Rondo is a severely underrated point guard. I believe he is a Hall of Famer and after reading this article, you will believe this too.
Before his impressive performance in the 2018 playoffs, Rajon Rondo was definitely a forgotten player in this league. And that’s completely understandable due to the fact that the league has completely evolved into a offensively-driven, pace-and-space game. As a result, basketball fans shifted their focus from a traditional point guard like Rondo to the new, trendy point guards like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard.
It’s funny because as much as I and many other basketball fans like seeing a guard like Curry pull up and hit 35-footers or Lillard make defenders look foolish as he does a hesitation-dribble combo, with a step-back and quickly rises, hitting a tough contested three-pointer, I love watching Rondo pick apart defenses with his pinpoint passing, slashing ability and instinctiveness.
So why is Rondo a “forgotten” point god? Well, avid basketball fans may know this but the general basketball fans who aren’t “woke” and only see the NBA for what it is now don’t realize that Rondo revolutionized the game as well. During his all-star years from 2009-2013, Rondo (only at the height of 6’1″) set the trend for point guards to record triple-doubles and dominate the game without a reliable jumpshot. Not only did Rondo prove he could be productive but he also was exciting to watch by incorporating playground moves to the NBA stage. His famous fake behind-the-back move fooled countless players and captivated millions of fans.
And in the 2018 playoffs, Rondo averaged a career-best 12.2 assists (https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/r/rondora01.html#all_playoffs_per_game). Just when people count Rondo out, he reassures people how great he is. Currently, Rondo is an unrestricted free agent and will be apart of this summer’s blockbuster free agency starring big stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Chris Paul, Demarcus Cousins, etc. I have no doubt that if a team wants to win, they will not hesitate to pick up Rondo.
The last no. 2 overall pick to be an All-Star was back in ’07. From 2008-2017, I go in-depth with a list of the other no. 2 overall picks. Some are going to be exciting to watch in the future and others are easily forgettable.
So, who exactly was the last 2nd overall pick to be selected an NBA All-Star? That player is none other than Golden State Warriors small forward, Kevin Durant who was drafted back in 2007 by the Seattle Supersonics (Now the OKC Thunder). Despite his controversial decision to take his talents to Oakland and assemble, arguably, the greatest team ever and change the NBA landscape as we know it (I’m gonna stop before I go off on a tangent…), KD is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. I don’t know if we’ll ever see another 7-footer who has the skills and coordination of an elite guard and is deadly from all three levels on the floor. And, I guess I have to mention that he now is the 2nd youngest player (behind LeBron James of course) to reach the 20K-scoring benchmark. The following players who I will mention in this list, have been the no. 2 overall picks that have proceeded KD. Some have great potential and have the opportunity to make a name for themselves, while others are an afterthought.
Michael Beasley is quite the journeyman after playing for 6 different teams throughout his career. You’d think as a promising lottery pick, who was able to make the All-Rookie 1st Team during his campaign with the Heat, that he would blossom into the great player we all thought he could be. But, let’s just say that Beasley was “riding on Cloud Nine” and watched his superstar-potential go down the toilet. However, Beasley seems as though he has found a home in New York where he has become a key rotational player for the Knicks. Beasley is averaging 12 points per game (while shooting 52% from the field) and 5 rebounds per game; which nearly mirrors his career average. Although Beasley has no chance of being an All-Star, he and the Knicks have the opportunity to compete, in the playoffs, as an 8th-seed in the eastern conference.
To put Hasheem Thabeet’s NBA career into perspective: “The shoes he had to fill were too big” (pun fully intended). After developing the reputation of an interior defender back at Louisville, we all assumed that he would do that sufficiently in the league. However, Thabeet only ended up playing 224 games in his brief NBA career and now is playing overseas in a Tanzanian basketball league… enough said!
If anyone would like to prove to me that Evan Turner is a decent guard in this league and deserves every penny, then I’m all ears. However, if you told me that an NBA shooting guard, who shoots 43% from the field for his career, was getting paid $70 million then I would like to think that you were crazy. Turner is an average NBA guard with an inconsistent jump shot. And, unless his shooting woes are miraculously resolved by a jump-shooting guru, he will eventually become expendable after his contract with the Trailblazers expires; however, his trade value probably won’t be as high as the Trailblazers would like it to be.
