It’s Time To Tell Gordon The Bad News

Boston Celtics’ Gordon Hayward has been just informed he will be sent to the G-League to rehab with the Maine Red Claws, per @Sailboatstudios.

Okay, fine. So that didn’t happen. But it really should. Since returning to the court Hayward’s done more harm than good. Arguably, he’s the reason Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been disappointing to begin a season so many pegged the “Two Jay’s” to make a big leap. Brad Stevens is a little stubborn and it takes him a while to adjust. We like to believe his system isn’t as rigid as others, that he crafts strategy solely around the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel. But, that too, is a lie.

Going way back to 2015, Stevens established a role for Tyler Zeller. Yes, that same Tyler Zeller. So even as Zeller got beasted continually on the boards against the Cavaliers, he wasn’t going to insert Jonas Jerebko to utilize his stretch shooting to drag Timofey Mozgov out of the paint for anything in the world.

The same can be said for why Hayward continues to start and close games, despite the clear evidence he’s not all the way back yet. Stevens wants long, athletic shooting wings. The more the merrier. Well, Hayward isn’t athletic anymore. The cruel NBA Gods robbed him of that when they snapped his ankle like a tooth pick that faithful night in Cleveland that drastically changed the destiny of the franchise.

Even if Hayward works himself back to 70 percent of what he once was, he’ll be no match for Giannis, Butler or Kawhi when the playoffs roll around. His goose is cooked. Plain and simple.

The much anticipated lineup of Irving – Brown – Tatum – Hayward and Horford has been a dud the entire year, posting a god awful offensive rating of 91.4 and a plus – 0.1 net rating (I’m shocked that isn’t in the negative). Every game starts the same. The Celtics allow their opponent to get ahead by 15 points or more, because no one can shoot or drive to the rim. Wide open shots are missed, while simultaneously the opposing team makes wide open shots on the regular. When Hayward is off the floor and a rhythm is established, the Celtics go on a big run to climb out of the hole he is very responsible for them being in the first place. Then, Stevens’ big heart gets the best of him, puts Hayward back in to close and the Celtics falter and lose.

In the short span of time the Celtics have given to the Irving – Brown – Tatum – Morris – Horford lineup, their offensive rating soars to 113.7. The pace also slows to a snails pace, but that is probably how the Celtics should honestly play.

When Hayward is off the floor the Celtics ORtg rises to 111.4. Their mark for last season, when Hayward played barley five-minutes was 107.6.

The Celtics must come to grips with reality before things get so bad that there’s a locker room mutiny against Hayward. It’s time for the Hospital Celtics to return, with Kyrie Irving. It’s time for Aron Baynes to reclaim his spot as the starting center. It’s time for Marcus Smart to get more minutes. It’s time for the Celtics to move on from Hayward.

The Most Important Stretch in Greg Monroe’s Celtics Tenure

Written By: Vinny, @sailboatstudios

Reasons for the Celtics recent struggles are many. For one If was expected Jayson Tatum would hit the rookie wall one of these days; the grind of an NBA schedule is harsh on a rookie. Tatum’s played well past the thirty-seven games he worked in his lone season at Duke. In the first 37 games Tatum splits were a Rookie of the Year worthy 51.5/50/82.4%, averaging 14 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.6 APG and 1.6 Stocks (Blocks + Steals); since then: 42.1/30.3/82.5% splits, 12.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.8 Stocks. Add to the exhaustion, defense was never Tatum’s calling card, the Warriors on both occasions showed his vulnerability on zipper action and one-on-one situations.

As a team the Celtics hit their stride after October 24th, the team catapulted to No. 1 in defense posting a league-leading 101.1 DRtg; the Spurs, for the entire season, are second with 104.74. Opponents eFG% was at 48.6, well-below the league-average of 52.1%; opponent’s three-point percentage went capped out at 33.9%; compared to the league-average of 36.1%. This was why people tagged Brad Stevens for Coach of the Year, until recently. The loss of Gordon Hayward didn’t only limit their offense severely, Irving and Horford together can only up Boston’s ORtg to 108, not even close to elite level, it also cost Boston a solid defender on the perimeter. Jaylen Brown is still too skinny to guard many athletic wings (Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo); Jayson Tatum is too young; Terry Rozier is undersized; and you can only scheme around these hinderances so many times until you finally get beat.

Soon the cracks started to show. Smart creating a laceration in his hand after punching a picture frame, derailed Boston’s elite defense to somewhere just below league-average. While a 105.2 DRtg, since the loss to the Lakers, isn’t horrible, the 240 points given up at home to Cleveland and the L.A Clippers right before the All-Star Break is. We can point to the simple subtraction of Smart, one of the best on-ball and team-defenders in the NBA, as the cause for this gigantic step back, but the pieces seemingly were in place to prevent the Celtics from missing Smart. The Clippers, Raptors and Cavaliers, scoring 361 points in the three games played against the Celtics, neither of them (besides Cleveland) didn’t have a body to bully starting shooting guard Jaylen Brown or even Tatum. Yet, they still ran rough-shot over the worn down Celtics. Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and the aforementioned, high-effort Rozier were healthy for all those games. In all reality, this shouldn’t have happened. It’s not crazy to suggest all the Celtics need is some downtime to return to their previous form.

But even if that’s not the solution, it may lay on the bench, twenty-seven-year old center Greg Monroe’s been a solid 5 points, 5 rebounds per game in the four contests he’s suited up in green, since joining the team a week before All-Star Break. After logging in nearly twenty-minutes in his debut against Washington, his time dwindled to 10, 11 and 9 minutes in the final three-games. In those very games, established big forward/center Daniel Theis played nearly 28, 17, 11 and 10 minutes, seeing as he’s a better fit for the modern NBA and was on a good run since December 31st, 56.1%, 40.7% from three, and an offensive rating of 126.

But the following opponents for Boston are exactly why Ainge signed Monroe, Detroit, New York, Memphis, Charlotte, and Chicago. Teams with an established center and Monroe played and had some success against in the past. Like former teammate Andre Drummond, the nine games played Monroe hit 56%, averaged 14.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.5 stocks. Traditional back to the basket centers like Robin Lopez, Enes Kanter, Cody Zeller, Dwight Howard and Jonas Valanciunas are the ideal matchups for Monroe; even though Theis on his best night could create more havoc. But the slow-moving Monroe still proved his worth in a game against the Wizards, a team who’s frontcourt consists of Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Ian Mahimi, Monroe snagged 6 boards and 5 points in the overtime victory.

Like Terry Rozier when Smart was sidelined was the most important two-week stretch of his career, defining his role in the rotation as a trustworthy contributor; Monroe can earn the same if he produces in five of the next six games after All-Star Break comes to a close.

What-If Larry Bird Retired In 1988?

