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NBA Power Rankings – 12/16/16

The Rockets are on fire, the Knicks have cracked the top 10 and more in our latest power rankings.

Moke Hamilton

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For a long time, the narrative about the Eastern Conference has been that it’s quite weak compared to the Western Conference. Judging by our Power Rankings, there may be some merit to that, as seven of our top 10 and four of the top five are Western Conference teams.

One thing the East has a lot of, though, is parity. A mere 1.5 games separate the third from 10th seed, and if we’re lucky, the trend will continue as the season progresses. Could you imagine a team losing three of their final five games of the season and go from having homecourt advantage in the first round to being in the draft lottery? Talk about suspense! As five different teams in the conference enter play on December 16 with 12 losses, we must say, every single game counts.

In this week’s rankings, the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks are rising. Meanwhile, we’re hoping that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets get their acts together.

 

stocknochanges4530. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 6-19, Last Week: 30)

Proof that record isn’t everything: The Mavs and Sixers are each 6-19, but one franchise seems to have bright days ahead while the other might as well begin scouting in earnest. We’re fairly certain you know which one is which.

 

stockdown4529. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 6-19, Last Week: 27)

The only thing better than the Sixers turning the corner is the fact that they may be entitled to the Lakers’ draft pick this season. By virtue of the Michael Carter-Williams trade, the pick is due to the Sixers if it falls outside of the top three. Two more lottery picks in Philly? Imagine the possibilities.

 

stockdown4528. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 7-17, Last Week: 26)

The Nets may have lost each of their games in San Antonio and Houston, but with Jermey Lin returning against his former club, the squad had a real opportunity to steal a victory. They didn’t, but with Lin returning after missing 17 games, the Nets will have a chance to win some games.


stockup4527. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 7-18, Last Week: 28)

If there was one game Tom Thibodeau probably wanted to win, it would have been Tuesday’s matchup at the Bulls. The T-Wolves pulled out the 99-94 victory, but what we loved most about it was that Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns each took more shots than Andrew Wiggins. Wiggy being more efficient and less trigger happy would go a long way toward helping Minny.

 

stockup4526. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 8-18, Last Week: 29)

The Suns were able to overcome Kristaps Porzingis’ career game on Tuesday night, but not Kawhi Leonard’s 18-point, 10-rebound double-double in Thursday night’s 107-92 loss to the Spurs. Even though New York was missing Derrick Rose, the Suns showed something in beating the Knicks. That’s more than can be said for some of the others.


stocknochanges4525. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 9-18, Last Week: 25)

It took 27 games, but Jrue Holiday finally turned in a double-double in a 16-point, 14-assist effort in Thursday night’s 102-95 win over the Pacers. It took as long for Buddy Hield to turn in a 20-point effort as well. Making up 11 games in the Western Conference is going to be difficult, but if those contributions become normal, it could happen.


stocknochanges4524. Miami HEAT (Overall: 9-17, Last Week: 24)

The HEAT have begun their six-game home stand by winning their first two and if Hassan Whiteside comes anywhere near the 26 points and 22 rebounds he gave his team in Wednesday’s 95-89 win over the Pacers, the HEAT could find themselves playing for something. They’re just four games out of eighth.


stockdown4523. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 10-18, Last Week: 20)

Unfortunately, Sunday’s 118-112 loss to the Knicks meant the Lakers carried a six-game losing streak with them on their SEVEN-game road trip, which has begun with losses to the King and Nets. After the road trip, eight of their following nine will be at home – but until then, things might get even uglier.


stocknochanges4522. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 9-16, Last Week: 22)

The last time the Kings beat a team with a winning record was way back on November 23, when they defeated the Thunder. Since then, the Kings have gone 0-6 against teams with winning records, and that’s a fairly good indicator of where they are as a team.


stockup4521. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 10-16, Last Week: 23)

After finishing up their six-game road trip at 2-4, the Nuggets dropped 132 points on the Blazers (whom they defeated). Even more impressive, Denver had EIGHT players score in double figures. Still, in this league, you need an alpha-male and we’re still not sure who that guy is in Denver.


stockdown4520. Orlando Magic (Overall: 11-16, Last Week: 19)