To be honest, I thought Derrick Williams would be a pretty good NBA player coming out of Arizona. If I had to compare him to anybody coming out of college, I would have thought Williams reminded me of Larry Johnson. They both are undersized power forwards with exceptional athleticism and pose somewhat of a threat, stretching the defense with their outside shooting. However, Williams has had an underwhelming NBA career to say the least. In his 6 years in the league, Williams has managed to only average double-figures in one NBA season which was back in 2013 where he averaged 12 points per game with the Minnesota Timberwolves… *sigh*
In my eyes, MKG is a late-first rounder at best (not a no. 2 overall pick). He has the capability and intangibles to be a great perimeter defender in the league for many years to come. However, his awkward shooting limits his perimeter game significantly which makes it harder for him to do what he is very capable of offensively which is… attacking the rim. MKG has a lot of potential and time (most importantly). So, will and can he become an All-Star? Probably not, however I think MKG can have an extended, mediocre NBA career (like Tony Allen) if he continues to have prove himself as an elite defender.
Departing from Russell Westbrook, according to numerous sources via friends, family and media, may have been the best thing for Victor Oladipo. However, I also think that his short stint with Westbrook was crucial due to the fact that Oladipo inherited the “killer instinct” that defines Westbrook’s game as well as other NBA greats. Since establishing his alpha-role in Indiana (where he also played college ball), Oladipo has proven that he has star and maybe even superstar potential. He’s averaging 24.6 points per game (which is 11th amongst all active NBA players), 5 rebounds per game, and 4 assists per game; he’s also shooting 49% from the field and 41% from three-point range. If Oladipo isn’t an All-Star this year than he will definitely be one very, VERY soon. He’s also a dark horse in the MVP race this year.
I, personally, am a big fan of Jabari Parker. He just amazes with what he can do out on the floor. With Parker’s body frame, at first glance, it looks as though he shouldn’t be able to do athletic moves at all. But, then you see him get a rebound, start the break, beat everyone down the court and then posterize and humiliate interior defenders with ease! But he not only can finish strong at the rim, he also has great touch near and around the basket 20 feet and in. He’s literally a walking mismatch! But (there’s always a but), Parker, like I stated before, has a body frame that is not compatible to his play style. The man weighs 250 pounds, so that constant stop-n-go, dunking fiasco causes unnecessary and uncomfortable pressure on his knees which is the main reason as to why he has had numerous ACL surgeries (which has sidelined him this season as well). In all 4 seasons Parker has played in the league here are the number of games he has played (out of 82 games): 25, 76, 51, 0. Injuries have haunted Parker, but I still believe he can have a significant impact in this league especially on the Bucks who have the potential to be title contenders in the near future. If you don’t believe me the proof is in the pudding, here’s Parker’s point average from 2014-2017: 12.3, 14.1, 20.1.
Now, barring the fact that D’Angelo Russell sabotaged his career as a Laker after snitching on former Laker shooting guard Nick Young, he came into his own for a little bit after he was shipped to Brooklyn to play for the Nets. Before he suffered his season-ending-left-knee injury, through 12 games, Russell was averaging 21 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game, and 5.7 assists per game. Could he have kept this up if he had not gotten injured? To be honest, I believe Russell could. He is a very ball dominant guard and, unlike his first 2 seasons with the Lakers, he was able to be the focal point of the offense which he is accustomed to doing. Another element that hindered Russell’s game was the fact that the Lakers were forcing him to be a playmaker, knowing very well that he is a score-first guard. I think Brooklyn is a perfect place for Russell to showcase his offensive talents, develop as a legit NBA guard, and make a name for himself.