Written By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

 

It’s difficult to understand how great someone from the past really was, especially when you’ve never experienced them firsthand. This probably explains why so many people think LeBron is the greatest player ever. All under twenty-five-year olds have of Michael Jordan is YouTube clips, full games the lack the sense of mystery because the viewer knows how it ends. The cold hard numbers help the narrative that even Kobe Bryant is superior; the numbers don’t tell you Jordan took a sabbatical and missed 99 games. All I’m left with of Larry Joe Bird is the statistics, stories and grainy old footage. We label the 1980s as an overrated era of slow, rugby style basketball that couldn’t possibly work today. The past epic duels between Bird and Dominique, Dr. J, M.J, and Magic are forgotten. By the late-1980s Bird’s status grew to the popularity of where Tom Brady is right now. If there was a stat to describe how many times an athlete came through in the clutch, when fans knew they would, Bird would lead the league.

While the era of Brady lives on, Bird it hung up prematurely at the age of thirty-one. 31. Thirty-one. Reminiscent  of Red Auerbach did before the 1965-66 season Bird announced he was giving the rest of the league “one more” shot at knocking him down. Except Auerbach himself did everything short of getting on his knees to beg Larry not to keep true to his word. Camping out of Bird’s estate in French Lick, Indiana, it wasn’t until September when Red saw Bird laying down gravel in his mother’s driveway did he come to grips with the reality: Bird’s back been giving him trouble since 1985, and it would only get worse from here.

It’s alright, Larry.” He told him. “At Least we still have Lenny.”

And just like that the face of the franchise changed from this skinny gent “The Hick from French Lick” to a physical specimen from Maryland that rivaled Jordan in ego and competitive drive. “If it wasn’t for Bias, I wouldn’t have retired after ‘88.” Bird said in an interview with columnist Bill Simmons.

“What?” He didn’t believe it.

“We’ve just won the title, I finished second in the MVP vote to Jordan… I still felt like I had some good years left in the tank. But I knew the Celtics were in good hands. Lenny was someone I liked the moment I first saw him.

The change was drastic and threw fans into a loop. Fans were expected to toss away their black Converse sneaks in favor of a sleek black, white stripe shoes. Outside of New England the transition was easy; within the area they didn’t know how to feel. The sad era of fans thinking the NBA was “too black” wasn’t a distant memory. When Bird became the coach in 1990, fans chanted “Larry Larry Larry” after every win, Bird could’ve personally told them to stop and they wouldn’t.

Bias eventually won the younger generation over in the early 1990s, out-dueling M.J in the 1990 Semi-Final. Bias was Kawhi Leonard before Kawhi was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Locking up the scoring champ in Game 7, holding him down to sixteen points, five turnovers. “It was the worse game i’ve ever played.” Jordan would confess. Behind the lockdown perimeter defense of Bias and outside shooting of UConn shooting guard Reggie Lewis, the Celtics snuck into the NBA Finals, where they would bow out to the Portland Trailblazers. The team labeled “too old” and simultaneously “too young” the Celtics surprised many, Bias proved his worth as a successor to the legacy of Bird.

How could you not sympathize with the Danny White of the NBA? No matter how well Bias did, he was a mere mortal compared to Bird’s Staubach. Maybe a championship would’ve helped him escape the shadow of The Legend. But basketball is a team sport. The fossilizing of Kevin McHale; Auerbach’s inability to replace the greatest post player in NBA history, passing on Shawn Kemp for Michael Smith in the crucial 1989 NBA Draft set Bias up for failure. Coach Larry Bird tried to get around the aging Kevin’s mcHale by experimenting with the 6’5 Kevin Gamble at the power forward spot, but when playoff time rolled around he went back to the traditional lineup that couldn’t keep up with the speed of the Bulls.

It wasn’t until the death of Reggie Lewis in June of 1993 did fans learn to appreciate the talent before them, realizing how good they got it. Bravely the twenty-nine-year old Bias lead the Celtics through the despair, leading the undermanned Celtics passed the Hornets and heavily favored Knicks en route to a gallant defeat at the hands of Jordan. And thus, the book closed on the Bias era in Boston, fans didn’t know it then.

Three Eastern Conference appearance, two-time runner-up, five Atlantic division titles, getting the best of the GOAT twice(!) in the playoffs. It wasn’t enough. He was Superboy taking over for Superman. Any other team Bias would’ve been revered. But not here, where all that matters is bringing home the Larry O’Brien trophy every year.

The New Look Cavs

By Vinny @sailboatstudios

Visit the @goodtimebball Twitter account.

From constantly working the Trade Machine we now shift to fruitless attempts to getting into the psyche of one Joe Johnson. The Cavaliers dominated the Trade Deadline. Wheeling and dealing everything that wasn’t nailed to the table (LeBron, Love, BKN pick). It was a “Everything Must Go” sale that required collateral. George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr. and Rodney Hood are now in Cleveland and expectations have been risen from the dirt by Koby Altman. The Cavaliers tossed out Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas, basically punting on all of what they’ve received from the Kyrie Irving trade – besides the Brooklyn pick.

It’s a tough sell to fans saying the aforementioned names are going to save the Cavaliers season… well, they need to. Course, they have LeBron who’ll be reenergized, reengaged and whatnot. Perhaps they’re now in prime position to win enough games not to drop further than the third seed and then LeBron takes over come playoff time. Certainly that has to be the plan, it happened last year.

Rodney Hood is the wonderful player I’m still shocked Utah traded him for Jae Crowder and the corpse of Derrick Rose. Hood is enjoying career highs in FG (42.4), 3P (38.9), FT (87.6) percentage and points per game (16.8). A starter in Utah and considered a valued prospect until Donovan Mitchell’s ascension ruined his life. In 2015-16 Hood stared 79 games; out of the fifty-nine he was able to suit up for the following year, 55 he started, and this year the number has dwindled to 12 starts. There’s also the issue of his ability to stay on the court, missing thirty-two games his rookie season and twenty-three this season. Course the injuries that sidelined him weren’t ever serious. Just bumps and bruises, but there’s a point to be made that the Cavaliers will need to handle Hood carefully. In Boston Stevens mandates that a player of Irving’s importance is only allowed to play 32 minutes a night and no more. This helps avoid anything cataclysmic *knock on wood*. Cleveland doesn’t have the infrastructure to do this. But, maybe they’ll turn over a new leaf?

On the floor, Hood is a fine shooter and can elevate off the dribble. Unfortunately, consistency isn’t one of his strong suites. For every 12 of 24 or 10 of 18 shooting night, there’s a 1 of 10 and 4 of 17 stinker.

