things to consider when watching:

  • The Aussie vs. The Kiwi: Bogut may not be ready for Game 1, but we will see him in this series battling the New Zealand big man Steven Adams, and it’s going to be entertaining as hell.
  • Can Andre Roberson shoot slightly better than everyone thinks he can, enough to the point where his check can’t camp out in the lane?
  • Which team goes to their best lineup first? Do the Warriors go to the small-ball death lineup early, or do the Thunder try to get every single rebound possible with their twin tower lineup of Kanter and Adams?
  • After a solid series, does Waiters island have a chance to become repopulated, or will it become an abandoned wasteland?
  • Which Serge Ibaka shows up? The defensive, 3-point shooting stretch power forward, or the guy who appears lost on the court, and doesn’t get minutes in the clutch?

 

Prediction: Warriors in 7

  • It’s nearly impossible to pick against these Warriors. I do believe it will be an exciting and nail-biting series, and with both arena’s being absolutely mad-houses I think the home team can win each game. The Thunder held fourth quarter leads in all three meeting with the Warriors this season, however though they ended up losing all three games. One of these losses came from a near half-court shot from Curry at the buzzer to steal the win, which was one of the greatest shots I have ever seen. Every time I try to tell myself, “..well, the Thunder COULD steal a game at Oracle…”, I think of that shot. So yeah, let’s make the crazy decision to pick the best regular season team in history to make their second straight Final.

 

*All stats courtesy of stats.nba.com

 

 

 

Draymond Green: The Heartbeat

Draymond Green is a superstar.

In the past half a decade, the league has changed and evolved drastically. More and more teams, this year especially, have began to retool their personnel and their roster to try to emulate what the D’Antoni Suns pioneered, what the Spurs built upon, and what the ’14-’15 Warriors perfected. The system that has enamoured GMs across the league isn’t possible for every team in the league, however. It’s a system built on pace and space, having the ball whip around the court, off ball screens, constant movement, creating chaos in the defence, and of course, scoring lots of points. It’s the new fad that is here to stay: Small ball.

However, it’s not so much about playing as small as possible and inserting shooters everywhere you can in order to space the floor. Small ball is based on the idea of versatility. The ’14-’15 Warriors were dominant in every facet of the game. Sure, they have a couple of pretty good shooters who can hit threes at an alarming rate (I’m underselling it just a bit) which makes them an exciting basketball team to watch. Yes, of course we know Steph is an inexplicably good shooter. But that’s one, very small cog which makes the this current Warriors team the freight train that they are.

The Warriors, first and foremost, are an incredible defensive team. They have been for a long time, even under Mark Jackson. During his tenure, everyone who saw the Warriors with Steph jacking 30, 35, even 40 footers would think that they are an elite offensive team. This was far from the truth. In reality, the ’13-’14 Warriors team that took the Clippers to seven games ran a very average, middle of the pack offence. It was their defence with Bogut as their anchor and long, versatile wings in Thompson and Igoudala that made them an above average team. Offensive sets generally came down to a lot of isos and a couple of high screens which eventually lead to Curry isos on mismatches. This system under Mark Jackson worked, but it didn’t cater to the type of personnel that they had on the team and severely under-utilized the Warriors’ two most lethal offensive weapons.

The ’13-’14 Warriors took the Clippers, without Bogut, to a brutal and physical seven game series where both teams were clawing to make it into the second round. Jackson was promptly fired after the loss, allowing NBA darling Steve Kerr to take the reigns. Kerr, who is no stranger to the three ball, saw a chance to install an offensive system that was custom fit to the team’s main strengths. It utilized a lot of ball movement as well as constant off ball screens and backdoor cuts from the team’s best shooters. This was all made possible due to the two great passing big men, Bogut and David Lee (oh yeah, I remember that guy!). A few weeks in, David Lee, the highest paid player on the team, suffers a hamstring injury and is ruled out for twenty-odd games.

Enter Draymond Green, the 6’7” tweener second round draft pick from Michigan State. What? Prior to Lee’s injury, Draymond rarely logged any minutes at the four, with most of his minutes coming from the small forward position. He was an energetic bench guy who contributed a solid few minutes with an ugly jump shot and above average defence. No one knew how he would fare as the team’s starting power forward, let alone become one of the most important pieces in a historic season. I don’t think even Kerr had any idea.

Fast forward to this season and Draymond Green has become a superstar. The term “superstar” is kind of arbitrary. What does it mean to be a superstar? Throughout NBA history it’s generally been a guy who you can throw the ball in the post or top of the key and he’ll be able to create his own jumpshot. That’s just kind of how it’s always been. Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, Durant. These guys are all players who are renowned for their ability to score, especially in one on one situations. Draymond Green can’t do that. Admittedly, this year he has really improved his three point stroke and has become a surprisingly good finisher at the rim. He is unusually strong for a guy his size, which is part of the key to the Warriors’ success. However, he still isn’t a guy that you can just dump the ball to and expect him to take over a game.