Elfrid Payton had just one 20-point game all season long prior to being sent to the bench for the team’s November 27 contest against the Bucks. Since then, he’s had two, including in Wednesday’s 131-120 victory over the Hawks—their only win in their last five, unfortunately.


stockup4519. Washington Wizards (Overall: 10-14, Last Week: 21)

The Wiz have won three of four and, very quietly, only trail the third seed in the conference by two games in the loss column. Fortunately, in the Eastern Conference, it only takes one winning streak to find yourself right back in the thick of things, huh?


stocknochanges4518. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 13-15, Last Week: 18)

The good vibrations from Tuesday’s whooping of the Thunder (and ending their four-game losing streak) were short lived, as the Blazers got shellacked by the Nuggets on Thursday, 132-120. They have now lost four of five and are two games under .500 for the first time this season. They need a shot in the arm.


stocknochanges4517. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 13-14, Last Week: 17)

Maybe we’re jumping the gun, but with the Pacers a game under .500 at this point in the season, we are a tad concerned with Nate McMillan and the prospect of him keeping the gig long-term. He’s planning on moving Monta Ellis to the bench. We’ll see if that can ignite the squad.


stocknochanges4516. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 12-13, Last Week: 16)

With all due respect to the Magic, we wouldn’t have bet they could score 131 points in an empty gym, much less against the Hawks, but it happened on Tuesday night. The Hawks have given up at least 100 points in eight of their last nine. We’re still not sure what’s become of these guys.


stockdown4515. Boston Celtics (Overall: 13-12, Last Week: 13)

Losers of four of their last five, the Celtics suddenly find themselves just one game over .500, which is an unpleasant surprise. It’s no coincidence that the team hasn’t had success without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup due to a groin injury. The floor general’s return is imminent, though. With Thomas, Al Horford and Jae Crowder together and healthy, maybe they can turn things around.


stockdown4514. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 13-12, Last Week: 12)

In Thursday’s 108-97 loss to the Bucks, somehow, Dwyane Wade managed to turn in a plus/minus rating of minus-28! Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Robin Lopez were each minus-8, so Wade, apparently, was worse than all three of them? Maybe not. But the Bulls’ 1-2 week was very unimpressive.


stockdown4513. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 12-12, Last Week: 11)

The Bucks handled the Bulls on Thursday night. The win broke a three-game losing streak, but perhaps more interestingly, was the first of six games wherein the Bucks play three different teams in a home-and-home: Chicago, Cleveland and Washington. On the floor, effort seems to be improving, though, so we’re happy with their progress.


stockdown4512. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 14-12, Last Week: 10)

Charlotte dropped the first three contests of their five-game road trip. We can’t be mad at Saturday’s loss at the Cavs, but given how poorly the Pacers and Wizards have fared this season, we would have expected the Hornets to win at least one of those. They didn’t.


stockup4511. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 14-13, Last Week: 15)

The Pistons are 8-4 over their last 12, but somehow got beat up by the Sixers on Sunday, 97-79. They managed just 12 points in the first quarter and never led the entire game. It only counts as one loss, but we think it should count as three. Even still, it’s hard to argue with their on-court improvements. Plus, the aforementioned eight wins helps a lot in the suddenly jumbled East.


stockup4510. New York Knicks (Overall: 14-12, Last Week: 14)

The Knicks have backed into a top-10 ranking. After winning the first two games of their five-game road trip (against the Kings and Lakers), their losses to the Suns and Dubs are excusable since they were without a healthy Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. Tied with the third-best record out East, it’s time to put some respect on Jeff Hornacek’s name. Still, it’ll all come crashing down dramatically if ‘Melo and Rose don’t get healthy, and fast.


stockdown459. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 15-11, Last Week: 6)

Three games in a row with no triple-double for Russell Westbrook, so we’re a tad disappointed, especially since the Thunder went 1-3 over the past week. They’ve taken a step back, but that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Seven of their next 11 will be played on the road, so if Westbrook (currently averaging 30.6 points, 10.6 assists and 10.5 rebounds) doesn’t get his act together, things could continue to slip.


stockup458. Utah Jazz (Overall: 16-10, Last Week: 9)

After going 9-2 over their past 11, the secret is out: Utah is for real. So long as they continue to play dominant defense (they rank third in defensive efficiency across the league), they’ll have an opportunity to beat anybody. They also lead the league in points allowed at 95.2 per game.