Last year’s Jazz team will never be recognized as anything more than just a forgettable solid team, in part because the core players were never healthy at the same time. But you look at that roster and see the quality of players, none of them outstanding, just solid, helpful guys who’d help you win, that’s what the Cavaliers did to their roster from top to bottom by snagging Hood. They have hope again. And it starts with Rodney Hood.

 

I find it hilarious during Dan Gilbert/Koby Altman’s wheeling and dealings they inadvertently created the necessary cap space L.A pined for to sign to max contract free agents in the upcoming summer. Props to Jeanie Buss or Rob Pelinka… or dare I say… Magic Johnson(?) for managing to get rid of Jordan Clarkson’s contract, due $37.5 million for the next three seasons, and getting a first round pick. Though it did cost them a young, rookie scale contract player in Larry Nance, Jr., the move to take on Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye’s expiring give the Lakers $46.9 million in cap space next summer, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. The cap space will increase to a whopping $69 million if the Lakers let fourth-year forward Julius Randle walk in RFA and stretch the $37 million owed to Luol Deng over 5 years, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN.

As for Clarkson the player, arguably negated by the George Hill acquisition… but he’s young, the Cavaliers have no way whatsoever to create cap space; the payroll can exceed $150 million with a luxury tax bill of $100 million if LeBron returns to Cleveland, per Marks. The risk is worth it. Clarkson can play both guards spot, averages 14.5 points on a decent 44% shooting, a good 22.9 AST% for someone who splits time between on and off ball. The biggest asset for Clarkson is his ability to finish strong at the rack, 61% in the restricted area. Compare that to where they were before with an angry Isaiah Thomas and the corpse (I know I said that before) of former MVP Derrick Rose, Clarkson will come across as a godsend to Cavalier fans. His shortcomings on defense are prominent and hard to ignore. Will he even be an option during a Golden State series? Probably not. The majority of these moves help Cleveland escape the East.

Another name trading the glitz and glamour of L.A for the cloudy depression of Cleveland, Ohio, 25-year-old Larry Nance, Jr. Since Tristan Thompson up and died, the frontcourt in Cleveland was going to be the main reason they lost in the first round to either Sabonis or Greg Monroe. Nance’s knees aren’t shot. He can jump, 59 dunks this year; to Thompson’s 27 (its kinda crazy the year before Thompson dunked the ball a total of 122 times).

With Nance the Cavs are getting a strong presence offensively in the frontcourt, Nance converts 60.1% (69.9% in the RA) of his attempts, averages a respectable 8.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 stocks (blocks + steals). Thompson 6.2 points, 6 rebounds, 0.6 stocks. Cleveland won’t have to cross their fingers the old Thompson returns before the end of the regular season. Expect some “Hack-a“ as Nance shoots 63.2% from the free throw line. But, like the Clarkson move it was just something the Cavaliers had to do.

The Cavaliers go from one of the oldest teams in the league to a more younger, bouncier roster. They’re the favorites in the East again, and as a Celtics fan… it sucks.

 

 

George Hill to the Cavs, Is He Washed?

By Vinny @sailboatstudios

 

Welp. I guess the Cavaliers and Koby Altman could swing a deal given their relatively bare asset war chest. Not satisfied with their current situation in the backcourt, the Cavaliers sought to drastically improve quickly. Left out of the Kemba Walker talks for many reasons (insufficient assets and/or M.J disinterest to rebuild), the Cavaliers turned to west of Charlotte, Sacramento and the floundering Kings saddled with the regrettable $57 million contract owed to thirty-one guard George Hill. Riding the superb 2016-17 season, though only suited up for 49 games, Hill helped send the Jazz to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. An underrated statistical output during his short stint in Utah, Hill ranked 27th among guards in defensive rating (101), averaged 16.9 points, 4.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and a win shares per 48 of .182 (Damian Lillard scores .185) and a positive net rating of 8.6; 10th among players who’ve logged at least fifteen-minutes per game.

The Cavaliers are a horrendous defensive team, trotting out liabilities such as Isaiah Thomas, J.R Smith, Iman Shumpert, Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon, adds up to the second-worst defensive net rating in the entire NBA (109.9) better than, Ironically, the Kings. As you can imagine, George Hill hasn’t helped the Kings’ avoid such a distinction. Coming into the season missing action due to a toe injury, Hill’s regression is dramatic. Falling from one of the best defenders at his position to 217th (112.9), below Jamal Crawford and Devin Booker. While doing research on George Hill I found it wasn’t all bad news, in the fourteen games considered “clutch” situations on http://NBA.com, Hill posted an impressive ORtg (123.3), DRtg (93.7) and Net rating (29.6) in 2.9 MPG. So it’s possible the good George Hill hasn’t left us at all. Certainly that’s what the Cavaliers are gambling on.

While Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert aren’t considered assets, both past the prime of their respective careers, they provided salary flotsam that helped facilitate this deal and now that they are off the books the Cavaliers have elected to take on even more money, one that’s harder to get off as Hill’s contract doesn’t get any team-friendly in the coming seasons:

2017-18: $20,000,000
2018-19: $19,000,000
2019-20: $18,000,000

Sure, the gentle decline in cash owed helps but by how much for a team already hamstrung by the albatrosses of J.R Smith, Tristan Thompson, and are starring at paying a thirty-year old, under six foot point guard $100-plus million in free agency this July? Ask GM Altman if any of this matters he’d probably so “no.” Given the circumstances all that matter is this time now, damn the future, maximize the present any way you can.

In the forty-three games Hill’s played in Sacramento he’s averaged 10.3 points on 46.9% shooting, 45.3% on threes (out of 128 attempts), 2.8 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 14.1 P.E.R, a 14 TOV% and a negative 12.6 net rating. There’s glimmers of hope, despite the discouraging stat-line. Hill averages 1.00 points per possession in isolation; 1.37 on spot-up attempt and 1.33 on handoffs. He can still be a lethal shooter, hitting 67.7 eFG% on spot-up, 69 eFG% on handoffs and 64.3 eFG% on cuts.

It isn’t difficult to fit Hill into any system, quite frankly. He’s a decent off-ball player, good enough you can strategically place him at either corner three spot and it wouldn’t hurt you (last three seasons Hill shot 48.1% on corner three attempts). This move effectively puts Isaiah Thomas in a reserve role, a reduction in minutes is probably for the best as he cannot maintain production for the length of time he managed in Boston. Last fifteen games saw Thomas play overused and relied on to be the MVP candidate of season’s past. He no longer has that speed off the dribble and relies heavily on getting fouls. The step, the hop isn’t there. The fact is Thomas isn’t that player anymore, but the Cavaliers seriously can’t consider starting Jose Calderon in the playoffs or ride LeBron the rest of the way and risk burning him out.

Hill is also a better option to guard Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry than the aforementioned parade of poor defensive guards.