Brandon Ingram isn’t an All-Star just yet however he has proven himself to be a valuable asset to the Laker organization. After his first season, which was disappointing, he quickly has shown the league he can produce and be effective after going from a point average of 9.4 points to 16 points. Now, Ingram has been getting comparisons to KD. Is it a bit of a stretch? Yes, very much! Ingram has intangibles and physical traits that makes his play style complementary to that of KD but Ingram is a long, long ways from even being eligible to this comparison. In KD’s first 2 seasons in the league, he was a far better shooter, a more versatile scorer, and a lot more efficient. Now, can Ingram drastically improve his game and devastate the league? Of course. He probably has the highest ceiling out of all the players on this list. Its up to Ingram to continue to be diligent and work to perfect his craft.
As the most scrutinized rookie to step foot in the NBA since LeBron James (thanks to his outspoken father), Lonzo Ball has been closely observed and criticized on a consistent basis. Personally, I see Ball being a decent starting point guard for an extended amount time. And, his role would be to push the pace, control the tempo and help put other guys in a position to score. Do I see him as a Hall of Famer and having his jersey retired (as Magic Johnson so eloquently put it)? No, not at all. Ball struggles with shooting the ball consistently (which is a necessity in today’s NBA game). He also struggles sustaining his confidence when his game takes a turn for the worse; and, on numerous occasions, we’ve seen Ball take a front row seat at Staples Center while watching Jordan Clarkson do his job. To be brutally honest, Ball just keeps things simple. And, his simplicity can be a gift and a curse. Nonetheless, he has plenty of time and the Lakers aren’t fully invested in him for nothing.
Milos Teodosic has been taking the Euroleague by storm with his extraordinary playmaking and it has been catching the eyes of many NBA organizations. Now that Teodosic has signed with the Clippers, will all the hype around him be validated?
The mysterious international prospect from Serbia, Milos Teodosic, first gained NBA buzz after recording 26 points and 9 assists on the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 2013 exhibition game when he was a part of a Russian pro basketball club known as PBC CSKA Moscow. That same year, ESPN’s Marc Stein, confirmed that the Memphis Grizzlies had tried to sign Teodosic for $5M but failed. And, during the 2016 Rio Olympics, Teodosic created more buzz for himself after leading Serbia to a near-victory versus Team USA, they lost 94-91. Now, the Los Angeles Clippers are giving the Serbian an opportunity to test his abilities in the NBA, and he will not deny another NBA offer this time around.
Teodosic signed a two-year deal worth $12.3M with the LA Clippers. The 6-foot-5-inch Serbian guard can be a key difference maker for the Clippers: for better or for worse.
In the history of the league (dating back to the 1946-47 season), there have only been 24 Serbian NBA players. Of those 24 players, 3 played the point guard position. Those 3 Serbian guards never played 1 full NBA season (Igor Rakocevic played 42 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves, in 2001, before being waived). So, Serbia is not known for producing NBA-level point guards. Will Teodosic defy those odds and avoid being a bust?
To add, Teodosic is 30-years old which puts him in the “oldest rookies” category. Either he can just be an “old rookie” who went on to be an epic failure like 30-year old Barry Stevens who only played 2 games for the Warriors in 1992-93. Or, be an “old rookie” who makes the most of his opportunities like 31-year old Arvydas Sabonis who, in 73 games with the 1995-96 Portland Trail Blazers, averaged 14 points per game and 8 rebounds per game. In today’s NBA, the game is very fast-paced with teams trying to perfect the “small ball” system. Assuming that Teodosic plays a big role on the Clippers, durability and endurance are two things that are concerning when assessing what kind of impact he can make at his age.
Now, positively, Teodosic has the potential to be a perfect point guard replacement for the Clippers. At 6’5″, with his playmaking ability and his soft shooting touch, Teodosic will be able to play the point and shooting guard positions which is very important in today’s NBA. Also, at his height, Teodosic will be able to see overtop of many of his point guard matchups. And, to add, Teodosic is also a very intelligent pick-and-roll player who is able to make the right basketball play. So, don’t be surprised if Teodosic continues to keep Lob City alive and Danilo Gallinari’s career gets revitalized due to plenty of open shot attempts Teodosic creates from pick-and-roll scenarios.
Teodosic has been getting the NBA’s attention for nearly half a decade now. Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski calls him “as good of a player, and as good of a guard, as there is in Europe.” Now, the Serbian-native will get his chance to showcase his playmaking skills on the grandest stage of them all.
