They say everything is bigger in Texas. And a first round matchup between these two teams could be huge.
With a possibility that these two teams end up as the four and five seeds in the Western Conference, someone has to go home in the first round.
So we ask Who Sucks Less? The Houston Rockets or the Dallas Mavericks.
The Houston Rockets have had big expectations going into every season for the last four years. They have continued to reinvent themselves and their roster.
Their addition of Russell Westbrook in the offseason was definitely a polarizing move to say the least. Questions to whether or not him and James Harden could make it work as two ball-dominant superstars are still being asked.
And while they were hoping they could run more pick and roll with Clint Capela, it simply just didn't work out. They decided to double-down, scratch that, they tripled-down, actually wait, they quadruple-downed on their choice to play small ball. They traded Clint Capela for Robert Covington and essentially decided they were just going to run PJ Tucker out there at the "Center" position.
I put "Center" in quotes because the traditional idea of what a lineup looks like has completely changed. Even with teams that have big centers, they are still pretty useless in today's game if they can't shoot jump shots.
Kobe had a quote once that said positions were only created so the casual fan could follow along anyway.
The Rockets are currently 5th in the Western Conference at 35-20 and have posted one of the most potent offenses in the league.
Looking at those numbers, it's hard to say that what they've built isn't working. The only thing you can say is that you don't like watching their style of play. Five guys spread out wide and they basically run two plays. One is isolation with either Russ or Harden, and the other play is off-ball screens in an attempt to find an open three point shooter.
And when their shots aren't falling, they put their heads down, drive to the basket, and then shoot a million free throws. If someone has a stat for most real time spent at the free throw line, please send that our way. I'd love to see those numbers.
It is yet to be seen whether or not this small ball style will be successful in the playoffs. James Harden has had his own struggles in the playoffs, while Russ has been bounced from the first round everytime since Durant left him.
These guys can shoot the hell out of the ball, but can they win it all?
The Dallas Mavericks didn't have quite the same expectations heading into this season. This was supposed to be a season where they created some hype and built something for the future. But Luka Doncic has been even better than advertised, and is already in the conversation for MVP-candidacy.
Mark Cuban did what he had to do to get Doncic the sidekick he needed to help this team improve when he traded for Kristaps Porzingis. I have no idea what the New York Knicks were doing, but they didn't get shit for a guy who has to potential to return to his All-Star form in the near future.
Kristaps has been good, not great, but luckily they haven't needed him to be. Rick Carlisle is showing why he continues to be one of the smartest basketball minds in the league.
This roster doesn't wow you with talent, but from top to bottom they are full of guys who just don't suck. And when you have a bunch of dudes who don't suck, you can be good under the right leadership. And Doncic has fit perfectly in that role.
They lead the league in so many offensive categories, and it would be easy to say that it's because of Luka and Kristaps. But there have been a couple of stretches where they have been without one or the other or both.
Their depth of shooters and underappreciated ball handlers has made their offense flow whether Luka has been on the floor or not. Guys like Jalen Brunson and JJ Barea are your cookie-cutter point guards. Guys who can get the ball moving when the going gets tough.
And they're not just all shooting. Maxi Kleber and Willie Cauley-Stein give them the size they need to give their potent offense second-chance points.
But if they need a bucket in the clutch, they can let Luka go to work or he can find a shooter in Seth Curry, Delon Wright, Dorian Finney-Smith, Justin Jackson, or Tim Hardaway Jr.
Going into this article, I assumed that I would side with the Houston Rockets simply because of their experience and the fact that they have the superstar power.
But when I look at the rosters from top to bottom, it makes it hard to choose. Let's assume they face each other in the first round for just a second.
Luka and Harden essentially will cancel each other out because their games are eerily similar. The Mavericks get the edge in size because not only do they have Kristaps who can go to work in the post, but they have other big men who can give them rebounds in the clutch.
From an aesthetically pleasing perspective, the Mavericks also get the edge because they whip the ball around like it's a hot potato. And much of that has to do with their coaching advantage as well.
But the outlier that would be the difference is Russell Westbrook. This guy plays like his hair is on fire, and he doesn't give a damn how big his opponent is, he will "Put that shit right into his chest."
The Mavericks would have no answers for a guy who has changed his game for the better in this new system he's in. Especially if it came down to a free throw shooting contest. I don't think I have ever seen a guy who is more clutch from the line than Russ.
So if we're asking Who Sucks Less, we're going to have to go with the Houston Rockets.
For anyone who is a fan of NBA All-Star Weekend, Saturday has to be your favorite day.
Whether you're a fan of the Skills Challenge, Three-Point Contest, or the Dunk Contest, there is definitely something for everybody.
We're going to make our picks.
NBA Skills Challenge
I love how the Skills Challenge has transformed over the years. It used to just be for guards and guys who play under the rim.
But with so many big men who can handle the ball and shoot it from anywhere, they have reinvented who qualifies for this tournament.
This year for the big men we've got Bam Adebayo, Domantas Sabonis, and Pascal Siakam. All guys who are up for the Most Improved Player award this season.