Overall the Cavaliers felt they had to do something. Anything. The disaster on the court is a product of mostly poor effort, but the personnel doesn’t leave much desired since the ceilings are so low. Age isn’t the team’s friend either. The Cavaliers average age was thirty-one years old, now they’re younger with recent transactions that dumped Thomas, Rose, Wade and brought in Hood, Nance and Clarkson. While Hill isn’t a spring chicken he’s a better option than the status quo to help Cleveland escape the East without succumbing to the charging Raptors or Celtics.

It’s Officially “Fit-In” Season

Written By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

Second to only the President, LeBron James’ Twitter account is the most entertaining handle on the website. The delicious dysfunction within the Cavaliers organization hidden in subtweets, almost requiring you to crack a riddle devised by an eight-year old. We’re officially in “Stop trying to FIT-out and just Fit-In” season, LeBron’s camp is already sending messages to voice his displeasure, threatening to take a meeting with the Warriors of all teams just to send the inexperienced front office aflame. To be honest, James deserves Koby Altman and owner Dan Gilbert. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the reasons for why LeBron will probably depart Cleveland for the second time in eight-years is the fault of the collective braintrust. Say what you want about Gilbert, he’s a petty, sometimes frustratingly cheap man that doesn’t want to give his well-regarded general manager a second contract – pulling the plug on his tenure right as he’s constructing a blockbuster trade for Paul George.

Left to sleep in the bed they made the Cavaliers have fallen off from a team you could pencil into the NBA Finals to in danger of not even making it to the East-Finals, with the rise of Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia and Indiana, the route to the Finals will not be a cakewalk. A aging, injured Isaiah Thomas is where Kyrie Irving used to be. Jae Crowder can’t make a three-pointer. The average age of the Cavaliers are 30.1, making them the oldest team in the NBA. The “LeBron Moves” of signing old friend Dywane Wade, and Derrick Rose haven’t made the job easier on defense; the team backing themselves into a corner paying three-point marksman Kyle Korver $22 million for three seasons is too expensive to be considered a trade chip for a contender looking for a spot-up threat.

The Cavaliers need more than just one player to magically cure them of their ailments. Their defense is terrible. Giving up the fourth most points this season (1,002), ranked 25th in net rating in January (-5.7), capping off the month by giving up 125 points to the Detroit Pistons who traded both of their wing players for the yet to have arrived Blake Griffin.

The aborted George Hill deal may’ve been a blessing, the thirty-one year old guard wasn’t going to magically inspire the distraught Cavaliers to get back on defense and rediscover his own ability to defend at a high level – quite possibly, Hill is the worse defensive guard in the NBA right now. He may be a improvement over Thomas, Wade and Rose, but the minor upgrade isn’t worth paying his $20 million a year contract for three-seasons.

A week prior, the overmatched third-year head coach Ty Lue reshuffled the starting lineup, the big change was merely shifting Jae Crowder to the bench and reinserting Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup. The twenty-seven year old center aged in dog years, like those his size have before him. Fans point to the Nets Pick as a potential asset to be flipped for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan; L.A recently dealing star Blake Griffin to Detroit, and kickstarting a potential makeshift rebuild. Problem being is there’s a rift in the front office whether or not it’s best to mortgage the future on one last year with LeBron. There’s also the fact Jordan gets run off the floor every time he faces the Warriors, his value would be maximized in earlier rounds. All-Star Kevin Love was rumored to be in many fictitious deals for the recently injured DeMarcus Cousins, the aforementioned DeAndre, and even Trail Blazers shooting guard C.J McCollum. A broken hand, expected to sideline him for two-months hampers his trade value and throws the situation in the floor into further catastrophe. Outside of LeBron, Love was the only other player able to create for himself. His presence will be missed to say the least.

If the Nets Pick is off the table, or if Brooklyn wins enough games by February 8th to make the asset distasteful, the Cavaliers should look to trade their expiring contracts and draft picks for good two-way players on bad contracts. Kent Bazemore of Atlanta; Courtney Lee of New York have shot the ball well this season and can contribute to a team in desperate need of what Jae Crowder was supposed to provide when traded from Boston. Jeff Green is their best two-way player on the wing, while Crowder cratered into oblivion. Still, Jae has a good reputation as a hard worker, doesn’t slag off on defense and is on a tremendous contract if he can regain his ability to play basketball. It’s been only five-months since he arrived and it already seems Crowder needs a change in scenery.

The reality is Cleveland can’t be in any conversation to trade for an All-Star without an occurrence of luck. David Griffin may not have been the best general manager, but he knew how to manage egos and perform salary cap gymnastics. The inexperienced Koby Altman just cannot do that. Not yet anyway. Thrusted in quite possibly the most toxic situation in basketball, Altman was doomed to fail once he traded Kyrie Irving and didn’t take the brief moment it looked like fate was giving him a second chance to undo the transaction. It’s Dan Gilbert’s fault Eric Bledsoe and Paul George aren’t in Ohio; it’s Altman’s fault for not backing out of the Irving deal; it’s LeBron’s fault for not stepping up for Kyrie when it looked like the Cavaliers were going to trade him to Phoenix.

The Cleveland Cavaliers don’t need a team-meeting, or a players only meeting. They need an intervention.

Brief Breakdown of Clippers Fleecing of Detroit

By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

And we’re off! The first trade of the new year brings many opinions from self-proclaimed experts, knee-jerk reactions/takedowns of either the Pistons or Clippers as Blake Griffin’s time in California has come to an unceremonious end. Stan Gan Gundy makes the ultimate play to save his team’s season and his job; the Pistons loss eight straight and nineteen of their last twenty-seven since starting the year 14-6. Its no coincidence the Pistons team fell into the toilet once Reggie Jackson’s ankle betrayed him, expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. The core of Jackson – Bradley – Tobias – Drummond is better than whatever SVG is gonna throw out on the floor with Blake Griffin.

The instability in Detroit is insane. In no way Blake is the player he once was; on paper seems like it, but injuries and countless lower body surgeries largely limited his ability to play above the rim. We’ve seen an awful lot of “Point Blake” this season, a role where he’s done great as the floor general, 5.4 assists, he’s shown he can play like Draymond Green. But we’ve seen bouncy players succumb to injuries in the past, and Griffin’s ability to play long stretches leaves me skeptical, he’s already missed time due to injury, his dunk totals haven’t passed 100 since 2014 (mostly because of his injuries). Stan Van Gundy treated Blake as if he were still the third best player in the NBA, giving up the farm (and a lottery pick!) for him to save their season. Who’s playing the shooting guard and small forward positions for Detroit now? Stanley Johnson? Reggie Bullock? Luke Kennard? What a horrible roster this team’s complied and they think they can make the playoffs with just Blake and Drummond? Essentially SVG elected to become the Clippers of last week, only without the standout prospects; whiffing on a couple lottery picks will do that to you.

