New All-Star Predictions
The second returns for the NBA’s All-Star voting came out on Thursday afternoon, revealing a lot of the same things that we saw the first time around. Kobe Bryant is still leading the league in votes, which isn’t surprising considering the commanding lead he had built after the first series of entries, and the rest of the Super Friends look like they’ll be getting starting nods as well: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Paul George all remain among the league leaders in fan votes so far.
Knowing what we know about how these fan votes are shaping up, now is a perfectly reasonable time to start making some guesses as to which players will end up starting, and which players might get added via the coaches’ vote. Here’s an early look at how the All-Star rosters might shape up next month following this most recent round of votes.
Guard: Dwyane Wade, Miami HEAT – A year ago, Wade didn’t make the All-Star game because, as Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel explains, a Justin Bieber tweet in favor of Kyle Lowry pushed the Toronto Raptors star into that starting role instead. Assuming that’s true, it’s nice to see Wade back atop Eastern Conference guard voting, as he’s exactly the sort of guy that makes these midseason exhibitions so much fun. Plus, any time fans can see Wade and LeBron back together, it’s a win for the NBA.
Guard: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers – While he has only played in seven games so far this season, that hasn’t stopped fans from pouring in votes for the former All-Star MVP to get him back on a stage where he’s absolutely electric to watch. In a small sample size, he’s averaging career-lows across the board thanks to significantly decreased minutes to ease him back in, but a recent 32-point outing shows he can still score in droves. By February, he should be back to full minutes and production, earning every ounce of the fan support he’s getting so far.
Frontcourt: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers – The East’s leading vote-getter, LeBron is a shoe-in (and rightfully so).
Frontcourt: Paul George, Indiana Pacers – Arguably the Eastern Conference MVP thus far, George is at the very least the Comeback Player of the Year as he is averaging career-highs of 24.6 points and 7.7 rebounds for an Indiana Pacers team that has been one of the best in the East. Not only is he deserving, he also puts on a good show.
Frontcourt: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – Currently only about 5,500 votes ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Drummond’s hold on this third starting frontcourt spot is a strenuous one, but his numbers have been some of the most eye-popping in the league with 17.9 points, 1.8 steals, 1.5 blocks and, of course, a league-leading 15.7 rebounds. There’s no way to keep this kid out of the All-Star game anymore, even if he is the worst free-throw shooter of all-time. Free throws don’t matter in an All-Star Game. His career year and athleticism put him in good position to make the game, and he would be the more deserving and entertaining starter.
Reserve: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors – It’s been a slow November and December for Lowry, who has seen his shooting percentages plummet as the Raptors have struggled a bit of late. And truth be told, the 25 points his teammate DeMar DeRozan has averaged over the course of the last month and change make him perhaps even more deserving guy at the moment. One way or another, though, a Raptor will make this team, whether it be Lowry or DeRozan, because the hometown fans deserve someone to root for if nothing else. We’ll just have to flip a coin for now as to which Raptor that might be.
Reserve: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls – As the second-best team in the East, the Bulls deserve an All-Star and Butler is the most likely candidate. His franchise-record 40 points in the second half against Toronto this season earned him some headlines, and his 22.1 points per game for the season is a career-high. With the Bulls winning and Butler killing, he deserves to be there.
Reserve: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks – Barely behind Drummond, Anthony could still end up starting this game. Either way, the Knicks have improved significantly this season and Anthony looks healthy and as productive as ever. Even if he’s not the starter, ‘Melo looks like a shoe-in for a reserve spot.
Reserve: Chris Bosh, Miami HEAT – Bosh back in Toronto is too good a storyline to leave the guy off of the All-Star roster. Also, he’s putting together a really impressive season following a near-death experience, so it would be reasonable to expect that all the good feelings will play some sort of role in getting him onto the team. Pau Gasol might be his biggest competition for this spot, but Bosh seems more likely to get the nod.
Reserve: John Wall, Washington Wizards – There are so many good Eastern Conference point guards, and the Wizards haven’t been all that good, but Wall is still second in the league in assists and among the top 25 in scoring. That makes him elite enough to play in the All-Star Game and, truth be told, he probably will.
Reserve: Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics – Thomas was the last Wild Card player added to this roster and the decision to put him there was a laborious one. Detroit’s Reggie Jackson feels equally deserving, while Gasol is having another borderline All-Star season as well. Ultimately, though, there are snubs, and Thomas has really broken out for a Celtics team that looks legit enough to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. How fun would it be to see Mr. Irrelevant become All-Star relevant in Canada this winter?
Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors – Obviously.
Guard: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder – There isn’t a more intense player in the league to watch, so it will be nice to see Westbrook smile on the court for once. Maybe. Even if he remains his typically aggressive self, there’s no question that he’s an elite player deserving of a starting nod.
