NBA season is back!
It never really ends, but regular season basketball is back. This offseason shook up the landscape of who could be representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals next June.
It's time for our Western Conference team rankings!
1. Portland Trail Blazers (Projected Record 58-24)
We're very high on the Blazers this season. So high in fact that we think they'll be the best team in the Western Conference.
Damian Lillard finally got a taste of a Conference Finals last year, but he couldn't lead his team to a single victory in that series. The constant hunger for more will drive him and the Blazers to give it everything they got for 82 games.
Barring any setbacks in the Jusuf Nurkic recovery process, the Blazers will return with stability and a chance to solidify themselves as a consistent winner in the Western Conference.
2. Denver Nuggets (56-22)
Nikola Jokic was in the MVP conversation last season, but was still not quite on the level of the highest individual honor in the NBA. His constant improvement will only continue to trend upwards. Especially with this roster.
Their depth at every position is all a matter of whether or not this young squad can continue to live up to their potential. The team will only go as far as Jamal Murray and Jokic take them. But guys like Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Torey Craig, Jerami Grant and Monte Morris make them the team with the most options.
And everyone is waiting to see what they can get from rookies Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol. *Insert Mile High expectations pun here*
3. Los Angeles Clippers (55-27)
The Clippers have easily put themselves in position to be the NBA Champions after its all said and done. However, the Paul George shoulder injury still leaves us questioning when he'll return. And will they use load management on both him and Kawhi even when they're healthy?
Even if both of those guys only play 60 games together, that'll still be enough to put them in the top half of the Western Conference.
4. Utah Jazz (54-28)
The Jazz have been on the brink of a breakthrough in the last couple of seasons, but there has been something they've been lacking. It turns out that Mike Conley was exactly what they were missing.
Donovan Mitchell successfully avoided a sophomore slump. If the Jazz want to advance in the playoffs, he will have to live up to his constant comparison to Dwyane Wade.
5. Houston Rockets (51-31)
Daryl Morey said that he wasn't going to trade Chris Paul, and then exactly one week later he did just that. So maybe don't take this guy's words so seriously.
The backcourt of Russel Westbrook and James Harden is probably the most passionate duo in the NBA. A lot of swagger, a lot of dancing, and a lot of forceful offense. This is either going to be a reunion for the ages, or it's going to blow up in their face like a bad tweet.
6. Los Angeles Lakers (51-31)
The addition of Anthony Davis will lift the Lakers to their first playoff berth in the Lebron James era. But it may take them a while to find their stride.
Their lack of depth at the point guard and center positions are going to make it a tough task for new head coach Frank Vogel. But their top end talent alone will help them get to the playoffs.
7. Golden State Warriors (48-34)
Losing Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson is definitely going to make Steph Curry and Draymond Green's job a lot more difficult. But if there's any franchise in the NBA that can win in any situation, it's the Warriors.
The addition of D'Angelo Russel is somehow an underrated move. They were able to salvage losing Durant by replacing him with an All-Star caliber shooting guard, who should fit right into the Warriors fast pace of play.
8. San Antonio Spurs (46-36)
Until Greg Poppovich and the Spurs don't make the playoffs, I am just going to automatically assume they will make the playoffs every year.
They will bring back a healthy Lamarcus Aldridge and Demar Derozan as their leaders. Plus, they will be getting big minutes from Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker. This team will bore the hell out of you and mid-range their opponents to death. But they will find a way to make it into the playoffs once again.
- New Orleans Pelicans
JJ Redick has never missed the playoffs in his entire career, so adding him should be a good omen for the Pelicans. With so much youth, it is going to be tough for them to make such a huge leap in Zion's first season. However, this may be the best team to watch on League Pass.
- Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are a match made in overseas basketball heaven. As long as Kristaps can stay healthy, they will be a team with a winning record. But without a third guy to lean on, this duo will have far too much weight on their shoulders.
Middle of the Pack
- Oklahoma City Thunder
Regardless of how his contract is structured, Chris Paul is still a very good basketball player. In the Eastern Conference, he would be the third best point guard. Unfortunately for him and the Thunder, they are in a loaded Western Conference. Going .500 would be a successful season and would keep them in the playoff hunt for most of it.
- Sacramento Kings
We are big believers in Buddy Hield, De'Aaron Fox, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Luke Walton may not be the guy for the job, but just a big name they felt they needed. The Kings front office will find a way to screw this roster up halfway through the season. Buddy Hield has already said if he doesn't get his contract extension soon, he's gone.
- Minnesota Timberwolves
Not only have they had the worst attendance in the league for the past two seasons, but they've been quite possibly the most disappointing. They've wasted Karl-Anthony Towns' prime years by trying to make Andrew Wiggins his sidekick. Here's to another losing record.
- Memphis Grizzlies
A young team with a seemingly bright future. Jaren Jackson Jr. has already shown that he can play, but we'll still have to wait and see with Ja Morant. With the flattened odds in the Lottery, they will be able to play hard all season, and still have a chance to land a top pick.
- Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns will be the worst team in the Western Conference, what else is new?
This loaded Western Conference is going to be a fun watch all season. Teams will be moving up and down drastically with every win and loss because of how tight the race will be at the top.
If there's one thing we know for sure, it's that no matter how much basketball we watch, we'll probably still be wrong.
Getting swept out of the playoffs for three consecutive seasons has got to be a tough thing to bounce back from. But if any team can do it, it’s the boys from the Pacific Northwest.
Every year, the Portland Trail Blazers are met with doubt from the mainstream media. But just like they’re city, they keep progressing forward with positivity.
As we approach this new season, many teams have question marks. But the Portland Trail Blazers are the one rare case of sustained stability.
The Portland Trail Blazers have taken the gradual approach to success. They didn’t tank to draft superstars. They took what was given to them and have cherished the guys who have put everything on the line for them.
Damian Lillard was rewarded with the Super Max contract, while CJ McCollum got a hefty extension of his own. As failure to reach the NBA Finals has fell upon them, everyone from the outside continued to ask if these two were going to remain paired with each other.
As a pair, they have reached the playoffs every single season. And in a loaded Western Conference, that is no small feat for a small market team who was supposed to be going through a transition phase when they drafted these guys. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
While many teams have made huge moves to bring in superstars for a chance at just one title, the Blazers have chosen to build stability in hopes to maintain a winning culture for the next 5-10 years.
Growth isn’t always surface level. Sure, we can say that the Blazers reaching the Conference Finals for the first time in 20 years shows great growth. But it goes deeper than that.
Building a roster to fit the two stars they have has changed drastically over these last few years. And the moves they have made since the 2018 Draft shows promise for their best season yet.
Anfernee Simons didn’t play much in his rookie season, but his potential is what makes this kid an intriguing piece to their puzzle. Deciding to forgo college and play an extra year of Prep School basketball with IMG Academy shows how invested this kid is. It’s always been just about basketball for him, and a leap in his sophomore season could help incredibly to their guard depth with the loss of Seth Curry.
But waiting around for Simons to develop isn’t the only basket their putting their eggs into. Rodney Hood had flashes of massive improvement over the course of the postseason. Including a huge performance in the final overtime of pivotal game against the Denver Nuggets. His talent was never in question wherever he went, it was just a matter of a team finding a way to utilize his skill set as a guy who can shoot off the catch or create his own shot when the time is winding down.
The Blazers love running the pick and roll with their two stars and big men who can get to the basket, or shoot 20 foot jump shots. They are nearly impossible to guard when their wings are hitting their shots.
They came up on possibly the biggest steak in the draft with Nassir Little. He didn’t hav the luxury of having the offense run through him at UNC because of all the talent they had on that roster. But his skill set fits perfectly with what the Blazers need. A guy with a high motor, who can defend, run the pick and roll, and shoots nearly 80% from the free throw line.
As they are still waiting to see what they will ultimately get out of Zach Collins and Skal Labissière, they decided to make a move and pick up Hassan Whiteside for next to nothing. Besides his overpriced contract of course. But as a small market team that rarely signs free agents to big contracts, this contract isn’t much of a risk. Anything positive from Whiteside is a win.
Their move to replace Evan Turner with Kent Bazmore seems like a lateral move. He does almost everything Turner does to a T, except for the fact that he can shoot three’s from time to time. Him and Mario Hezonja will eat up minutes off the bench, but they have the luxury of not asking much from these guys.
With this immense amount of youth, they took a flyer on Pau Gasol. If not for his play, then strictly for his veteran leadership and championship pedigree. They desperately needed a locker room presence with someone who has done it at the highest level before. He will make an impact even if he doesn’t play a second for them all season.
The biggest question mark they have is when Jusuf Nurkic will be ready. He is the key to them reaching their highest potential. This team is built for him to be successful alongside their two stars. When he was healthy last season, he had flashes where he looked unstoppable.
Including his historic 5x5 game in Sacramento where he was the first player ever to record at least five steal, blocks, points, rebounds, and assists in a single game. His health could make them the best team in the Western Conference.
Stability is what separates the Portland Trail Blazers from the rest of the league. While many of the top teams such as the Jazz, Rockets, Warriors, Lakers, Clippers, and Sixers all will have to figure out their new rosters as the season progresses, the Blazers will be a smooth sailing ship from the jump.
With all the hoopla going around in the league, it’s easy to forget about this team. But chances are that they’re stable culture is going to carry them throughout the season. And it won’t just be another good year.
The Portland Trail Blazers will be the one seed in the Western Conference.
It's 1991, and you're an NBA fan. You're flipping through the channels on your television that range from 00-99. It was virtually impossible for you to be a fan of some random team not in your region, unless that team was the Lakers, Knicks, or Celtics.
These big market teams dominated the nationally televised games, while teams like the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, or Cleveland Cavaliers only made it to your television maybe 4-5 times a year. And it was probably only because they were playing those big market teams.
Fast forward to 2019, and now you can be a fan of any team or player and follow them 24/7. So this notion that players all want to go to a "big market" may be outdated.