For the guards we have Patrick Beverly, Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Runner-Up: Bam Adebayo
I had a friend send me a short story of Adebayo's pre-draft workout with the Miami Heat. They ran him through some drills and asked him how many three pointers he could make from the corner and he said 60%.
The Heat scouts thought he was crazy, and then he proceeded to make 62% of his threes after 50 shots.
This guy has a different type of mentality and has continued to show constant growth. He plays huge for a 6'9" guy, but also plays very fast and can pass the ball extremely well.
He'll be the best of the big men, but he's going to fall just short to our winner.
Winner: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Shai has been one of the best untold stories of this NBA season. In just his second season, he is going to be starting for his second different playoff team.
The whole thing about this competition is that whoever actually tries to win will usually win. And Shai, in his All-Star Saturday debut, will be going all out.
And if he's trying, he's winning.
NBA 3-Point Contest
This contest will not be the same without Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, or Klay Thompson, as they are all out with injuries. But it will open it up for some young guys to make a name for themselves.
Five out of the eight participants are in this for the first time. Trae Young, Duncan Robinson, Davis Bertans, Devonte' Graham, and Zach Lavine will all be looking to make their mark.
Devin Booker and Buddy Hield are looking for their first trophies, while Joe Harris will be looking to defend his title.
Runner-Up: Trae Young
There's not much to say about Trae when it comes to bombing threes. We all know what he can do.
But with him participating in the Rising Stars game and starting in the All-Star game, he won't have too much time to focus on this contest.
Winner: Davis Bertans
I don't think there is a less known guy in this field than Davis Bertans. But I swear, I have never seen this guy miss a three point shot.
This contest is perfect for him as he is one of the best spot up three point shooters in the league.
He has no pressure on him, and everything to prove. A perfect combination for an upset victory in the championship round.
NBA Dunk Contest
The premier event of the weekend is always boom or bust. There's never a time where you're like "It was ok." It's either memorable or it's not.
This year's field has to potential to be pretty forgettable. But there are some factors that could make it interesting.
We've got Dwight Howard, Pat Connaughton, Aaron Gordon, and Derrick Jones Jr.
We may be able to scratch Dwight and Pat as the two who won't be in the finals. But we know Dwight is going to have a Kobe tribute dunk, and that will most likely be the most memorable dunk of the weekend. Get your tissues ready.
Runner-Up: Aaron Gordon
It was hard for me to pick him as the runner-up because he's already competed in this contest twice. You would think he would have the upper hand in experience.
But he may have used up all of his best dunks in his loss to Zach Lavine. But I hope he comes up with something innovative and forward thinking, again.
Winner: Derrick Jones Jr.
The man they call "Airplane Mode" can fly above his competition, literally. He looks so weightless when he is gliding through the air.
He will have to come up with some creativity a lot better than he did when he brought out that small wooden airplane the last time he was in this contest. I have a feeling he's got something up his sleeve.
And in a recent interview, he said he's never lost a dunk contest even when he's lost. Thats all the confidence I needed to hear to pick him.
The All-Star game is just a couple of weeks away, and we're already ready to hand out a few awards.
Most teams have played about 50 games. So unless some dramatic things happen, we know for the most part who is going to be in the running for these awards.
Sixth Man of the Year
In the Hunt: Montrezl Harrel
The Los Angeles Clippers have been as intriguing as we thought they would be, but for all the wrong reasons. There's been rumors that there is some turmoil in the locker room. And it seemingly began when Harrel challenged his team to be better.
This guy has been a leader off of the bench both vocally, and in the scoring department. He is second amongst players who qualify for this award in points per game off of the bench with 19. And he is fourth in rebounds per game with 7.
Runner-up: Dennis Schroeder
The Oklahoma City Thunder have exceeded all expectations this season. And Schroeder has done nothing but get buckets all season.
He hasn't missed a single game all season, and is averaging 19.1 points per game which is best amongst bench players. He has been a much better fit alongside Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than he was with Russell Westbrook. He could still make a run at this award depending on how our winner finishes the season.
Winner: Derrick Rose
How can you not be a fan of Rose this season? The guy has found a way to reinvent who he is and has been healthy all season. The Detroit Pistons would be impossible to watch without him.
He is averaging 6 assists per game which is first amongst players off of the bench. But it has been his efficiency that has elevated his play. Rose is shooting nearly 50% from the field, and has picked his spots near the basket that has helped his team win games in the clutch.
He has a couple game winners already this season, which will give him the narrative vote as well.
Rookie of the Year
In the Hunt: Eric Paschall
The Golden State Warriors have been absolutely terrible. But they have had one bright spot with Paschall. He has been fun to watch, and a very pleasant surprise for this organization.
He is averaging 13.5 points per game in just under 27 minutes. His ability to stretch the floor as a big will give the Warriors a reliable bench player once they get healthy again.
Runner-Up: Kendrick Nunn
This guy was on nobody's radar before the season for the Rookie of the Year race. But the Miami Heat and Erik Spoelstra have developed Nunn into one of the most consistent scorers amongst rookies.
While only shooting about one free throw per game, he is still second amongst rookies with 16 points per game. If he can find a way to get to the basket and draw contact, he could develop into one of the best young scorers in the league.