stockup457. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 18-9, Last Week: 8)

The Grizz have scored victories over the Clippers, Warriors AND Cavs, and they’re the only team in the league that can boast that. The Cavs win comes with an asterisk, but even without Mike Conley, they’ve been getting good minutes with rookie Andrew Harrison and spirited play from Marc Gasol.


stockdown456. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 18-7, Last Week: 5)

With four wins in a row, the Raptors are getting great production from Kyle Lowry, who happens to be shooting about 58 percent from the field over his last 10 games. Clearly the second-best team in the conference, the next measuring-stick game doesn’t come until they visit the Warriors on December 28. Between now and then, they’ll only play one team with a winning record.


stockdown455. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 19-7, Last Week: 3)

The Clips are 5-2 since since their three-game losing streak, and the next three (at Miami, at Washington, home vs. Denver) seem winnable. The next litmus test will come next Thursday against the Spurs. Who had the Clips locked in a dead heat with the Rockets at this point? Yet, here we are.


stockup454. Houston Rockets (Overall: 19-7, Last Week: 7)

With eight wins in a row, the Rockets are currently carrying the longest winning streak in the association. What makes their immediate outlook even more promising? Seven of their next 11 will be played at home. Of those 11, only five will be contested against winning teams. They don’t play the Clippers until December 30. Safe to say we’re looking forward to that one.


stockup453. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 18-6, Last Week: 4)

We’ve gotta take the champs to task for leaving LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love at home when they traveled to Memphis to complete their home-and-home with the Grizzlies. No surprise, they lost without their big guns, ending their five-game win streak. So long as they remain healthy, the sky isn’t falling in Cleveland.


stocknochanges452. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 21-5, Last Week: 2)

While everyone was paying attention to what Phil Jackson said about Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook eating triple-doubles like they were cheeseburgers, the Spurs were busy going 15-2 over their past 17 games. Six of their next nine also happen to be against opponents less than .500, so the Warriors won’t be putting much distance between the two teams… Yet.


stocknochanges451. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 23-4, Last Week: 1)

The Dubs took care of their business on Thursday night, beating up on the depleted Knicks by a final of 103-90. What makes them scariest (and unstoppable) is how they share the ball. On Thursday night, they had 41 assists on 45 field goals. For them, having an assist rate of 80 percent or better is quite routine. It’s also amazing.

 

The way things have gone over the first six weeks of the NBA season, it would appear that the Warriors, Spurs and Cavs are separating themselves from the pack. As we look ahead to Christmas Day, we can’t help but be a tad excited about seeing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant make their first visit to Cleveland as teammates. Stay tuned, and be sure to check back next Friday to see where your team stands.

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NBA

Resurgent Clippers Climbing in the Standings

Blow up the Clippers? Not so fast, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA’s trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and one team that has appeared quite often in trade rumors is the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers started out the season strong, and Blake Griffin was playing like an MVP candidate. Then they hit a rough patch of injuries and slipped all the way down in the standings.

Since then, DeAndre Jordan’s name has come up in trade chatter. The Clippers were in a free-fall and their franchise center reportedly could be had for the right price. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams has also been mentioned, as playoff contenders could certainly use his scoring prowess as they gear up for a playoff run. And our own Michael Scotto reported that the Clippers approached the Minnesota Timberwolves at one point about a deal revolving around Griffin and Karl-Anthony Towns.

However, the Clippers have done an about-face recently. They’ve won 11 of their last 15 games. They’re currently on a five-game win streak that includes wins over the Golden State Warriors (on the road) and the Houston Rockets. Those teams weren’t at full strength, but neither were the Clippers.

The point is, as the Clippers have begun to get some of their injured players back, they’re playing much better basketball. Maybe all the talk about blowing it up should be put on hold for a moment.

As it stands, they sit in seventh place in the Western Conference and right back in the playoff mix. They’re 22-21; they haven’t been over .500 since back on Nov. 5 when they were 5-4. They’re only one and a half games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth.

A big reason for this resurgence has been the return of Griffin. Griffin sprained his MCL back on Nov. 28, and he didn’t return to the lineup until Dec. 29. The Clippers went 6-8 without him. He recently missed two games due to concussion protocol, but in the games he’s played since returning, the team has gone 6-2.

