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Head to Head: NBA’s Best Player

Who is the best player in the NBA? Tommy Beer, Eric Pincus and Alex Kennedy share their thoughts.

Basketball Insiders

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This week’s Head to Head is simple: We asked Tommy Beer, Eric Pincus and Alex Kennedy, who is currently the best player in the NBA? Here’s what they had to say:

LeBron James

LeBron James, at age 24, won his first MVP following the 2008-09 season. He went on to win four of the next five MVP awards.

King James has been generally viewed as the best all-around player in the NBA during this stretch. And in this pundit’s opinion, he still wears the crown as the league’s preeminent player.

Now in his age-30 season, LeBron may not be as quick and nimble as he once was. His fastball may be a few MPH slower, but that doesn’t mean he’s no longer the game’s top hurler. What James may have lost in speed and explosiveness, he’s gained in improved basketball IQ and knowledge of the game. LeBron’s top-tier greatness is due in part to the incredible work he puts in each offseason improving different aspects of his game. While he may not be able to blow past defenders as often as he did during his first few years in the league, LeBron has implemented a post game that allows him to score easy buckets on the block.

During his four-year run with the Miami HEAT that netted two NBA titles and four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, LeBron put his team on his back on countless occasions and carried his team to victory. This was especially true toward the end of his tenure in South Beach, when Dwyane Wade was hobbled by nagging injuries. LeBron could and would score at will and often guarded the other team’s best player – whether that player was a guard or forward.

Now, surrounded by a different supporting cast in Cleveland, LeBron has continued to showcase his incredible all-around skill-set. James is averaging fewer than 25 points per game for the first time since his rookie season, but he is constantly finding ways to help his team win. LeBron has always been a willing passer and his distribution skills have been on full display in Cleveland.

The Cavs stumbled out of the gate this season, losing three of their first four, and seven of their first 12 games. However, following that low point, the Cavs reeled off eight straight wins. Not coincidentally, LeBron was Cleveland’s assist leader in the first of seven of those eight victories, averaging nearly 10 assists a night. At 6’8 and 240 pounds, the case could be made that James has been the NBA’s best point guard over the first quarter of the NBA season.

And of course he’s certainly still capable of pouring in 40-plus points on any given night, as he did Friday night in New Orleans. Per Elias Sports Bureau, it was the 54th regular-season game in which James scored at least 40 points, and his teams have a 43-11 record in those games (34-10 with Cleveland, 9-1 with Miami).

Such is the all-around greatness of LeBron.

Someday, maybe even someday soon, another player may knock the crown off of the King. But that day has not yet arrived.

– Tommy Beer

Anthony Davis

Now in his third NBA season, Anthony Davis has emerged as one of the top players in the NBA — he may even be the best.

At just 21 years old, Davis is averaging 24.3 points a game, fourth-best in the league.  When he was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans out of the University of Kentucky, with the first overall pick in 2001, Davis’ offense was a question mark.

It was clear as a college star that he was going to be a high-level defender as a professional, but did have a enough of a post-game or jump shot?  Now Davis has both, while averaging 10.2 rebounds and a league-high 2.7 blocks per game.  Davis is shooting 57.4 percent from the field, along with 1.6 steals a game, so he’s filling the stat sheet every night.

He’s averaging more points a night than noted scorers Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge.  He’s behind just James Harden, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, but he’s a better defender than any of his high-scoring contemporizes.

Players like Kevin Durant and James are further along in their career, as far as experience.  Davis hasn’t had the opportunity to show the world what he can do on a playoff stage.

At issue, the Pelicans (11-11) just don’t have the supporting cast to truly compete in the Western Conference.  Guards Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans are having solid years.  Ryan Anderson is a dangerous shooter off the bench.  Omer Asik is a strong defender at the center position, but that’s about it.  Eric Gordon is dealing with a shoulder injury.

New Orleans just doesn’t have the second star, a Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.  Basketball is a team game and while a single player can put a team on the map, they’ll need more to win.

Davis is the NBA’s best two-way player, but he won’t get the recognition he deserves until the Pelicans reach a bigger stage, and that might not happen this season or the next.

– Eric Pincus

Kevin Durant

LeBron James is obviously a very special player and one can certainly make the argument that he’s the best player on the planet. He dominates a game in so many ways, makes all of his teammates better and has the rings and awards to strengthen his case.

Anthony Davis has also entered the best player conversation with the way he has started this season. It’s amazing what he is doing at 21 years old. I’ve annoyed many of my Twitter followers by tweet after tweet praising his game and stats, so there’s no doubt I’m on the bandwagon. I think he’ll be the obvious answer in this debate within the next few years, once he’s closer to his prime and winning more games.

However, for right now, I’ll make the case for Kevin Durant. He’s the NBA’s best scorer and he has an extremely impressive resume after seven years in the league.

