Avoiding A Sweep

AP Photo/Ben Margot

I, regrettably, did not pick the Golden State Warriors to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. I picked them in five, mostly due to Lebron James. I figured he would be able to steal a game somewhere. Unfortunately for Lebron, he can’t do it all himself.

After getting run off the court in Game 1, it’s pretty apparent that, barring injury or Mike Brown becoming….well, Mike Brown, we’re staring down a first championship for Kevin Durant. Side note, I love Mike Brown.

The Cavaliers have a lot to fix, but these are the most important things to a turnaround in the series for the Cavaliers.

1. Guard Kevin Durant

I’m not entirely sure if the “Ignore-Kevin-Durant-on-Defense” gameplan was a smart choice. It felt like Durant ran down the middle of the court, unimpeded,  for a dunk about 204728974 times. Part of the problem is that Lebron is just not the same lockdown defender that he was at the peak of his prime. Lebron still has a step on almost everyone on the planet, but Kevin Durant is an alien. Similar to Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard,  and other E.T.’s. Lebron can’t hang with Durant, but unfortunately he is probably the Cavs best option. Getting more length on Durant (Iman Shumpert) or someone to rough him up (Dahantay Jones, James Jones) would be the only option to give Lebron a break.

2. Use Less Bench

All that being said, the Cavs bench was awful. Deron Williams might as well have gone back to Brooklyn and the whole bench combined for 21 points, 5 less rebounds than Kevin Love alone, and 2 assists. This is where I think Lebron’s usage over the regular season and playoffs will bite Cleveland. Lebron and the rest of the starters are going to have two, maybe three guys that they can rely on for decent breaks. Kyle Korver has to step up, Iman Shumpert has to become a plus-wing defender and Richard Jefferson needs to travel back in time. Outside of those guys, I can’t see how you legitimately argue more than a couple minutes for anyone else.

3. Slow the Game Down

Trying to outrun the Warriors is a recipe for disaster, especially if the Cavs shrink their bench down. The Warriors are faster, smaller and younger than the Cavs. Slowing the game down and operating out of the half court will allow Cleveland to try to control the pace and get the starters some rest on the offensive end of the court.

4. Go Small…ish

Shrinking the bench gives Cleveland less options, but Tyronn Lue needs to get creative. Starting the same lineup, and then staggering Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love keeps Lebron at the 4 and closer to the basket. Using Lebron in a Draymond Green role on defense is probably their best bet to put defensive pressure on the Warriors and keep the games lower scoring.

5. Pull Draymond Green Away From the Basket

Conversely, cracking the Warrior code on defense requires removing the most important piece. When Green got in foul trouble early in the first quarter and had to come out of the game, Cleveland was able to take advantage and keep the game close. The biggest advantage Green gives the Warriors is playing close to the basket and sliding with help defense on anyone that comes into the paint. Going small and making Green guard a legit threat on the perimeter pulls him out of that role and opens up the lane. Green is the most important player for the Warriors and limiting his effectiveness is a must for Cleveland.

All-NBA Team Selections

Steve Dykes/Associated Press

This is a quick blast of our All-NBA first, second and third team selections. Enjoy tonights tipoff!

All-NBA First Team

  • BC Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • BC Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • FC Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • FC Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
  • FC Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

All-NBA Second Team

  • BC Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
  • BC James Harden, Houston Rockets
  • FC Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
  • FC Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
  • FC Paul George, Indiana Pacers

All-NBA Third Team

  • BC John Wall, Washington Wizards
  • BC Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
  • FC Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
  • FC LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
  • FC Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

NBA Division and Playoff Preview

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In a rapid fire of posts today before tonights games, we’re going to start with our picks for each Division, including the over/under picks. I’ll also give my playoff teams at the end, including my picks for the Finals, and this seasons champion.

Eastern Conference

  • Atlantic Division
  1. Boston Celtics over 52.5
  2. Toronto Raptors over 50
  3. New York Knicks over 40.5
  4. Philadelphia Sixers under 25
  5. Brooklyn Nets under 21.5
  • Central Division
  1. Cleveland Cavaliers over 57
  2. Indiana Pacers over 45.5
  3. Detroit Pistons under 44.5
  4. Chicago Bulls over 40.5
  5. Milwaukee Bucks over 36
  • Southeast Division
  1. Atlanta Hawks over 43.5
  2. Washington Wizards under 42.5
  3. Charlotte Hornets under 40.5
  4. Miami Heat over 35
  5. Orlando under 37

 

Western Conference

  • Northwest Divison
  1. Oklahoma City Thunder over 45
  2. Portland Trail Blazers over 45.5
  3. Minnesota Timberwolves over 42.5
  4. Utah Jazz under 47
  5. Denver Nuggets over 37
  • Pacific Divison
  1. Golden State Warriors over 66.5
  2. Los Angeles Clippers over 54
  3. Sacramento Kings under 32.5
  4. Los Angeles Lakers over 25.5
  5. Phoenix Suns under 29
  • Southwest Division
  1. San Antonio Spurs over 57
  2. Houston Rockets over 44
  3. Dallas Mavericks over 40
  4. Memphis Grizzlies under 44
  5. New Orleans Pelicans under 36.5

 

Playoff Teams

Eastern Conference

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Indiana Pacers
  5. Atlanta Hawks
  6. Detroit Pistons
  7. New York Knicks
  8. Washington Wizards

Western Conference

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. San Antonio Spurs
  3. Los Angeles Clippers
  4. Houston Rockets
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trail Blazers
  7. Minnesota Timberwolves
  8. Dallas Mavericks

And my picks for the Finals are the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with the Warriors winning in 5 games.