Winner: Ja Morant
This guy has been everything as advertised, plus more. He has not only filled the stat sheet, but he has been electrifying when it comes to his highlight ability.
He can create a play out of just about nothing. You'll think he's got nowhere to go with the ball, and he'll find a way to zip it to an unsuspecting teammate. He is averaging 19 points per game, 7.1 assists per game, and 1.1 steals per game. Unless he gets injured, this guy has this one in the bag.
Most Improved Player
In the Hunt: Devonte' Graham
This award is definitely in reach for all three guys on this list. Graham has made a leap in his sophomore season that has given the Hornets hope for the future.
He is fourth in the NBA in three pointers made with 173. He went from averaging 4.7 points and 2.6 assists in 14.7 minutes last season to averaging 18.7 points and 7.7 assists in 35.2 minutes. Quite a jump for a guy on a rookie contract.
Runner-Up: Domantas Sabonis
The Indiana Pacers have an All-Star this season, and it's not Malcolm Brogdon or Victor Oladipo. Sabonis has continued to improve every year he has been in the league. Which is probably the only reason I am not ready to give him the award.
If you view the award as someone who has gradually improved into a star, then he would be your guy this season. But in our case, we look at it purely from one season to the next. And this next guy has had the biggest jump between these three.
Winner: Bam Adebayo
This is one of the few things we have admittedly got right this season. Bam Adebayo has been one of the best surprises of the season, and much of it is thanks to the Heat for giving him Jimmy Butler. You don't see very many 6'9" guys playing as big as he does.
It's a wonder as to why this guy didn't make the USA team last summer. He didn't miss a single game last season, and this year hasn't been any different. He is the most dependable player every night for the Heat on both ends of the floor. Thank goodness they were able to dump Hassan Whiteside.
Defensive Player of the Year
In the Hunt: Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons challenged himself in the offseason to become one of the best defensive guards in the NBA. He has been successful as he is on his way to his first All-Defensive First Team selection.
He leads the NBA in Steals per game, Deflections, and Loose Balls Recovered. His dedication to being as long as possible on the defensive end has given the 76ers the intensity they need to continue their run towards the playoffs.
Runner-Up: Rudy Gobert
There is nothing new to see here with Gobert. He is consistently one of the two or three best defenders in the NBA every season.
His dedication to denying anything in the paint finally awarded him his first All-Star appearance. Reminding us that the you can still make a living as a Defensive guy.
Winner: Anthony Davis
Before the season, Davis said he wanted to be the Defensive Player of the Year. And up until this far into the season, he has rose to the occasion. His Lakers are first in the Western Conference, and have held opponents to under 100 points 14 times.
He is third in the NBA in Blocks per game with 2.6 and is also averaging 1.5 steals per game. Games missed due to injuries may hinder his chances of winning this award, but when he's been healthy he has been the best defensive player in the league.
Most Valuable Player
In the Hunt: Lebron James
I can't remember the last time Lebron didn't get an MVP vote. He even got one last year when he was injured for most of the season.
In his 17th season, he has still continued to find a way to be one of the most dominant forces in the NBA. His first ever full offseason has served him well as he is leading the Lakers to a potential one seed in the Western Conference. He has become an even better passer as he leads the NBA in assists per game with 11.
Runner-up: James Harden
In 20 years, we're going to look back at Harden's per game stats for this five year stretch and wonder how it is that he only won one MVP.
The guy is having one of the greatest scoring seasons in NBA history as he is averaging 35.7 points per game. He's made more free throws than anyone else in the league with 481 compared to Damian Lillard who is second with 340. This guy can kill you in a number of ways offensively, and most nights he's pretty much impossible to slow down.
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
This award has been essentially a two-man race for these last two seasons, and it looks like Giannis will be defending his title.
The Bucks are on pace to win 70 games this season, and it's all because of him. They were without Khris Middleton for a while, and that still didn't matter. He is first in the NBA in Defensive Rating, Defensive Win Shares, Usage, Player Efficiency Rating, and is second in scoring with 30 points per game.
It seems like this guy is never going to slow down. He plays hard on every single play on both ends of the floor. He is not only the Most Valuable Player for his team, but he is also the Most Valuable Player for the entire NBA.
I wrote this article years ago, just a few days after Kobe's final game.
I was looking for the ways to write something about his tragic passing, but words will never do his, or Gianna's life justice.
Maybe in due time. But for now, we'll let his life speak for itself.
RIP Kobe. RIP Gianna.
As a child growing up, Allen Iverson was my favorite player. So I hated Kobe Bryant. I challenged everything any of his fans ever said about him and his greatness.
I even gave credit to other players on his teams instead of him just to try to prove my point even further. But that was all hate, because I always knew how great he was. Kobe Bryant was great for basketball.
His play on the court was unmatched by many who challenged him for the bulk of his career.
I had so many Kobe memories. The first one I had of him was when he beat Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals, which started my hatred. I remember him hitting game winner after game winner.
It felt like every night he played he did something clutch. Dunking on Dwight Howard. The alley-oop to Shaq. Banking in a game winner against Wade. Scoring 81 points in a single game. Beating the Celtics in the Finals. Scoring 60 points in his final game.
