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Head-to-Head: Who Wins 2014-15 NBA MVP?

Who will win the NBA MVP award this season? Jabari Davis, Alex Kennedy and Nate Duncan debate.

Basketball Insiders

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Entering the 2014-15 NBA season, Kevin Durant and LeBron James seem like the frontrunners in the Most Valuable Player race, considering Durant is the reigning MVP and James has already won it four times. However, there are a number of other players who could enter the discussion throughout the course of the season.

For this week’s head-to-head, Jabari Davis, Alex Kennedy and Nate Duncan will discuss: Who will win the 2014-15 NBA MVP award?

Kevin Durant

We’ve traveled nearly 18 months throughout the ups and downs of the NBA galaxy since Kevin Durant uttered his now-famous “tired of being second” rant for an April 2013 edition of Sports Illustrated, and the 26-year-old scorer still finds himself searching for that elusive NBA title he clearly desires more than any other accolade. Durant may have been “the real MVP” for 2013-14, but that seemingly has done little to satisfy the 6’10 small forward’s hunger for more in terms of his team’s overall success. It is that desire in particular that should lead to him being considered one of the frontrunners for the award for the foreseeable future.

As one of the top MVP candidates for 2014-15, Durant is joined by plenty of stiff competition such as LeBron James, Derrick Rose or perhaps dark-horse candidates like Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis or John Wall. Put simply, much like the heightened level of competition in an eternally-unfriendly Western Conference playoff race, Durant finds himself with several stars vying for the crown that he currently holds.

Although some may continue to question the nature or status of his relationship with teammate Russell Westbrook particularly when it comes to the proverbial pecking order at times, Durant continues to show a tremendous amount of maturity as he openly acknowledges that much of his own personal success (which ultimately leads to the team’s) is a direct result of being able to play alongside a player as passionate and dedicated as Westbrook has been. Not only does this denote a heightened sense of self-awareness and perspective, but it also shows an understanding and embracing of true leadership.

Durant continues to exemplify what it means to be a professional, leader and teammate both on the court and off, but don’t take that to mean he isn’t as fierce a competitor as anyone else. While on the outside he may appear to have a generally laid-back personality, these last two years of losing in the Conference Semifinals (2013) and Conference Finals (2014) seemed to only add fuel to his internal fire.

The likelihood of Durant remaining in the vaunted 50-40-90 discussion – at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc, 90 percent from the charity stripe – while remaining around the 30 points per game mark are relatively high given his current career arc, as are his team’s chances to be in competition for one of the West’s top spots. For these reasons, Durant should be considered one of the frontrunners in this discussion as we head into the season.

– Jabari Davis

LeBron James

Last season, LeBron James’ statistics were down just enough to allow Kevin Durant to take the Most Valuable Player award. His play on the defensive end dropped off and he averaged fewer rebounds, assists, steals and blocks than we have become accustomed to seeing from him.

One could argue that James and his teammates had gotten somewhat complacent after winning two straight titles. Miami’s aging supporting cast also could’ve contributed to James’ drop in numbers, since Dwyane Wade became a part-time player and they were relying on a number of players in the twilight of their career including Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Rashard Lewis among others. James was forced to carry the team’s offense at times, which could’ve led to his drop in production on the defensive end as well as his decreased assist numbers. He was also banged up throughout the season, as the HEAT unintentionally ran him into the ground while trying to preserve Wade for the postseason.

Now that he is back in Cleveland with a new supporting cast, I think James’ numbers will once again increase and he’ll be the frontrunner to hoist the MVP trophy once again.

This Cavs team has the potential to be the best team James has played on, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love entering their primes and a talented supporting cast that includes Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, Mike Miller and Shawn Marion among others. While it could take some time for these new pieces to come together, they should be one of the most talented teams in the NBA once they jell (and certainly better than last year’s HEAT team, which was limited due to injuries and aging).

Also, if James did get complacent last year after stringing together multiple titles and MVP awards, that won’t be the case this season. He’s determined to win Cleveland their first NBA championship, as he’s stated, and he’s no longer the reigning champ or MVP.

James has shown that when he’s in the right situation and mindset, he can be an absolute monster on both ends of the floor. He has flirted with Michael Jordan’s record for highest efficiency rating in a season and he can seem unstoppable at times.

I think we’ll be seeing a lot of that LeBron James this season.