Frontcourt: Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers – It’s the man’s swan song. The West is full of talent that will get snubbed because Bean got in, but who cares? They can make the All-Star team next season, when this spot opens back up for the first time in almost two decades.
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder – Durant is back to his old self after struggling through injuries last season, which means the former MVP is back where he belongs in the starting lineup of the All-Star Game. No one’s arguing with this one.
Frontcourt: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors – Baby Oscar Robertson is leading San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard for this final frontcourt spot by an extremely slim margin (fewer than 2,000 votes), but Golden State’s increasingly mainstream popularity is trending the right way for one of the league’s most talented all-around players. Of the 22 triple doubles recorded this season, Green has seven of them, including a three-game streak in which he dropped 3Ds every single time. With the Warriors’ historic season and Green’s amazing statistics, he should be starting (however deserving Leonard may be).
Reserve: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – And he is totally deserving, for what it’s worth. Leonard is scoring a career-high 20.7 points and leading the league among qualified shooters with a .500 mark from deep. He’s been chipping away at Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as the team’s best player for a couple of seasons now, but this is the year where the torch finally got passed. He’s the top player on the one of the league’s top teams, so his inclusion on this roster is an absolute no-brainer.
Reserve: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – While this selection could potentially be a little polarizing because his team isn’t currently in playoff contention and there are so many other worthy players on better teams, Lillard is having a career year in his first season without LaMarcus Aldridge, scoring 24.2 points and dishing out 6.8 assists. Both of those are career highs, and he’s valuable enough despite his mediocre team to get some love from the coaches.
Reserve: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors – The coaches could vote in the entire Golden State rotation and nobody would complain, but Thompson deserves a spot on this roster not only because of his team’s success but because of his individual success. His 20.9 points per game and 3.3 three-pointers per game are elite numbers, and the Warriors were going to get three All-Stars one way or another no matter what. Any team on pace to have four losses by February deserves at least that much.
Reserve: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – Goodness have the Pelicans been atrocious, but Davis has given his best effort at keeping them together, averaging 23.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, all of which are among the league’s leaders. While his team has underwhelmed, Brow has been as good as ever. There’s a great argument between him and DeMarcus Cousins for this spot, but the coaches seem more likely to vote in Davis than Cousins, even if their numbers are practically identical.
Reserve: Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers – We’ll see if he’ll be healthy in time, but assuming he is, Griffin has been a transcendent talent on the court this year, showing improvement in just about every aspect of his game. Plus, it’s hard to imagine an All-Star Game without him performing his acrobatics on the receiving end of some great alley-oops. If he can’t make it or decides to rest that weekend, the Davis/Cousins debate is over because both guys would make it in that scenario.
Reserve: James Harden, Houston Rockets – Sure, the Rockets are having a tough year, but Harden is the second-leading scorer in the NBA and started this exhibition a year ago. It doesn’t seem likely the coaches will keep him off the roster as a reserve, despite his team’s early struggles.
Reserve: Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers – While it hurts to leave DeMarcus Cousins off of this list considering the numbers he’s put up this year, it’s kind of hard to imagine coaches voting him in over Chris Paul. CP3 always seems to make All-Star Games more enjoyable to watch because he cares more about getting everyone else on the floor scoring opportunities than he does scoring himself, at least in this context.
How do these All-Star rosters look in the wake of this recent round of voting? Do the reserves look fair enough or is there someone worthy of making the team over a player listed above? We’ll get the answer to these questions in about a month, but until then it certainly will be fun debating who deserves these spots. It always is.
NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode
With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.
After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.
Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.
First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.
Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.
In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.
Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?
Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.
The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.
Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.
“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”
That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.
Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.
After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.
At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.
The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.
In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.
An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.
It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.
Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.
Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.
Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.
Fixing The Detroit Pistons
David Yapkowitz looks at how the fading Pistons can turn things around moving forward.
We wrap this week up with another installment of our “Fixing” series here at Basketball Insiders. The next team up is the Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons came into this season with playoff aspirations after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them regress instead of building on their playoff appearance the season before. To begin the season, they looked like they were on their way to accomplishing that objective. Then Reggie Jackson got hurt and the season began spiraling out of control.
They tried to inject some life into the team by trading for Blake Griffin, but it hasn’t worked out as expected. The Pistons have gone 8-12 since acquiring Griffin and the postseason looks like a pipe dream at this point.
What Is Working
Not a whole lot. Despite trading for a superstar player, the Pistons have tumbled down to the point where playoffs are looking extremely unlikely.
If there’s one thing that’s a welcome sight, it’s the bounce back of Andre Drummond. After being named to his first All-Star team in 2015-16, Drummond had a bit of a let down the following season. This season, he was once again an All-Star while putting up career-highs in rebounds (15.7) and assists (3.2). Drummond is still only 24 years old and has his best basketball years ahead of him.