And my favorite Kobe game in my memory might have to be when he beat the Suns in 2006 on two clutch plays.
But of all the memories, there are none that stand out bigger for many people then his alleged rape case. Being young, I didn't really understand fully what had happened, but all I knew was that the media was making Kobe out to be a bad person because of a mistake he had made in his personal life.
The allegations are obviously very serious, and in no way do I condone anything that he was accused of doing. But what I do know is that everybody makes mistakes, even you. Some of us just make bigger mistakes than others.
Kobe Bryant was a great basketball player on the court, regardless of the mistakes he made in his life. We can't judge people based on their mistakes, but we can help them learn from their mistakes and push them to be a better person.
When the world was against Kobe, he challenged himself to be better. We must remember that we are all human, and none of us will ever get this life thing perfect. Instead of tearing people down, we need to build them up to be better.
We are all the same race, and we all must share our earth and our time together in the most positive way possible in order to improve as one large community. So next time you see someone make a mistake, pick them up, don't tear them down.
The Eastern Conference is finally reaching parity when it comes to comparing them with the Western Conference.
They have 6 solid teams that all have a chance to make the NBA Finals, and it would be 7 if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were healthy.
Let's dive in.
Eastern Conference All-Stars
Points Per Game: 30 (Career High)
Rebounds Per Game: 12.9 (Career High)
Usage: 37.9% (Leads NBA)
For a second year in a row, Giannis will be the captain of the Eastern Conference. This guy is the best player in the world as of right now, and only continues to improve.
He has career highs in multiple categories, while playing the least minutes per game since his rookie season at 30.6. I don't really know what else to say, it's Giannis.
Points Per Game: 23.4
Rebounds Per Game: 12.3
Free Throw Percentage: 83.7% (Career High)
Similar to Paul George, Embiid has missed exactly 15 games this season. But when he's on the floor, he is still one of the top 10 players in the NBA. He has had trouble adjusting to the new roster that the Sixers have surrounded him with, but he has still been extremely efficient.
He is the leader on the Sixers in terms of Defensive Win Shares, and he's 8th across the whole league. Theres no question as to what this guy means to them on the defensive end of the court.
Points Per Game: 20.2
Assists Per Game: 6.4 (Career High)
Rebounds Per Game: 7 (Career High)
Jimmy said it best when he said "People act like I'm not a good basketball player." When he forced his way to Miami, the media wanted to slam him for going to a "worse" team while saying all he wanted to do was win.
Well guess what, that's exactly what he's done. He's taken on the role as leader of the Miami Heat franchise and has taught this young group what it means to share the ball and play defense at a high level. He's playing some of the best offensive basketball of his career, and his leadership is at an all-time high.
I'm not really sure why he's listed as a "Frontcourt" player, but it works because he made it to our starting rotation.
Points Per Game: 22.1
Free Throw Percentage: 86.6% (Career High)
Field Goal Percentage: 44.6% (Career High)
Kemba Walker has transitioned so smoothly into this Boston Celtics roster. His percentages are up, but all of his numbers are down. And that's only because for the first time in his career, he is being blessed by not having to do absolutely everything for his team.
He is the best guard in the Eastern Conference right now, especially because of the fact that Kyrie Irving can't find the floor to save his life. This kid is a no-brainer.
Points Per Game: 16
Steals Per Game: 2.2 (Career High and Leads NBA)
Assists Per Game: 8.5 (Career High and Second in NBA)
Even with the glaring hole in Ben Simmons' game, he has still been one of the best guards in the NBA. Without Joel Embiid on the floor, Simmons has led the Sixers to the highest pace of play in the NBA. His ability to find his teammates in the perfect spots has helped them open up the floor for the transformed roster.
But it's not his offense that landed him this starting spot, it's his defensive ability. As a 6' 10" point guard, his length has made it extremely difficult for opposing guards to play against him. He leads the league in Steals, Steals Per Game, Loose Balls Recovered, and is second in Deflections.
Eastern Conference All-Star Reserves
Points Per Game: 16
Rebounds Per Game: 10.5
Blocks Per Game: 1.2
(All Career Highs)
Nobody has benefitted more from the Jimmy Butler trade than Bam Adebayo. He leads the team in points off of screens, and is third in the NBA with 520. But the thing that I love about this guy is his resiliency.
He was great at Kentucky, but still slid to 14th in the draft. And even as a lottery pick, he found himself in the G-League for most of his first season. He got cut from the USA Basketball this past summer. And yet, here he is.
Points Per Game: 17.8
Rebounds Per Game: 12.9
Assists Per Game: 4.3
(All Career Highs)
The Indiana Pacers have had trouble staying healthy this season, on top of already not having Victor Oladipo. But they still find themselves in the race for the 2 seed in the East. Much of it has to do with two guys, including Sabonis.
He has been one of those guys when the clock is winding down and they need a bucket, he has gotten it for them. He is one of the most technically sound players in the NBA, and will be rewarded by making his first ever All-Star appearance.
Points Per Game: 23.7
Rebounds Per Game: 7.4
Free Throw Percentage: 81.7%
(All Career Highs)
Each of these last three guys we've talked about could potentially find themselves in the starting spot over Embiid depending on how the media and players vote. Pascal has missed 11 games, but has been incredible when he's been on the floor.