Just look at the Milwaukee Bucks who were the #1 team in the NBA, had the MVP in Giannis who also had one of the top selling jerseys in the world. Or look at the Portland Trail Blazers, who made it to the Western Conference Finals and were able to retain All-NBA Damian Lillard and his sidekick CJ McCollum.
So while cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and even Chicago are “big markets” any team can make themselves into a big market in this social media driven world.
When Anthony Davis found a way to force himself out of New Orleans, many thought that no matter what kind of trade the Pelicans got it wouldn’t amount to the talent the had with Davis. And in many ways, that would have been true.
Until the draft lottery happened. In a crazy twist of fate, and maybe good karma, the Pelicans got their future back. The ping pong ball bounced their way, and they were gifted Zion Williamson.
The Pelicans then had even more leverage than they already did. They could’ve done whatever they wanted at that point. They could’ve held on to Anthony Davis and made him wait a whole extra year if he really wanted to leave a situation with Zion. They could've traded him to a crappy team like the Chicago Bulls just to spite him.
But instead, they continued believing in good karma and gave Anthony Davis what he wanted by sending him to the Los Angeles Lakers. All the assets that the Lakers had been drafting throughout their rebuilding process now belonged to the Pelicans.
And by acquiring all those young guys who were the spotlight in a big market, along with Zion, they became one of the most talked about teams in the NBA. Thus becoming the social media world's favorite young team.
We've seen everything that Zion can do. He is arguably the most popular high school basketball player to ever play the game when you consider how his highlights have been seen worldwide since he was in 8th grade. But he's not the only one who will be making New Orleans worthy of their own House of Highlights page.
Their second pick in the draft was Jaxson Hayes out of Texas. He hasn't played a minute of NBA basketball yet and he may already have the best dunk of the 2019 calendar year. He turned heads at the Summer League when he elevated over a defender who was underestimating Hayes' power. *See video below*
Nickeil Walker-Alexander was the third pick for the Pelicans, and he just happens to be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's cousin. Game runs in the family, as Nickeil wowed viewers with his ball handling ability at Summer League. He had an unbelievable highlight of his own when he hit a Harden-like step-back jumper off of the opposite foot, that had the fans and Pelicans bench going crazy. *See other video below-low*
In addition to adding young talent through the draft, they also acquired just about all of the Lakers assets. Josh Hart may be the only player who will be forgotten out of this trade package.
Lonzo Ball is known to drop highlights of his own, but more of in a full game sense. He and Lebron became just the ninth pair of teammates to drop a triple-double in the same game. His defensive ability is going to make it very easy for guys like Zion and Hayes in the paint.
Brandon Ingram has had his moments and has shown flashes of stardom. His poster on Corey Brewer still has fans wondering what the hell Brewer was thinking by trying to get in his way. At just 22 years old, Ingram's game has sky-high potential when you think about his size and shooting ability.
But the Pelicans talent doesn't just begin and end with youth. They still have Jrue Holiday, who has been a staple of the team for years, will continue to be the leader of the franchise. This has got to be the most athletic team he has ever played with. And for a guy who lives off of the pick and roll, expect to see more alley-oops than jump shots from Jrue.
They added a couple of veterans to help guide this young team. JJ Redick chose to leave Philadelphia and join another young team on the come up, and he got a hefty payday. Derrick Favors also left a playoff team in the Utah Jazz to hop on the New Orleans bandwagon.
Usually, we like to hit you with stats to show why a team is going to be good. But this is any entirely new team.
They have started a monopoly on young talent in the game, and are looking to remain one of the most talked about teams every night. There will be nights where they are just running up and down the court and will be creating jaw-dropping moments.
Living up to the hype is just the first step in this young team's journey. But most of these kids have had the cameras in their face since they were going through puberty, so this moment will be nothing new.
You're going to be sending highlights on Instagram to your friends with captions like "WTF" "OMG" and "SHEESH" followed by some fire emojis.
And although New Orleans does not have the biggest fan base right now, they will be gaining new fans everyday as they create their own market.
Jordan brand recently had a big win when they signed Zion Williamson to his first shoe deal. They haven't had a good shoe in about 20 years, and they were still able to land the most marketable rookie since Derrick Rose.
Michael Jordan's basketball team however, is terrible. He has proven time and time again that he is the worst owner in the NBA and possibly across all American major sports franchises. And guess what, he's not going anywhere.
And neither are the Charlotte Hornets.
Their 2019-20 season has potential to be one of the worst seasons in NBA history. Unless teams such as the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, or Phoenix Suns don't get anything from their young talent, the Hornets will definitely have the worst record in the NBA.
Let's start from the top and work our way down to the roster and see if there is anything to be excited about.
Last season, the Spectrum Center hosted the NBA All-Star Game. As far as we know, everything went well. The city of Charlotte invested $34 million towards renovations to the arena to make sure it could accommodate all needs for All-Star Weekend.