In those eight games, he’s put up 19.6 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting from the field, seven rebounds, and 6.1 assists. It’s not what he was doing early in the season, but his production has been a most welcome addition to the lineup. He had one of his better games of the season against the Rockets on Monday night, with 29 points on 50 percent shooting, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Another huge reason for the Clippers’ new success has been Williams. At age 31, Williams is having a career year. He’s averaging 23.3 points per game on 45.3 percent shooting, 41.6 percent from the three-point line, and 5.0 assists, all career-highs. He’s had games of 42 and 40 points this season, and he recently dropped a career-high 50 points last week in a win over the Warriors.

And yet another catalyst in the Clippers’ turnaround has been the overall play of their bench and their rookies. Both Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker were almost afterthoughts at the beginning of the season. They were key pieces at times for the Rockets last season, but seemingly couldn’t get off the bench with the Clippers.

The rash of injuries forced Doc Rivers to expand the rotation, and both players have responded accordingly. Harrell has seen an increase in minutes since Griffin initially got hurt at the end of November. In the Clippers first game without Griffin on Nov. 30, Harrell had 13 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting from the field. Since then, he’s put up 10.2 points on 55.4 percent shooting. He scored a season-high 25 points last week in a win over the Sacramento Kings, and he’s become the Clippers’ most dependable big man off the bench.

Dekker has also seen an increase in playing time since the beginning of December. His numbers may not jump off the charts, as he’s averaging six points per game during that time frame. But he’s given the Clippers another three-point threat on the floor, as well as the ability to play and guard multiple positions.

They’ve also uncovered a few gems this season. Jawun Evans, who was a second-round pick, as well as two-way players such as C.J. Williams, Jamil Wilson (who has since been released), and Tyrone Wallace have all made important contributions to the team.

Evans has started in four games recently, and in those games, he’s put up 9.0 points and 4.8 assists. Since Dec. 18, C.J. has been a permanent part of the starting lineup. As a starter, he’s averaging 9.0 points on 47.5 percent shooting. He had a career-high 18 in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 2. On Jan. 8 he had 15 points and the game-winner against the Atlanta Hawks.

Wallace is a relative newcomer after the Clippers cut Wilson, and he’s making a huge impression. He’s played in six games so far and scored in double-figures in all but one while shooting 52.8 percent. He had 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the Jan. 10 win over the Warriors.

On the injury front, the team welcomed back Milos Teodosic on Jan. 11, and since returning he’s averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 assists. DeAndre Jordan is expected to be out a couple more games after injuring his ankle on Jan. 11. Austin Rivers, who was having a career year prior to his ankle injury on Dec. 29, is supposed to be re-evaluated soon. There’s no new status on Danilo Gallinari who is out with a glute injury. Patrick Beverley is already done for the year.

These injuries have been a bit of a blessing in disguise, as they’ve allowed some of the Clippers’ young guys to get valuable experience — experience that will surely pay off if they do make a playoff run. It’s also allowed Rivers to utilize his bench more. When the others begin to make their return to the lineup, the Clippers will be that much more potent.

The Clippers still have a long road to go, and nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. But perhaps it’s best just to pump the breaks a little bit on all the tanking and blowing it up talk.

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G-League

NBA Daily: New Two-Way Players Worth Watching

The deadline for adding players on two-way contracts came and went on Monday, so which new signings have the potential to make a difference this season?

Ben Nadeau

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When the NBA created two-way contracts last summer, it not only produced a new path to the professional level, but it also added another intriguing wrinkle to roster building across the league. January 15th marked the deadline to sign players to two-way contracts during the 2017-18 season, so the transaction wire was mighty busy on Monday. In some instances, teams can utilize these deals to simply protect prospects as players on two-way contracts cannot be signed away by another franchise. But in other situations, these new additions could help fill some important roles and minutes for teams now currently entrenched in a playoff hunt.

Mike James was the first two-way player to make headlines while providing quality minutes within an injured backcourt for the Phoenix Suns — but that false start has recently led him to different horizons in New Orleans. While two-way players cannot compete in the postseason, there’s always the potential of a converted contract as well, just as the Milwaukee Bucks have done with Sean Kilpatrick. More than half of the NBA swapped out a two-way signee over the last 30 days, but here are five of them that could make a difference during the next few months.

