Los Angeles Lakers G Lonzo Ball (Photo via Elsa/Getty Images)
Basketball season is still a little ways away, and yes, the NFL only just got started. But in 2017 it’s fair to say (and many have) that the NBA has succeeded in becoming a year-round sport.
NBA fans are tuned in constantly, and when we get news like the Kyrie Irving trade so late in the summer, it’s no wonder why. In this kind of climate, fans can’t wait for the 2017-18 season to start, so now would be a good time to cover one of the most perennially enjoyable subjects: the new rookies!
The 2017 draft was widely believed to be the best in many years, and that means we’re about to see one of the most hyped rookie classes in recent history take the court for the first time. Chances are, there will be some surprises – a few rookies who come out of nowhere (like 2016-17 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon) and some who disappoint. But for now, as we prepare for the beginning of the season, here are a few names you’ll want to watch very closely.
Lonzo Ball – PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Everything about the Ball family is pretty ridiculous. Lonzo’s father LaVar has become a celebrity in his own right, largely by promoting his three talented children. He certainly helped propel Lonzo to the Los Angeles Lakers, and he recently unveiled a signature shoe for his youngest son, LaMelo, who’s still in high school (sort of). It’s a nonstop publicity cycle, and it’s distracting. Underneath it all, however, Lonzo Ball can play, and he proved as much during Summer League. He’ll be asked to take the reins of a Lakers team that’s trying to win, and it will be fun to watch. He’s an excellent facilitator who should make a young team more productive on offense.
Markelle Fultz – PG, Philadelphia 76ers
Fultz is incredibly easy to overlook, for a number one pick, because of the aforementioned publicity cycle around Ball. Lest we forget, however, Fultz was a strong number one pick. In a loaded draft, he was slated pretty early as a likely top selection, and betting markets went as far as to label him a number one certainty. Fultz is a dynamic scoring guard who will have the ball in his hands as the Philadelphia 76ers finally look past “The Process” and start attempting to win games. Rumor has it passing forward Ben Simmons – another rookie, after missing his entire first season – will be handling some of the point guard duties. But Fultz will be on the floor a lot, and we’ll get to see if he measures up to his number one pick status.
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Jayson Tatum – SF, Boston Celtics
We know that the Boston Celtics reloaded in a big way this summer, signing Gordon Hayward and trading for Kyrie Irving. But we also know they have some pretty intriguing young pieces in their own system. Jaylen Brown was a good rookie last year, and now the team will work in former Duke star Jayson Tatum. Tatum is an offensive maestro who could wind up in the Rajon Rondo role of the next Celtics powerhouse – not in that he’s a point guard, but in that he’ll be the young piece working with a more experienced core. What will be interesting is to see if he spends some time at shooting guard, which may be Boston’s only weak position.
Dennis Smith, Jr. – PG, Dallas Mavericks
Dennis Smith, Jr. may have as much raw talent as any rookie in this class, even though he was picked ninth overall. He also may have about as big an opportunity as any of his classmates, as he’ll run the point for the Dallas Mavericks from day one. The Mavericks don’t make too many high profile draft decisions, and Smith may wind up being the most important player they’ve taken since Dirk Nowitzki. If his Summer League performance was any indication, he’s ready to go.
Terrance Ferguson – SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
The piece ends with a less heralded prospect who could make a major impact. Terrance Ferguson came to the NBA from Australia, and it’s already clear that his fellow rookies think highly of him. In a rookie survey, they ranked him as one of the best shooters and athletes in the class. Ferguson will likely start off playing behind Andre Roberson, but if he’s good enough to become the starting shooting guard, the Oklahoma City Thunder will add another major weapon to a core that already includes Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. If Ferguson is one of the better rookies, the Thunder may easily be the second-best team in the West.
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Disregarding Thomas’s partial first season with the Celtics (21 games), Thomas has averaged 22.2 and 28.9 points per game with Boston, a major improvement from his time in Sacramento and Phoenix.
Thomas’s rise can’t be from getting an opportunity as he would have had plenty of time to prove himself before since the Kings and Suns were nowhere close to the playoffs.
As such, there must be another reason for Thomas’s sudden explosion. Remember, drastic improvements in a players’ sixth NBA season do not just happen.
If one breaks it down, Boston coach Brad Stevens is the answer.