Hopefully, nobody ate the stadium food. According to a study on stadium food safety, Spectrum Center had the most health code violations out of any arena in the NBA. They were by far the worst as they had committed a league-high 92% health code violation rate.
So let's hope whoever ate the food there got some of the 8% of food that was handled correctly.
Michael Jordan has never really been known as the nice or generous guy. He had Kemba Walker for eight seasons and the best players he was able to acquire during that time was Nicolas Batum and Dwight Howard past his prime.
He never paid Kemba Walker a max contract, as Walker got paid exactly $12 million a year for the final four years of his contract in Charlotte. And if you're not a big Walker believer, that's fine. But when you realize that Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all made more than him last season as his teammates, you understand how delusional Jordan is as an owner.
And their GM's haven't been much better. Let's flash back to 2011 when their GM Rich Cho traded Tobias Harris, Stephen Jackson, and Shaun Livingston for Corey Maggette and Bismack Biyambo. My goodness.
But now with Mitch Kupchak at GM, they have acquired a handful of future draft picks. So maybe that's something to look forward too. Unless Jordan just decides to keep drafting the Cody Zeller's of the world.
After losing Walker, the Hornets are $34 million over the NBA Maximum Salary Cap. THIRTY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS OVER THE SALARY CAP. With no All-NBA caliber players, no All-Stars, and no chance at a playoff spot. They can't even make any trades because nobody is going to want any of these contracts.
Nicolas Batum at $25 million, Bismack Biyombo at $17 million, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller at $15 million each, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at $13 million, and they just signed Terry Rozier to a maximum contract which will pay him $20 million this season and go up from there.
And none of these guys would be starters on other teams. Most teams wouldn't even want these guys are their roster at all. Yet here the Hornets are, paying the luxury tax for the worst team in the NBA. There may be a team with a worse record this upcoming season, but they are the worst constructed team hands down.
I'm sorry. I have no idea what you have to look forward too. I guess at this point all you can hope for is a bright future. Miles Bridges could be the one guy I could see people seeing as a potential future star, but there's a long way to go on that one.
Who's jersey are y'all even buying? It has to be Cody Zeller, only to prove that you are truly a Hornets fan.
The immediate future of the team looks terrible, and until Michael Jordan decides to hand the keys over to someone who is competent enough to make smart basketball decisions, the longterm future will continue to look terrible.
And for all 9,000 of you who decide to go to games next season, don't eat the stadium food.
There’s a variety of ways to build a championship contending team. Sometimes it takes years of planning, and sometimes it’s just pure luck.
If the team is in a big city or marquee destination, they can use location as a way to persuade players about coming to a bigger market. We saw this with Lebron James and his move to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers weren’t better than the Blazers, Rockets, or Sixers. But Los Angeles offers everything and more for a guy who owns his own television production company.
A team can try to tank and just start a roster from scratch with young talent and draft picks. But this rarely works. That same Lakers team was going nowhere with their young core that came from their rebuild. The Phoenix Suns have been unintentionally tanking since Steve Nash left and they’ve gone nowhere. The Philadelphia 76ers are the rare case where deciding to tank for 3 years actually did put them in the best position to build a championship contender.
Another way is to consistently try to be the best team you can possibly be and hope that it works out for the best. The San Antonio Spurs have been the model for this mindset for the last 25 years. The Miami Heat dedicated the self to their culture and even with a below average roster and no cap space, and still found a way to land Jimmy Butler and possibly Russel Westbrook.
And while a team can choose whichever path they believe will most benefit themselves, building a winning culture is the most respectable way to do it.
The Utah Jazz have been trying to create a winning culture for as long as anyone can remember. Even going back to the 90’s when they constantly ran into great teams and players such as Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and of course Michael Jordan. The years with Deron Williams and Andre Kirilenko in their prime were a lot of fun.
Being in Utah, there really isn’t any way to build a contender besides building through the draft and hoping a free agent or two decide to come join a winning team. But even in the best hopes, it’ll most likely never be the top free agents.
And while building through the draft sounds all good, it makes it even more difficult when they’ve been dedicated to always trying to be the best they can possibly be. So while they’ve been in the lottery a few times, they’ve only drafted in the top ten three times in the last ten years. Those picks were Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and the only guy left from these picks in Dante Exum.
They didn’t even draft their two best players in Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell. Both of those players were received in draft day trades with the Denver Nuggets on two separate occasions. And in their two years together, they’ve made the playoffs both times and have looked like one of the best young duos in the league.
In just one week, the Utah Jazz have changed their look as a perennial playoff team into a team that could contend for a title in a wide open Western Conference.
When Mike Conley signed the biggest contract in NBA history, at the time it seemed like a huge number. And while it was and still is, it’s not bad in comparison to a lot of the deals out there right now. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, and Kyle Lowry all are making more per year. And Otto Porter only makes $5 million less, yes Otto Porter.
So for a team like the Utah Jazz who only have two players in Gobert and Joe Ingles making over $10 million a year, taking on Conley’s contract is no problem at all. So trading for him wasn’t even a question, it was just a matter of making it happen.