Mike James, New Orleans Pelicans
With Phoenix: 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 turnovers in 20.9 MPG

Mike James is the most recognizable name on the list for good reason — he’s already made it. James’ story has been well-documented at this point, but after toiling away overseas, the 27-year-old rookie wasted no time with the Suns earlier this season. In 32 games with Phoenix — including 10 starts — James averaged 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 20.9 minutes per contest. In fact, James’ play was so impressive that the Suns converted his two-way contract to a one-year regular deal in December, quickly looking like he’d be a regular mainstay in the rotation. But the sudden emergence of point guard Isaiah Canaan left James as the odd-man out and he was waived, sending him back to square one in his pursuit of a permanent roster spot in the NBA.

Thankfully, James wouldn’t have to wait long as the surging Pelicans scooped him up ahead of their playoff push. The backcourt situation in New Orleans is fluid, but it could be a fruitful opportunity for James to get back on the horse. All season, the Pelicans have run with a starting combination of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday, leaving veteran journeyman Jameer Nelson (21.9 MPG) to mop up any needed bench minutes for the point guards. Snagging the 14-year veteran off the waiver wire was a shrewd move by New Orleans, but it wouldn’t be a shock for James to leapfrog Nelson before long.

The Pelicans rank dead last in bench points (23.3) and James is the type of dynamic scorer that can keep things going without the starters on the floor.

Amile Jefferson, Minnesota Timberwolves
G-League: 18 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 turnovers in 34.1 MPG

At long last, somebody grabbed G-League star Amile Jefferson and now the Minnesota Timberwolves are set to reap the benefits. Just a few days after dropping 29 points at the G-League Showcase, Jefferson joins a crowded frontcourt — but his high motor could be an interesting option in spot minutes moving forward. Collegiately, Jefferson started 100-plus games over five years for the Duke Blue Devils and went undrafted despite averaging 10.9 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior. Jefferson’s bright debut has seen him tally a healthy 18 points and a league-leading 13.1 rebounds per game, but his defense-first mentality is what might earn him some court time in the coming weeks.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau has a reputation for molding elite defenses — he reached the top five in defensive rating for four consecutive seasons back in Chicago — but he hasn’t quite reached that level in Minnesota. The Timberwolves have certainly looked better in that regard as of late, but their 106.4 rating on defense puts them in the bottom half of the NBA. For a young team looking to compete with the juggernaut powers of Golden State and San Antonio this spring, tuning up the defense remains an absolute must.

Additionally, the Timberwolves’ starters average 35 minutes per game, above and beyond the highest number in the league right now. If Jefferson can provide strong defensive minutes and allow players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson to grab some extra rest down the stretch, he’ll be a welcomed addition to this playoff-bound roster.

Markel Brown, Houston Rockets
G-League: 17.2 points, 35.8 three-point percentage, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 turnovers in 31.4 MPG

Unlike many of the names on this list, Markel Brown has plenty of NBA experience already. After the Brooklyn Nets drafted Brown with the No. 44 overall selection in 2014, the hyper-athletic rookie started 29 games for an injury-riddled squad. Brown would eventually become a roster casualty and later joined Russian outfit Khimki for one season, but he’s always remained a player to keep an eye on. During his best moments, Brown was a stat-stuffing machine and he once racked up 10 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and four blocks with zero turnovers in 45 minutes of play as a rookie.

Athletic as they come, Brown showed defensive promise with the Nets, but he struggled to consistently convert from deep and his 29.7 three-point percentage over two seasons ultimately cost him his roster spot. Thankfully, Brown appears to have turned the corner and has made 2.9 three-pointers per game at a 35.8 percent clip over 22 contests with the Oklahoma City Blue. Of course, the Rockets attempt a staggering 43.6 three-pointers per game, nearly 10 more than the second-place Nets, so Brown could feel right at home here.

If Brown can bring some hard-nosed defense and contribute to Houston’s downtown barrage, there’s some definite potential in this two-way signing.

