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NBA MVP Watch 2/18/14

The NBA’s MVP race is heating up as teams jockey for playoff position.

Jabari Davis

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Now that we have officially reached the NBA’s “second half” of basketball, we fully expect this race to take on the same feverish pace of the playoff push. With teams jockeying for position, we should expect players to do the same; whether a conscious effort or the natural result of the natural finish-line induced increase in competition. Moving forward, a player’s team must at least be within playoff range in order to be a part of this discussion. Most teams are down to their last 30 (or so) games, and the end of the season will be upon us before we know it.

#10 – Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers

2013-14 Averages: 19.2 points, 11.1 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 47.1 percent FG

The only reason Paul is this low in the rankings is due to his absence from the court. While his teammate Blake Griffin has deservedly ascended most rankings due to his stellar play during Paul’s absence, we fully expect Paul to find his way back toward the top of this discussion over the final two months of the season. Intriguing matchups against the Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder, and Rockets over the next 10 days.

#9 – John Wall – Washington Wizards

2013-14 Averages: 19.8 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 42.0 percent FG

Coming off his victory on the 2014 NBA Slam Dunk contest and an impressive first half, Wall hopes to keep the positive momentum and results rolling into the second half of NBA action. He is currently performing career high levels in four major statistical categories: Points, Assists, FT percentage, 3-point percentage. Wall squares off with Kyle Lowry (Raptors) and Jeff Teague (Hawks) on a back-to-back, and will face-off with Kyrie Irving (Cavs) to end the week.

#8 – Goran Dragic – Phoenix Suns

2013-14 Averages: 20.3 points, 6.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 50.8 percent FG

Dragic went into the All-Star break on a bit of a tear. He averaged over 24 points per contest over his last five games, while shooting an impressive 58.2 percent from the field, and 54.2 percent from deep over that stretch. The Suns, currently fluctuating between the 6-8 seeds out West, absolutely need Dragic to continue at this rate. In what was expected to be a bottom-out year, they could be a healthy Eric Bledsoe and perhaps a trade deadline deal away from turning a miracle season into something special if things broke the right way.

#7 – James Harden – Houston Rockets

2013-14 Averages: 23.9 points, 5.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 44.6 percent FG

Harden went into the All-Star break on a fantastic 35/6/6 performance against the Wizards where he outdueled both the aforementioned Wall and a hot-shooting Trevor Ariza to secure a win for the Rockets and keep them a game ahead of the Clippers in the loss column. His Rockets are the hottest team in the league, having won seven straight. They have their eyes set on the Spurs’ current two-seed, and are only two games back in the loss column. They’ll need Harden and Howard to remain dominant from here on out.

#6 – Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers

2013-14 Averages: 24.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 53.9 percent FG

Griffin has been playing like a man possessed over the last couple months. Much of it out of necessity (with Paul’s absence), but also due to his desire to continue improving while showing the league, analysts, and fans there is more to his game than a few highlights per contest. His upcoming matchups with Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph, Serge Ibaka, and Anthony Davis will be more than worth the price of admission (or NBA League Pass) alone.

#5 – LaMarcus Aldridge – Portland Trail Blazers

2013-14 Averages: 23.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 46.6 percent FG

Blazers fans have to be hoping the sore groin doesn’t become a lingering issue over the second half, as they absolutely need Aldridge to maintain the form that helped lead to a great start to the year. They’ve gone just 5-9 over their month of games, and will need leaders like Aldridge and Damian Lillard to recapture whatever it was that lead to a 31-9 start through the second week in January. Aldridge will face Tim Duncan, Derrick Favors, and Kevin Love this week.

#4 – Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

2013-14 Averages: 24.6 points, 9.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 46.3 percent FG

While rankings of these nature are always subjective and according to the writer or site’s views, it is safe to call Curry one of the league’s best guards. Point blank. Period. The man has not only continued to develop as a player, but he’s also transitioning into the type of leader coach Mark Jackson needs him to be in order to secure a favorable playoff position in a highly competitive Western Conference.

#3 – Paul George – Indiana Pacers

2013-14 Averages: 22.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 43.8 percent FG

Even though George recently dropped a notch in these rankings, we don’t anticipate him becoming a forgotten man over the last couple months. He remains one of the league’s best (and few) true two-way players, and still leads the team with the league’s second best record in points, steals, and minutes played. He’ll have plenty of time to prove his worthiness of being in the top-tier discussion, including two matchups with LeBron James and another with Kevin Durant toward the end of the year.