Whether you believe that Mike Conley is the guy that can lead his team to a championship is all personal opinion, because his numbers throughout his career have always made him one of the top point guards in the league. But contrary to how his teams were built in Memphis, he won’t have to be the guy or even one of the top two scoring options.
This move alone would’ve elevated the Jazz’ ceiling for next season, but they knew they needed to strike the iron while it is hot. They signed an under the radar free agent that’ll add another dimension to their team.
After Victor Oladipo went down with injury last season, it was expected that the Indiana Pacers would have a steep decline. But instead of faltering, the Pacers maintained their winning ways and Bojan Bogdanovic was one of the main reasons why.
In 34 games without Oladipo, he averaged 20.7 points per games, was a 41% three point shooter, and 50% from the field. And this was all as the number one option with a lineup that didn’t really have many offensive threats.
The Utah Jazz added him as soon as free agency opened for about $17 million a year. A team was once looked at as team with just a few scoring options has now turned themselves into a team with limitless potential.
A starting lineup of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gobert should make them one of the top four teams in the Western Conference if they remain healthy.
Their dedication to a winning culture has rewarded them this team. Their commitment to contstantly trading for players they believe in has created a lineup that was attractive to veterans who are looking to make a deep run in the playoffs.
But now there are expectations. Guys like Conley, Jeff Green, and Ed Davis who have all made deep playoff runs in their career will help this young core continue to move forward. So while tanking wasn’t an option for them, and since they knew they weren’t going to convince any big free agents to come hang out in Utah for all the riches they can offer, they still found a way to take advantage of Donovan Mitchell while he’s still on a rookie contract.
Utah is known for it’s scenery, so in 2020 let’s sit back and enjoy the beautiful show.
As the Golden State Warriors faced elimination, Kevin Durant and the team doctors agreed that he was suitable to play. Both parties knew that he was going to be playing through injury, but as far as we know, he was cleared to be good to go.
His calf injury turned into a ruptured achilles in the matter of 20 minutes of gametime. And an injury that was deemed "minor" by team doctors turned into a career altering injury.
So who is to blame for this? The player and his team of advisors? The team and their medical staff? The answer is a little bit more complicated, as he is not the only player to suffer from this kind of predicament.
As fans, it's easy for anyone on the outside to tell a player what to do when they're injured. We can sit back and say a guy should tough it out and come back, or he should push his pride aside and sit on the sidelines while his team goes to battle.
But the people it actually should be easy for are doctors and medical professionals. And throughout the years, it seems like they are either becoming less knowledgeable or have less say in the decisions of player injuries.
We'll look at a couple of guys just as examples. Let's start with Joel Embiid. The guy misses his first two seasons due to injuries. He finally comes back in his third season and the team decides to only allow him to play certain games with a minutes restriction. And it worked. He didn't have any major setbacks, and it allowed him to be healthy for the offseason.
However, his injuries never really went away. So this past season, he decided that it was in his best interest to go 100% for the whole season. This turned out to be the wrong decision because he ran into many problems that could've been avoided.
Such as back spasms, sore knees, and fatigue. By the time the playoffs came, he found himself battling just to get out onto the floor every night that he could. This could have been avoided by giving him more rest throughout the season, and having a better understanding of his body and what it was going through in recovery from the years of injuries.
Another example of this was with Victor Oladipo this season. He suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his knee after he returned from an injury on the same knee. The Pacers knew it could lead to a more serious injury, but they allowed Victor to continue to play.
Team doctors ignored the fact that his injuries could return or that it could even lead to other issues. But instead of doing what was in the player's best interest, they decided to allow the player to dictate what he wanted to do.
Now let's look at an even bigger story in Kawhi Leonard. The San Antonio Spurs and Greg Poppovich have actually gotten in trouble for resting guys too much. So their mismanagement of Kawhi was a rare occurrence. But this rare occurrence ended their hopes of years as title contenders.
Kawhi has battled quite a few injuries throughout his young career, but his leg injury two years ago changed everything. He had been rehabbing to get back and was cleared by team doctors to go ahead and play.
Kawhi played nine games, and he couldn't go anymore. He told the team and the doctors that his body didn't feel right. So as the season went on, the team stood by their medical team's side and claimed that Kawhi was cleared to play and that not playing was his own personal decision.
One would think that nobody knows their body better than the athlete themselves, yet the Spur's team doctors ignored this. Teammates and coaches in the organization thought of it as Kawhi against the team, when in reality it was just him fighting for his own health.
And as we saw him this season with the Toronto Raptors, we could see that he was able to get his body right by working with the team and taking scheduled nights off to maintain his health. He played just 57 games in the regular season, and prepared his body for a run at the championship.
So why don't team doctors actually know what's going on?
The NBA has grown exponentially over the last 20 years. And with the forward thinking commissioner in Adam Silver, they have made great strides in player health and safety. Giving players more rest days, a longer break in the middle of the season, and more off days during the playoffs.
But the next step that must be taken is adding top level medical team talent to the league. So do they accomplish it?