(A major positive in this trade is for the Celtics, if the Pistons sneak into the postseason they don’t have to worry about facing Avery Bradley in a revenge series)

Willie Reed is a fine backup center, better than Boban. Los Angeles will miss having Reed as a backup to D.J.

For the Clippers, they sit a half-game behind Denver for the eighth seed, two-games behind New Orleans for the sixth spot. It’s feasible the Clippers go on a run the final thirty-three games and finish with a better record than both those teams. The emergence of Tyrone Wallace (shooting 72.7% on cuts”), the return of Miloš Teodosić round out the backcourt. Avery Bradley playing next to Lou Williams basically recreates the Tacoma Backcourt from his Boston days with Isaiah Thomas. Jerry West forced Doc Rivers to coach up younger talent this season, taking away both franchise cornerstones in five-months of showing up. When Gallinari went out of the lineup, Wesley Johnson and prospect Sam Dekker stepped in and produced. Austin Rivers, Teodosić and Beverly being sidelined forced Rivers to turn to rookies Wallace and Jawun Evans. Blake Griffin’s departure thrusts Montrezl Harrell into a bigger role which is what West wants. Stealthily taking away Rivers’ preferred players to build for the future and still be in a position to reasonably compete. Don’t be surprised if the Clippers finish 42-40 and give the Warriors some fits in the first round.

Another factor in all of this is the Pistons gave up what could be a top-10 pick (the protections are 1 thru 4) for a guy who hasn’t made the All-Star Game in three years and has a donut sized hole at their wing positions.

My Grades:
Pistons: F
Clippers: A

 

David Thompson: The Forgotten Superstar

By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

When a writer struggles to find a topic to discuss, he (me) delves into the fictional, comforting arms of alternate history. Where I (you) don’t have to take anything (or anyone) serious. Just like in real-life. But what always bugs me is the lack of imaginations on some what-if scenarios, there’s a crazy gear missing for us lowly internet bloggers. I feel we try to stay within the bounds of reality somewhat, rather than go full “Alien Space Bats.” The countless what-ifs in the NBA are relatively bland. Mostly bogged down in “What-if The Blazers Took KD”, “What-if Player X Played for Team Y”, usually the writer says something along the lines of “well, then team Y wins X championships!” and that’s it. One of the most boring takes I read is “What-if The Celtics selected Kobe Bryant”, as if his five-championships were destined to happen it was just a matter of where. In the summer of ‘96 GM Jerry West did untold of gymnastics to get around the salary cap to sign Shaquille O’Neal and snag Kobe. You think Celtics GM Chris Wallace had the same intelligence? Probably not. Chances are Rick Pitino trades Bryant for one of his former players from Kentucky.

One draft pick going differently doesn’t just alter that lone scenario, it can radically change the thinking of another team. It probably leads to a worser record for Boston in 1997-98 if Pitino gave Kobe enough burn and maybe they’re bad enough to draft Dirk Nowitzki… Kobe and Dirk on the same team? Yup, all plausible, nobody touches this. Most likely because the Celtics have had their fair share of obnoxious success six out of the last seven decades how much can you really add to the mystic of the franchise. If you can’t polish a turd of a franchise into the class of its league then it isn’t an interesting what-if.

Same rules apply to the Los Angeles Lakers. What’s the most intriguing what-if in the history of the franchise? “What-if they drafted Dominque Wilkins in ‘82 over James Worthy?” Meh. So ‘Nique is the third-best player on a couple championship teams while Worthy becomes poor man’s Alex English in Atlanta.

People forget how close the Lakers came to drafting the man Michael Jordan revered, guard David Thompson from North Carolina State. Watching the old grainy footage from the 1970’s, Thompson’s leaping ability reminded me to a younger Blake Griffin before several knee surgeries ruined him. But Thompson didn’t stand at an impressive height, standing at a listed 6’3 1/2, had to have been smaller than 6’2. Watching the “Skywalker” documentary the guests they bring on say the phrase “he played above the rim” six-thousand times. But it was true. Second only to Julius Erving David was the ABA’s main superstar in its twilight years and also gave the Nuggets a sense of legitimacy. Coming in second to Dr. J in a watershed dunk contest, converting the famed “double pump” dunk before Aaron Gordon and Blake Griffin gave us endless clips of them doing it. It’s amazing a dunk contest fielding three of the most electrifying athletes in the ABA did not utilize instant replay.

Sporting a 44-vertical inch leap Thompson earned the moniker “Skywalker” before the movie Star Wars was but a twinkle in George Lucas’ eye. Thompson battled George Gervin and the all mighty Dr. J in the last season of the ABA, joining a star-studded Denver Nuggets roster with Ralph Simpson, Pre-76ers’ Bobby Jones and Dan Issel pushing the franchise into the NBA over the Kentucky Colonels. Rookie David Thompson left his mark on the NBA landscape forever. The man we hardly mention is the main reason there is a Denver Nuggets franchise.

The ABA/NBA from 1975 to 1978 was pretty competitive until cocaine nearly sunk the entire league before two guys with nouns for names saved it. But the middle-seventies don’t get a lot of credit for being deep in the talent pool. David Thompson made two All-NBA First Teams beating out George “Iceman” Gervin and Pete “Pistol” Maravich. In 1976 and ‘77 “Skywalker” bumped off Pete, George, Doc and Walter Davis, and in 1978 nearly lead the Nuggets to the NBA Finals in an MVP caliber season. All of this before he turned twenty-four.

1977-78 was Thompson at his zenith. Battling Iceman for the scoring title, climaxing in an astounding final night of the season – also John Havlicek’s last game – Thompson scored 53 in one half of play, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record for most points in a quarter (32) and held it for a mere five hours until Gervin broke it (33) – the record now is held by Klay Thompson (37). David finished with 73 and Gervin with 63.

You’d think the James Harden and Russell Westbrook’s of their days would’ve been frontrunners for the MVP, but both fell to Bill Walton… the best center for a two-year period, but played only 58 games.

Here’s a stat-by-stat comparison of Thompson and Gervin…

* I am using Bill Simmons’ infamous “Stocks” statistic, combining steals and blocks.*

Thompson: 51.2 FG%, 8.4 FTA, 27.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.4 stocks, 23.2 PER, 12.7 WS

Gervin: 53.6 FG%, 7.6 FTA, 27.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.7 APG, 3 stocks, 24.7 PER, 12 WS

Neck-and-neck, amirite? Both of their rebounding and assists numbers are great for a shooting-guard. Thompson excelled in getting the free throw line frequently. Thompson was only twenty-three at this time; Gervin was longer in the tooth… an old, useless twenty-five-year old man.

