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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 11/28/17

As the NBA gets set for their second full month of play, the cream is beginning to rise to the top in the MVP race.

Dennis Chambers

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Another leg of the season has come and gone. Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror and teams are getting set to hit their second full month of the season. With that comes a bit of separation and clarity when ranking the league’s MVP candidates.

Here at Basketball Insiders, our last installment of the MVP Watchlist saw some changes from its first rendition. This time around, a juggling of names at the top, and a newcomer on a rising team are the changes.

Instead of letting the suspense build any further, let’s get into it.

  1. Joel Embiid

By now, everyone knows Joel Embiid’s story. From missing his first two seasons because of injury to having his third season — which quickly become magical — cut short due to another injury, Embiid is finally getting an extended chance to make an impact on the court for the Philadelphia 76ers.

On the surface, Embiid’s numbers are impressive: 22.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game.

But dig a little deeper and Embiid’s real presence can be seen on this upstart Sixers team. When Embiid is on the court, the team’s offensive rating is 109.2, compared to their opponents’, which is 101.3 as the towering big man guards the paint.

As soon as Embiid takes a seat on the bench (or lays down beside it) the story changes. The Sixers’ offensive rating drops to 102.5 while their opponent’s soars to 110.8.

Embiid’s carefree personality off the court and on social media builds the persona of a kid just having fun with the game. But when he’s on the court, Embiid is all business.

His two-way impact has his young Sixers team at 11-8 on the season, with impressive wins over the likes of the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, and Detroit Pistons — not to mention Embiid’s ridiculous 46-15-7-7 line against the Los Angeles Lakers.

If Philadelphia wants to get to the playoffs and make any type of noise, it’ll be on the back of their 7-foot-2 center.

  1. Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving continues his post-LeBron tour with winning at all costs.

The Boston Celtics hold the best record in the entire league at 18-4, and Irving has been the perfect embodiment of the Mamba Mentality throughout it all.

Being the main catalyst of the Celtics’ offense, Irving has come up the most when his team is in crunch time. In 13 games, Irving has found himself in league designated “clutch” time. While in these moments, almost nobody in the NBA has performed the standards Irving has. The 6-foot-3 point guard is shooting a ridiculous 61.5 percent from the field in these scenarios.

While Boston won’t win games in many more 16-game streaks like the one they had ended last Wednesday, they still figure to win pretty regularly. Maybe Irving doesn’t have what it takes yet to dethrone the Cavaliers in May, especially without Gordon Hayward, but so far this year he’s proving his decision to step into his own limelight was well worth it.

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

After holding down the top spot in the first two installments in this MVP watchlist, Giannis Antetokounmpo slides down to No. 4 this time.

With a mix of jaw-dropping performances from his competition and a bit of slowed production on his end, the Greek Freak doesn’t look to be in line for his wire-to-wire MVP season like it seemed he would be at first glance.

While still producing incredible averages (29.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game), Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks haven’t been winning as many games as they would have hoped. Sitting at just 9-9 so far, it’s still very early, but a team that made the playoffs last season, with an MVP candidate at the helm, should be asserting their dominance a bit more. That, for the most part, explains Antetokounmpo’s drop in this ranking.

However, with 64 games left on Milwaukee’s schedule, it’s obviously still very much in play that Antetokounmpo will claim the first MVP trophy of his career. But as of right now, he’s going to have to make up some ground on the guys in front of him.

  1. Steph Curry

Even with all of the firepower that surrounds him, Steph Curry still proves to be the engine that makes the Golden State Warriors go.

The addition of Kevin Durant will likely keep Curry from actually winning this award, as we’ve noted here before, but that doesn’t downplay the impact Curry’s been having this season.

On both sides of the ball, something that often been criticized of Curry, the Warriors are taking a step back when he hits the bench. Not only does Golden State’s offensive rating plummet 12.8 points, but the opponent’s offensive rating actually sees a 4.6 point spike when Curry takes a seat.

The scoring and initiating will always be the focal point when it comes to talking about Curry, and rightfully so. But so far this season, it appears that the Warriors’ point guard is having a positive impact defensively as well.