NBA Preview: Most Valuable Player

Photo: Mark D. Smith, USA TODAY Sports

In the final award preview post, we’re going to take a look at the the MVP race. I have a somewhat controversial list, as Steph Curry is not on it. After winning it the past two years, unanimously last season, I think there’s 0% chance the voters give it to him again. Adding Durant will pull votes from him anyway, and I just don’t see any way that Steph gets it.

That being said, there are definitely some familiar names on here, all for different reasons. Let’s check it out.

Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

You have to put the best player in the league on the list. Period. Lebron may have been coasting a bit last year, but that may not be the case this season. He was angry that Steph won it last season, and it showed in the Finals. If Lebron feels like making the point definitive, he could play in 72 games, try every night and get the Cavs to the best record in the league, even over the looming Golden State team. Conversely, Lebron could see the big picture and choose to rest his body for another shot at Golden State in the playoffs. Ultimately, I see Lebron as the big picture guy, however keyed in Lebron is bar none the best player in the league.

Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

And looking at Lebron from the opposite coast is Kevin Durant. While I think there’s no chance Steph wins it, I do think he pulls some votes from Durant. So, there’s only one scenario where Durant has a shot. If he can lead Golden State to another record-breaking season (upper 70’s in wins) and average the numbers he did last season in Oklahoma City (28.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5 apg) then I can see the voters being compelled to give it to him. Before the preseason, I didn’t know how likely this was. However,  after watching the flow and chemistry on the court already for the Warriors, I think it’s definitely on the table.

James Harden, Houston Rockets

An underdog in terms of the betting odds, Harden is an intriguing option. Under the Mike D’Antoni offense, and running the point this season officially, Harden could have a monster year and bring the Rockets right along with him. Make no mistake, the Rockets won’t play any sort of defense, but they also might average 110 points per game. Harden could finish in the 30 ppg, 9 apg range and that would be enough if the Rockets get to a top seed in the West.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Westbrook is going to play like a man possessed. It’s in his wiring. So let’s look at the differences between last season with Durant and the 2014-15 season without Durant.

  • 2015-16: 23.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 10.4 apg, PER 27.6
  • 2014-15: 28.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 8.6 apg, PER 29.1

Now, obviously the points and PER were higher without Durant, and that may be enough to warrant the award. But I think Westbrook will need a better showing both in team record and teammate stats to pull it out. He does have a better supporting cast this season than a couple years ago, but Russell will still need to prove it.

My Pick: Russell Westbrook

NBA Preview: Defensive Player of the Year

TOM REEL, STAFF / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

This is my personal favorite award. It may have something to do with the very creepy Mike Ryan song about Draymond Green from a couple seasons ago found here. But I’ve always appreciated the emphatic block or jump into the lane for the breakaway steal more than the dunk that follows. While nobody can defensively light up the crowd like Steph Curry does with his 3’s, these players get the nod as the most likely to do so.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Leonard is the reigning two-time DPOY and it’s easy to see why. Averaging 6.8 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.4 bgp last season, he is definitely helped by the Spurs culture and commitment to defense. However, with Tim Duncan retiring this offseason, Kawhi is now the face of the franchise (not named Gregg Popovich). Look for him to take that mantel and run with it. Kawhi also had a fantastic 26 PER as well, and finished tied for second in defensive win shares (5.5).

Ideal Starting Lineup: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Probably the most versatile defender in the league, Draymond has definitely made a name for himself. Last seasons issues in the playoffs not withstanding, he is still one of the best defenders in the league and will continue to be that for the Warriors this season. Earning a 19.3 PER and averaging 9.5 rpg are impressive numbers for a guy that’s listed at 6’7” playing the 4/5 positions. However, Green’s numbers don’t reflect the presence he has on the court, as well as the effect he has on his teammates defense. I don’t know that he will be able to overshadow the Warriors offensive players, but if he can anchor their defense, he could finally breakthrough for the award.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

Drummond is the centerpiece to the Pistons rebuild, and in year two of the Stan Van Gundy era, many expect them to make a leap this year. Drummond is a big reason for that. He averaged 14.8 rpg last year, and with a 24.5 total rebounding percentage, he knows where to be at all times. He was also tied with Leonard in DWS (5.5). Van Gundy has gotten the best out of a defensive center in the past (Dwight Howard) and could have another gem on his hands.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond

Al Horford, Boston Celtics

Horford has never been awarded any defensive awards in his 9 year career, and only had 4.5 DWS last season. He averaged 1.5 bpg and had a block percentage of 3.6. Now enter the Celtics. Their commitment to team defense, as well as the length and athleticism on the outside, are the reason Horford is a darkhorse for DPOY this year. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder could easily be on this list as well, but I believe if anyone on that team has a chance, it’s Horford. The DPOY award usually benefits the front court players, with acknowledgment to Kawhi.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Al Horford

Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

The biggest question is if Whiteside loses motivation now that he has his big contract. If he does, which is a very real possibility if the Heat struggle without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, then Miami will look like fools. However, if he elevates even further, and develops himself as a more pure defender, we could be dealing with something flat out terrifying. Since joining the Heat, about a season and a half worth of games, some off the bench, he is averaging 11.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg, and has a PER of 25.7. He is an exceptional athlete and if he harnesses his potential, Whiteside may walk away with the award and lead the Heat into the playoffs again.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Hassan Whiteside

My Pick: Kawhi Leonard

NBA Preview: Most Improved Player

The MIP is is typically an award reserved for second year players making the adjustments learned from their first year in the league and bench players finally given the opportunity to start (sometimes a combination of both). This year is not much different, with one exception. We’ll start by looking at the exception.

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Adams is one of my favorite players in the NBA due mostly to his personality and look. He looks like a pirate and it’s fantastic. Last season he averaged 8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and had a slightly above average PER of 15.5. He made a difference in the playoffs for the Thunder and, in my opinion, cemented himself as the starting center on this team. Eyes Kanter is offensively talented, but depending on how much Russell Westbrook is relied on as the primary (and possibly only) scorer on the team, they may want to go with the defensive anchor of Adams over Kanter. If that’s the case, look for Adams to have a monster year.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Kyle Singler, Ersan Ilyasova, Steven Adams

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

Turner flashed his low post dominance last season, getting to a 15.4 PER despite only putting up 10.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg. Turner projects as a defensive anchor for the Pacers going into the future, and given the opportunity to start, should flourish. The presence of Al Jefferson will give Turner an experienced old head to learn from and grow his offensive abilities.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner

D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Before we go on, let me say this. All four of the players on this list are players I really enjoy watching. Russell is someone I have really high hopes for and I think that he has matured and grown a lot since the nightmare that was his rookie season. Russell averaged 13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 3.3 apg last year, but only had a 13.2 PER with 0 win shares. Advanced metrics don’t love Russell, but his growth should change things in that department.

Ideal Starting Lineup: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Probably the most intriguing player from last seasons draft, Porzingis could be in for a big time season. Averaging 14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg and earning a PER of 17.7 in your rookie year is no small feat. The additions of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in the offseason have elevated expectations in an already hungry New York market. Add in Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks fans are understandably excited. Look for the Knicks to sneak back into the playoffs this year potentially.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis

My Pick: D’Angelo Russell

NBA Preview: Rookie of the Year

Well, this race got very interesting. Before Ben Simmons’ injury earlier this month, the wide belief was that he would have the award essentially locked up. He’s one of the few rookies that were expected to start right away, and his talent is undeniable. However, in the wake of his injury, that leaves a thin field of options due mostly to the fact that most of the rookies in this years class aren’t expected to start.

Regardless, there will be a Rookie of the Year awarded this season, and I have my top four most likely candidates, as well as my pick for who will win the award.

Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Considered, along with Simmons, to be one of the most talented prospects in the draft, Ingram is coming off a great freshman season at Duke. He averaged 17.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 2 apg. He’s a legit threat from outside, and his long frame should at least make things difficult for opposing players. The downside for Ingram is that he’ll be starting the season behind Luol Deng to start. He could play his way into the starting lineup with the rest of the Lakers youth movement, but until that time, I wouldn’t bank on Ingram for the award.

Ideal Starting Lineup: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov

Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves

Dunn has a similar problem as Ingram. He’ll start the season behind Ricky Rubio, but could outplay Rubio. Minnesota seems bullish on him, but if Rubio doesn’t start hitting some shots, it’s going to get a lot tougher to justify keeping him in the starting rotation. Enter Dunn. Dunn averaged 16.4 ppg and shot 37% from behind the 3 point line. He’s an NBA ready point guard that one would assume is the future at the position for the Wolves.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns

Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans

Hield will get a slight leg up on the competition to start the season due to Tyreke Evans’ knee injury. Also, the unfortunate situation with Jrue Holiday and his wife will leave the backcourt fairly inexperienced, as Langston Galloway looks to fill his role on the team until Holiday feels it’s the right time for him to return. Hield had a phenomenal senior year at Oklahoma, averaging 25 ppg and shooting 46% from 3 point range. Hield will have to adjust quickly, but if he can find the spark early, he could make enough noise to earn the trophy.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Terrance Jones, Anthony Davis

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia Sixers

By now, everyone has been tipped off to this, but Embiid is now a favorite to win the Rookie of the Year. The talent is there, it’s always been a matter of his health. He’s healthy entering the season, and if he can stay healthy, he has an excellent chance at winning the award. Embiid has looked great thus far in preseason games, and has added a 3 point shot to his skill set. He could develop into one of the best bigs in the league, and everyone has been put on notice.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid

My Pick: Joel Embiid