NBA Takes, Hot and Cold – Part 2

NBA Takes, Hot and Cold continues with Part 2, this time covering a few more topics that include predictions for the NBA’s Most Improved Player and Rookie of the Year Awards, a slept on superstar down south, as well as a bit of advice for one of the most storied franchises in the NBA.

 

Desert Hot

Zach LaVine wins Most Improved Player

 With LaVine in line to start at shooting guard for the Timberwolves this year, the safer bet of him winning 6th Man of the Year Award is unfortunately out of the equation. Compare the lists of recent SMOTY winners to  MIP winners and the gist of the prediction goes from “I think LaVine is gonna get some buckets off the bench this year” to “I think LaVine is on his way to being a star.” This may be a lofty prediction, especially considering the multi-year statistical comparison dynamics involved with winning the MIP award are not favorable to LaVine, but it is not inconceivable, hence its 100+ degrees Fahrenheit this take sits at.

I should begin by admitting that LaVine was and is one of my favorite prospects from the 2014 NBA Draft. Whether that’s considered bragging on my part, or whether it just renders the remainder of this take impartial (or both) is up to you. If you only know Zach LaVine from events like the dunk contest and from highlights like this, you might be thinking that I’m blinded in my prediction by the smoke screen that is LaVine’s preposterous athletic ability. However, if you are aware that LaVine averaged 14 points per game on 45% shooting last year at age 20, and was the youngest player to finish top 50 in the league in three-point shooting (he shot 39%), then you might think I was in fact bragging a bit.

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Think LaVine has hops?                                              Photo credit – Ballislife

The fact that LaVine had a fairly solid year statistically last season actually does not bode well for his upcoming MIP campaign, especially considering the significant influence that scoring has on voters. LaVine’s scoring average of 14 points per game would be the highest prior season scoring average for a MIP winner since Kevin Love in 2010-11, who went from 14 points per game to 20.2 for the Wolves. Do I think LaVine will put up a similar scoring number to Love? No. With fellow rising stars in Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns in the mix playing in a moderately paced scheme under Tom Thibodeau, even I would be surprised if LaVine averaged 20 points per game. What I do believe, however, is that a three to four-point scoring increase on an exciting, playoff contending team should garner a considerably larger spotlight compared to last year, especially if he picks up his play where he left off. LaVine quietly averaged 16.4 points per game after the All-Star break last season on a slight uptick in usage. While taking over five 3-pointers per game during that stretch, LaVine shot 43.7% from distance, a percentage higher than his long lost twin, Klay Thompson, over the same period. LaVine’s dunking ability may get him laid from time to time, but it also helps him remain efficient for a perimeter scorer. Using that athleticism, LaVine shot 63% on shots less than 5 feet away from the rim last season, bumping that up to 65.5% after the All-Star break (good for 4th out of 51 guards in the league with at least 75 attempts). Did I mention that he was only 20 years old?!?

By now you’re probably thinking Zach LaVine is the second coming of Michael Jordan with the facts I’ve thrown out there, but I actually think he will be better than His Airness. Here’s why:

Haha okay let’s get serious. LaVine is not without his flaws. The LaVine at point guard experiment for the T-Pups the last few years ended up having a strikingly similar result as this experiment. This is due to his lack of feel in the pick and roll and his defense being unmistakably below average. This could surely land him in the dog house of one of the most defensively demanding coaches in the league in Thibodeau. The way I see it, however, is that Thibodeau doesn’t have much of a choice considering the only logical fill-in for LaVine is Shabazz Muhammad, and at the end of the day, the Pups are going to need scoring, which is what LaVine can do, and what this award has proven to reward the most.