The Pistons have also received encouraging signs from rookie Luke Kennard. A lottery pick in last summer’s draft, Kennard he’s been one of the few bright spots at times for the Pistons. About a week ago, his playing time had diminished some and he racked up a few DNP’s, but Stan Van Gundy has since reinserted him into the rotation.
They’ve also gotten solid production out of Reggie Bullock. When Bullock came over to the Pistons in a trade with the Phoenix Suns almost three years ago, he was little more than a seldom-used wing with the potential to become a solid 3&D guy. This has been his year, however. He’s the best shooter on the team at 43.5 percent from the three-point line. His numbers, 10.8 points per game and 49.1 percent shooting from the field, are career-highs.
What Needs To Change
Quite a bit. Acquiring Griffin was a move the Pistons needed to make. On the verge of losing control of the season, they needed to make a move to try and turn things around. It’s been a disaster thus far, however. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and although they’re in ninth place, they’re falling farther and farther away from eighth.
Who the Pistons are really missing is Reggie Jackson. Ish Smith, who has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an NBA player, just isn’t Jackson. They desperately need Jackson’s playmaking abilities to help take the pressure off everyone else. Even if he returns this season, it’s already too late. The Pistons need to focus on getting him healthy and ready for next season.
The Pistons also need to improve their offense. They’re in the bottom half of the league in both points per game (25th) and offensive rating (24th). A big part of that is Jackson’s absence, but they could also benefit from additional outside shooting. Right now they have one long-range threat on the roster and that’s Bullock.
Focus Area: The Draft
To make matters worse, the Pistons will likely give up their draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Griffin trade. The only way the Clippers wouldn’t acquire the Pistons’ pick this year is if it falls in the top four, and that’s not going to happen.
The Pistons will have a second-round pick though. The draft is never 100 percent guaranteed, and the second round is even more of a crapshoot, but talented players can definitely be found. That’s what the Pistons’ main objective in the draft should be. It sounds silly, but they truly need to buckle down and do their homework in hopes of finding that one overlooked guy in the second round. That’s pretty much all they have to look forward to come draft night.
Focus Area: Free Agency
The Pistons are going to have a couple of minor decisions to make this summer regarding their free agents. Jameer Nelson, James Ennis, and Anthony Tolliver are all unrestricted free agents. Out of the three, Ennis has given the team the best on-court production, but it isn’t necessary that any of them are brought back.
Bullock and Dwight Buycks have non-guaranteed contracts, and those are the two guys that the Pistons should work towards bringing back in the fold. Both should have their contracts guaranteed for the following season. Bullock is their only three-point threat. Buycks began the season as a two-way contract player splitting time between the Pistons and the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League. He’s since been converted to a standard NBA contract and has done enough to earn his spot on the team next year.
In terms of adding new players to the roster, as mentioned before, the Pistons need outside shooting. Marco Belinelli and Wayne Ellington are possible options that the Pistons might be able to afford. Joe Harris is another option, but it will be interesting to see what the market is for him after the strong season he’s been having in Brooklyn.
It’s tough to gauge the Pistons’ true potential without Jackson. If he returns before the season ends, it will be too small a sample size to accurately assess the team. There are only 14 games left. Although things look pretty bleak right now, it can’t be argued that injuries haven’t played a big role in the Pistons disappointing season.
The team deserves a shot at seeing how a healthy Jackson, Griffin, and Drummond trio looks on the court together. If they start off next season the same way despite all three being healthy and in the lineup, then it would be time for serious changes.
Fixing The Chicago Bulls
Spencer Davies says the Bulls have a long way to go, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all they can ask for.
Next up on Basketball Insiders’ “fixing” series is a stop in the Windy City.
In spite of the criticisms over last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, it feels like the Chicago Bulls at least have a sense of direction. Many members of the media—including this one—expected them to finish dead last in the NBA, yet they have 23 wins, with seven other teams worse off.
Obviously, the goal for the organization this season was to establish an identity and see what they had with their new cornerstone pieces. To a good extent, there’s optimism regarding those players because of the potential they’ve shown.
There’s still a good chunk of the year left, but the Bulls are 12th in the Eastern Conference standings with 15 games to go.
What Is Working
If it weren’t for the spectacular seasons by Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons, Chicago stretch big man Lauri Markkanen might be the Rookie of the Year. Even with some second-half struggles, the entire body of work is impressive.
The 7-foot Finnish forward continues to stay aggressive with a high usage and great mentality in snatching up those boards. It’s normal for a first-year player to go through those ups and downs. Add in a back injury that’s been bothering him as of late and the slump make a little more sense. Markkanen has shown the skill and consistent effort that it takes to be a mainstay in this league.