No, instead Draymond is a player who thrives on the intangibles. He is the industrial sized version of a “glue guy.” Draymond never gives less than 100% on both the defensive and offensive ends and it shows. When he gets it going, the Warriors feed off of his energy. Whether it be a tipped pass, a blocked shot, diving for a loose ball, or hitting an and-1 layup on the other end (which will undoubtedly end in a flex for the camera afterwards). He sets the tone for his teammates that’s hard to shake. There’s a reason that Kerr calls him the “heartbeat” of the Warriors.

So what is it that makes Draymond a superstar? There are tons of glue guys in the league, why is this dude making $16 million a year? Versatility. Yup, there’s that word again. On the defensive end, he allows the Warriors to switch everything. He, along with the other wingers with long wingspans, are able to constantly switch on screens and swarm the ball handler with help in every direction. Draymond is one of the only players in the league who can comfortably guard a point guard and a centre, as well as everything in between. He’s that good. He isn’t the fastest or the strongest, but he is always there. He’s smart, always keeps his feet planted on the ground, and his hands straight up. His 7’1″ wingspan allows him to bother perimeter players as well as keep up with the bigs.

His incredible reach is also handy for grabbing offensive and defensive rebounds. There aren’t a lot of guys in the league who have skill set to defend the opposing centre, grab the defensive board, push the ball up the floor, and loop a pinpoint accurate pass to a leaking Igoudala before the defence has had a chance to set. This is the last facet of his game that is criminally underrated: his passing. Draymond’s handle has gotten a lot better that he is able to dribble drive past smaller or slower defenders and whip a cross court pass for an open Klay three. Or maybe he sets a high screen for Curry, receives a pass and rolls to the basket. From here, he has a few different options: Drive to the basket and try to bulldoze through his smaller defender or, if the defence chases over the screen, he can continue rolling to the basket while drawing help defenders, where he can throw a lob upstairs to wide open Ezeli, or perhaps kick it back out for a corner three. Draymond has become so adept at reading the game that he always makes the right decisions.

It’s no wonder that this guy was able to rack up thirteen triple-doubles throughout the course of this season, second behind certified manic Russell Westbrook. The way Draymond has elevated his game on the offensive end while continuing to be an elite defensive force has made him an invaluable piece to the Warriors. If you watch any one Warriors game, it’s incredibly easy to see the impact that Draymond has in the game. It’s not even an argument anymore. Draymond Green is a superstar and there isn’t a single NBA team that wouldn’t benefit from his unique skill set.

Is he the sole reason behind the Warriors success? Of course not. Him being thrust into the starting lineup was a complete fluke at the expense of David Lee (bless his soul). But in order to become great, I think every team needs a little luck. Kudos to the front office for being able to draft the core of Curry, Thompson, Barnes, and Green. But most importantly, the front office had the foresight to trade away their All-Star Monta Ellis for Bogut, despite the protest of their fans. They saw a vision for a team that could put defence first and become contenders in the West with some patience. However, no one could have foreseen Curry becoming the all-time superstar that he is today and leading the Warriors to an unprecedented 73-win season. But the Warriors didn’t win a championship because of small ball and Stephen Curry. They won because of talent, a little bit of luck, and a lot of heart — but also the know-how to run a franchise and the patience to watch it all come together.

-Allan Huynh

 

Is Serge Ibaka the worst defender in the NBA?

To answer the question, no, he’s not. That was simply a hyperbolic question used to state the fact that Ibaka is not the renowned defender that he once was. That isn’t saying that he can’t get back to being a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, because he easily can. The physical tools that he possesses in that incredibly athletic body are exactly what every team in the NBA wants. He is the perfect floor spacing big man with the shot-blocking ability to protect the rim. You know who fits the first half of that bill, but definitely not the second? Enes Kanter. However, who’s been closing games against the perfect machine that is the San Antonio Spurs? Yeah, it’s Enes Kanter. The guy who is constantly mocked by the media and fans alike for being a turnstile on the defensive end. He is incredible on the offensive end, with a soft touch around the basket and a silky mid-range jump shot, along with the occasional corner 3. But you’d think, yeah Kanter is pretty good but awful defensively, and Ibaka can bring all the same abilities with better 3-point shooting AND DEFENSE. However, in this past season, Ibaka has clearly been too focused on becoming the 3rd offensive option for the Thunder behind Durant and Westbrook. In years past Ibaka has been the x-factor for this team, the guy who occasionally gets 10+ points per game, but most importantly 10+ rebounds and a couple blocks. He was focused on being the defensive anchor, and let the shots come to him. Now he’s putting a majority of his effort into the wrong end of the floor. As the timeless saying goes, “defense wins championships”, and for a team with two top-5 superstar talents, two guys who can get their own on offense whenever they please, Ibaka was the perfect component to them. Two offensive focused mega-stars, and one defensive beast that scared opponents into only shooting outside of the paint.

 

Serge I-block-a, Thunder fans and the NBA miss you. You can be a top, two-way power forward in this league, but that has to start on the defensive end. Your shooting stroke has improved immensely, but you will become more involved on that end if you focus on shutting down the other team on D. Get the blocked shots stats up, the shots will come, and the All Star recognition will follow.