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NBA MVP Watch 1/28/14

Basketball Insiders’ NBA MVP discussion kicks off with Kevin Durant leading an incredible group of candidates through the season’s first half.

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Now that we’re beyond the midway point of the NBA season, it just feels a bit more appropriate to initiate Basketball Insiders’ MVP discussion. While there are plenty of players who got off to great starts, in order to remain in actual MVP consideration overall team impact and maintained dominance take precedence over anything else. Of course, raw statistics are a significant part of the discussion, but in order to be considered the “MVP” rather than simply being the best individual player, your skills and leadership must unite in order to influence positive outcomes for your team. Without any further delay, here is our first list:

#10 – John Wall – Washington Wizards

2013-14 Averages: 20 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 42.3 percent FG

Wall has quietly put together a very strong season, following the extension he received over the summer. There were some that questioned whether he was truly a “max contract” player, but Wall has more than answered any concerns critics might have had. His outside shooting continues to be a work in progress, but Wall can change ends with the best of them, and still finds a way to get favorable shots in the halfcourt set due to his quickness and superior ballhandling ability. This season, the biggest difference for Wall seems to be that the game is slowing down for him and he’s no longer playing out of control.

#9 – Kevin Love – Minnesota Timberwolves

2013-14 Averages: 24.8 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 45.5 percent FG

Love continues to find himself in the unhappy circumstance as being arguably the league’s best power forward from an individual standpoint, but hasn’t been able to translate that into more wins for his Wolves. At 22-22 on the year, with Love having already voiced his frustrations over not making the postseason on several occasions, one has to wonder if things might eventually boil over if the Wolves are unable to qualify for the playoffs once again.

#8 – Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers

2013-14 Averages: 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 52.7 percent FG

Still consider Griffin to be merely a highlight player? If so, then either you might want to invest in a second-half NBA League Pass subscription, or be certain to catch his Clippers play when they make a nationally televised game. Not only has Griffin held down the fort in Chris Paul’s absence, he’s continued to prove what seems like an ‘unspoken point’ about just how versatile he’s become as a player. Make no mistake about it, while you still don’t want to stand anywhere near the runway when he’s taking off, his further development of his post moves and mid-range jumpshot make him an absolute nightmare to matchup with on many nights.

#7 –  James Harden – Houston Rockets

2013-14 Averages: 23.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 44.4 percent FG

Even though Dwight Howard was clearly the “franchise center” the league has wanted (and needed), Harden remains the team’s best and most consistent player. He’s about as complete an offensive player as you could ask for, and is routinely among the league leaders in free throw attempts. At times, his defense leaves plenty to be desired, but that is somewhat understandable for a player that is such a focal point on the offensive end. Just the same, for his Rockets to be successful, they’ll need him to return to the consistently above-average perimeter defender he once appeared to be.

#6 – Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs

2013-14 Averages: 18,1 points, 6.3 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 51.4 percent FG

Feel free to voice your concerns over Parker being on this list due to San Antonio being “boring” (which they are not), or his “numbers not comparing” to other players within the list or even outside of the discussion. The reality is, the Spurs are once again one of the league’s best teams, and Parker is still their best player and one of the leaders. Statistics and regular season awards seem to be far less significant to the Spurs, as Gregg Popovich continues to limit and monitor his playing time and in-season responsibilities when possible.

#5 – Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

2013-14 Averages: 24.1 points, 9.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 44.9 percent FG

Those that call Curry “just a shooter” sound about as foolish as the critics that refer to Griffin as solely a dunker. After legitimate questions and concerns over what his actual position might be when he entered the league out of Davidson, Curry has clearly been a student of the game in the offseason and practice, as he has truly developed into one of the league’s more complete offensive point guards. His size makes him a bit vulnerable to the bigger points that can take him into the low block, but Curry has also progressed as an all-around defender over the past couple seasons as well.

#4 – LaMarcus Aldridge – Portland Trail Blazers

2013-14 Averages: 24.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 47.1 percent FG

While much of the early attention went to his fast-rising teammate Damian Lillard, Aldridge has been absolutely phenomenal throughout Portland’s (still) somewhat surprising 33-12 start. Always highly skilled, Aldridge has placed some distance between himself and some of the other power forwards in the league this season as a result of his continued development as a leader. There’s no true or unquestionable system of ranking players, but there is no doubt Aldridge has established a firm position within this discussion.