The Cavs have been in doubtful positions before. Last year, Cleveland dropped the first two contests against the Warriors and rose from the ashes. After analyzing Game 1, Cleveland still has a definitive chance to win the series and I’ll tell you why.
Game 1: “The game players get their feet wet”
Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, and the rest of the supporting cast (excluding the starters) were getting a taste of what was and will be the enormous task at hand in these NBA Finals against, arguably, the greatest team ever assembled. No one really seemed comfortable and as a unit, Cleveland looked unfocused. As the players have been preaching in postgame interviews, it’s impossible to simulate opponents as well as the gametime atmosphere in practice; so Game 1 puts everything into perspective. Game 1’s tale was a combination of Cleveland being a bit awe/star struck and the Warriors unleashing their anguish on the bitter events that took place in last year’s NBA Finals. LeBron and his Cavs are now 0-3 versus the Warriors in Game 1’s, but I doubt that discourages Cleveland. I expect LeBron and Kyrie to gather their troops and recalibrate their focus so they can execute a lot better in Game 2.
Cavs Dominated the Boards
The Warriors did gain a lot of its initial momentum and took advantage of Cleveland lethargic behavior through second chance points. Warriors ended with 18 second chance points while Cavs had 13. With that being said, Cleveland still won the rebounding battle in totality, 67-60. Kevin Love led the pack with 21 rebounds. LeBron James added 15 rebounds. But Tristan Thompson, one of the league’s premier rebounders, only had 4 rebounds. I don’t expect Thompson to have another lackluster performance, on the glass, for the remainder of the series. And, I expect Cleveland to continue dominating the glass as well as converting more efficiently on the additional scoring opportunities they receive from their rebounding efforts for the rest of the NBA Finals.
He was the only player, outside of Kyrie Irving, who was actually challenging the Warriors. James posted 28 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 blocks. But what about the 8 turnovers? Yes, he did commit 8 turnovers (Cavs committed a grand total of 20 turnovers which GSW converted into 21 points) but most of his turnovers were unforced errors and can easily be avoided with James’ unique ability to analyze and break down film and gameplans. Additionally, with no one on the Cavs shooting the ball well (team shot only 35% from the field) the Warriors could apply even more pressure on James making life even more difficult. Also, with the terrible shooting performance the Cavs’ supporting cast displayed, excluding Irving, the Cavs offense was conducted through LeBron-James-isolation situations where James had to create offense all by his lonesome throughout the entirety of the game (Cavs only had 15 assists as a team versus GSW who had 31 assists as a team). With this being the only offense the Cavs could conduct, the Warriors’ defense barely rotated, only had to pay close attention to James, and treated everyone else as a nonscoring threat.
At the end of the day, James has been to 8 NBA Finals (7 NBA Finals in a row), so this isn’t his first rodeo. I expect him as well as his supporting cast to adjust exponentially. As a competitor, when you get beat that bad, the only solution is to prepare the mind and body 110% harder to avoid that feeling of defeat yet again. Game 2 is a pivotal game for Cleveland, so don’t be surprised if James puts on a historic performance.
Cleveland has their work cut out for them. Last year, they had to grind out a series victory versus the best regular season team in NBA history. Now, the Cavs have to go up against the best team ever assembled which includes the core of the 73-win Warriors team with the addition of Kevin Durant. Despite the odds being against Cleveland, they still do have a chance to win.