Private doctors always make the most money. And as the NBA grows as a global sport, they are recruiting more and more players from other countries to come and play professional ball here. They need to treat their medical teams the same way.
They must dedicate themselves to finding the best doctors in the world and training them specifically on basketball related injuries. The more knowledge these doctors have on occurring and reoccurring basketball injuries, the better chance players will have at maintaining long and healthy careers.
But along with teaching and training these medical teams, the next step that must be taken is by paying top dollar for the best available sports doctors. The NBA is a multi-billion dollar industry and their outreach is larger than it's ever been.
And until they dedicate themselves to securing the best doctors in the world and paying them more than what they could earn elsewhere, we will continue to have players in a constant battle with their medical teams.
There was no better duo than Batman and Robin. But what happens when Robin wants just as much glory Batman? Answer is, It ain't never finna happen Robin!
So eventually, Robin will leave and become his own superhero. But when he realizes he can't beat anyone on his own besides villains like the Killer Moth and Kite Man, he'll probably contemplate joining Batman again.
And as his decision awaits, he will dream of the good ol' days when they took down the toughest villains in the world. Side by side.
NBA Free Agency looms large for many teams on the cusp of being great. And Kyrie Irving may possibly be linking up with a Lebron James again to rekindle their Batman and Robin relationship.
But instead of looking to the future, let’s fall in love again with the past. With the Warriors down 3-1 in the current NBA Finals, it reminds us of the only time any team has overcame that deficit.
The tandem of Irving and James could’ve been great for years to come. But alas, they could not continue together. So let’s look at the one night where it all worked.
With their backs against the wall, and the world doubting them, they delivered a performance for the ages.
The Warriors had just won Game 4 in a blowout in Cleveland, and were supposed to come back home to Oracle and finish the series at home. It was simply supposed to be a formality. And they played like they thought it was.
The Warriors got out to a 12-5 lead with Klay Thompson and Steph Curry both raining down three’s. They started to look to the crowd like “Oh yeah we got this.”
But with every punch thrown by the Warriors, the Cavs we’re ready to respond. The pace looked like it was favoring the Warriors, but the Cavs somehow had the game tied at half on the back of Lebron James.
James led the Cavs with 25 points, Klay led both teams with 26 points, and the score was 61-61 the highest scoring half in an NBA Finals game since 1987. The Warriors has more made three pointers than two pointers. Everything was shaping up to fall into place for the Warriors to go back-to-back as champions.
The Cavs continued their aggressive offense in the third quarter. Through three quarters, Lebron and Irving has combined for 8 three pointers and seemingly could not be stopped. Their hot shooting gave them a 9 point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter was all Irving’s. He had always been a great clutch player, but he took it to the next level in this game. With the Warriors trying to close the gap, they began playing physical with Kyrie. In one play, he told the Warriors “I ain’t going home today!”
He put on a beautiful display of dribbling, he split a double team of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, got deep into the post, hit a full spin move into a fade-away shot, banked it in and got fouled. He let out a loud roar that could be heard from the rafters as he quieted the crowd with a single shot.
Then Lebron did his duties by hitting a dagger and-1 of his own. For some reason, Brandon Rush was on an island against Lebron. James took him to the paint, pump faked, took the contact and hit the jumper. This gave them a 16 point lead with 3 minutes left and left no doubt of who the best team was that night.
The first time ever a pair of teammates dropped 40+ points each in an NBA Finals game couldn’t have come at a better time. This was the beginning of the end of the historic season for the Warriors.
Batman could not take down these villains without Robin. And Lebron could not have scored 82 points by himself.
This was the moment that started a new wave in the NBA. Without this historic performance, Kevin Durant would’ve never went to Golden State. And while Game 7 was incredible as well, Game 5 is what started it all.
Do everything we did, but opposite.
~ Klay Thompson
Quite possibly the best quotable player in the NBA just made his first All-Defensive team. Klay Thompson received enough votes to get on the second team, and was fourth in votes amongst the four guards on the list. And while making the list is great, we still feel like he was snubbed.
Marcus Smart and Eric Bledsoe were the two guards on the first team, which is awesome for them. They are definitely two of the best defensive guards in the league. But let's get some perspective.
Those two guys who made the first team are in the Eastern Conference. Besides Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker, the next best guard they would have to defend this season would probably be D'Angelo Russel and Trae Young.
Whereas in the Western Conference, Klay Thompson was defending top level competition almost every night in James Harden, CJ McCollum, Paul George, Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, DeMar Derozan, Jrue Holiday, and Luka Doncic. So yeah, there's just a little bit of a difference there.
Now look, a lot of the numbers are in favor of Eric Bledsoe between these two. But they're not drastic enough for us to say that Bledsoe clearly deserved it over Klay Thompson.
Bledsoe had more steals, but Klay had more blocks. The one thing that stands out is the usage rate. Klay was used on the offensive end much more than Bledsoe was. So he was not only playing top level defense on one end, but he was one of the most efficient players on the offensive end.