#3 – LeBron James – Miami HEAT

2013-14 Averages: 26 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 57.9 percent FG

It almost feels like sacrilege to say a player putting up those numbers has been guilty of “coasting” at times this year, but that is precisely the case. It must be nice to be that good, but that just goes along with the incredible expectations that develop when you are the league’s marquee player. Not to fault James, or his teammates, as they all realize pushing for regular season awards and streaks wouldn’t be in their best interest. They also realize how weak an overwhelming majority of the conference has been, which makes it even less important to go all-out in January. It’s also pretty exhausting to play in three straight NBA Finals, which means a significantly shorter offseason than their peers. With that said, we expect a furious second-half push from James and the rest of the HEAT if healthy and still within striking distance of the Pacers.

#2 – Paul George – Indiana Pacers

2013-14 Averages: 23.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 46.1 percent FG

George hasn’t eclipsed James as a player, but his progression and consistency for the Pacers has made it impossible to not acknowledge his productivity. Unlike some of the players in the general MVP discussion, perhaps the best part of George’s game goes unappreciated by those that merely look at statistics. While steals and blocks are key, George is arguably the league’s best perimeter defender at this point. His length and quickness make him tough on the outside, while his strength and agility have made him an effective defender on the block for the cases when other swingmen attempt to post him up.

#1 – Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder

2013-14 Averages: 31.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 50.8 percent FG

Question the position all you’d like, but the fact is Durant has played the best and most consistent basketball through nearly 50 games. We still have another 37 games remaining, but if he is able to maintain this level of productivity through April you should anticipate those with votes to reward the effort. Especially, when you factor in Russell Westbrook’s uncertain status. Durant’s scoring totals since the first of the year include 54, 48 (twice), 46, and 41 points, including a current streak of 11-consecutive games with 30+ points.

Next Up –

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers – Obviously, Chris Paul has played like a true MVP candidate thus far. Not to worry, he’ll be right back in the discussion as soon as he returns to action.

Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks – It truly has been a shame that his Knicks simply haven’t been able to compete in a weaker conference this season. Anthony is having a fantastic season, has been the team’s lone bright spot and is putting up some of the more impressive scoring totals while rebounding like a madman. He absolutely deserves to be in the general discussion, but may ultimately be a casualty of his team simply not being very good if the Knicks don’t turn it around.

Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns – Much of the early-season credit and attention understandably went to his backcourt mate Eric Bledsoe. Even though Dragic has been very good all year, he’s been even better and more productive in Bledsoe’s absence due to injury. They’ve maintained their surprising start, and have already won more games (26) through 44 games than they did through 82 in 2012-13.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors – DeRozan has been the best and most consistent player on the Eastern Conference’s fourth-ranked team. Regardless of whether the conference is historically bad (which it is), he deserves the acknowledgement.

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

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2021 Tokyo Olympics: USA vs. Iran – Men’s Basketball Preview, Prediction, & Odds

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Team USA is coming off their first Olympics’ loss in men’s basketball since 2004. In the post-game press conference after USA lost 89-79 against France, head coach Greg Popovich said, “When you lose a game, you’re not surprised. You’re disappointed. I don’t understand the word ‘surprised.’ That sort of disses the French team, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30. That’s a hell of a team.” Leading up to this matchup, another contributing factor for the team’s loss was Wizards‘ guard Bradley Beal bowing out of the Olympics after being placed in the COVID-19 health and safety protocols during training camp. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Beal averaged 31.3 points per game. Regarding the injury report, as of July 27th, there are no reported injuries for these two teams.

Moreover, the USA’s second men’s basketball game of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is schedule for Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST). Unfortunately, the next two USA men’s basketball games are not guaranteed to air live on television in the United States. However, the games can be watched on NBC channels (delayed) and NBC’s exclusive streaming service known as Peacock. Plus, the NBC Sports mobile app will stream the games live. Free trials are also available for Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, fuboTV, Sling TV, or AT&T TV Now. The game can also be watched via NBA League Pass. For betting on medal and group winners for men’s basketball, Bovada offers the best service.