He’s the reigning MVP, a four-time scoring champ, a member of the 50-40-90 club (shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line – one of just six players in NBA history), a five-time All-NBA First Team selection and two-time gold medalist.

Perhaps the best thing about Durant is that he is just now entering his prime at 26 years old. For years, he was the Anthony Davis in these conversations with people saying, “He’s the best young player in the league, so what will he be able to do in the a few years?” Now, we will soon know the answer. While LeBron has been showing some signs of decline, Durant’s best basketball is likely still ahead of him.

He averages 32 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.3 steals and one block, while shooting ridiculous percentages from all over the court. Each year, he finds something to add to his game that makes him even better. Just when it seems like he has peaked, he becomes a better defender or obsesses over his efficiency or improves as a leader or adds specific moves (such as Dirk Nowitzki’s signature fade-away).

 

Durant has gotten better each year he has been in the league, which is difficult for him to do since he emerged as one of the NBA’s best players so quickly and at such a young age.

Earlier this season, we saw how important he is to the Thunder’s success when the team struggled mightily while he was injured. Suddenly, OKC’s elite offense was ranked at the bottom of the league and the team was near the bottom of the Western Conference. Russell Westbrook’s injury obviously played a role in their struggles too, but it’s clear that the team was missing the NBA’s MVP and leading scorer.

Now, since getting back on the court, Durant has been shaking off the rust and returning to his normal level of production. And it’s no coincidence that the team is 5-1 since his return.

– Alex Kennedy

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NBA Daily: Rich Cho Out As Charlotte Hornets GM

The Charlotte Hornets opted to not move forward with GM Rich Cho and are expected to pursue former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

Buddy Grizzard

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The fateful moment for Rich Cho came days after he was hired as GM of the Charlotte Hornets in June of 2011. With the NBA Draft coming just nine days later, Cho started work on a three-team trade that would land Charlotte a second top-10 pick to pair with its own ninth pick, which was used to draft franchise cornerstone Kemba Walker.

In that draft, Klay Thompson went 11th to the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard 15th to the Pacers. Of the 17 players selected after Bismack Biyombo, who went to the Hornets with the seventh pick, 12 are regular contributors on current NBA rosters. The Orlando Magic are currently outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Biyombo on court, a rotation-worst.

Today, Hornets owner Michael Jordan announced that Cho is out as Charlotte’s GM.

“Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization,” said Jordan in a press release. “We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

While the failure to obtain Thompson, Leonard or any of the numerous impact players in the 2011 draft will always mar Cho’s record, falling to the second pick in the 2012 NBA Draft will continue to haunt Charlotte. Despite a brutal 7-59 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, which set the record for lowest win percentage in an NBA season (.110), the New Orleans Pelicans won the right to the first overall pick and selected Anthony Davis.

The Hornets selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick. Although the 2012 Draft wasn’t nearly as deep as 2011’s, the Hornets still left players like Bradley Beal (third) and Andre Drummond (ninth) on the board. Either would have been an outstanding compliment to Walker, who remains with the team despite rumors of his availability leading up the the trade deadline.

“I feel like I’m going to be in Charlotte,” said Walker at his All-Star media availability. “So that’s where I’m at, that’s where I’m playing. So I never really sat and thought about any other teams.”

Walker made his second All-Star appearance after Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

“I wish K.P. hadn’t gotten hurt,” said Walker. “Everybody hates to see guys go down, especially great players like him. But when I was able to get the call to replace him, it was a really good feeling.”

Another fateful moment in Cho’s tenure came during the 2015 NBA Draft. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Boston Celtics offered the 15th and 16th picks, a future protected first rounder from the Brooklyn Nets and a future first from either the Grizzlies or Timberwolves in exchange for the ninth pick, which Cho used to draft Frank Kaminsky.

“If it was such a no-brainer for us, why would another team want to do it,” Cho asked rhetorically in defense of the Kaminsky selection, according to Lowe.

Years later, it’s evident that the Celtics dodged a bullet when both Charlotte and the Miami HEAT rebuffed its attempts to move up and draft Justise Winslow. The latter has not panned out while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the players Boston subsequently obtained with Brooklyn’s picks, have developed into starters.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports reported in the first week of February that Charlotte may target former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for a high-ranking role in the organization. Kupchak, like Jordan, is a former UNC star. Kupchak would join Jordan’s UNC teammate and Charlotte assistant GM Buzz Peterson.

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The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA

The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.

With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.

One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.

Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.

“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”

Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.

“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”

He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.

Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.

“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”

While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.

He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.

It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.

“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”

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NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.

Steve Kyler

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Playing For Something Bigger

The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.

By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.

“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”

Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.

“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.

“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”

Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.

“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”

With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.

“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”

With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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