#2 – LeBron James – Miami HEAT

2013-14 Averages: 26.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 57.1 percent FG

James put the women and children, and most importantly the Warriors to bed with his vintage 36/13/9 performance (including a well-defended step-back three at the buzzer) to close out the HEAT’s first half. We mentioned anticipating a strong second half push by both his team and James on a personal level, and it certainly appears to be the case. With his HEAT still remaining within striking distance of the top seed in the East, although not an absolute necessity, it wouldn’t surprise us to see increased productivity from the reigning MVP now that everyone can see the finish line.

#1 – Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder

2013-14 Averages: 31.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 51.0 percent FG

While there are some that simply cannot accept another player (besides James) being mentioned as the eventual MVP, we’re here to tell you that it would actually take a slide from Durant coinciding with a prolonged improvement from the other top candidates in order for Durant to vacate this position. When you can utter the phrase “in a relative off-night” alongside his 43 point, 12 rebound, seven assist, three steal performance in a road win against a scrappy Lakers team, you know that man is currently on top of his game.

Next Up –

Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs – Parker remains the best player on one of the league’s best teams, but his sprained left hand has either severely limited or held him out altogether for the better part of two weeks. Not coincidentally, his Spurs are just 5-5 over their last 10 games.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors – The Compton native continues to impress, as his Raptors could very likely host a playoff series this season, barring any significant changes.

Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets – Whether he’s returned to a majority of fans’ good graces, Howard definitely appears to be returning to the physical form he once showed signs of dominance with.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves – Love continues to produce, but his Timberwolves haven’t been able to stay in the race out West. The next 12 games will likely make or break their season, as they only play four games against teams currently in playoff positions.

Don’t forget to check out Basketball Insiders’ NBA Rookie Rankings, and our weekly Power Rankings as well.

 

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#27 – Robert Williams III – Boston Celtics

With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Ben Nadeau

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With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Although there were early week rumors that the Celtics might try to trade up, they’ve ultimately elected to find a difference-maker at the end of the first round instead. For a team that nearly reached the NBA Finals despite debilitating injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston’s roster didn’t need a wholesale change on draft night. But at No. 27, they’ll be more than happy to leave with the mysterious-but-talented Williams.

Last year, Williams was viewed as a potential first-rounder before he returned to Texas A&M for his sophomore year. In 2017-18, Williams averaged 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds on 63.2 percent from the field, fueling the Aggies to a 22-13 record. During this current pre-draft process, Williams looked poised to become a mid-first-round selection once again — but his stock faded as the big night got closer. In fact, Williams even decided to watch the draft with his family, even though he was a green room invitee.

His stock has undoubtedly dropped as of late, but this may end up being the steal of the draft — naturally, he dropped right into general manager Danny Ainge’s lap. Williams, 6-foot-10, is a freak athlete that’ll bring a new look to an already fearsome defensive unit in Boston. At A&M, Williams won back-to-back SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and averaged 2.5 blocks per game. Of course, he’ll get the opportunity to learn from the hard-nosed Al Horford, a five-time All-Star and the defensive linchpin for Boston — a win-win situation for all.

Williams, 20, joins an extremely young core in Boston that also includes Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, among others.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#26 – Landry Shamet – Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers select Landry Shamet with the 26th overall pick.

Dennis Chambers

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With the 26th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select guard Landry Shamet of Wichita State.

Shamet, if he is able to fulfill his potential, should provide the Sixers with some much-needed shooting, as their rotation was noticeably starved for another deadeye sniper.

A career 43.7 percent three-point shooter, Shamet sank 44.2 percent of his shots from downtown last season, and he did so while firing nearly six attempts from deep a game. Sliding Shamet at the guard position alongside franchise point guard Ben Simmons allows for another weapon at Simmons’ disposal.

Standing at 6-foot-5 and 21 years old, Shamet has the size to play either guard spot in the NBA (especially given Philadelphia’s lengthy and versatile lineup). Along with his shooting ability, Shamet also led the American Athletic Conference with 166 assists last season. With Markelle Fultz still a question mark for Philadelphia, Shamet provides a secondary ball-handler and playmaker, whether in the starting lineup or in the reserve unit.

The first round of the 2018 NBA Draft was a whirlwind for the Sixers, and they ultimately land two guards of very separate varieties: an upside-laden athlete in Zhaire Smith, and a skillful “veteran” rookie whose skillset is established.

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