Xavier Munford, Milwaukee Bucks
G-League: 23.9 points, 46.5 three-point percentage, 5.3 assists and 3.6 turnovers in 35.8 MPG

As of publishing, the Milwaukee Bucks are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA, only knocking down 34.9 percent of their attempts. And at 23-20, the Bucks’ dismal showing from deep has been just one of many shortcomings for a team many expected to take the next step this season. Khris Middleton has led the way for Milwaukee with 1.9 three-pointers per game, but his 34 percent clip is his lowest mark since his rookie season. Furthermore, the only rostered player to surpass two made three-pointers per game is Mirza Teletovic (2.1), but he’s been sidelined since November due to knee surgery and the unfortunate reemergence of pulmonary emboli in his lungs once again.

Needless to say, the Bucks need some shooting help in the worst way — enter: Xavier Munford, one of the G-League’s best three-point assassins. The 6-foot-3 guard has been an absolute revelation for the Wisconsin Herd, tallying 23.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists on a league-leading 46.5 percent from three-point range. Truthfully, it’s surprising that Munford hadn’t found a home before the deadline, but he’s been gifted the perfect opportunity now. Even in spot minutes, Munford could provide the Bucks with something they’ve sorely missed through the first half of the season.

Munford can get hot and stay hot too, perhaps best exhibited by the Player of the Week honors he earned two months ago after nailing 17 of his 24 attempts (70.8 percent) from three over a four-game period. It won’t come that easy at the NBA level, but Munford is an elite shooter on a poor-shooting team — so if his chance arises, this could be a quality signing for the Bucks.

James Webb III, Brooklyn Nets
G-League: 11.6 points, 36.6 three-point percentage, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 turnovers in 27.3 MPG

The Nets are likely the only team on the list that won’t be headed to the postseason this year, but the addition of James Webb III is certainly an interesting one nonetheless. Before going undrafted in 2016, Webb III was a standout at Boise State, where he averaged 15.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. In spite of shooting just 24.8 percent from three-point range in that final collegiate season, Webb III has put together back-to-back seasons at 36 percent in the G-League. Naturally, this is where Webb III can make an impression with the chuck-em-up Nets.

In his second year at the helm, head coach Kenny Atkinson has his young roster shooting more three-pointers than ever. While backcourt players like Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Caris LeVert have all seen improvements from deep this season, the Nets still badly need a stretch four to open things up when Quincy Acy and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson aren’t on the floor. The latter, despite his best efforts, hasn’t turned into a consistent three-point shooter and Hollis-Jefferson still sports a subpar 24.1 percent career average from behind the arc.

Acy has been one of Brooklyn’s more recent G-League successes, plucking him away from the Texas Legends just over a year ago on a ten-day contract. Over 71 games for the Nets, Acy has become a valuable contributor in the Nets’ rotation and he’s currently averaging a career-high 19.3 minutes and 1.4 made three-pointers per game. Still, Acy is as streaky as shooters come and when he’s not chipping in from three-point range, the Nets really suffer. After Acy, there’s only Tyler Zeller, Timofey Mozgov and Jarrett Allen for three-point options in the frontcourt — so much for replacing Brook Lopez, right?

If Webb III can impress the coaching staff, he could have long-term potential on this three-point happy roster of castaways.

Breaking through from the G-League to the NBA is never easy, but these five players have taken the next big step in their professional careers. There’s no guarantee that two-way players will be given an opportunity to shine, but there’s still potential in all of these signings. Whether teams are looking to navigate injuries, rest their starters or uncover a diamond in the rough, two-way contracts have offered something new for both players and front offices alike.

Now it’s up to James, Jefferson, Brown, Munford and Webb III to make the most of their respective chances and hopefully stick around for good.

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NBA

NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 1/17/18

Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.

Dennis Chambers

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It’s been two weeks since we last checked in on the Most Valuable Player race in our beloved National Basketball Association.

Since then, the leader, James Harden, hasn’t played a minute of basketball. The man behind him, LeBron James, somehow having a career-year in his 15th go-around, even more surprisingly hasn’t completely blow Harden’s chances out of the water due to his Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles as of late.

Steph Curry is back and better than ever for the Golden State Warriors, bolstering his chances at a third MVP award, while simultaneously hurting his teammate Kevin Durant’s chances.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is still a freak of the Greek variety, and DeMar DeRozan continues to be a master of the midrange.

Halfway through the NBA season, this race is getting as fun as ever. Let’s get into the current standings.