In his first year as the leader of the Toronto Raptors, he has had them playing even better than most people had anticipated. And he may somehow be the Most Improved Player two years in a row.
Points Per Game: 17.4
Assists Per Game: 7.4
Free Throw Percentage: 93% (Leads NBA)
(All Career Highs)
You might be starting to notice a trend for all these first time All-Stars as they are all setting career highs for themselves. Brogdon has found a role as a leader on this Pacers team, and has been nothing short of amazing in Oladipo's absence.
Expect him to only get better when he gets to play alongside Victor.
Points Per Game: 19.5
Free Throw Percentage: 88.9%
Field Goal Percentage: 50%
(All Career Highs)
There was a couple guys I wanted to put in over Middleton. But the Bucks are the best team in the league so far, and only giving them one All-Star just doesn't seem right. His high efficiency should get him into his second All-Star game.
Points Per Game: 29.2
Assists Per Game: 8.6
Field Goal Percentage: 44.7%
This kid's stat lines has been off the charts this season. Even without John Collins and Kevin Huerter for most of the season, he has still found ways to put up great numbers on the offensive end of the floor. His size makes it difficult for him on the defensive end, but he makes up for it with his ability to score and share the ball.
Points Per Game: 27.2
Assists Per Game: 6.3
Free Throw Percentage: 83.7%
(All Career Highs)
This is the second guy on this list of reserves that wouldn't be making his All-Star game debut. It has been a difficult season for the Washington Wizards, but this guy has been their bright spot. His high level of offensive play has helped the Wizards to 5th in the NBA in Points Per Game with 114.
Maybe Next Year Kid
Points Per Game: 25
Rebounds Per Game: 4.7
Three Point Percentage: 38.8%
(All Career Highs)
Zach Lavine has done everything right this season when it comes to making a case for the All-Star game. He has improved his game all-around, he is top five in three pointers made, and he has come up in the clutch time and time again for the Chicago Bulls. There's just too many guys playing slightly better than him.
But the All-Star game is in Chicago, so don't be surprised if he makes it in.
Points Per Game: 18.6
Assists Per Game: 17.7
Three Point Percentage: 38.6%
Nobody expected this kind of jump in his sophomore season from this kid. His numbers are eerily similar to those of Kemba's in his second season in Charlotte. So here's to hoping he can bring relevance back to the Hornets soon enough.
Points Per Game: 20
Rebounds Per Game: 6.8
Field Goal Percentage: 49.1%
(All Career Highs)
This kid has not stopped improving since he came into the league. He got that brand new shiny contract from the Boston Celtics in the summer, and has earned every penny. If there's an incentive for making the All-Star game, let me hold a dollar.
Points Per Game: 21.5
Rebounds Per Game: 6.9
Field Goal Percentage: 43.4%
Either him or Jaylen Brown might make the All-Star game, but not both. So it's really just about who the media and fans value more. We could see him getting in over Brown simply due to popularity.
(Other notable names: Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Tobias Harris, Derrick Rose, Nikola Vucevic)
So that's it! Your 2020 All-Star rosters according to us. Make sure to hit us up and let us know where we went wrong.
And all you first time All-Stars, don't get too comfortable. Kevin Durant will be back next season.
As we enjoy an all day marathon of NBA games on Martin Luther King day, we remember how grateful we are for the life we're living. We live in the greatest country on Earth, and we get to watch the greatest basketball league on Earth.
The All-Star game is a popularity contest, but it is also an opportunity for everyone to appreciate the best basketball players in the world.
Just thinking about how incredibly difficult it is to get to this point for these young men is inspiring.
Hey now, you're an All-Star. According to us, at least.
Western Conference All-Stars
Points Per Game: 26.6
Blocks Per Game: 2.4
Free Throw Percentage: 86.1% (Career High)
The Los Angeles Lakers have gotten exactly what they've needed from Anthony Davis to be successful. His defensive presence has helped the Lakers become one of only two teams to hold opponents under 100 points at least 14 times this season (Philadelphia 76ers).
He's playing some of the best basketball of his career alongside Lebron James. He has proven that he is one of the best two-way players in the league.
Points Per Game: 25.2
Rebounds Per Game: 7.6
Assists Per Games: 11 (Career High and Leads NBA)
Lebron James has taken on a new style of play as he progresses into the next phase of his aging career. He is sharing the ball better than ever, and has taken a step back to allow Anthony Davis to take the reigns.
But that doesn't mean he's taking a step back in terms of dominance. Although he is averaging the least points per game since his rookie season, he is accounting for even more points because of his assist rate. The top vote getter gets to draft his team, and it looks like it will be between him and Luka Doncic for top in the Western Conference.
Points Per Game: 26.9
Rebounds Per Game: 7.3
Assists Per Game: 5.1 (Career High)
When Kawhi Leonard is playing, he is the best player in the NBA. He is the best two-way player in the game and could possibly go down as one of the greatest by the time his career is over.
It looks like we're going to have an all-LA front court in the West.