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Avery Bradley and Shelvin Mack
Former Celtics guard Avery Bradley saw his numbers jump immediately upon Stevens’ arrival. Bradley’s points per game increased from 9.2 to 14.9 in only 2.2 more minutes per game. It was also a genius switch by Stevens to move him to point guard.
Without a doubt, Stevens presence improved Bradley’s performance and will do that for many guards, just like he did with Jordan Crawford who averaged 5.3 points per game less next season after Crawford’s departure from Boston.
Moreover, Stevens turned Shelvin Mack into a premier guard in the country during his Butler days. He also turned Butler into a premier basketball program by making back-to-back appearances in the National Championship game in 2010 and 2011.
History tells us guards improve under Stevens. Therefore, it would be idiotic for people to believe the trend would suddenly just stop with Irving.
The former Butler coach will make sure Irving gets a few easy shots a game off inbound plays, extra passes and screens, something that he never got in Cleveland as their offense often involved Irving trying to win in one-on-one situations.
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Even Nike Brand President Trevor Edwards said that Irving’s Kyrie 3 shoes were the best-selling shoe in the market, via Forbes.
In addition, Irving “is the new face” of the market, according to Matt Powell, an analyst at market research firm NPD Group.
Nonetheless, Irving still had to play basketball in the market of Cleveland. Now, he will move to Boston which occupies close to 300,000 more people, a more advantageous market (No. 7 vs. No. 17) and a large and loyal fan base who will buy his new shoes at any chance.
If LeBron is truly on his way out, Boston will run the East when LeBron departs from or declines with the Cavaliers. Nothing will further Irving’s brand more than winning multiple Eastern Conference Finals much like LeBron has done for the majority of the last decade.
In Boston, Irving has the set up to make a historic run rather soon.
Everything surrounding Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is up in flames. His team has a minimal shot at winning the 2018 NBA Finals and has its second best player, superstar guard Kyrie Irving, asking for a trade.
Here is the proposed JR Report trade that would send Irving from Cleveland to the Celtics.
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Cleveland receives: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Ante Zizic
Boston receives: Kyrie Irving
Photo via David Richard-USA TODAY SportsThe only issue, that could arise between the two teams, is getting the salaries to match to make the trade acceptable. Thanks to ESPN’s trade machine, we made sure this trade would be allowed by the NBA.
To balance out Irving’s $18 million salary, Ante Zizic and Terry Rozier were added to the trade.
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Why the trade is a win for Boston
Boston may have given up a lot of assets in this trade, including Morris and Zizic, but it solidifies a major need moving forward, having a truly transcendent superstar.
Isaiah Thomas is an exciting and great player, but there are limitations to his game. He is the No. 464 best player in the NBA when it comes to defensive box plus/minus, per Basketball Reference.
In comparison, Irving ranks No. 420, which isn’t much better, but we know Irving has the potential to pick up his defense in times of need.
Just think, the Golden State Warriors will be the team to beat for at least the next five seasons. Would one rather Irving guarding Warriors guard Stephen Curry or the 5-foot-9 Thomas?
As great as Thomas’s stats are, he is going to struggle down the stretch of games to defend and get his shot off over taller players. If Klay Thompson is guarding Thomas late in games, it will be tough for Thomas. However, we have seen what Irving can do to Thompson.
In this proposed scenario, Boston would finally have their superstar player that they can build around for a decade. It is not to say that Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and Thomas aren’t good players, but they aren’t transcendent. A title will not be won if any of those guys are the best player on the team.
If Irving is there with Hayward and Horford, along with Jason Tatum and the other young pieces, then there is a realistic shot of winning.
The Celtics will improve their chances to win the Eastern Conference and would be one smart move away from being able to contend with the Warriors in a seven game series.
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Why the trade is a win for Cleveland
At this point, Irving is out of Cleveland and James will probably be wearing a different uniform after the 2017 season.
As a result, the Cavaliers need to start building for the future, something they never did while James held the franchise hostage. Cleveland won’t get anything for LeBron if he chooses to leave, so they should at least get something for Irving if the opportunity presents itself.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert might not feel the greatest giving a superstar player away to Cleveland’s biggest rival, the Celtics, but it is not a time to be stubborn. Boston can provide the best assets in return for Irving giving Cleveland the ability to build for the future but also help James win now.
Gilbert shouldn’t pull a move like the Indiana Pacers by trading away a superstar for nothing out of spite. It might have made Pacers owner Herbert Simon feel better the day of the trade, but it won’t make him feel any better in the future as his team will be battling for the No. 1 overall pick for the next five years.