There is no statistic for the eye test unfortunately. But just watch the difference between these two players and you'll see a slight advantage for Klay. They are both guys who have good size for their positions, but Klay is much faster and can turn a defensive play into an offensive play in a matter of three seconds.
This is probably why Bledsoe got the nod over Klay, because this is not a vote for who plays better on both ends. It's simply a defensive award. But when you consider all the factors that go into being a great NBA player and the level of competition Klay had to face on a night to night basis, the answer is clear.
Klay Thompson should have been on the All-Defensive First Team alongside Marcus Smart.
There is a certain right of passage that every NBA legend must go through.
They begin as a young star. Winning over the hearts of the local fan base. Participate in the Rising Stars Challenge, maybe win Rookie of the Year, make their first All-Star team, get their first non-rookie contract, and possibly win a few playoff series.
Then they become a superstar. Start in an All-Star game, make a deep run into the playoffs, have their first MVP-caliber season, achieve failure on a grand level.
Then after years of failure, they finally reach the pinnacle and win themselves a championship. But at just 24 years old, Giannis Antetokounmpo has skipped a few steps. Or so it seems.
This season for Giannis bares a striking resemblance to the season of a current NBA legend when he was just 24 years old.
In the 2008-2009 season, Lebron James won his first regular season MVP. He had his highest scoring average in any season that he's played in his 16 year career. He led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 66-16 record, which was the best in the NBA.
This season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the front runner for his first ever regular season MVP. He has had his highest scoring season in his 6 year career. He led the Milwaukee Bucks to a 60-22 record, which was the best in the NBA.
Is this starting to sound familiar?
The one major difference between the two, is failure. Up until the 2008 season, Lebron James had been a part of 8 playoff series, including one NBA Finals appearance. The narrative around James up until this point in his career was that he wasn't a clutch performer and that he couldn't get over the hump to win the championship.
Giannis has yet to face this kind of criticism that most legends have to go through.
Giannis led the Bucks to their first playoff series victory since the Ray Allen, Rafer Alston, and Sam Cassel days back in the 2001 season. And up until this point in his career, he has faced little to no criticism at all.
He has had the benefit of being a player that most teams passed on because of the uncertainty around his game. He has benefitted from the fact that he plays in such a small market. The biggest moment he's had was being on 60 Minutes and talking about how other players view him as the game's next big star.
With so much love and support from everyone around him, and the media and critics constantly showing him respect, he has yet to have a moment of grand failure. These next few weeks of the postseason may very well determine whether or not he has what it takes to be legendary, and bypass the right of passage.
It's about time that Giannis feels the pressure of scrutiny that every legend must adhere too.
In the first year without Lebron, Giannis was by far the best player in the Eastern Conference. So it should be his time to dominate and take over.
But it won't be easy. Their current matchup with the Boston Celtics is tied 1-1 and it is no guarantee that they will advance past them. And after them awaits the Philadelphia 76ers or Toronto Raptors, who are juggernauts themselves.
So what was it about Lebron's failures that led to his legendary status? The weight of the world was on his shoulders and the pressure was so incredibly strong that it eventually pushed him over the top and created one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
Giannis is going to have to have that moment where everyone can look back and say, "Everything changed after his series loss to that team." Most legendary stories aren't created after a first round exit, such as last year's Buck's loss.
Pressure creates diamonds, and in basketball it creates legends. It will be interesting to see how Giannis fares over the next few weeks. But if he fails to make the NBA Finals this year, just know that the failure will only lead to a greater future for him.
And possibly the Bucks, if he doesn't decide to leave in two years when his contract is up. After all, that is what Lebron did. *Insert Brown Shrug Emoji Guy*
For those who have been following us since our The IrrelAVant Blog days, you know that we have been big fans of Damian Lillard. Not just a fan of him on the court, but in the studio as well. Dame Dolla got his own #MusicMondays article, found here
The amount of confidence he brings to each and every game is admirable to say the least. And that confidence stays strong, all the way until the final buzzer. But does his latest series-ending buzzer beater shot make him the most clutch player in the NBA?
5. Kyrie Irving
The game comes much easier when you think that the world is flat. Shooting a round ball into a round hoop just wouldn't work if the world was round too.
Moment of Arrival:
With 30 seconds left against the Michigan Wolverines, Kyrie hit a running bank shot that put the Duke Blue Devils up three. This shot sent Duke to the Sweet 16, and let the world know that he was the guy who needed the ball in his hands when the pressure was on.
Defining Clutch Moment:
Kyrie Irving nailed one of the most iconic shots in NBA history. A side-step three point shot against arguably the greatest team of all-time in the Golden State Warriors. Game 7, on the road, tie game. The pressure level has never been any higher for a single shot in NBA Finals history.
Most Clutch Shot:
His clutchest shot was the same moment. There's a short list of shots made in the final minutes that transcended the landscape of the NBA. If Kyrie doesn't hit that shot, the Warriors may have won the championship and most likely would have never signed Kevin Durant.
4. Damian Lillard
Being born and raised in Oakland, California was probably a little bit rougher than a basketball game. Lillard's upbringing made the game seem easy.
