November 26, 2014: Five Things to Know in the NBA
#1 – Conference Focus: EAST
This week, I will summarize in two sentences or less what I think of each team in the East. Next week, I will do the same for the West. This is essentially what I would write next to their names in the Power Rankings if I wanted to make my columns too long for anyone to read.
Toronto Raptors – This is the most relentless team in the NBA. They have a deep bench and a young core of talent that simply never stops playing at 110 percent effort. You will see these guys late in the playoffs making noise.
Boston Celtics – The Celtics are a really interesting team, but I won’t be able to draw many conclusions about their future until they figure out the Rajon Rondo situation. For what it’s worth, I love Jared Sullinger as a beastly stretch four, and Jeff Green is having a seriously good season.
Brooklyn Nets – There is not much about this team that I like. It seems like they have a lot of locker room issues, and they are getting older every day. No Joe Johnson magic is going to save them from the lottery this year.
New York Knicks – This lazy attempt at the triangle offense has been offset by Carmelo Anthony’s brilliance on the offensive end of the floor. This will be a good season for Melo’s stats, but not the Knicks’ win column.
Philadelphia 76ers – I have no words for this tankfest. It says a lot about an organization when 0-14 doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Chicago Bulls – This team is awesome to watch, but every time more Derrick Rose news surfaces, I start to like their chances at a title less and less. The frontcourt is as good as advertised, and Jimmy Butler is playing like a man on a mission.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Just wait, it will click. LeBron James has been fantastic so far this year, but his team continues to struggle on defense. I think more minutes for Tristan Thompson early in games could be the answer, but we will have to wait and see.
Indiana Pacers – This team misses Paul George badly, but the guys they have acquired to pick up his slack have done a fabulous job. If PG13 really does plan on a March comeback as he has hinted at previously, they may have a shot at the playoffs.
Milwaukee Bucks – The young guys on this team have been as good as advertised. Jabari Parker is an early favorite for Rookie of the Year, and Giannis Antetokounmpo has been as freakish as always. These young guns, along with the rejuvenated O.J. Mayo and Larry Sanders can lead this team to new heights.
Detroit Pistons – This team has been underwhelming at best. Stan Van Gundy’s obsession with experimenting with ultra-big lineups and Andre Drummond post-up plays shows that the Pistons are still very much in the rebuilding phase
Washington Wizards – This team has done an excellent job of building on last year’s success, and is on the right track to improve on it this year. The Paul Pierce experiment has worked much better than any of us really expected.
Miami Heat – It is a bit worrisome that Dwyane Wade has had so many health struggles early in the year, but the good news is that Chris Bosh has not missed a beat. Mario Chalmers and Luol Deng are filling the perimeter scoring void very nicely.
Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks are an interesting team, and are off to a good start. The healthy Horford-Millsap frontcourt is doing work on the boards, but I think this entire team settles for way too many jump shots considering their size inside.
Charlotte Hornets – Being a Hornets fan this year has been agonizing as they blow leads, struggle with injuries, and opened the year with the hardest part of their schedule. The season is not lost by a long shot, but this team cannot continue to throw away wins.
Orlando Magic – In what is essentially a tryout season for the end of a rebuilding era, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris are emerging as high-quality NBA starters. This young team is overachieving so far, and is only a few years away from the playoffs, in my opinion.
#2 – Who Will Win MVP?
First of all, I will point out that it is way too early to make these predictions, but I think it is important to address all of these questions, and I will give my early predictions. However, keep in mind that the second half of the season is infinitely more important than the first in terms of MVP voting because of recency bias and playoff seed status.
Who has had the best start? At this point in the season, there is absolutely no doubt who is playing the best basketball in the NBA. Anthony Davis is averaging 26.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game, and posting an otherworldly 35.96 PER. These are easily MVP numbers if he is able to keep them up, which is fairly unlikely. Even if he does keep these numbers up, it will be almost impossible to win MVP without being a top three-seed in the playoffs, which I can almost guarantee New Orleans is not going to be able to do in the wild, wild Western Conference.
Okay, so who SHOULD win the award at this point? The guy with the best numbers can’t win without having a team that succeeds. See: Kobe Bryant pretty much every year throughout the mid-2000s. The guy who should win the MVP through these first two months is Marc Gasol, the incredibly efficient Memphis Grizzlies center who is soon to be a free agent. He has averaged 20 points and 8 rebounds per game so far, which is no small feat, and has led his team to a league-best 12-2. In my mind, he has been the most valuable player on a top five team, giving him the strongest late-November MVP resume.
Who would you like to see win it? This is a no-brainer. DeMarcus Cousins has been incredible this year in every single way except for his tendency to be in foul trouble. If the Kings keep winning and Boogie keeps these numbers up, he is a guaranteed top-10 finisher in MVP voting. He was selected as Player of the Week this week in the NBA, and I expect him to continue to accumulate these accolades. I would love to see him win the MVP award, after honing his game and growing into the mentally tough leader Sacramento needed. I love the way Cousins plays the game, and to me, he has been the most impressive player in the league this year, and should be a first ballot All-Star.
Who is going to win the award at the end of the season? Come on. You all know exactly what’s going to happen. The Cavaliers will sit around the middle of the pack until January and LeBron James will lead them back as they storm to the two-seed and set up a Conference Finals matchup against Chicago. He will win his 5th MVP award (his third in Cleveland), tying him with Michael Jordan. That is what’s going to happen. I have no doubt.
#3 – Games to Watch
Here are the best games of the coming week as we finish out November and roll into the final month of 2014. Be sure to catch a few of these, there are some great ones on the schedule!
Washington @ Cleveland, 7:00
Sacramento @ Houston, 8:00
No games scheduled. Happy Turkey Day! Enjoy some football.
Dallas @ Toronto, 7:30
Memphis @ Portland, 10:00
New Orleans @ Washington, 7:00
Charlotte @ Atlanta, 7:30
Memphis @ Sacramento, 6:00
Miami @ New York, 7:30
Miami @ Washington, 7:00
Minnesota @ LA Clippers, 10:30
Milwaukee @ Cleveland, 7:00
Dallas @ Chicago, 8:00
Bonus: Oklahoma City @ New Orleans (if KD and Russell Westbrook are back), 8:00
#4 – Stat Lines of the Week
Two players had career highs in points that helped lead their teams to key victories on Saturday night. In an eight point victory against the Utah Jazz in New Orleans, Anthony Davis recorded a career best 43 points and 14 rebounds on 16-23 shooting and 11-12 from the free throw line. It was yet another dominating performance from the Brow, and another key victory for his Pelicans.
Toronto visited Cleveland on Saturday night as well, and an unlikely hero stepped up for the Raps. Lou Williams dropped a monster 36 points off the bench, making all 15 of his free throws and knocking down some key three pointers in the second half while being guarded by LeBron James. It was a career high for Williams, who has been a key acquisition for Toronto this season.
#5 – Highlight of the Week – Sharing is Caring
This week, I highlight two assists that had the whole crowd on their feet. First, LeBron James dishes out a beautiful no-look dime to Anderson Varejão for an easy slam dunk in a home loss to the Raptors.
Second, James Harden throws this beauty to Dwight Howard, who shows that all you have to do is throw it vaguely near the baseline and he can catch it and throw it down on any and all defenders. These two superstars really know how to work together.