Cleveland, in this deal, would be getting Thomas in return. He is a slight downgrade from Irving, but should do well in combination with James.
The Cavaliers will also get Morris, who can come off the bench and be a great role player. The combination of Morris and Thomas might be better off than Irving in Cleveland. Also, there would be no issues with team chemistry as Irving would be on his way out.
Zizic is a massive seven footer who has potential to become a superstar in the league. Obviously, there is a long way to go, lowering his value, but he is still an important asset for the future and would be a piece Danny Ainge would be hesitant to give away.
Therefore, Cleveland would have Thomas and Morris to help now and will have Zizic in the future if it does become a total rebuild after a possible James departure.
Boston could also throw in a first round pick, but it is doubtful Irving’s trade value will be extremely high since the Cavaliers do not have a ton of leverage considering Irving could just leave the team in two years, much like the Paul George situation.
If the first round pick is the difference, it would make sense for Boston to part ways with it instead of waiting another four years for a draft pick to turn out. Better to get a sure-fire superstar than having the possibility of getting one four years down the line.
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Get it done
The deal is a win-win for everyone. Thomas leaves Boston, but gets to play with the greatest player on the planet. Irving gets to be the man on the team while still being able to contend for a title.
Boston gets their superstar player and Cleveland can build for the future and add a little more talent around James for now.
The two teams should get this deal done immediately. It is a true win-win.
LeBron James’ The Decision is coming up on its seven-year anniversary. On July 8, 2010, James changed the landscape of the NBA. He went on to win two NBA Championships with the Miami Heat, but that decision to head to South Beach might cost him any realistic chance of winning the 2017 NBA Finals or any in the future.
Ever since his move, super teams have become the norm. Despite what people might say, the 2010-11 Heat team was the first super team of this era. The Boston Celtics team in 2008 doesn’t count because each player was well past their prime. In Miami, Bosh and James were entering their prime. Wade would have been in the same boat, but had some unfortunate injuries to quicken the aging process.
Since James’ move, we have seen the Los Angeles Lakers try to build a super team, but the only thing super about Dwight Howard and those Lakers was Howards’ Superman nickname.
The Lakers team did not work out, however, it was another team following in James’ footsteps and perpetuating the new precedent set by James.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Clippers set out to trade for New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul. To this point their super team has not worked, yet, it still maintained the new norm.
In 2016, Golden State blew their 3-1 lead over the Cavaliers en route to the city of Cleveland’s first championship in 52 years. This loss gave the Warriors an excuse to build a super team. The following offseason, they replaced forward Harrison Barnes with MVP forward Kevin Durant.
Thus, building what might go down as the greatest NBA team in history (pending the conclusion of the 2017 NBA Finals).
Currently, there are just two teams in the NBA who have any realistic shot of winning a title, maybe just one after watching the first two final games. Consequently, the NBA might possess four super teams in 2018 instead of the two this season.
The Boston Celtics are looking into acquiring Utah Jazz star Gordon Hayward to reunite with his former college coach Brad Stevens. Jimmy Butler and even Paul George have been thrown around, for Boston knows it is imperative to sign another star to just have the smallest chance at piercing James’ thrown in the east.
In the west, the San Antonio Spurs are interested in Chris Paul. His addition would make the Spurs into another super team further toppling any dream of parity in the league.
It is unclear on whether those alleged rumors will become true, but it speaks to where the NBA is heading. The trend is to tank until a super team can be assembled. Thanks to The Decision, it is widely accepted.
This new era will stunt James from ever winning another title. The Warriors look like they will be playing in the finals until 2020 and seem to be much better than the Cleveland team now. If James tries to improve the roster, he could go after George to add talent, however, it is unclear how much that move would actually close the gap between the two teams.
In addition, other teams in the eastern conference are going to start building their own super teams. It is to be seen whether or not one could be built before father time beats James, even so, it is hard seeing James beating Golden State unless the drastic occurs.
The eastern conference is only going to get harder to make it thru with James aging, super teams on the come-up, and it just can’t be any worse than it is now.
James had an incredible run and legacy, but it seems The Decision that helped him finally win his first title is going to stop him from progressing his legacy. One can never say never, but another LeBron title seems unlikely at this point.
Guess the NBA gods can now call it even after James ditched Cleveland for the super team in South Beach.