Points Per Game: 36.9 (Career High)
Assists Per Game: 7.4
Free Throw Attempts Per Game: 12.4
This guy is the easiest lock of them all. The way he's played the last three seasons has made it to where you can not just pencil him in, but you can use a Sharpie.
It looked like for a while that he could possibly average 40 points per game for a season, but he has slowed down a bit. And by "slowed down" I mean he's only averaging 33 points per game in his last ten games. Just a little perspective for you.
Points Per Game: 28.9
Assists Per Game: 9
Rebounds Per Game: 9.7
Even the biggest Doncic believers could never have thought the kid would have this much success this fast. He's doing what he did when he was a professional overseas, plus more. He makes the game look so easy.
His off nights look like 19-10-8 and his best nights look like 39-12-10. This guy could possibly be the top vote getter in just his second season in the league, and he's more than deserving of the honor.
Western Conference Reserves
Points Per Game: 19.4
Rebounds Per Game: 10
Assists Per Game: 6.3
He'd probably be a starter if the front court starters weren't so loaded with star talent. Regardless, he's in.
Points Per Game: 15.4
Blocks Per Game: 1.9
Rebounds Per Game: 14.5 (Career High)
We all saw Gobert cry last year when he didn't make the All-Star game. Don't cry this time bud, you finally made it.
Points Per Game: 25.6
Rebounds Per Game: 6.7
Three Point Percentage: 40%
This kid has career high's in just about every category you can think of. Not putting him into the All-Star game would be an all-time snub.
Points Per Game: 23.5
Free Throw Percentage: 90.9% (Career High)
Rebounds Per Game: 6
Even though Paul George has played just 26 games this season, there's really no reason for the media and players not to vote him in. When he's playing, he is one of the best two-way players in the league right now.
Points Per Game: 17
Assists Per Game: 6.4
Free Throw Percentage: 90%
What Chris Paul has done with the Oklahoma City Thunder has been phenomenal. Many people were writing him off once he got traded, but that hasn't stopped him from continuing to be one of the best ball handlers the game has ever seen.
Points Per Game: 27.9
Assists Per Game: 7.6
Threes Made: 154 (Third in NBA)
It has been a difficult season for the Portland Trail Blazers, but Damian has still done everything in his power to keep his team afloat amid an injury plagued season. His 61-point performance on MLK Day may have solidified his votes from the media.
Points Per Game: 25.3
Assists Per Game: 7.3
Rebounds Per Game: 7.9
With the last roster spot, we gave it to Russ. But it wasn't such an easy decision. His turnover rate made it hard for us to decide between him and one other guy. But it's ultimately his ability to affect the game in multiple ways that gave him the edge.
Maybe Next Time Kid
Points Per Game: 24.7
Assists Per Game: 4.3
Rebounds Per Game: 4.2
This was such a hard decision to keep this kid off of the All-Star game roster. He was the only guy on this list we could see getting in. But it is what it is when it comes to being invited to play with the best players in the world.
Points Per Game: 19.8
Rebounds Per Game: 5.4
Assists Per Game: 3.1
This kid has done nothing but continue to improve in every game he plays in. He recently became the youngest player ever to have a 20 rebound triple-double. And he's a guard. This kid has a bright future.
Points Per Game: 26.8 (Career High)
Assists per Game: 6.4
Field Goal Percentage: 51% (Career High)
The addition of Ricky Rubio has helped Booker grow into a smarter player who has become much more decisive with picking his spots on the floor. His 51% field goal percentage shows his maturity for his age. But his historically bad defense keeps him from taking the leap this season.
(Other notable names: Karl-Anthony Towns, Lamarcus Aldridge, Demar Derozan, D'Angelo Russel, Ja Morant)
The official All-Stars will be revealed on January 23rd, so we'll see if the fans, media, and players agree with us.
And all you young guys on this list, don't enjoy it for too long. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson will be back next year.
Did you know that his real name is Temetrius Jamel Morant? Yeah, I didn't either until I went onto his Basketball-Reference page.
Whatever you want to call him, just make sure you call him a certified hooper.
Before the season started, everyone had big expectations for Ja Morant. Most of us expected him to be one of the top 3 for Rookie of the Year. With Zion Williamson being injured, and RJ Barrett's play not translating to wins, Ja has stood out against his competition.
We do have a couple of guys in Miami who can still make a run. Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro have both played great in their roles.
Nobody expected the Memphis Grizzlies to be good this season, let alone in the playoff race.
The Grizzlies are 13-5 in their last 18 games with Ja on the court, and are currently sitting alone in the 8 seed.
But can Ja sustain this level of play and lead his team to the playoffs in just his first year in the league? Let's look at his numbers.
So what do these numbers tell us? All of his numbers are up, except for points per game. But for a point guard, that's not such a bad thing.
His improvement on efficiency has already translated to victories. Shooting the ball at a high rate from the free throw line is always going to be a plus. Especially for a kid who plays so fast, and isn't afraid to drive to the basket.
The help he's gotten from guys like Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and Dillon Brooks has helped boost his assist numbers. But it's his ability to share the ball that has boosted the confidence of his teammates.