Moment of Arrival:
In just his second year in the NBA, he hit the biggest shot in Portland Trail Blazers history. Down by two, he hit a fadeaway three to not only win the game, but win the series over the Houston Rockets. This shot separated him from the rest of his team, and they ultimately started the roster from scratch and built the team around him.
Defining Clutch Moment:
He has hit multiple game winners since that shot. So much so, that he started his own celebration because of his clutch play when the pressure is on. He simply points to his wrist and looks at the crowd and says "Dame Time."
Most Clutch Shot:
The whole reason why we're writing this article is because of this shot. Down by two with 40 seconds left, Dame tied the game up. His team got a stop and had a chance for the final shot, and everyone in the basketball world knew he was going to have the ball in his hands.
As the time ticked down, him and Paul George stood toe to toe. He was about 37 feet away from the basket, and with time expiring he took two steps to his right to create space and elevated. He once again hit a series-ending three pointer in front of his home fans, and sent the basketball world into a frenzy.
3. Kawhi Leonard
The Klaw is a weird dude. But he is one hell of a basketball player, and is more composed than anyone when the pressure is on.
Moment of Arrival:
With a chance to go to the Sweet 16, Kawhi led his team to victory in a tightly contested, double overtime battle. With less than 30 seconds left, he stole the ball and got the game-sealing dunk. Proving that he can be clutch on both ends of the floor.
Defining Clutch Moment:
His moment was an entire series. Going up against the Miami Heat and their Big 3, Kawhi was the best player for his team in a dominant 4-1 Finals victory. His Finals MVP performance proved why he needed to be considered one of the best players in the world.
Most Clutch Shot:
Kawhi has been appreciated through his entire career because of his ability to make plays on both ends of the court. So his sequence against against the Houston Rockets in 2017 was a microcosm of what he brings to every big moment.
Down by one with 30 seconds left, he rises over James Harden and splashes a three to give his team a two point lead. Then he runs back on defense, gets a huge block on Harden, grabs the rebound, and sinks the free throws to end the game.
2. Lebron James
Yes, Lebron will go down as one of the greatest players to ever play the game as well as one of the most clutch. However, this list is created with where we currently stand.
Moment of Arrival:
For much of his young career, he wasn't considered a clutch player. One who would come up small in the biggest moments. But with the series tied 2-2 against a deep Detroit Pistons team, Lebron had to do it all on his own.
With little to no help coming from his teammates in the fourth quarter, he decided to put the game on his shoulders. He scored the final 25 points for his team which led to the double overtime victory. This still stands as one of the most incredible individual feats in playoff history.
Defining Clutch Moment:
The Boston Celtics were the one team he could never get passed. His Miami Heat were down 3-2 in the series heading back to Boston, and the chances of the Heat advancing looked bleak. But with a stone cold look on his face, Lebron came out and delivered a dominant performance.
He shot 73% from the field, dropped 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists. In the face of elimination, Lebron ended all questions on whether or not he was clutch or not.
Most Clutch Shot:
In his 16 year career, Lebron has an extensive highlight reel of game winners. But some were a bit more difficult than others. With the time winding down in a two point game, Lebron went for the win instead of the tie.
On the road against an up and coming Golden State Warriors team, and with Andre Iguodala in his face, Lebron drilled a fadeaway three pointer to give the Miami Heat the win. The crowd was stunned and Lebron broke out a new celebration that would go on to be duplicated by kids across the world.
1. Steph Curry
Baby Faced Assassin. Chef Curry. The Human Torch. Threezus. And possibly by the end of the career, The GOAT.
Moment of Arrival:
In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Steph Curry led the 10 seeded underdog Davidson Wildcats over Gonzaga. He scored 40 points, including 30 points in the second half. He was already known as a prolific scorer, but this proved that he could do it against anyone.
Defining Clutch Moment:
In the first season under Steve Kerr, the Warriors had big expectations. They were down by 20 in the fourth quarter to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Warriors stormed all the way back and had a chance to tie with less than ten seconds left. Curry got to the corner, he was double teamed, he faded away and got landed on by two players.
The ball was in the air for what felt like an eternity, and then *Splash.* His big shot tied the game and stole all the momentum from the Pelicans. He dropped 40 points when his team needed him most, and led his team to a 54-30 run in the 4th quarter and overtime. That's when he showed the world he was here to stay.
Most Clutch Shot:
The Warriors dominant era can be defined in one play. Russel Westbrook goes up for a layup in a tie game and he lays a brick. Warriors get the rebound and immediately get the ball to Curry. Everyone knows whats coming. The crowd, the Warriors, the Thunder, they all know Curry is going to pull up for the win.
The thing nobody realized was that he was going to pull up from nearly half court. He lets it fly, and then all you see is the Thunder fans with their hands on their head in disbelief. The Thunder players looking over at Curry as he is running across the court pumping his fist and doing The Bernie. In this moment, everyone knew he was the most clutch player in the NBA, and perhaps ever.