Game Details

Date & Time: Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST)

Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC (delayed)

Spread: USA -41.5 (-110) (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Over/Under: 166.5

Best Moneyline: USA -8000, Iran +2500 (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Team USA Starting Lineup:

PG: Damian Lillard 

SG: Zach LaVine 

SF: Kevin Durant

PF: Draymond Green

C: Bam Adebayo 

Team Iran Starting Lineup:

PG: Mohammad Jamshidi

SG: Behnam Yakhchali

SF: Arsalan Kazemi

PF: Samad Nikkhah Bahrami

C: Hamed Haddadi

Bovada and MyBookie are two available betting sites for gambling on men’s basketball during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The best NBA betting apps are from MyBookie, BetUS, Bovada, Intertops, and BetOnline. With MyBookie, the app offers a $500 deposit bonus for new users. For the USA vs. Iran matchup, if an individual wants to bet on the best moneyline, DraftKings is another option as well.

USA vs. Iran Preview

Referencing Bovada’s Olympics odds, Team USA is the favorite to win gold in men’s basketball, with odds showing -250. Slovenia and Australia are tied for second, possessing +800 odds. With odds showing +75000, Iran ranks 12th for odds to win the gold medal. They could still win their fourth consecutive gold medal in basketball, but this team appears to be different from previous USA men’s basketball teams. Their performance against the French was pitiful. Anyways, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook, this past Sunday, USA opened as 12.5-point favorites versus Iran. However, yesterday the oddsmakers changed their projection to 29.5-point favorites. As of Tuesday, July 27, DraftKings Sportsbook has USA listed as 41.5-point favorites over Iran.

Team USA’s starting lineup in the Olympics consisted of Zach LaVine, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Bam Adebayo. In the team’s 89-79 loss against France, with a total of 29 points, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell led the team in scoring. However, Mitchell’s performance was not sufficient enough to carry the team. His teammates around him failed to contribute at a higher level. In 25 minutes played, Kemba Walker closed out his performance with 10 points and three rebounds. Marcus Smart also scored 11 points and made two assists. For the winning team, the leading scorer for France was Evan Fournier, finishing his game with 22 points, three rebounds, and four assists.

While the turnovers and field goal percentages were identical between these two teams, the difference-makers were personal fouls and free throw shooting percentage. France shot 21-for-25 (84 percent) from the free throw line, whereas USA shot 14-for-21 (66.7 percent). Additionally, France committed 17 fouls in the match, which was all right considering USA had a total of 24 personal fouls called against them. Despite small forward Kevin Durant scoring 10 points, he also fouled out of the game. This was another poor game plan by Coach Popovich. This was especially evident in the team’s consecutive losses against Australia and Nigeria during those exhibition games. Practice games or not, USA looked less than mediocre, never mind lethargic and disinterested.

Then again, Iran is also trying to recover from an 84-78 loss versus Czech Republic. Guard Behnam Yakhchali led the team on the stat sheet, ending his performance with 23 points, three rebounds, and four assists in 36 minutes played. In 29 minutes on the court, Mohammad Jamshidi had 16 points, one rebound, and seven assists. For the Czech Republic, with 16 points, Patrik Auda led his team in points. While the Czechs out-rebounded the Iranians 43 to 33, they also had fewer turnovers. The winning team had 15 turnovers, while Iran had 21 overall.

The team came close to erasing a 21-point deficit. Iran’s past starting lineup was Benam Yakhchali, Mohammad Jamshidi, Samad Bahrami, Arsalan Kazemi, and Hamed Haddadi. Though, this is subject to change. The projected starting lineup is listed in the game details section shown above. Yakhchali will once again be returning as a guard, and of course, he led the team in scoring against the Czech Republic. 

Prediction: USA wins by 15+ points

Team USA is nearly a 42-point favorite against Iran. Based on their previous 89-79 defeat versus France, it is certainly hard to believe this team will beat a team by 40 points. Many bettors were not expecting for Durant to foul out, either. After their 10-point loss, Bovada adjusted the odds of USA winning their group. Now, France has the favored -550 odds of winning Group A, whereas USA has +400 odds. Though, between USA and Iran right now, the Americans are obviously the best of the worst. All things considered, USA will likely have their first bounce-back victory, but the question right now is, how many points will they win by?