Golden State should have no problem rolling to another Finals appearance this year, but even with their star-studded cast, don’t forget who the most vital piece is right now.

  1. LeBron James

In year 15, LeBron James is somehow having a career year.

James is shooting a career-best from the field, a career best from three-point land, averaging the most points and blocks per game since 2009-10, and is shooting 62.2 percent in clutch scenarios.

Not to mention, after a rough start to the year, he has the Cavaliers in the midst of an eight-game winning streak and has seemingly worked out the kinks to his team’s defensive woes (at least enough to make a difference).

All the while, James, and the Cavs are missing Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose — their starting and backup point guards — to injury.

After a decade and a half of pure dominance, it seems like James is doing anything but slowing down. With the departure of Irving, should the Cavs find a way to dominate this regular season when it’s all said and done behind a career year from James, it will be hard to award anyone but the King with the MVP crown.

At this rate, James may want to start clearing a little space on his mantle for a potential 5th MVP trophy.

  1. James Harden

After a long list of impressive candidates, no player is coming close to James Harden so far this season.

The Beard leads the league in both scoring and assists right now, all while Chris Paul has been sidelined for most of the season. In Mike D’Antoni’s hyperspeed offense, Harden appears to be the perfect fit.

Along with shooting a career high from beyond the arc, Harden also is posting his best defensive rating since 2014-15. His spiked two-way play is helping the Houston Rockets look like the best threat to the Warriors since the Golden State dynasty began its run.

Even with Paul coming back into the mix, Harden’s stamp on this MVP race is made. If anything, Harden may even see his scoring numbers increase with another capable playmaker and secondary scoring option on the court with him.

After an MVP-worthy season last year, Harden seems poised to get his this time around.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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NBA Daily: What’s Next In Portland And Orlando?

With the passing of Rich DeVos in Orlando and Paul Allen in Portland, what’s next for those franchises?

Steve Kyler

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What’s Next In Portland And Orlando?

The NBA lost two massively influential owners this year in Orlando’s Rich DeVos and yesterday’s news of the passing of Blazers’ owner Paul Allen.

While it’s early in the process, there is a growing sense in both situations that the teams both titans owned will likely change hands in the not so distant future.

Here is what we know at this point:

In Orlando’s case, the team’s ownership was moved into a family trust some time ago, with the prevailing hope from the elder DeVos that the team would stay in the family after his passing. The team is currently controlled by Dan DeVos, who is chairman and governor of the team.

DeVos has said recently that the family has no intentions of selling the team, yet there are not very many in NBA circles believe that will be the case in the longer term.

The Magic are one of the teams to watch in terms of changing owners, however, they are not a team that can relocate given the very restrictive lease terms they agreed to when they landed their arena deal.

Another factor with the future of the Magic is the massive development taking place across from the Amway Arena that’s been led by the current Magic ownership. The project is just getting underway, and league sources believe the value of the Magic franchise could take a big jump up once that project is finished.

There has been talk for some time in NBA circles that current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers would have interest in an ownership stake in the Magic should the team become available. The same is true of NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who currently has a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings. O’Neal has been vocal over the years that he’s ready to talk should the Magic hit the market.

In Portland’s case, obviously, the news of Paul Allen’s sudden passing makes the Blazers future murky. Allen’s holding company Vulcan Inc. technically owns the team, and the belief is nothing will change on that front in the short term.

As John Canzano chronicled for the Oregonian, Allen’s sister Jody is his closest surviving relative and there is a sense she may not want to own the Blazers in the medium-term.

Bert Kolde, who is Vice Chairman of the Trail Blazers, will continue to run the day to day aspects of the business according to reports and insiders. There is some concern that, with Allen’s passing, the unlimited green light to spend and acquire assets that had become so common under Allen’s leadership may not be as aggressive.

During the summer, one insider commented that the Blazers were always active in trying to move around for draft picks and assets and never afraid to leverage cash to get things done. That may change with Allen’s passing.