Anyways, here’s Kevin Durant’s statistics from his age twenty-three season from 2012:

KD: 53.5 FG%, 7.6 FTA, 28 PPG, 8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.5 Stocks, 26.2 PER, 12.2 WS – also runner-up in a contested MVP race. 

And just an added bonus here’s Blake Griffin’s age 23 season: 53.8 FG%, 5.3 FTA, 18 ppg, 8.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 Stocks, 22.4 PER, 10.6 WS

So in 1978 we had two shooting-guard versions of Kevin Durant in a time when the league undervalued guards that weren’t named “Cousy”, “Oscar” or “Jerry.”

Before Magic Johnson the NBA had Thompson, Walton and Gervin to hang their hats on for the future of the league. Like all things though, it all got complicated real fast. Injuries took Bill Walton’s career; white powder and expectations cratered Thompson, sending the NBA into a tailspin. Dominated by questions like “is the NBA too black?” we couldn’t even begin to comprehend the backwardness of the time. Conservative white fans lusted for a white face to relate to after Bill Walton’s career hit the gutter. There’s a bunch of other stuff that went into the NBA’s decline outside of just race and drug issues; the finals were aired on tape delay until the mid-80s, it came off as if the league was indifferent towards growing the game.

David Thompson was a mere twenty-four-years old when he signed his name on to the piece of paper that made him the richest professional basketball player. 5-years, $800,000 per, amounting to a whopping $4,000,000 – a lot of money back then. It’s the classic case of too much too soon. The story of David Thompson ran similarly to Michael Jordan, except where M.J’s dad had roots in baseball, Thompson’s burned his son’s dreams by telling him to go to NC State because the school offered the family god knows how much money (allegedly). The school gets caught red-handed and is ineligible for the tournament in the season they go undefeated. The next year Thompson (with Tom Burleson and good friend Monte Towe) NC State dethroned John Wooden’s UCLA en route to an NCAA title.

Again… the sky was the limit for Thompson. Selected by the Atlanta Hawks in 1975, he decided to go to the ABA in part because the Nuggets would sign Monte Towe to a 2-year contract. Every year expectations were escalated and Thompson up until his big payday exceeded them.

Alas… it wasn’t meant to be. Thompson’s career ended falling down the stairs inside Studio 54 when the establishment was past its due date.

So what if another organization snagged Thompson? Atlanta… eh, kinda pointless. The team was dead after they traded “Pistol” Pete for a jar of used dental floss. Milwaukee? How would’ve that been possible? Well, L.A flipped the second pick in the ‘75 Draft for Kareem – along with Brian Winters. Say if the Lakers won the lottery and did the Kareem trade only with David Thompson involved. The late-70s Milwaukee teams set the stage for the decade of silver medal finishes in the 1980s (this sounds like sarcasm, but it isn’t)… Don Nelson took over in 1978, the Bucks won 44-games that season with Brian Winters, Marquess Johnson and Alex English coming off the bench. I’ll be favorable to Milwaukee and give them the third pick in the ‘77 Draft (Johnson) and say they retain English in free agency. And believe Milwaukee is such a wasteland, not even a MVP runner-up exciting as Thompson gets any attention.

1979-80 Milwaukee Bucks starters are…

Quinn Buckner
David Thompson
Alex English
Marquess Johnson
Bob Lanier
Woof… prime Thompson, English, and old but still useful Bob Lanier is that good enough to beat the Los Angeles Lakers helmed by the greatest center and point guard in NBA history? Well… no. Thompson’s window for title contention closes around the moment Kareem is paired with Magic. The western conference those days played little defense, the only hope you had in defeating those “Showtime” era teams were to stifle their fast paced offense. Maybe if Milwaukee remained in the West they’d eventually develop the defensive personal to do just that. But Thompson wouldn’t remain productive after injuries and addiction undid him. There’s always a roof for these sorts of scenarios.
But say if the Lakers won that lottery and took and didn’t trade Thompson – either because they simply failed or didn’t want to. It isn’t inconceivable to believe a top flight prospect like Thompson could consider a small-market like Milwaukee beneath him. L.A was going to sign Kareem come hell or high water. It was just a matter of when, not if. Being set to become a free agent in 1976, the Lakers could’ve just taken their chances on signing the big man then rather than trade for him. Back then teams didn’t value draft picks… they were just traceable assets of little value to a team wanting to contend for a championship quickly.
After one season where Thompson wins Rookie of the Year over Phoenix Suns center Alvin Adams, the Lakers fail to contend for the postseason just like in OTL with Kareem, only winning less than 42. The Lakers fully move on from the Jerry West/Wilt Chamberlin era by signing Kareem in free agency; pundits tag the duo of Thompson & Kareem to lead the Lake Show back to prominence. Entering 1976-77, the Lakers have Lucius Allen, David Thompson, Cazzie Russell, Kermit “I Am Neither a Muppet or Political” Washington and Kareem Abdul Jabaar. Coached by Jerry West by the way, the greatest shooting guard arguably up until Kobe Bryant (gimme West over Kobe).
The real Lakers snuck into the West-Finals over  the Golden State Warriors in the second round, before falling to the eventual champion Blazers. People forget how great that team was outside of Bill Walton… Maurice Lucas averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds, might’ve been the second best center at the time but injuries ruined him. Lionel Hollins running the point was alright and Jack Ramsey was more than just a guy who lucked out coaching Bill Walton’s lone healthy season. The Nuggets in OTL were better than the Lakers, featuring Dan Issle, younger Bobby Jones and Paul Silas. For the Lakers Cazzie was a serviceable starter, but past his prime in the early-70s when on the Knicks; Kermit was tragically a bust; and Walton was Kareem’s equal before 1978.
In ten games against Kareem, Walton averaged 18.1 points, 15.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.7 blocks, came in second to Kareem in MVP voting in the ‘77 season, the next year he beat not just him, but also Gervin and Thompson in a season where Walton played only fifty-eight games(!). While I wouldn’t have bestowed the honor on to Walton that year, I have to give credit where credit is due, Walton was awesome and it’s a damn shame what happened to him.
No changes in the 1976-‘77 season Portland still stands atop of the world.
1977-‘78 and 1978-‘79 seasons are where we get the idea the NBA was at a nadir. With the subsequent fall of the Trail Blazers the Warriors, and Philadelphia too dysfunctional to return to the finals with their current core, the East became open to teams we wouldn’t consider led by the kind of superstar we’re used to. The Seattle SuperSonics were led by point guard Gus Williams, Marvin Webster and sixth Man Dennis Johnson; the Spurs soldiered on (in the East) with George Gervin, Larry Kenon and James Silas; Denver in OTL with David Thompsonshould’ve made it to the finals but fell to Seattle in six-games.
The Lakers were an Erving Johnson away from being serious contenders. Kareem was still an MVP caliber player no doubt, playing alongside Jamaal Wilkes, Adrian “asshole” Dantley, And Norm Nixon. 1978, 1979 are the two-years the Lakers could’ve absolutely won… even though I’m sure they’d trade Dantley midway thru ‘79 like OTL for coked out Spencer Haywood because he was that big of an asshole. Throw in David and it’s basically the greatest team of the that decade, right?
I don’t know what playing alongside Kareem does for Thompson’s career, or if the influences in L.A would prevent or accelerate his fall from grace. The Great Western Forum doubled as a nightclub in those days and god knows the debauchery that went on inside. We probably remember him more than we do now. Los Angeles still drafts Magic easing the pain of losing Thompson… if there was time to reflect on such a thing.
He probably hangs around well into the early phases of the “Showtime” era, maybe even until 1984 when James Worthy is selected as his replacement in 1982. 1983 was the last gasp Thompson’s career, an All-Star for the SuperSonics OTL. Can you imagine a 1983-‘84 Lakers squad with Magic, Worthy, Wilkes, McAdoo, Thompson (I’m butterflying the events of Studio 54 in ‘84), Kareem… is that enough to get by the Celtics? Who inbounds the pass Henderson stole in Game 2 when the Celtics were on the verge of going to L.A down 2-0? Anybody but Worthy equals a successful inbounds. Do the Lakers still win with an aging Kareem in ‘85, ‘87 and ‘88 or does Magic coast afterwards and squander his potential without the needed kick in the pants? Does what happened to Magic after losing the close series happen to Bird instead?
Despite the turbulent career Thompson managed two appearances on All-NBA First teams, one second team and managed an election to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
I don’t know if you change one thing in David’s life does it butterfly almost everything from OTL… I do know he was a great player and has been unjustly forgotten.
For Thompson his story does have a happy ending. He found Jesus. Fixed his relationship with his wife and kids. A silver lining considering those who experienced the same issues had darker endings.