  1. Kyrie Irving

Since last checking in, Kyrie Irving hasn’t necessarily been knocking it out of the park with his performance, but the Boston Celtics are still winning, so that counts for something.

Despite being stuck in an obvious shooting slump over the last two weeks (36 percent from the field and 24 percent from beyond the arc), Irving has led the way to four straight Boston wins, along with a big come from behind victory against the Philadelphia 76ers over in London.

While Irving continues to put up dazzling performances, his slip as of late, coupled with the fact that Brad Stevens and Co. have found ways to win without him, have caused Irving to lose a bit of footing in the most recent update of the MVP race.

  1. DeMar DeRozan

Over the last two weeks, DeMar DeRozan has continued to put the Toronto Raptors on his back. Granted, the Raptors are just 4-3 during that span, but with one loss coming to the Golden State Warriors 127-125 after giving up 81 points in the first half. DeRozan was also left without Kyle Lowry for two of those contests.

With the continued evolution of DeRozan’s skill set, this season has been the star shooting guard’s best chance at an MVP trophy. Improved shooting from downtown turns DeRozan into a more modern version two-guard without sacrificing the midrange prowess that makes him nearly impossible to guard.

Toronto has morphed into arguably the second-best overall team in the entire league. With impressive showings on both ends of the court that result in top 10 ratings, the Raptors are quickly becoming the biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Eastern Conference crown. None of that would be possible without the big steps DeRozan has made in his game this season.

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek Freak’s drop in the current rankings aren’t necessarily an indictment of his play, but more of a tipped cap to how strong Steph Curry has come on since returning from injury.

That being said, Antetokounmpo is still very much a part of the MVP race with his 28.3/10.1/4.5 averages. As Milwaukee clings to a bottom half playoff spot — their 23-20 record and 7th place standing is just a three-game advantage over the Sixers, who are currently out of the playoff picture — Antetokounmpo will need to continue to put the Bucks on his back as he’s done throughout his breakout season so far.

While his season has been more than impressive and certainly puts him on the radar across the league as one of the best players in the NBA, Antetokounmpo is still getting lost in the shuffle behind the top-tier contenders due to his team’s lack of dominant success.

  1. Steph Curry

What a return it’s been for Steph Curry. Since last checking in on our MVP standings, Curry has played in six games for the Warriors and sat out one. Golden State is 6-1 in that seven-game span, and I don’t need to spell it out for you which game they lost.

During his return, Curry is averaging 30.8 points, seven assists, nearly six rebounds and two steals per game, while also shooting 45 percent from three-point land.

His on/off rating for the Warriors is higher than any of his teammate’s, even Durant. The Chef is the Warriors’ main catalyst on offense, and despite their star-studded cast, when he isn’t on the court you can tell the difference.

I’ve always been one to say that because they’re both on the same team, it would be hard for either Curry or Durant to win this award, but given the absurd affect Curry has been having on his team’s success and offensive continuity, he’s forced himself right into the conversation. Should he keep it up at this current pace for the second half of the season, he may be the favorite.

  1. James Harden

James Harden has missed the last seven games, and the Houston Rockets are 3-4 in that time frame. Granted, one loss is to the Warriors, a team the Rockets hope to be able to compete against when at full strength.

While being sidelined, Harden’s importance to Houston’s sustained success has become more apparent than it was was before he went down with an injury. His numbers, were his season to end today, would be MVP-caliber if not for the number of games played. But it’s hard to keep a grasp on a lead when you’re not participating, which explains Harden’s drop on the ladder this time around.

Once The Beard returns, however, fully expect him to be right back in the thick of claiming his first ever MVP award.

  1. LeBron James

Since Harden’s injury, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t necessarily set the world on fire to their best player a clear distance in the MVP race.

Amid a serious slump that has the rest of the league questioning if this Cavs team is capable of returning to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, James is currently searching for his fifth MVP award. While there has been a slight dip in The King’s numbers over the last few games, with the slump and the reintegration of Isaiah Thomas to the squad, he’s still been on the court and dominating in his 15th year. Until Harden can return to put up a fight, James is the current frontrunner despite the recent decline. His full-season body of work, this late in his career, speaks for itself.

But with Curry hot on his trail, Harden set to return, and his team floundering more and more by the day, James’ chances to win his latest award are currently at their bleakest point.

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