– Alex Kennedy

The Field

To start, I think it is very unlikely anyone other than Kevin Durant or LeBron James wins MVP. Those two were far and away the two best players in the league a year ago. If they stay healthy, I fully expect that to remain the case this year–in fact, those two remaining the best players is probably more likely than someone else winning MVP.

With that said, what would have to happen for either not to win it and who could plausibly surpass them? A look at NBA history is instructive. Usually when a player who isn’t the best wins the MVP, his team has to surprise while the best player’s disappoints, at least compared to previous years. Examples include Derrick Rose over James in 2011, Allen Iverson over Shaquille O’Neal in 2001 and Charles Barkley over Michael Jordan in 1993.

If the Cavaliers and Thunder win 55 games or less (an unlikely proposition) or fall outside the top two seeds in their conference (even if not through the fault of either James or Durant), that could open the door to some other candidates.

The prime candidate is Anthony Davis. He has gotten some buzz as the potential third-best player in the NBA after his stint at the World Cup, and his box score statistics were near that level on a per-minute basis already a year ago. He has not had a commensurate effect on his teams’ fortunes (especially on defense) as measured by various plus/minus systems, but I expect that to change this year as he learns to apply his ample physical gifts. The Pelicans were also injury riddled a year ago, and traded for Omer Asik this offseason. They have enough defensive talent to become a top-10 or even top-five defense if Monty Williams can get them to jell quickly. If that happens, it would be possible for the Pelicans to win well over 50 games. That is really the absolute baseline for an MVP candidate–the 1987-88 Chicago Bulls in Michael Jordan’s first MVP year. Davis’ defense could also provide a defense for those who pick him over James and Durant despite what will likely be superior individual statistics for them.

Other potential candidates include Derrick Rose if the Bulls outpace the Cavs during the regular season and he returns to form, Stephen Curry if the Warriors grab a top-three seed in the West, and Blake Griffin if Chris Paul misses significant time and he blows up statistically.

– Nate Duncan

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NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?

As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.

Jordan Hicks

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Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.

For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?

The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.

Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.

What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.

Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.

While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.

Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.

One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.

As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.

The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.

Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”

Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.

As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.

Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.

Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.

But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.

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How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports

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The NBA has become synonymous with betting conversations during the Adam Silver era, with the league frequently being at the forefront of those discussions. Compared to the other professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has not only appeared to be the most progressive with regard to the topic, but it has also looked like the league that is the most likely to get further involved in the industry.

Of course, the league has placed a focus on sports betting, given that they have a vested interest in the continued legalization of that. They have mentioned that they would like a cut of NBA wagers placed, with the industry’s growth in the United States being something that the league could see improving the bottom-line.

Whether or not the NBA gets a piece of the action from a financial perspective, it is still surprising to see a major professional sports league in the United States willing to entertain the conversation at all. By comparison, the NFL has been largely afraid to discuss sports betting, while Major League Baseball has banned its all-time leading hitter for life for gambling-related offenses.

And it isn’t as if the NBA is only interested in gambling in the context of betting on NBA games. The league has relationships in the daily fantasy sports industry as well, with visibility for brands in that space seen in NBA arenas as well. And the NBA-subsidized WNBA is also a part of this betting-friendly basketball landscape, most notably in the form of a team named after a casino.

The Connecticut Sun is that team, as they play in the home of a popular casino in their area. Both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury play in a venue named after a casino as well. And it is the casino industry that the NBA may conceivably expand into as their relationships in the betting industry appear to be growing in both quality and quantity. With the growth of online casinos, it isn’t impossible to envision the NBA encouraging its fans to compare the best casino bonuses to increase its market share in this growing industry.

Of course, with the betting renaissance that is going on in the United States at this time, the league is making sure that everyone knows that its integrity is not to be questioned. The league has made clear that they are going to ramp up the enforcement of its betting policies, to make sure that players aren’t compromising the game’s integrity. That move by the league is a smart one, as it makes sure that fans know that there is no reason to question the sport even if the league embraces betting.

The NBA is seeing progress across the sport, from its on-court evolution that prioritizes ball movement and long-range shooting, to its off-court stances on betting. Unlike the other major American sports, that willingness to evolve is part of what has caused the popularity of the NBA to skyrocket in recent years.

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NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe

Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.

Drew Maresca

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Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.

No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.

And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.

“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”

While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.

Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).

He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).

It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”

Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.

And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.

A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.

“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”

Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.

And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.

The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.

“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”

Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.

“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”

Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”

So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.

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