If the Blazers hit the market, and many expect that they might in the near term, it’s believed re-locating the franchise wouldn’t be a consideration, especially with how successful Portland has been as a smaller NBA media market.

One thing to keep in mind is that, with NBA franchise valuations well over the $1 billion mark, a fast transaction in either team’s situation isn’t likely.

As with all things in the NBA, these are fluid situations, especially with the Blazers – so both will be situations to watch.

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NBA Daily: Six Pointers For The Season

On a night that is sure to be full of hot takes, highlight videos and overreaction, Spencer Davies has some pointers that you should take into consideration for the upcoming season.

Spencer Davies

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It’s time to celebrate, NBA fans.

We are officially one sleep away from tipping off the 2018-19 season. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, two heavy Eastern Conference title favorites, will square off first, followed by the defending champion Golden State Warriors hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder.

On a night that is sure to be full of hot takes, highlight videos and overreaction, here are some pointers headed into the year that you should take into consideration within the grand scheme of things.

Reminder: There Are 82 Games

The first week of the NBA season is under a gigantic microscope. Some teams are going to look unbeatable, others may not look quite as good and a handful might seem downright awful. We have to remember that a lot of these ball clubs have a different energy about them. Whether it’s a new front office, a new head coach, roster turnover or simply needing time to jell, not everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows from the jump—and even if it is, that could be short-lived.

Don’t Fall For Fake Accounts

One time or another, everybody has been bound to fall for a complete farce. Everybody is susceptible to seeing a fake account on Twitter and immediately reacting without checking the validity of the source. It’s a natural response. But make sure that if you’re following along with a trade rumor and/or developing event, the information is coming from a reliable reporter with multiple confirmations. This is especially important on trade deadline day.

Rookies Will Have Ups And Downs

Arguably the best part about the start of a new NBA year is seeing fresh talent hit the hardwood. They are living a real-life dream and, for most of them, you see the true love they have for the game through their play. In any case, they are getting used to an unfamiliar stage and a higher level of basketball. There will be flashes and struggles, but more often—inconsistencies. It’s hard to find out if a player is the “next ________” just as it is dubbing a rookie a bust right away. Give these guys time to mature and enjoy it.

Watch For Quotes Taken Out Of Context

This happens a ton in the world of sports. When reading what a player says ahead of or after a game, make sure you’re getting the full story. It’s easy for a video to get chopped and edited to create a juicy narrative and rile things up. While we do have plenty of feuds in the league stemming from what happens in between the four lines—in addition to an abundance of intriguing stories—there’s a lot of something made out of nothing situations that are best to just ignore.

Referees Are Not Out To Get Your Team

Last season was an especially complicated one for the NBA officiating contingent. Criticism came from all angles, from media to players to coaches, as it does almost every season. Part of it is warranted, but let’s not forget how difficult the job is. The frantic pace of the game is evolving with each year, and the bang-bang plays are growing tougher to determine because of it. Missed calls and anticipated calls are a killer for momentum in any case, but the stripes are here to do their job the best they can. It’s fine to look at tendencies, but don’t come up with conspiracy theories because your team isn’t getting a favorable whistle.

Surprises Happen: Good Or Bad

With 30 squads loaded with the best basketball talent in the world, it’s truly an “any team, any night” kind of league. There are going to be upsets and there are going to be blowouts. Aside from the teams on the wrong side of the rout too many times, most of these won’t matter with the bigger picture intact. If a ball club makes the playoffs and is set to contend, they ultimately won’t care about a lopsided defeat from November.

There are also factors beyond teams’ control that are inevitable, unfortunately. We don’t know who will go down with injuries, but they are a part of the game. You hope that the severity of the setbacks are never the worst-case scenario, yet somehow it always tends to occur and, in turn, affects his organization’s plans for the season. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen, and if it does, have it be at the bare minimum.

These pointers arent’ meant to be a buzz kill, of course. This league is all about entertainment and enjoyment for its fans, so have fun with it. That’s what it’s here for.

There’s much more to a season, but we’d figure to pass along some tips as we await for another great year of NBA action.