But the thing that stands out the most is his confidence within himself. He's always been a kid who believes in his ability to make any play on the court. And we saw it shine in their most recent game against the Houston Rockets when he went toe to toe with James Harden.
Since we're talking about efficiency, this was one of his most efficient games yet. And one of his most highlight worthy as well.
He was 10/11 from the field, with his only miss coming on a three that was at the end of the shot clock. His 90% field goal percentage was the best he's shot all season, including going 3/3 from the free throw line.
The first clip you see in the video above shows exactly how confident he can be. Harden sags off of him and he drills a deep three in his face. And as he makes his way back to the defensive end he shouts "I'm here! Tell that mother fucker about me!"
And then we see in the final two minutes, Harden again sags off and allows Ja to hit a clutch stepback three to seal the victory. On another play, Harden tries to play up on him and go for the steal and Ja shakes him and sets up Clarke for an alley-oop.
This game encapsulates everything that this kid can be. An efficient scorer who shares the ball and can get the crowd going with his explosive playmaking ability.
The kid is incredible, and he's only going to get better. It'll be interesting to see how long they can ride this winning streak which is currently at six games.
But even if they don't make the playoffs, the Grizzlies still have plenty to be excited about with Ja. The only question they should be asking themselves is, What can't this guy do?
When the Philadelphia 76ers made the splashy moves in the offseason, everyone knew that shooting was not going to be their strength. They do have guys who can shoot such as Josh Richardson, Mike Scott, Mathisse Thybulle, James Ennis, Furkan Korkmaz, and Al Horford at times.
Their strength was going to be in their size. Richardson is their smallest starter and he's 6' 6". So we assumed they would be able to be great on the defensive end and juggernauts in the paint offensively.
But as this season is reaching it's halfway point, we have seen little to no effort from the Sixers to impose their size on their opponents. We have seen flashes of what this team could be, but only against the Celtics, Raptors and Bucks. They have seemingly been sleep walking through this season.
So with a report coming out that the Sixers are looking to make a trade to add shooting, it brings up many questions.
Everyone's favorite thing to talk about with the Sixers is whether or not Ben Simmons will finally begin to shoot jump shots. Here's a little news flash, He's not. So until he does, don't hold your breath.
This has not only caused questions from the media, but from one particular guy in the locker room as well. All season, Joel Embiid has been harping on the fact that he wants his teammates to shoot more. That them shooting will make his job easier.
But people are blindly agreeing with him because he has the potential to be one of the most dominant forces in the league. And I use the word "potential" because he hasn't reached that status yet, regardless of what he has accomplished thus far into his career.
Obviously, he's talking about Ben when he's talking about shooting. But that isn't Ben's strong suit. If Joel doesn't like it, then he is going to be the one who is going to have to figure out to play alongside Ben, and not the other way around.
Simmons has already made an All-Star team and signed a max contract playing the way he does, so good luck getting him to change his ways.
Instead of breaking down Ben's game and talking about his weaknesses, let's take a look at Joel and how his play has negatively affected his teammates this season.
Just take a look at those numbers. He is on pace to shoot 800 jump shots this season. How does a guy who leads the league in post-ups, have that much of a discrepancy in jump shots to shots near the rim?
Now it is possible that this is all Brett Brown's fault. Maybe he's telling Joel to shoot more jump shots. But that just doesn't make any sense. Joel is a force in the paint and should be living there, similar to the way Shaq did. Forcing guys to either double team him in the post or foul him.
The difference here is that Joel is an exceptional free throw shooter, so shooting jump shots all day is helping nobody.
Now I understand his frustration with not having a great team of shooters. It does make his job harder because he will receive double teams. But that's what happens when you're this talented, you will get double teamed. It's on him to figure out how he can be better in those situations.
You don't blame your teammates for their lack of shooting, you find a way to make it work. You don't cry every time you go on a losing streak, you work more with your teammates in practice and in the film room.
There's no reason to come out to the media and feed into everything that will be talked about on that trash network ESPN. All you're doing is adding fuel to the fire.
But if that's what he wants to do, then maybe it's time to make a decision on Joel.
All the talk has been about adding a shooter. But until the Sixers prove they can play with the roster currently constructed, adding another piece just makes it all the more difficult.
I personally don't think they should make any moves at all. This may sound crazy, but the only trade that should be considered should be with Joel.
Let's speak hypothetically for a second about a team built around Ben Simmons. He is one of the best dribble and drive players this league has ever seen. He can get to the basket at will against many guards in the league, or he can drive and kick it out to anyone on a dime.
So the ideal team to build around Ben would be a team full of shooters. Joel has not stopped talking about his buddy Jimmy Butler since his departure, so let's send him there in this scenario.
A trade for Joel would demand a lot, but the Heat have the pieces to do it. They could send Joel and a couple of draft picks (Heat have virtually none) for Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk, and Derrick Jones Jr. It sounds like a haul, and it is, but that's what it would have to take for both teams to make an even trade financially.
Joel would be in the spotlight of Miami, and he would be playing alongside his best friend in the league. Their city would love his big personality, and Joel would give them a show.
The Ben and Joel duo has worked so far when you look at how much success they've had so quickly. But it's the internal disfunction that may be what tears them apart.