Why Rodney Hood Isn’t Coming To Boston

By Vinny, @sailboatstudios on Twitter

It’s that time of year again. Names appear in trade rumors – almost as if pulled out of a hat at random. Kemba Walker, Lou Williams, DeAndre Jordan, George Hill all linked to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The sexiest names attached to the team with, seemingly, the most to offer, (Brooklyn pick) while it remains uncertain the value of the Nets pick, it’s still important and an enviable asset. The issue of course is, using it to acquire guard George Hill, an older guard on a massive contract is an overpay. The sad fact is Tristan Thompson cratering in production ruins any possibility of a Cavaliers blockbuster deal, if T.T was the players he was last season Cleveland absolutely could’ve been in the running for somebody like Jordan or Gasol. But now Thompson is a gigantic albatross, if you’re rebuilding there’s no reason to take on Thompson’s contract and not receive a lottery pick in return is borderline lunacy.

In a league where teams don’t have necessary cap space or even digestible contracts to make the idea of a transaction possible, teams in contention already have an established point guard (Milwaukee, Boston, New Orleans); don’t have the assets (San Antonio, Cleveland). So all there’s left are the bottom of the playoff standings, Philadelphia, New York, and Utah. While Orlando and Phoenix can trump an offer of Frankie Smokes and Michael Beasley 2.0, it doesn’t make complete sense for them to sabotage their chances at a high draft pick for two Kemba Walker seasons.

Course, the issues in Boston aren’t the quality of play from their starters, but the uncertainty of Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Finding offense outside of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford is a tall order, when Jaylen Brown gets going the Celtics are unstoppable but he too suffers from inconstancy. According to Marc Stein, of The New York Times, Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood reportedly is on the market. Hood is a classic case of a “He did well his first season, everybody expected him to just keep improving but he stagnated,” at age 25 Hood is no longer a prospect and likely this is the best he’s going to be. Buried under Donovan MitchellMania, Hood’s been solid this season, a career-high in three-point percentage (38.6) and points (16.7). Hood fancies himself a starter and due for a handsome payday. I suppose we cannot blame him. Garry Harris (4-Years, $84 million) and Tim Hardaway (4-Years, $71 million) are either in or slightly below Hood’s level, but this upcoming summer is a terrible time to be a free agent.

So the question, in my mind, is why do the Jazz want to trade him. And more importantly, as a Celtics fan, why would they want Marcus Smart? Why are the Jazz suddenly interested in taking on Smart’s $11,345,050 cap hold for this summer? I get it, their seasons over. But I’d rather have Hood leave for nothing than try to swap him for Smart. If Rozier is thrown in then I’d listen. Rozier isn’t a knockdown shooter, he’s shooting a below-average percentage, if you take out his one-for-seven performance against New Orleans a few nights ago, his percentage is a more respectable 35.5%. The kicker could be Rozier is under team-control until 2019 – and maybe longer since he’s very cheap to hang on to because he was drafted later than Smart.

The Celtics tried to trade Marcus Smart last off-season to make room for Gordon Hayward, but the pickings were so slim they moved Avery Bradley instead. It takes two to tango, Ainge knows how difficult it is to find a willing partner. Don’t hold your breath for Ainge to work his magic in the next month, it’s more likely he uses the DPE to pick up recently bought out Greg Monroe, Tyreke Evans, or if we’re talking bottom of the barrel: Mario Herzonja. It’s easier to just add a player relatively for free than to orchestrate a trade around players below the targeted players value.

But, just for fun, here’s my proposed trade to the Utah Jazz if Dennis Lindsey is reading this for some reason:

Utah: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, 2019 Celtics 1st

Boston: Rodney Hood, Raul Neto

Vinny’s All-Stars, 2018, East Edition

Voting for the All-Star game on the NBA.com website is restricting. Plain and simple. You have to choose two guards, three frontcourt players and you absolutely cannot pick a player out of his position. If you cannot decide between DeMar DeRozan and Victor Oladipo and you want to cheat and vote for one as a small forward you can’t. It’s against the rules for NBA.com to acknowledge the NBA uses three-guard lineups. To make things worse my vote for Al Horford for starting center over Joel Embiid won’t be validated, fans susceptible to the bubbling personality omit the fact Embiid shoots under 30% from three and hasn’t played 1,000 minutes yet this season.

The East is an easier conference to nail down your starters. There are two locks, one “The stats don’t show it, but you should be an All-Star” and one starting center that’s not named Joel Embiid. LeBron and Giannis stand as the people you cannot leave out of the conversation. There is no reason for James to be inserted in as the starter of the East All-Stars isn’t anything beyond “He’s LeBron, he’s the best and hasn’t aged.” There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to LeBron’s greatness. He’s the best player in the world.