 

Room Temperature

 Anthony Davis finishes 1st Team All-NBA

At what seems to be an elder age of 23,  Anthony Davis is a bit of a forgotten man. One year removed from being many experts’ MVP pick, Davis is coming off of a disappointing season with the injury-riddled New Orleans Pelicans, where he was flanked by the likes of Luke Babbitt, Toney Douglas, and Kendrick Perkins. All the while, a new big man prodigy, Karl Anthony-Towns, emerged in Minnesota, and all of a sudden Anthony Davis is an afterthought. I’ve heard “Best Prospect Since Tim Duncan” takes, “3rd in MVP Voting” takes, and even “Timberwolves Win 50 Games” takes associated with Karl Anthony-Towns, and every time I hear it I can’t help but think about Anthony Davis.  People are actually sleeping on a player this freaking good.

Yes, KAT is a star already at the age of 20, but Anthony Davis is still the best “young” player in the NBA, which is why he will take home 1st Team All-NBA this season, over KAT.

It is amazing to me how quickly people can forget that Anthony Davis is just one year removed from the greatest statistical season for a player under the age of 22 IN THE HISTORY OF THE NBA1. With his deft touch and extended range, Davis averaged 24.4 points per game on 53% shooting. Standing 6’10” with a freakish 7’6” wingspan, Brow also averaged 10.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and almost 3 blocks per game on his way to taking home 1st Team All NBA honors in 2014-15. A guy this long, this coordinated, and this skilled is, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this, unprecedented (yes, even more so than the Greek Freak). He just has to stay healthy…

Health has always been Davis’ biggest hindrance. While it hasn’t been one major injury or an area of the body that has troubled Davis, he has missed time for ankle, knee, shoulder, groin, chest, head, and back injuries – 68 games in total through his first four years in the league and 21 just last season. Despite what many people thought was a down year for Davis, he still averaged over 24 points per game and expanded his range to the three-point arc, where he shot just under 33%. If Davis can avoid some of the unfortunate ailments he’s picked up so far in his young career, he’ll have the usage to go along with his still expanding game that should take him to another level this season. A season in which he has added both weight and apparently height. Still growing at age 23? I knew this guy wasn’t human.

Buddy Hield wins Rookie of the Year

The Rookie of the Year award has always been about scoring. In fact, the last seven winners of the award have led all rookies in scoring average. Award voters’ mantra has always basically been, ‘get buckets, get ROY’. What comes first though, the chicken or the egg? Well in this case, the egg does. Hield’s Rookie of the Year campaign will come down to one stat – Field Goal Attempts. If he has a lot, which it looks like he will (Buddy finished 3rd on the team in field goal attempts this preseason, while hoisting up over 6 three-pointers per game), he could take home this award on sheer usage alone.

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Stop passing Buddy, just shoot. Photo credit NOLA.com

Given that the Pelicans are in no rush to make a serious playoff push with a starting back court of Tim Frazier and E’Twaun Moore at the moment, as well as the fact that the Pelicans need shooting after the departure of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, Hield should be given ample time to play through any slumps over the course of the season. And with an injury to Ben Simmons, and a minute restriction placed on Joel Embiid, Hield will be one of the few lottery picks to play a meaningful enough role this season, with Jamal Murray and Donatas Sabonis being his chief competition in that department. Because I think Hield is probably better than both of those players at the moment (he is at least 2 and a half years older than both of them, after all), I think he is the favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year award.

Chilly

The Knicks should tank, but they won’t

The buzz is back at Madison Square Garden. A new look “Super Team” has been formed. Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony  are primed to Make The Knicks Great Again. Isn’t sarcasm fun? The Knicks are one of the most polarizing teams in the NBA at the moment. It seems like no one’s stance rests on middle ground – you either love them and think it’s going to be a fun year, or you are laughing at the flawed and rushed rebuild being attempted by the Almighty Zen Master, Phil Jackson. Consider me in the latter category.