There has been a steady dose of complaining about the 2017 NBA Playoffs. Many are saying the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are making the playoffs too predictable.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith along with many fans and sports reporters have complained that the success of Golden State and Cleveland have made it a forgone conclusion that those two teams are headed to the NBA Finals for the third season in a row making the playoffs less exciting.
However, that is false.
The Warriors and Cavaliers are making the Playoffs more exciting, not less. The idea that two amazingly well-built teams with some of the NBA’s best players could meet for a third straight year on basketball’s biggest stage should have everyone salivating in excitement.
First off, there were some great series in the Playoffs starting in the first round.
The two biggest MVP candidates, James Harden and Russell Westbrook squared off in a thrilling series in which the Beard took the glory, helping the Rockets beat down the Thunder in five games.
The Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers met up in the first round and had a hard-fought series that went to a full seven games. The Jazz led by Gordon Hayward won a game seven on the road stunning Los Angeles.
The Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs slugged it out in a series that featured fantastic defense by Tony Allen and Kawhi Leonard. It also produced exciting front court matchups with LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol battling against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
In the East, the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls played a physical first-round series that resulted in the Celtics winning four straight games after losing the first two.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors series was highly-competitive with Toronto winning in six games.
The Atlanta Hawks gave John Wall and the Wizards a tough first test in the first round.
Even the Pacers gave LeBron James a few tough games as the seven seed in Round 1 of the Playoffs.
The first round of the Playoffs was exciting series by series.
The Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards just wrapped up a fantastic seven-game series that looked like it could go either way.
Within the series fans saw two of the NBA’s best point guards face off as John Wall and Isaiah Thomas played some great basketball in the seven-game series.
John Wall saved the Wizards from elimination in Game 6 with a clutch go-ahead three-pointer to give his team a chance to win a Game 7 in Boston at the TD Garden.
Game 7 was a thriller coming down to the final minutes as Kelly Olynyk was the hero for the Celtics scoring 12 points in a three and a half-minute period of the fourth quarter to finish with 26 overall in the game.
While the Rockets and James Harden looked horrible in Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs, the series was competitive with the Rockets forcing the Spurs to play some great basketball to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
The Spurs and Warriors will be an entertaining matchup as long as Greg Popovich is the head coach of San Antonio because he has had the Warriors number over the majority of his career.
Yes, losing Kawhi in Game 1 over a questionable foul by Zaza Pachulia is not what the NBA fans wanted, but the highly intelligent and defensive-minded Spurs against the offensive juggernaut that is the Warriors should entertain any NBA fan.
The Celtics and the Cavs will be exciting. Watching Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics use the grit that has gotten them to this point will at least force LeBron James and the rest of Cavaliers to play a very high level of basketball.
So, yes, it looks like it will most likely be Golden State and Cleveland facing off with a chance to win the Larry O’Brien trophy for the third time in as many years, but what’s wrong with that?
NBA fans are saying that there is no point of watching the other series when it’s so obvious that the Dubs and Cavs are on a collision-course that will see them meet in a third straight NBA Finals.
What is possibly boring about seeing a trilogy of two all-time great teams battling for a second title in three seasons?
NBA fans should want to see history unfold in the shape of two all-time great teams battling yet again, driving this rivalry further.
The discussion about if LeBron James is the greatest player in the history of the NBA is rising and rising and if he could take down a superteam like Golden State, it seems that many people would crown the King and say he has passed Michael Jordan as the greatest of all-time.
Stephen Curry and Co. are looking for redemption after failing to win last year’s championship after having the greatest regular season in NBA history.
Kevin Durant would get to face off against the King! KD, who it seems like everyone called out for trying to chase a ring and hopping on the Golden State bandwagon, would get to try to win the title that has long eluded him.
Kyrie against Steph another time would be about as exciting a point guard matchup as any in the NBA today.
Listen to Fox Sport’s Colin Cowherd talk about why the Warriors and Cavs would not be bad for the NBA at all, but rather very good.
If the Warriors and Cavaliers meet in the NBA Finals for a third straight year, it will be history.
NBA fans shouldn’t be unhappy or be complaining about the predictable NBA Finals matchup. It will be the most exciting and anticipated basketball played this whole season and there isn’t anyone who should be complaining that it will be the Warriors and Cavs once again.
Yesterday, the career of an NBA great came to a close when forward Paul Pierce and the Los Angeles Clippers lost Game 7, 104-91 to the Utah Jazz.
However, what Pierce will be remembered for is his time spent wearing green. The Kansas product was selected No. 10 overall in 1998 by the Boston Celtics and would go on to play 15 seasons in Boston.
