From a statistical standpoint, this has been one of the more entertaining NBA seasons that any of us have seen in quite some time. The league’s top players absolutely are pouring in buckets, hauling in rebounds and dishing out assists at rates that we really haven’t seen in the modern NBA era. Who knows if these guys will be able to keep it up for an entire year, but even to have performed this well through the first fifth of the season has been quite an accomplishment.
If All-NBA teams were to be named at this point in the season, the following are the players that would most likely earn the honors. About 20 percent of the way into the season, here are the league’s best players at each position:
All-NBA First Team
G – Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
There is a zero percent chance that Westbrook doesn’t make the All-NBA First Team if he averages a triple-double over the course of an entire 82-game season. As of Tuesday, he was not only was averaging a triple-double, but he was doing so with the second-most points per game in the entire league. In any given year, a guy averaging 30.9 PPG and 11.3 APG, or 30.9 PPG and 10.3 RPG would be in this group. A guy putting up that many points, that many rebounds and that many assists is historically great.
G – James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden never has won an MVP trophy, but he certainly has come in recent years. This season may very well be his time, especially if he keeps up his current pace. He’s currently fourth in the NBA in scoring with 28.9 PPG and first in the league in assists with 12.2 APG, but more importantly the Rockets are the fourth-best team in a tough Western Conference and it’s all because of Harden’s efforts. Harden’s been on the All-NBA First Team two of the last three years, and it looks like he’ll do it again this season.
F – LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
James being named to the All-NBA First Team is one of those life certainties that goes along with death and taxes, and should he do it again this year, it would make for his 10th straight appearance. There’s little reason to believe he’ll fall short of such a streak, even though his 23.6 PPG are his fewest since his rookie year. His shot attempts are down, but his assists are way, way up. Currently third in the league in that category, James is averaging a career-high 9.7 assists per night. His team has only lost two of its first 15 games, too, meaning he’s just as dominant as he’s ever been – just in new and more inventive ways.
F – Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
The most impossible decision for voters this year may be between Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis for the other First-Team forward position, but Davis is yet another player absolutely dominating the league statistically through the first fifth of the season. Currently leading the league with a career-high 31.6 PPG, Davis also is hauling in a career-high 10.9 RPG, shooting 52 percent from the floor, swatting away 2.8 BPG and swiping away 1.6 SPG. Very often he has looked like the only reason New Orleans has its six wins, and his two-way value for that team is perhaps unmatched in the entire league. This is the year the Brow finally unleashed his full potential on the league. Let’s just hope he can stay healthy because if he can’t, this spot is as good as Durant’s.
C – DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
The Kings may once again miss the playoffs this year, but it won’t be because of Cousins’ efforts. Most recently he rattled off four straight 30-point games (three of which were 36+ point games), moving his season average up to 28.7 PPG to go along with his 10.3 RPG. He’s also making a career-high 1.7 three-pointers per game on a career-high 4.3 attempts, and a Boogie that can shoot almost 40 percent from deep almost isn’t fair. He is easily the game’s best center and a certified shoe-in for that spot on this year’s All-NBA First Team.
All-NBA Second Team
G – Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
His numbers aren’t transcendent, and in fact both his scoring (17.5 PPG) and assists (8.6 APG) are down considerably from what he traditionally has produced over the past three seasons in L.A. Still, he’s just as important a leader as he’s ever been, he still takes the team’s biggest shots and the Clippers are rolling behind his efforts. He’s been All-NBA First-Team or Second-Team the last four years, and if the Clippers keep this up he should add to that streak.
G – Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
The two-time reigning MVP probably had a sense that his numbers would fall off a little bit with the addition of another former league MVP in Kevin Durant, but Curry’s scoring (26.6 PPG) has settled in right smack-dab in the middle of where he finished up in those two MVP years and he’s still knocking down over four three-pointers a game. He may have to share the ball a little more this year, but he’s still a top-10 scorer and one of the league’s biggest stars. He’ll be an All-NBA Second Teamer at worst.
F – Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Durant has never in his career taken fewer than 17 shots per game, but that’s what he’s doing this year and yet somehow still is managing to average 27.1 PPG on 57 percent shooting. He’s also hitting a career-high 44.2 percent from three-point range and running around like the best player on the league’s best team. Maybe he’s First Team before it’s all said and done, but he’ll be no worse than Second Team as a key cog to one of the best on-paper teams in league history.
F – Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Leonard has been more of a vocal leader this season, and that also has come with increased productivity. In the Spurs’ first year without Tim Duncan, Leonard is averaging a career-high 24.8 PPG and knocking down 92.5 percent of his career-high 7.1 free throws per game. His usage is up, his team is still winning and he once again looks like a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. That’s a lot to carry, but Leonard so far is carrying it well.
C – Hassan Whiteside, Miami HEAT
This isn’t going to be a banner year for the HEAT as a team, but at least they’re getting their money’s worth out of Whiteside. He is averaging a career-high 17.3 PPG and 15.1 RPG, the latter of which puts him ahead of everybody else in the league. His blocks are down a bit from last season, but the old argument about his poor defensive efficiency needs to be tossed. Miami is +1.63 in Defensive Real Plus/Minus this season when Whiteside is on the floor, which means he’s just as important to team success as he is to team stats.