Elton Brand has made some good trades in his young tenure, but making a trade for a shooter this season doesn't seem like the right answer. Let this team that you've constructed play itself out this season. If they lose to the Bucks or Lakers or Clippers then so be it. Sometimes you just aren't good enough to win a championship.
But if it comes down to a trade in the offseason, I'd look to build around Ben Simmons and not Joel Embiid.
Merry Christmas Basketball Nerds!
We've nearly reached the new year, and most teams pretty much have their identities.
Let's look at our Surprises, Disappointments, and Things to Keep an Eye on.
- Devonte' Graham
If you created a list of players that would make a leap this season, Devonte' Graham probably wouldn't have even been on there. But his play has helped the Charlotte Hornets find themselves just one game back of the playoffs.
He has made himself the leader in just his second season, on a team full of guys who have been in the league for multiple years. But his vocal leadership has been backed up by his play.
- Ben McLemore
The Houston Rockets have somehow unlocked the talents of Ben McLemore. In his last 15 games, he has had three 20+ point performances, shot 39% from three, 45% from the field, and has made an incredible 48 three-pointers.
It seems as if the Rockets have found another guy they can bring off the bench and add more scoring. And maybe Ben has finally found the right fit for himself.
- Portland Trail Blazers
This is the second time they have gotten on this list. We usually try to switch things up, but not much has changed with these guys. They have played better with Carmelo Anthony in the lineup, but it still hasn't been enough.
To be fair, injuries to Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Rodney Hood have killed their chances of being one of the top teams in the West. But they still have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, which should lead to a better record than 14-18.
- Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings have been the most inconsistent team in the NBA. Even with the recent returns of Marvin Bagley III and De'Aaron Fox, they have still not really found their footing.
Over their most recent stretch, they've achieved wins over the Nuggets, Rockets, and Mavericks. But they've also suffered losses to the Knicks, Bulls, Grizzlies and Wolves. Their current five game losing streak matches their longest of the season, so let's hope they can figure it out quickly.
Things to Keep an Eye on
- East vs. West
During the 2010's the Western Conference playoff race was a dog fight. However, with disappointing play from more than half of the conference, the Western Conference has taken a step back. Only 6 teams have a winning record in the Western conference.
The East has taken a step forward this season and has just one team without a winning record in the playoff race. Both conferences have two heavyweight contenders and a couple of teams on the fringe of being contenders. We'll see how things shake out.
- The Trades!
We finally had our first movement since the Chris Paul trade before the season when Jordan Clarkson got shipped to the Utah Jazz. It'll be interesting to see which teams are buyers as we approach the deadline.
With a clear cut four or five championship contenders, I would be surprised to see any of those teams on the fringe make any kind of desperate moves. But we may see teams like the Blazers, Wolves, or Spurs make a move to help them in a playoff push.
I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more sellers than buyers. Teams trying to get rid of contracts to get some future assets in return. The Cavs, Suns, Pelicans and Bulls all have talent that they could give up on to build toward the future. Especially since the playoffs are a distant thought for those franchises.
During the Philadelphia 76ers rebuild, they allowed their first round picks to take the first year off.
Ben Simmons took the first year off.
Joel Embiid didn't play until two years after getting drafted.
And Markelle Fultz spent most of his first year working on his "mechanics,"while just playing in 14 games.
The Sixers allowed their young guys time to heal properly before throwing them onto the court. The Pelicans and Zion could take a page out of their book on managing health for longterm gain.
The New Orleans Pelicans came into the season with positive vibes, and a hope that they would be in the playoff race. But they weren't the only ones.
They are scheduled to play the 10th most nationally televised games in the NBA this season. And we picked them to be a team in the playoff race by the end of the season.
With a 6-21 record and 13 straight losses, they have essentially played themselves out of the playoffs. So what's next?
They have a ton of assets that they can sell. All the way from the bottom with guys like Josh Hart and E'Twuan Moore to the top of their roster with guys like Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday. They have many draft picks coming in the future thanks to David Griffin.
So there's really no rush, right? If the plan is to establish New Orleans as a new destination for free agents, then Zion Williamson being healthy should be their top priority.
Zion has yet to play in a regular season NBA game, and we have already begun to see the injuries pile up.
The freak shoe explosion accident at Duke. The knee injury in the Summer League. And then the torn meniscus in the preseason that required surgery.
These little flashes of "Injury Prone" are not quite a red flag, but we're at least on a yellow in the color spectrum. Big guys like him who are freakishly athletic as he is hardly ever get a chance to succeed.
To be fair, we may have never seen anything like the mix of athletic ability and size of Zion at that age. So maybe he can just heal faster than other human beings, who knows.
But why risk it if you're New Orleans? If Zion has made up his mind about playing, then that's one thing. But we have not seen him or heard him make any kind of "I am definitely playing this season" statement.
And with the Pelicans being as bad as they are, there's really no point to let him play. They have a guy who has the potential to be a top ten player in the NBA, if not better. Throwing him out there to play for a bad team after having surgery, doesn't seem like the best business decision.
At this point, if I am running the Pelicans, I'm wrapping Zion in bubblewrap and asking him to stay home until the 2020 season.