Aside from a 2002 playoff run, Pierce was surrounded by marginal talent for much of the first half of his career. 10 years into his career Pierce was a perennial All-Star, however, being a member of the winningest franchise in the NBA, Pierce was viewed through a different lense. Being quartered in a city renown for athletic success, Pierce was seen as perhaps the best Celtic without a ring.
At this point in his career, Pierce had noticeably less bounce, more weight, and less quickness. However, Pierce still withheld deceptive speed and enjoyed an arsenal of potent old-man scoring moves. Every step Pierce took was calculated; using his strength and wits to get to where he needed to on the floor.
On the other end of the floor, Pierce was quick enough to guard shooting guards like Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant and also strong enough to cover small forwards like LeBron James.
Pierce was never considered one of the top 3 individual players in the league, but, he was consistently a top-10 player. One of Pierce’s defining features was his ability to take over in big games. It was visible when Pierce was on his game, it was all in his body, as after a made basket he would leisurely bound down the court, his head slightly tilted upwards and a half grin shining across his face.
When he had it going, Pierce’s success seemed to bother his defenders an exceptional amount. Pierce’s game and swagger will forever cement him as one of the NBA’s most unique talents.
Fortunately, in the summer of 2007, general manager Danny Ainge engineered a number of moves to lure superstars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston.
Pierce and the “Big 3” were coupled with a young pass-first point guard, Rajon Rondo, along with defensive stalwart Kendrick Perkins. Off the bench, the 2008 Celtics featured a high sock wearing spark plug-in Eddie House, lockdown defender Tony Allen and reliable, modest forward, Leon Powe.
Unlike many teams experiencing significant roster turnover, the Celtics suffered no “growing pains” and cruised to the number 1 seed, winning 66 games along the way.
Nonetheless, one thing was apparent, this was Pierce’s team. When they desperately needed a bucket, the ball went to Pierce, when the game was on the line, the ball went to Pierce and when they finally won the championship, Pierce was the first to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Winning the championship was a defining moment for both Pierce and the city of Boston. For many of the younger Celtics fans, Pierce was the “Larry Bird” of our generation. His win solidified him as a Celtic great and united him with all of the Celtics who won a championship in green before him.
After the Boston Celtics game one loss, there is a multitude of questions surrounding the team.
Can the Celtics solve their rebounding woes?
The Celtics were outrebounded 53-36 by the larger and more physical Chicago Bulls. Center Robin Lopez (7 rebounds) and guard Rajon Rondo (5 rebounds) crushed the Celtics on the offensive boards.
In order to take full advantage of the Bulls inability to hit the 3 ball, it is crucial for the Boston will need to rebound the ball effectively.
How can the Celtics mask their rebounding deficiencies?
Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson rank near the bottom of the eastern conference in rebounding rating. Therefore, the best response would be to play small-ball and have more athletic players, like guard Jaylen Brown and forward Jae Crowder, play at the four and five spots.
This move should improve their ability to track down long rebounds that are a by-product of poor three-point shooting.
Are the Celtics a regular season team?
Many NBA teams, like the Cavaliers and Spurs, have the talent to cruise through much of the regular season and then turn up their focus once the playoffs come.
The Celtics, in the Stevens’ era, bring 100 percent effort for all 82 games of the regular season.
Guard Isaiah Thomas and forward Al Horford do not get the LeBron James and Tony Parker treatment, resting when healthy.
As a result, Boston suffers from fatigue that looked to negatively impact them in game one.
It is important that the Celtics make a statement in Game two in order to prove that their 53-win season was not a fluke.
Can the Celtics find a reliable 2nd scoring option?
During the first playoff game, it became clear, in the fourth quarter, that Thomas was the only Boston player who could consistently get to the rim.
Throughout the regular season, Brad Stevens employed a “Popovich-ian” type offense where fast-paced ball movement opened up an array of looks for consistent three-point shooters like Crowder and Avery Bradley.
However, the fourth quarter in a playoff series typically relies on an isolation offense and a players ability to get to the rim or free throw line. Crowder, Horford or Marcus Smart are going to have to step up by consistently getting to the rim if the Celtics want to win.
The Bulls are built well for the playoffs and might force this series to go seven games. However, the Celtics will be better prepared to handle the emotion of Thomas’s sister’s death and it is a must-win game at home. Those two reasons will help Boston get the win in game two.