 

Starting Center: Al Horford

For all the MVP buzz Kyrie Irving’s received, we should also note Horford has a legitimate candidacy. Though the basic stats don’t show it, the thirty-one-year old Horford upped his game and the play of those around him. In just one season Isaiah Thomas went from a fringe All-Star to a top-5 player for the 2016-17 season. In just a few short months Kyrie Irving’s been transformed to a team-friendly player. None of this is coincidental. At age 28, Horford attempted only 65 three-point attempts. This season he’s taken 136 and made 43.4% of them. A testament to his strong work ethic, always improving himself.

Horford proves he’s still the unheralded superstar from his Atlanta glory days, stepping above Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis. Both Horford and Embiid have outstanding net ratings of 8.7 (K.P is 1.7), Al’s 5.2 BPM ranks higher than Embiid’s 2.9. The Celtics are on pace for sixty-wins, while the Sixers continue to fight New York, Indiana and Detroit for the eighth spot. Yet, superficially will demand Embiid start the All-Star Game. Horford will never get his due, will never get the respect he deserves for elevating Kyrie Irving in ways not even LeBron could. It’s a damn shame fans are hellbent on making the All-Star event “fun” not realizing Horford is pretty fun too.

 

Power Forward: LeBron James

Yeah, he’s a four on my roster because I feel like it. It doesn’t really matter where Giannis and LeBron fall on the roster, just as long as they’re on it as starters. If the Cavaliers could get their act together, James has a strong case to make for him being the MVP in a year there seems to be no front-runner. 27.3 PPG, 8.8 APG, 8 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG it’s hard to fathom how every year he’s somehow found ways to get better even at his age.

There is a time and place to talk about why the Cavaliers have struggled and LeBron’s role in it. But as a lone individual, James is an unstoppable force that continues to feast upon the hopes and dreams of Eastern Conference foes. We seen what he can do by himself in the playoffs last season even with a Cavs squad not jelling. What else can I say about him other than he’s the third-best player in the history of NBA.

Small Forward: Giannis Antetkoumpo

Just like LeBron, Giannis carries the corpse a fledgling roster unable to create when he’s not on the floor. And unlike LeBron, it isn’t Giannis’s fault. The “Greek Freak” became more than an Internet phenomenon, graduating to otherworldly status as. He’s done everything for Milwaukee short of cloning himself. An unheard of comparison for Giannis this year is 2015-16 Kawhi Leonard and 2010-11 Kevin Durant. Despite Giannis’s inability to shoot long range he still converts 54.6% of his field goal attempts, averaging 28.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 417 of his shot attempts coming from the restricted-area. 245 shot attempts coming from anywhere but in the paint. Just like Ben Simmons, Giannis is limited by an inability to extend beyond his comfort zone. But he possesses so much skill it almost doesn’t matter. Unlike Simmons, Giannis’s face does not turn green when forced to heave a mid-or-longer range shot.

His development is right up there with Kevin Durant (2010-11) and Kawhi Leonard (2015-16) were at the point Giannis is right now. In my opinion, K.D in 2011 was either the second or third best player in the league at the time (Behind Howard and maybe Kobe). Kawhi was second best (in my opinion) to the unanimous MVP Stephen Curry in 2016.

Of course, Giannis is the better athlete and the least polished of the three. Out of the 245 shot attempts outside of the paint, Giannis made only 78. He shoots a poor 28.5% on above the break three attempts and smarter teams like Boston, San Antonio, Cleveland, etc, know how to get him away from his bread and butter. Regardless, the Bucks are a hodgepodge of pieces that are either slightly above-or-below average. Prospects such as Jabari Parker and Thon Maker remain in an enigma. Head coach Jason Kidd looks overmatched at times, overthinking and under-thinking in situational spots that aren’t as complicated as they seem.

With an ORtg of 120, Giannis ranks 17th overall in the league. Giannis owns a higher usage rate than Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis. As of now he’s a step below then for the MVP race. If the Bucks can win somewhere close to fifty-games perhaps he’ll be everyone’s favorite Cinderella Pick.

 

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan

DeRozan beats out Victor Oladipo by a hair! This is the toughest decision I’ve had to make on the East ballot. For everything DeRozan is, Oladipo is arguably better because he isn’t the same liability on the defensive side of the court. But I went with DeRozan because how crucial he’s been to the best Raptors squad of the decade. When the season kicked off, All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry stumbled out the gates, first nine games he shot a poor 37.6% from the field. In most instances when your $33 million a year PG falters you’re not winning, but DeRozan kept the Raptors heads above water at 5-4.

DeRozan’s never been one to extend his game beyond being an unbelievable finisher at the rim, over the summer he’s become less reluctant to shoot longer-range shots. Last year, DeRozan attempted 124 threes… this season 137 making 35%. With the steadily declining USG% of Lowry, more emphasis on DeRozan has been put on the offensive end. Shooting a career-high in three-point percentage, averaging the highest assists per game (5.0) and he’s doing this with a turnover rate of 9.6. Which is insanely low considering how much he has the ball. Last twenty-three games, the Raptors won sixteen, with the help of DeRozan scorching the earth 26.9 PPG, 4 RPG, 5.3 APG, 48.6 FG%, 38.6 3P% and an offensive rating of 121.

Throughout the season, DeRozan’s been money, as usual, in the RA, 64.9% on 171 attempts. In 2016-17 DeRozan made 41.2% of his mid-range shots, this year he’s upped it to 46.6%. Shooting 18 of 44 on corner three-attempts, this shows DeRozan isn’t afraid as he was in years past to shoot the ball. In the clutch, DeRozan averages 4.6 points on 45.3% shooting tight situations. He’s an amazing player, possibly the best (pure) two-guard in the NBA.

 

Point Guard: Kyrie Irving

The stats are the same as last year. So why the hell is he getting all this praise? Well, it’s the behind the scenes makeup that makes this season from Irving special. Prior to Boston, Irving’s reputation was of one of a selfish gunner. He didn’t have the right mindset to get others involved, like Mike Conley or the traditional point guards of years past. The assists totals don’t show it, but watching Kyrie this season you’d be hard pressed to argue he hasn’t tried to get others involved and forgone stats for victories. This job is difficult when you take into account he’s sharing the court with inexperienced youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart who couldn’t throw the ball into the Atlantic Ocean.

The case for Irving to start the All-Star is purely above statistics, though he’s been very reliable in the clutch. His fourth quarter heroics rivaling fan-favorite Isaiah Thomas. 48.1% from the field, 4 PPG in the clutch, a 119 ORtg and 8.6 Netrg. A remarkable amount of his scoring in the clutch comes unassisted (73.7%) meaning he an act for creating for himself. Whether it be around the basket or jump shot.

Although he isn’t the best Boston Celtics player, he’s the most compelling and deserves the praise he’s received over the course of the season.

 

Written By: Vinny, @Sailboatstudios on Twitter