Bobby Portis is another member of the frontcourt who’s made a noticeable impact off the Bulls’ bench. In his third year, you can see the confidence continue to grow as a versatile offensive threat with a ton of touches. He’s taken a responsibility upon himself to lead the second unit and the proof is in the pudding. According to Cleaning The Glass, the team is a net plus-11.5 per 100 possessions with him on the court.
Second-year swingman Denzel Valentine has filled the stat sheet in multiple games as one of the most unselfish players on the roster. David Nwaba’s role from the beginning was to be a defensive menace and he’s come through for the majority of the year. Even two-way contract rookie Antonio Blakeney has shown flashes as a volume scorer in stretches.
Recently, Chicago has given a couple of cast-offs opportunities to display their skills. In 10 games, Cameron Payne looks as comfortable as he has in quite some time coming off a major foot injury. Noah Vonleh has been an effective late addition playing next to Portis and filling in for Markkanen. Let’s not forget that these two were lottery picks and are still in their early 20s.
What Needs To Change
Looking at what Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine have done, it’s been a mixed bag. With that being said, there’s clearly untapped potential between the both of them.
Dunn proved in very little time that the narrative of him being a lost cause was far from the truth. Hoiberg’s trust in him to be Chicago’s floor general has gone a long way. He’s been in attack mode with the ball in his hands, has seen his outside game get better and has been bothersome with his length defensively. It hasn’t resulted in wins, but remember—it’s this group’s first season together.
As for LaVine, it’s difficult to judge where a player is using a 23-game sample size. Yes, it’s a good amount of playing time, but let’s not forget he’s coming off a devastating left ACL tear. His defense has been subpar, but the bounce seems to still be there. The jumper is on and off, but he hasn’t been bashful at all. Starting the year off fresh in 2018-19 will benefit him.
Speaking of next season, the goal for the front office of Gar Forman and John Paxson should be simple—get younger. Currently, Robin Lopez is the highest paid player on the Bulls and he’ll have one year left on his deal going into the summer. The same applies to Justin Holiday. These are two veterans who could contribute on teams ready to win now, and it would be logical to part ways considering the direction the franchise is going.
Focus Area: The Draft
Due to the Nikola Mirotic trade on February 1st, Chicago acquired a first-round draft pick from the New Orleans Pelicans. That gives them two chances to add to their young talent pool in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.
Typically you’d go with the best player available when you’re slotted in the top ten, but the Bulls should feel good about their backcourt and the power forward position. What they really are lacking are reliable shooters and perimeter defenders, as well as a player with a bulldog mentality.
Chicago doesn’t get to the free throw nearly enough and they don’t convert looks that they should. Considering a true wing is amiss, it’d be the ideal scenario for Michael Porter Jr. to fall right into their lap. The Missouri freshman just returned after missing basically the entire season with a back injury. He was a top name coming into the class because of his size and could be a steal with the eighth selection.
If Porter Jr. doesn’t make it to them, Miles Bridges would make for a heck of a consolation prize. Unlike Porter, he has a more muscular frame at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds that allows him to bully the opposition. There’s a relentless nature and fearlessness about him that will translate to the next level.
Using that Pelicans pick, the Bulls would be happy to see Duke sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. fall to them in the early-to-mid 20s, but that seems more unlikely with Anthony Davis continuing to carry New Orleans to new heights. If they end up selecting towards to the back end of the first round, Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier could end up being a good fit as well.
Focus Area: Free Agency
Entering the summer, Chicago doesn’t have too many decisions to make on the contract front.
The trade exception from the Butler deal expires on June 22nd. If it’s not used by then, the amount will be renounced if the team goes under the salary cap. The deadline to present Noah Vonleh and David Nwaba a qualifying offer is June 29th.
Everybody’s going to keep an eye on LaVine because of restricted free agency, but the Bulls have indicated they prefer him to be a part of their core. They’ll in all likelihood look to bring him back on a long-term contract. If he doesn’t approve of the terms, he can always choose to play on his qualifying offer and bet on himself.
Chicago has to decide whether or not to guarantee Paul Zipser’s $1.5 million salary for next season by July 18th. The extension deadline for Payne, Portis, and Grant is the day before the first day of the 2018 campaign and team option deadlines for Dunn and Markannen come on Halloween.
There probably won’t be too much activity on the Bulls’ part regarding free agency. The focus will lay on improving their young core and getting guys who are just getting on the upswing in the pros. There are talents out there who fit the bill. It just all depends on what comes from the draft.
All in all, Chicago has a long way to go to get back into the postseason conversation, but they’re taking steps forward. In year one without the former face of the franchise, that’s about all you can ask for.