All-NBA Third Team
G – Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
While Portland as a team certainly has fallen short of expectations early, Lillard has not. So far this season, he’s averaging a career-high 28.2 PPG. That is the sixth-best scoring averaging in the NBA.
G – DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
DeRozan has cooled off a bit after averaging almost 34 PPG through the first 10 games of the season, but he’s still third in the league at just under 30 PPG and keeping his Raptors at the top of the Atlantic Division yet again.
F – Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
The Chicago newspapers want us to believe that Butler is a legitimate MVP candidate. But even if he’s not in the MVP mix, this stronger, more confident version of Butler is plenty good enough to find his way onto an All-NBA team.
F – Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Love is playing his best ball since coming to Cleveland, averaging 22.3 PPG and almost a full rebound more per game this year than he was a year ago. He’s also shooting a career-high 43 percent from deep, which is exactly the thing that always made him so dangerous in Minnesota. Plus, we’ll be talking about that 34-point quarter all season long.
C – Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
There’s an argument for DeAndre Jordan here, but his all of his numbers are down this year while Towns clearly is on the up-and-up as the centerpiece of the burgeoning Timberwolves core. He’s averaging 21 PPG and 9.5 RPG while being a more integral piece of the Minnesota offense, and he’s still got 80 percent of the season left to make an even more significant sophomore leap.
There are plenty of other players who will have the opportunity to make their way into the conversation for these honors, but so far these have been this season’s 15 best players. Based on how crazy the numbers have been though, it’s hard to ignore that pretty much anything is possible the rest of the way.
Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?
Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.
While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.
March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.
So who could still become available?
Joakim Noah, New York Knicks
This seems almost too obvious.
The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.
After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.
Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.
Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.
Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.
Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings
Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.
But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.
Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.
Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings
Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.
Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.
As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.
Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks
Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.
So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.
If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.
Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers
Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.
He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.
Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.
But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?
With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.
Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos
There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.
NBA Daily: Eric Gordon, The Houston Rockets’ Ex-Factor
James Harden and Chris Paul are stars that have faltered in the playoffs. Eric Gordon could be their ex-factor
The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are shaping up to be one of the league’s best regular-season teams over the past decade. The squad features a fan-friendly and fun to watch style, two legitimate superstar talents and a seemingly well-rounded contingent of role players willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to the next level.
But as strong of a force as the Rockets appear to be developing into, there are still major question marks about how this team will perform in the playoffs when the game gets tighter, bench rotations are reduced and the spotlight glares the brightest.
All-Star guard James Harden has played in 88 career playoff games over the course of his career – 45 with the Rockets where he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The statistics look good in the aggregate, however, Harden has noticeably faded down the stretch during pivotal playoff moments in the team’s recent runs. The most recent example being Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs where Harden finished with just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.
The Rockets other superstar, Chris Paul, has never reached the Western Conference Finals in a career dating back to the 2005-06 season. Paul’s most memorable playoff collapse came when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. His team surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals to the Harden’s Rockets back in 2015.
While there are undoubtedly questions at the top, their bench unit is anchored by 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, once considered one of the rising shooting guards in the league while he was a member of the Clippers.
Gordon, was traded as part of a package by Los Angeles to acquire Paul from New Orleans. Since then, a combination of injuries and reported frustration in New Orleans seemingly derailed Gordon from the once promising ascent and trajectory he was projected to achieve. But Gordon has gotten his career on track. Once injury prone, Gordon suited up for 75 games in 2017 and is on pace to play 73 games this season.
“It’s almost like it is consistent to be here now,” Gordon said during All-Star weekend. “It’s been great. When I’ve been healthy, I’ve always had that chance to do some good things.
When you’re winning things come easier. You’re scoring easier [and] it’s easier to come into work and play well every single practice and game.”
Gordon believes there’s something special about this Rockets team because of how quickly they have gained cohesion since training camp. Gordon is averaging 18.5 points in 32 minutes per contest on the season. The guard will play an integral role off the Rockets’ bench and will play heavy minutes in any playoff series involving the Western Conference elite teams – namely Golden State and San Antonio. In three games versus the Warriors this season, Gordon is averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.
“We definitely have to figure things out but we just clicked so quickly and early in the season,” Gordon said. “We just knew we had a chance to maybe win it. I’d say at this point we know what we need to do and it’s all about being consistent enough on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance.”
Golden State, as defending champs, have to be respected as the better team until proven otherwise. Many do believe the Rockets have at the very least a puncher’s chance because of how they can score the ball in bunches. The Warriors, for all of their past defensive prowess, have slipped on that side of the floor this season with declining efficiency numbers. But is that slippage enough for the Rockets to gain ground or are the Warriors’ defensive struggles a combination of regular season boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.
In a seven-game playoff series, the cream rises to the top. Are the Rockets legit? Or are they a team best suited for the regular season as in seasons past? They currently lead the season series against the Warriors 2-1 and are 2-0 versus the Spurs to date. We have witnessed regular-season dominance from Paul and Harden in the past. Is this the year both guys put it all together and finally get over the hump? Time will tell and Eric Gordon figures to play a big role in determining the outcome.
The Rockets resume play on Friday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.
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.
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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