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NBA Daily: The NBA Ten Years Ago

With the 2018-2019 season on the horizon, Basketball Insiders’ Matt John takes a trip down memory lane to look at where the league was ten years prior.

Matt John

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It’s time to take a trip down memory lane – all the way back to 2009.

It was a different time then. The country’s first black president was inaugurated, Swine Flu was petrifying the nation and Justin Bieber was an innocent teenager just trying to make a name for himself. It was a time to be alive, particularly for NBA junkies.

There were some interesting storylines going on in the NBA, like the somewhat growing concern of ballplayers preferring to play overseas after Josh Childress went to Greece. Or the Seattle Supersonics switching cities to become the Oklahoma City Thunder under certain circumstances. However, the 2008-2009 season overall served as a transitional year for the players.

Some of the NBA’s youngest stars such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were achieving success, as individuals and in the team setting. They were becoming the present face of the league while established veterans – such as Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter – were becoming the past. Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade had already shown themselves as two of the bright young stars in the league, and Kevin Durant was right around the corner. The 2008-2009 season was when the new generation of young NBA stars started making its mark.

Having said that, looking back at today, what should the 2008-2009 season be remembered the most for? Well, several things.

The NBA Champion

As you probably remember, the Los Angeles Lakers won their 15th NBA title in 2009.
The LakeShow deserved it. Detractors will make excuses – which I’ll get to – but the Lakers were a well-crafted team that was difficult for every team in the league to stop. Ten years later, only one question remains about them: Would they have worked as well in today’s NBA?

There’d be little reason for them not to. They had a top-10 NBA talent of all-time still at the top of his game in Kobe Bryant. However, while Kobe may have been their best player, the dirty little secret about the 08-09 Lakers was that their frontcourt was what made them tough to stop. They had one of the best offensive centers in the league in Pau Gasol, one of the NBA’s most versatile players ever in Lamar Odom and a promising young big in Andrew Bynum. The one commonality between these three: None of them were floor spacers.

Back then, stretching the floor wasn’t as much of a necessity as it is now. Also, teams didn’t value small ball nearly as much as they do now. Could that Lakers frontcourt have broken the trend, or would the league’s shooting evolution have limited their effectiveness? We’ll honestly never know, but it’s something worth pondering.

If X Team(s) Had Just Been Healthy…

Every season has that one team that many wonder what would have been had a certain player not gotten hurt. In 2009, the obvious injury to turn to was Kevin Garnett’s. The Celtics that year looked as good as ever until Garnett went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Boston did well without him, but Garnett’s injury left fans with unfulfilled desires. Perhaps the Celtics could have won it all had Garnett been available, but his injury was on them. Reportedly, the organization knew Garnett had bone spurs in his knee before the season started and played him hoping he’d be fine. Had they been more cautious, maybe they’d have 18 banners right now. This shows that when you’re a contender, you should take proper precautions for when the real games begin.

Besides, the Celtics weren’t the ones victimized the most by injuries. The ones that came the closest to beating the Lakers were, and that team was the Houston Rockets.

Many forget that the Rockets were expected to be title contenders leading up to that season. They had Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming leading the way, but after they stole the player formerly known as Ron Artest from the Kings, expectations were sky high in H-Town.

It didn’t take long for things to go south. McGrady’s knee was so troublesome that it knocked him out by mid-season. Hope was not lost, though. The Rockets managed to snag the fifth seed in the Western Conference without T-Mac and even advanced to the second round.

After splitting the first two games with the Lakers, Yao’s broken foot in Game Three of the conference semi-finals put the final nail in the coffin. The Rockets still fought until there was no fight left in them, as the Lakers eliminated them in seven games. The Rockets pushed the eventual NBA champs to the brink despite losing both T-Mac and Yao. If there’s one team that was robbed of their potential that doesn’t get enough credit, it’s the 2008-2009 Rockets.

The Deal That Could Have Changed So Much

If you thought the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers could have altered the entire landscape of the NBA, wait until you hear about this nixed trade that happened in 2009. On Feb. 18, New Orleans agreed to trade Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox. Basically, the then-Hornets were dumping Chandler to the Thunder. That was until Chandler’s “turf toe” raised enough red flags to convince OKC to rescind the trade.