Some bettors are speculating a 12-point margin of victory, however, others are suggesting 23 points. A prediction of at least 15 points sounds reasonable. Why? It’s because Iran’s men’s basketball team has lost multiple games already. In the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Round (2019) for Group F, Japan defeated Iran 70-56. Then, Spain defeated Iran 73-65 later in the year. Iran losing 84-78 versus the Czech Republic just adds to this notable trend. Nevertheless, while some could say that Iran is due for their first win, so is the USA. The Americans have not lost multiple games since 2004. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, the USA lost 92-73 versus Puerto Rico, 94-90 against Lithuania, and 89-81 versus Argentina. Time will tell if the Americans can turn over a new leaf.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Bradley Beal never requested a trade, remains committed to Wizards

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This NBA offseason has been a frustrating one for some die-hard fans, especially Washington Wizards‘ fans. On June 18, 2021, news broke concerning shooting guard Bradley Beal announcing his commitment to play for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. A few weeks ago, it was reported by USA Basketball that Beal would not play in the Tokyo Olympics. And, this was because the 28-year-old three-time NBA All-Star had to enter the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Missouri native.

In an interview published by CBS Sports on July 15, 2021, regarding the chance to play for USA Basketball, Beal told CBS’ Michael Kaskey-Blomain, “It’s an honor. It’s something that you take for granted. Not a lot of guys in the league get this opportunity. We all know that. We didn’t live up to what we wanted to a few years ago (in the 2019 FIBA World Cup), and so now we have an opportunity to get back what’s rightfully ours.”

In 2010, Beal won the FIBA-Under 17 World Cup MVP. Though, everyone can see his passion for basketball. Needless to say, it is an awful experience for any athlete to have to bow out of the Olympics. In addition to this unfortunate news, there is all kinds of speculation across the Internet concerning Beal’s future with the Wizards. From Boston.com, it was reported two days ago that Beal would welcome a trade if he was moved to the Boston Celtics. The report also included three other teams: Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers. This latest news information was originally reported by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer. Last Saturday, Fischer stated, “Boston’s path to securing Beal would appear far more costly, as the Celtics’ offer almost certainly has to include Jaylen Brown and all of their future draft picks they are able to part with.”

Although the report could still be accurate, many fans are asking for more evidence to help support this claim. This is Beal’s team; he was drafted by Washington third overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Would the Wizards be wiling to trade their star player for Jaylen Brown and potential future draft picks? This remains to be seen. Plus, everyone should keep in mind that although Beal was open to a trade, at least he never demanded an immediate trade. The latest news is likely just trade rumors and meaningless gossip.

Moreover, the 2020-21 Wizards finished 34-38 (.472), ranking third in the Southeast Division and eighth overall in the Eastern Conference. The team lost four games to one in the first round of the postseason against the 76ers. The Wizards have not appeared in the NBA Finals since the 1978-79 season, and they have not won the championship since the 1977-78 season, when they defeated the Seattle Supersonics in Game 7 105-99. Not to mention, the Wizards were called the Bullets back then.

After the season ended, the organization agreed to part ways with head coach Scott Brooks. Perhaps Coach Brooks leaving the team is leading Beal to ask more questions about his own future. According to one report by NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk, Beal was irked over the organization hiring Wes Unseld Jr. over Sam Cassell for the vacant head coach position. How much does this play into trade talks?

Well, we all know that Beal is a competitive player, so three consecutive losing seasons by Washington might not be cutting it for him. Then again, a great player should be willing to give a new coach a chance. Last season, in 60 games played, the six-foot-three guard averaged 31.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. The 9-year NBA veteran also shot 48.5 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. In the 2021 All-Star Game, in 31 minutes played, Beal scored 26 points.

On October 17, 2019, Beal signed a two-year, $72 million extension with Washington. He earned $28.7 million this past season, and he will earn $34.5 million in the upcoming 2021-22 season. Beal’s player option for the 2022-23 season is also $37.2 million. So, folks should keep in mind that Beal is still showing his loyalty to the Wizards. He is only considering a trade request before the draft. The key word here is “considering.” Having said this, not even LeBron James is safe from a trade in this league. Ok, maybe only James is safe.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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