The time has come. On June 1st at 9 PM, the Cleveland Cavaliers will travel west to face off against the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are heavily favored to win the title but the Cavs could be the opponent to spoil their anticipated champagne showers. Why do the Cavs have the best chance to defeat the most talented team ever assembled? Here are the reasons:
Over the course of the season, the Cavs acquired Derrick Williams, Deron Williams, and Kyle Korver (Andrew Bogut was also a major addition but his season was ended in literally 2 minutes so I guess it wasn’t meant to be). I doubt that Derrick Williams will play major minutes in the Finals, but if the Cavs should play him, he is a versatile, athletic forward who has the ability to shoot the ball and spread the floor. Now, Kyle Korver will be a major component for the Cavs. Since he will most likely be a liability to Cleveland on defense, Korver will have to sink just about every single three-point shot he attempts. If Korver is able to consistently be a threat from the perimeter, he will force the Warrior’s defense to stay at home which will help Kyrie and LeBron do what they do best. Deron Williams is obviously the other primary ballhandler which will help take pressure off Kyrie and LeBron. With Deron, he will need to be aggressive when the opportunity presents itself (like he was vs. BOS in Game 5) and not defer immediately to LeBron or Kyrie; it will make the Cavs’ offensive attack not solely based on isolation play which can become oversaturated and predictable.
Cleveland vs. The World
The core of this 73-win Warriors team still remains intact with the addition of the league’s second-best player, Kevin Durant. Logically, if the Warriors team, prior to KD, was up 3-1 in a series they eventually lost, then surely this year’s Warriors superteam will be destined to win now with KD coming to save the day. However, the beautiful thing about sports is the unpredictability and drastic shift of momentum from game-to-game. Right now, everyone is counting the Cavs out and giving them no chance. Surely, the players are aware of this and will be intrigued to silence all the doubters. During interviews with the media, LeBron and the Cavs are innately-trained to be humble, acknowledge and praise the extraordinary talents of the Warriors. But, from a competitor’s standpoint behind closed doors, the Cavs don’t find the Warriors intimidating at all. At the end of the day, the Warriors have home-court advantage but the Cavs are the defending champs.
Kyrie “Uncle Drew” Irving
He’s already deemed the best ballhandler to ever play this game. And, without question, he has proven that he is the go-to guy during critical moments in the game (“The Shot” in game 7 vs. Warriors during 2016 Finals, the 42-point performance in game 4 vs. Celtics during 2017 ECF). Since game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals and the entirety of last year’s NBA Finals, Kyrie has proven to be a far better asset and leader to his team than Steph Curry. In last year’s finals, Kyrie averaged 28 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field. On the other hand, Curry averaged only 22 points per game while shooting only 42 percent from the field. With Kyrie on the floor, the Warriors have to worry about an explosive-scoring guard who is very capable of taking and making any shot, anywhere, at any time. LeBron put it best when he stated: “He [Kyrie] was born to perform and make big plays during key moments in the game.”
LeBron “The King” James
LeBron is the best player in the game. He just passed The G.O.A.T, Michael Jordan, to become the leading scorer in NBA playoff history. Just to add, LeBron needs to make only 2 three’s to pass Reggie Miller and become the second-leading three-point scorer in NBA playoff history. And, I almost forgot! This finals appearance in 2017 will be LeBron’s 7th in a row! So, LeBron is used to this stage. However, this will be LeBron’s biggest challenge thus far in his career. KD is licking his chops, in the west, waiting to carry out his revenge after getting swept by LeBron in the 2012 NBA Finals. KD is obviously one of the best/unique scorers this league has ever seen. LeBron and the Cavs will have to try and contain KD and the Warriors’ high-octane offense to the best of their ability. If everyone plays their role and remains fundamentally-sound defensively to create more offensive possessions, then there’s no doubt that LeBron can and will find gaps in the defense in order to exploit the Warriors from the inside-out.
Without a doubt, this will be one of the most anticipated matchups in the history of sports. The series between these two juggernauts is tied 1-1 and this third meeting at the grand stage could potentially be the conclusion to an amazing rivalry. Players on both sides are healthy so the matchups are very promising ensuring an ultra-competitive series. Like ESPN analyst, Stephen A. Smith, declared: “THERE ARE NO EXCUSES!” Players’ legacies will be on the line. Who will rise to the top and be the cream of the crop?
These are some players I look forward to seeing develop once they get into the NBA.
The 2017 NBA Draft Lottery Show was last night. Headlining as the top 3 teams in the draft were the: Boston Celtics (#1 pick), LA Lakers (#2), and Philadelphia 76ers (#3). The draftees of the 2017 NBA Draft is overshadowed by the top-pick dispute between University of Washington freshman guard Markelle Fultz and UCLA freshman guard Lonzo Ball. With that being said, there are some talented prospects who I am interested in seeing how they develop during their NBA careers. It’s only right for me to give my assessment on these prospects.
