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Pro and Cons of Knicks’ Trade for Derrick Rose

A look at the pros and cons of the New York Knicks’ decision to trade for Derrick Rose.

Tommy Beer

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We all knew the New York Knicks desperately needed to upgrade their backcourt this summer. Phil Jackson decided he’d rather not wait until free agency to address the point guard position.

On Thursday afternoon, the Knicks officially announced they had traded center Robin Lopez, guard Jose Calderon and guard Jerian Grant to Chicago in exchange for guard Derrick Rose, guard Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick.

It’s an interesting and confusing trade, in which there does not appear to be a clear-cut winner – at least not at first blush. Let’s dig into the pros and cons from the Knicks’ perspective.

Pros:

Increased Cap Space in 2017
Before we discuss Rose, let’s first acknowledge that the Knicks currently have just three players on their roster whose contracts extend beyond the 2016-17 season: Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle O’Quinn. That’s it. Other than those three, the books are bare. Of course the Knicks still have to flesh out their roster this summer, but it’s possible that Phil Jackson may be planning on completely revamping the roster and swinging for the fences in the summer of 2017, which will feature an incredible free agent class including the best PG crop of all-time.

If the Knicks play their cards right (i.e. trade for additional expiring contracts and/or sign a number of players to one-year deals), New York would be looking at upwards of $60 million in cap space next summer. And that’s not just cap space and a barren, empty roster. That’s with the salaries of ‘Melo and Porzingis included, with another $60 million to lavish on top-tier free agents. That’s enough to offer two max contracts. Would Phil be able to entice the combo or Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to relocate into the Eastern Conference to play alongside a rising superstar like KP as well as Anthony? The free agent class of 2017 will also likely include Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Gordon Haywood, Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry, Danilo Gallinari, Serge Ibaka and many others. Certainly a gamble, but is it one worth taking?

A Possible Rose Revival Inside the Garden?
Will Rose stay healthy and bounce back in NYC? Will a change of scenery benefit him?

Depending on how you dissect the data from last season, you can convince yourself either way. The fact of the matter is he was inefficient offensively. There were 40 NBA players who attempted over 1,000 FGs last season, and Rose ranked 39th out of those 40 in terms of True Shooting Percentage. Kobe Bryant was the only player with a worse TS%. However, Rose’s overall numbers were dragged down by his horrendous start to the season, which was due largely to an eye injury sustained in training camp. Rose had his orbital bone fractured by an errant elbow from a teammate in practice on September 29 and had surgery the next day. Rose admitted he was literally seeing double during games and would play with one eye closed at times.

Over his first 20 games of the 2015-16 campaign, Rose (playing through that eye injury) averaged 12.9 points per game in 32.4 minutes, while shooting under 37 percent from the floor, 23 percent from three-point territory and 72 percent on free throws.

However, Rose turned a corner and began playing much better in late December. Beginning on the day after Christmas and extending into mid-March (a total of 28 games in the middle of the season), he averaged 19.4 points per game in 31.4 minutes, while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor, 35.5 percent from three-point range and 87 percent from the free-throw line. Those are impressive numbers.

Rose came back down to earth toward the end of the season. He missed six of the final 19 games of the year. In the 13 that he played, he averaged a respectable 15 points while shooting 42.8 percent, 31 percent on threes and 70 percent from the stripe. Rose’s on/off splits last season weren’t encouraging: Chcicago’s Offensive Rating with him on the court was 104.6; it was 105.2 with him off.

His defense is an issue. Chicago’s opponents scored 108.5 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor. They scored 104.4 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the bench

Still, Rose was able to avoid a serious injury to his knees and look fresher and more athletic at times that he had in years. Rose will never be his “MVP-caliber” self of 2011, but he showed encouraging flashes of the burst and athleticism that thrust him to stardom.

Knicks Desperately Needed to Improve at PG
The sad reality is that if Rose plays at even an average level next season, he would be a huge upgrade for the Knicks. Jose Calderon was arguably the NBA’s worst starting point last year. In order to be competitive in today’s NBA, it is imperative that you have a point guard who can break down his defender and penetrate into the heart of the defense, thus creating opportunities for himself and his teammates.

Calderon scored a total of 46 points in the paint over the 2,024 total minutes he played last season. Rose scored 453 points in the paint (10th most in the league) over the 2,097 minutes he played. And even though his defense leaves a lot to be desired, Rose is obviously still a massive upgrade over Calderon on that end of the floor as well.

It is also important to note that there were very few attractive free agents PGs on the market this summer. Mike Conley is the only top-tier PG available, and he is going to get max money. Rose, while no longer as good as Conley, is a year younger and actually played in 10 more games last season than Conley (who suffered a significant Achilles injury). It could easily be argued that one year of Rose is a far more prudent decision than spending $110 million over four years for Conley.