After all that’s happened since then, it’s amazing wondering what could have been. The Thunder were one of the league’s worst teams when they traded for Chandler, so who knows what they would have done with him that season. His presence could have impacted whether they got James Harden in the draft that year. Serge Ibaka came over the following season, so imagine what he and Chandler would have looked like together. Trading for Chandler would have meant that he wouldn’t make it to Dallas, which probably meant no title for the Mavericks in 2011. It also would have meant the Thunder trading Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins would be nixed, too.

So much could have been different had OKC rolled the dice with Chandler. Maybe they wouldn’t have lost Durant. Maybe they would’ve formed a dynasty. Maybe LeBron nor the Warriors wouldn’t have won any titles this decade. All of that could have come from one rescinded trade. It’s understandable that the Thunder didn’t want to take the risk with Chandler’s toe, but at times like those, the potential outweighs the risk.

Pull The Plug! Or Don’t!

One of the seasons more prominent storylines was the fall of the Detroit Pistons. After being among the Eastern Conference’s powerhouses for several years, Detroit’s downfall came when they agreed to swap Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Allen Iverson.

While the Denver Nuggets reaped all the benefits from this deal, Detroit crumbled from one of the top seeds to the eighth seed in the conference. In hindsight, the Pistons underestimated how much Billups had left in the tank and overestimated how good their opponents were. When you consider that the Orlando Magic was the reigning Eastern Conference Champion at the time – and the Pistons beat the Magic the previous year in a five-game playoff series – maybe the Pistons would have had a chance.

When you have a window of opportunity, even if the outlook isn’t great, you take advantage of it until you can’t anymore. The Pistons instead folded early and have never recovered since. This trade would have been forgivable had the Pistons used the cap space they got from Iverson’s expiring deal wisely.

Instead, they used it on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva the following summer. Woof.

“Success Is Fleeting”

It was mentioned earlier that Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were achieving success both for themselves and for their teams. Both played in the ideal situations for them.

Howard played for a team that had reliable shooters who spread the floor along with smart playmakers who could run the pick and roll with him. Howard may have been a shot-blocking terror, but he also benefited from having agile defenders on the wing. Howard’s dominating presence down low made it difficult for defenses to figure out who to cover, which helped the Magic power their way to the NBA Finals.

Anthony played for a team that had an MVP candidate for a starting point guard in Chauncey Billups. “Mr. Big Shot” knew exactly where to find Anthony which greatly helped ‘Melo’s efficiency as a scorer. Carmelo also played for a team whose frontcourt finally got past its injury issues. With everything going Denver’s way, they had one of their most successful playoff runs in years, pushing the Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals.

When the Magic and the Nuggets went on their playoff runs in 2009, Anthony was only 25 while Howard was 23. Making it that far into the playoffs is terrific when you’re that young, but little did they know, that was far as they would get in their primes.

Looking at where they are at now, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard will more likely than not be Hall-of-Famers, but they’ll be remembered for being two superstar talents who could have done so much more in their careers had their hubris not gotten in the way. As their careers unfolded, both infamously burned bridges because things had to be done their way, which in turn, hurt their opportunities for success.

One can’t help but wonder if the success they had in 2009 played a role in their egos. Whether it did or not, young players coming into the league need to know that maintaining success in the NBA is not a given no matter how good you are. You never know when the glory days will be taken away from you.

The 2008-2009 season was remembered for many other things as well. LeBron had finally taken the reins as the league’s indisputable best player, a label he still has yet to relinquish, as he went on to win his first MVP award. It was also the one and only year we got the closest resemblance to a full season from the injury-plagued Greg Oden. Hilariously, it was also the year when we realized that maybe fans had a little too much power in all-star voting, as Iverson and McGrady were voted in as starters purely on reputation.

There are many other reasons to remember the 2008-2009 season. Ten years from now, what will the 2018-2019 season be remembered for?

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