Markelle Fultz (Projection: #1):
In my eyes, Fultz is, arguably the most offensively talented prospect in this draft. He can score on all three levels. He has a tight handle with the basketball and can almost get into the lane at will. And once Fultz is in the paint, he is able to contort his body to finish around bigger, more physically-imposing defenders or he can finish strong through smaller defenders. Fultz also is a phenomenal pick-and-roll ball handler. Since he’s a threat from everywhere on the floor, a willing passer, and ultra-creative with the basketball, Fultz can dictate a lot of pick-and-roll situations and usually makes the right read. To add, Fultz is also the type of guard who “plays at his own pace” which is a testament to how mature his game is compared to other prospects in this draft.
Lonzo Ball (Projection: #2):
The mass majority can all agree that Ball is the best passer in the draft. The phrase: “He makes his teammates around him better,” may very well be valid when speaking about Lonzo Ball’s presence on the court. To put it into perspective, if you play with a teammate that has a “pass-first” mentality, then guys will work harder to put themselves in a position to score the basketball. And usually, when guys score, they’re happy and will make a lot more hustle plays and be more locked in defensively. Also, Ball has exceptional length which gives him an edge on the glass. And, when a guard can rebound then it usually leads to a bunch of fastbreak opportunities… which is DEADLY! Ball has a lot of expectations to fulfill, due to the big mouth of his father Lavar Ball. Will Ball live up to these expectations?
D’Aaron Fox (Projection: #5):
Without a doubt, University of Kentucky freshman guard D’Aaron Fox is the most electrifying player amongst all the prospects. I hate making comparisons, but Fox’s game resembles John Wall’s style of play. I haven’t seen a player move as fast with the basketball from basket to basket and finish at will since Wall. I actually believe that Fox has more potential (it’s not by a landslide though!) than John Wall because I feel as though he will develop a better long-range game. Despite all the stats proving that Fox was a subpar shooter in college, his shooting form is not broken. I think Fox just has to adjust to his own speed so that he can find that rhythm to make his jumper more consistent. Once Fox figures that out, he will be a BIG problem in the NBA!
Malik Monk (Projection: #6):
University of Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk is the second-best offensive player slightly trailing behind Fultz. If you watch the Kentucky games this past college season, Monk was usually the most lethal on the offensive end of the floor. He is the best ISO prospect in this draft. His ability to create space, off the dribble and impeccable shot preparation/technique makes Monk a matchup nightmare. Monk is also gifted at catching-and-shooting while coming off screens. Monk, overall, is a very composed shooter. He has great balance and elevation and also has a shot release he gets off in milliseconds making it damn near impossible to block. Monk is great offensively because not only can he shoot but he is also uber-athletic and can penetrate. So if a defender bites on the pump fake, he can blow by him and then dunk on the team’s rim-protector. Monk will be instant offense for whatever NBA team who decides to pick him.
Dennis Smith Jr. (Projection: #9)
Like Fox, North Carolina State freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. is a very electrifying draft prospect. He has the athleticism to help establish himself on an NBA roster. I think he is also an advanced pick-and-roll player; he knows what reads to make and he is capable of taking and making the outside shot if the defender doesn’t hedge hard enough on the screen. Despite him being a streaky shooter, I think, over time, he will be able to fine-tune his jumper and make it more consistent. Right now, don’t really see Smith Jr. making an immediate impact on an NBA team, as a rookie like the guys I mentioned in my list previously, but I do see him developing into an explosive, reliable playmaker for some NBA team in the future who will be fun to watch.
Lauri Markkanen (Projection: #10):
University of Arizona freshman center Lauri Markkanen is the most talented big-man prospect in this year’s guard-dominated draft. With the way the NBA has put such a huge focal point on three-point shooting, Markkanen is an ideal pickup. Markanen’s 7-foot 255-pound stature may hinder him from adjusting to the speed of the NBA, on the other hand, it will provide an NBA team with rebounding and rim protection. Plus, his ability to have a soft touch and great footwork in the post and marksmanship and efficiency from outside will allow that NBA team to spread the floor for guards to run pick-and-pop plays, create mismatch situations, and open up the lane for drive and kick opportunities. Markkanen will indeed have to adjust to the speed of the NBA but, without a doubt, I think he will be an instant contributor to an NBA team.
