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.
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”