The Knicks now get an up-close look at Rose for an entire season, and can then decide if they want to sign him to be Porzingis’ running mate for the rest of the decade. If not, they will have $21+ million coming off the books to go shopping for a new PG.

A Playoff Team in 2017?
If the goal is to revamp the roster next summer, it would presumably benefit Phil Jackson’s sales pitch if the Knicks are coming off a season in which they showed tangible improvement and advanced to the postseason.

Even with oodles of cap space and the promise of Porzingis, if the Knicks entered next offseason having missed the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, that losing stench may be hard for prospective free agents to ignore. If New York can make strides in 2016-17, elite FAs may be sold on the idea that the Knicks are just one or two pieces away from making a major jump.

More Porzingis at Center?
Losing Robin Lopez hurts, but one possible bright side of Lopez being out of the picture is that this might lead to increased opportunities for Kristaps to play the five, where he can use his incredible athleticism and versatility to overwhelm slower opponents. Spread the floor out and let KP run high pick-and-rolls with Rose all day.

You also can’t help but wonder if part of the reason Phil and company felt comfortable trading away Lopez was because they feel confident they will be able to sign center Willy Hernangomez, their 2015 second-round pick who played well in Spain last season. Hernangomez’s contract with Real Madrid expires at the end of this month and he expressed an eagerness to come overseas and play in New York, alongside his former teammate Porzingis.  (*Note, if the Knicks do something stupid like sign Dwight Howard to a big contract then the previous paragraph will self destruct and this was all was naught).

The Knicks Have Their 2017 First-Round Draft Pick
The worst case scenario is Rose suffering a major injury and the Knicks slinking to another season in the Atlantic Division basement. However, even in that situation, the silver lining is the Knicks still have their first-round pick next year. They would shed Rose’s contract prior to free agency and have a lottery pick in a strong draft.

Cons:

Why Give Away Valuable Assets For Rose?
When Ian Begley of ESPN initially reported that the Knicks were entertaining the idea of trading for Rose last week, it made some sense for the points outlined above. Rose would keep ‘Melo, James Dolan and the fan base happy by improving the team’s prospects for next season, while also serving as a salary cap placeholder until 2017. In fact, many pundits reported that most other teams dealing with the Bulls demanded that Chicago throw in a pick or another player in order to take on Rose’s cumbersome contract.

Not only did Chicago not have to sweeten the Rose package with a first-round pick, they got Phil to fork over Lopez and Grant. Lopez was an underrated defensive stalwart for New York, and Grant, despite being unwisely buried on the bench for much of the season, showed flashes of promise late in the year. In the six games he started at the end of the season, Grant averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.2 three-pointers and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from three-point territory. It also would have been interesting to see if he flourished under new head coach Jeff Hornacek in an offense more suited to his strengths.

Lopez and Grant Are Inexpensive
Robin Lopez certainly wasn’t a star, and $13 million a year doesn’t seem cheap. However, check back with me in a couple weeks, right after the first few waves of free agents have signed throughout July. With the salary cap spiking to $94 million, that means that the salary floor will jump all the way to $84 million. Consequently, every team is going to have to find a way to hand out an immense amount of salary this summer. Relatively unappealing mid-tier free agents will be making upwards of $15 million per season. And $13 million for a legit starting center will be a solid value.

Players signed to their rookie contracts will also be especially valuable. Jerian Grant will only make $1.6 million next season. He’ll be paid just $1.7 million in 2017-18. That’s less than two percent of the salary cap. Grant likely projects as an average career backup, but having dependable rotation players that account for such a small percentage of the cap is how winning teams are constructed.

Defense Is Now a Major Issue
The Knicks allowed fewer than 108 points per 100 possessions last season. That’s below average relative to the rest of the league, but for the Knicks that represented a major step forward. In fact, it was just the third time in the last 12 years that the Knicks had a Defensive Rating south of 108.

Lopez was obviously a significant reason for their improved defensive intensity. Lopez led the Knicks in rebounding and was second on the team in blocks. Phil has $30 million to spend this summer to round out the roster, but with Rose and Carmelo as the team’s two highest paid players, defense certainly appears as if it will be a season-long problem.

Downside to Cap Space and a Rose Rebound
The negative aspect of Rose hitting free agency next summer is that even if he stays healthy and rediscovers his game, the Knicks will have to pony up in order to keep him long-term, which would obviously be a major gamble.

In addition, with the cap space the Knicks cleared out by trading Lopez and Grant, will Phil be able to better allocate those resources? Will he find a better use of $15 million combined than RoLo and Grant? If he can somehow convince a superstar to come to New York, then the roll of the dice pays off. If he can’t, it’s difficult to imagine he’ll find a better value for role players with the cap jumping up to $108 million in 2017.

As is the case with most deals, we will likely have to revisit the entire picture a few years from now to truthfully determine which side “won” or “lost” this trade.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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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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