TJ Leaf (Projection: #18):
UCLA freshman power forward TJ Leaf is the most skilled big man prospect in the NBA draft. Just based off the games I saw this past college season, Leaf has a great feel for the game. He played alongside Lonzo Ball and, at times, outplayed Ball by showcasing how complete his game was against elite-level competition. Leaf is a stretch big who is able to score on all three levels. And he even showed glimpses that he has decent ball-handling skills and high-level passing vision and ability. Leaf is accustomed to playing at an erratic pace (*hint* helps when you play with Lonzo Ball) so I’m not too worried about him adjusting to the speed and tempo of the NBA. The NBA team who gets Leaf will be getting a high-IQ player. I don’t expect Leaf to be a standout rookie, but I do see Leaf playing for a team where he provides vital contributions such as scoring and energy off the bench.
39-point victory for Spurs?! No Kawhi Leonard?! How did James Harden and the Rockets fail to capitalize on this opportunity? Find out here.
Last night, the third-seeded Houston Rockets were demolished by a handicapped Spurs squad. Without the aid of Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs defeated the Rockets 114-75. How does this much-improved, offensive juggernaut Rockets squad get beat this bad, on their home court, in a must-win game? Well, I’m not really sure but I have some theories that may justify the confusion plaguing the masses that witnessed such a lop-sided affair.
Taking Ryan Anderson out the starting lineup
Mike D’Antoni and the Rockets coaching staff made a game-time decision to swap out 6’10” stretch-four, Ryan Anderson, for 6’4″ sharpshooter, Eric Gordon. The rotation change was obviously adjusted so the Rockets could quicken the tempo of the game while also putting on a 3-point barrage to bury the Spurs early. But that plan failed miserably. The Rockets shot only 13-40 (32.5%) from the 3-point line. The height-dominating Spurs won the rebounding battle 60-37 and took advantage of the mismatches where James Harden, who fouled out, was forced to guard LeMarcus Aldridge in the post. Aldridge bulldozed Harden all night and recorded a game-high 34 points and added 12 rebounds; a stat which hadn’t been recorded since Tim Duncan and the Spurs faced off against the Phoenix Suns in 2008 (ESPN). Two other Spurs (Dejounte Murray, Pau Gasol) recorded double-doubles via points and rebounds.
James Harden struggling under pressure
All night James Harden looked bent out of shape and lost. He shot just 2-11 from the field and had 6 unforced turnovers. He failed to score in the first quarter. And he could never help the Rockets recover the momentum and energy they needed in order to put themselves in a greater position to win. Only 3 Rockets players scored in double-figures; Rockets starting small forward, Trevor Ariza, had a team-high 20 points. On the contrary, the Spurs had 6 players score in double figures. It was like in Space Jam where the aliens stripped the talent from the NBA players so they could beat Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes. In theory, maybe some ambitious-seeking aliens stripped away James Harden’s talent. To add, Coach D’Antoni reported that Harden was also battling “a common cold.” Either way, something was bothering Harden last night which led to his abysmal performance.
Popovich continuing to solidify his legendary legacy
ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon made the perfect tweet: “If LeBron should be MVP every year then Pop should be Coach of the Year every year.” With a game-time decision to bench Leonard (who could have played), due to sprained knee injury, and be without Tony Parker for remainder of playoffs, due to a ruptured quadricep tendon, Popovich still managed to work with what was remaining of the Spurs to not only win the game but win convincingly by a margin of 39 points! However, don’t be surprised about the Spurs winning without Leonard. During the 2016-17 regular season, the Spurs recorded a 7-1 record without Leonard active. No matter who Popovich has on his team, he always finds a gameplan that will be perfectly executed and that can beat any team on any given night. James Harden and the Rockets definitely learned this the hard way!