The Knicks projected starting lineup on opening night is the following: Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah, and Kristaps Porzingis. Pretty solid, right? Now try reading this list of players that will make up the bench at MSG this year while keeping a straight face: Brandon Jennings,  Sasha Vujačić,  Justin Holiday, Lance Thomas, Kyle O’Quinn, Lou AmundsonMindaugas Kuzminskas (huh?), and Willy Hernangomez. LOL. That’s what this bench unit is…laugh-out-loudable. Brandon Jennings leading a bench mob of fringe NBA players will be an underrated League Pass feature this season for reasons almost entirely related to unpredictability (for the record, Hernangomez does have some potential). At least their starting lineup doesn’t have any history of missing significant time with injuries or anything…

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Brandon Jennings might be better suited at Rucker Park compared to MSG.    Photo credit – New York Post

With the Knickerbockers having the highest dependence on a healthy starting lineup in the league outside of maybe Memphis, they will be walking on a tight rope all season. A tight rope that may snap regardless of health. Leading that unit as the primary ball handler is Derrick Rose. Fresh off of a disturbing trial in which he was recently acquitted of all charges, Rose’s game has unfortunately been on the downswing ever since his knee injuries in Chicago. Rose, a former MVP at the tender age of 22, used to do stuff like this and this. Now he is a shell of his former athletically unrivaled self. He has fallen off statistically almost across the board as well, most notably in scoring, but also in a few other key areas. In his three seasons post-knee injuries, Rose has averaged 4.6 assists per game, down significantly from the 7 assists per game he averaged in his first four years in the league. What’s even more alarming is Rose’s inability to get to the free throw line. A definitive skill as well as an efficiency buffer for the likes of many of the league’s top playmakers, the lack of free throw attempts for Rose hindered the offensive efficiency of both himself and his team last year. Of all players that played 20 minutes per game and attempted 15 field goals per game, Rose was 2nd last in the entire league in free throw attempts per game at 2.7 – by far a career low for him. Hesitance to seek contact because of his injury history? Maybe. Diminished athleticism resulting in a lack of field goal attempts at the rim? Another maybe. What’s seeming like less and less of a maybe and more of a certainty is the notion that we will never see this Derrick Rose again.

While I believe that the injury-prone label being attached to the Knicks is a bit far-fetched, the idea that this may be one of the most inelastic personnel collections in the NBA is definitely legitimate. One blow to any of their key contributors and the Knicks are going to be forced to take a long look in the mirror at what it is they’re trying to accomplish this season and beyond. Given their success in accidentally being awful enough to wind up with Porzingis, any measure taken that compensates their upcoming draft position will be a gross miscalculation. Swallow your pride, take some L’s, and pair Porzingis with another future All-Star that is actually within 7 years of his age (the 2017 draft class looks to be stocked with potential All-Stars). Something tells me, however (that thing being all of their off season moves), that the Knicks and the city of New York aren’t ready for this. They want wins. They want the playoffs. Well, some wins you will get, Knicks fans, but the revolving door of mediocrity awaits, and it’s a lot harder to escape than one might think, even for the big market New York Knicks.

Sub Zero

The Warriors are going to be pretty good

Now this is definitely unprecedented, as the Heatles only had one MVP on their roster when their super team was formed. Not only do the Warriors have more than one MVP on their team now that one of the most prolific scoring machines on the planet is aboard in Kevin Durant, they have the last three NBA Most Valuable Player winners in the prime of their careers. To say this team is talented is like saying Michael Phelps is a decent swimmer, or that Clint Eastwood dislikes having people on his lawn. It’s almost impossible to overstate what they are capable of. Their over/under line set by Las Vegas is an absurd 66 games, and I wouldn’t dare take the under. While the loss of Andrew Bogut will likely hurt them in the rim protection, rebounding, and overall defensive impact departments (Bogut was first in the entire NBA in Defensive Real Plus Minus last season. Say what you will about the metric, but being first overall has to account for something), to say that it makes them anything short of the prohibitive title favorites is  a stretch (Shhh, don’t tell Lebron). Do I think the Warriors are good for the NBA? Definitely not from the fans’ perspective. What I do think though is that I’ll be paying attention, which is definitely good for the NBA.

 

Footnotes

1  – http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/per_season.html


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