By: Same Page Team
After the All-Star break and the bonkers trade deadline, it was time to get Reynolds, Grant and Osubronie together for another Three for 3. Today they’re looking at the season so far and the final third to come.
1) Who is the League MVP at this point in the season?
I thought it would be at least three or four more years before I would have an MVP discussion without naming Lebron James or Kevin Durant. They are both having great seasons, but nagging injuries have hindered their ability to rise back to the top of the NBA throne. Luckily for the NBA, Steph Curry decided to step in and fill the void.
Once a liability himself because of constant injuries to his ankles, Curry has finally been able to showcase the talent we all knew he had. Combining the shot ability he learned from his father and an array of ball handling techniques, he has become of the most dangerous offensive threats in the NBA. Averaging 23/8/4 this season has put Curry near the top of many statistical categories and among the best players in the league. He’s also the best player on the Golden State Warriors, a team he has led to a franchise best 42-9 going into the All Star break. In a stacked Western Conference, Curry has shone brightest on the best team, one that leads the league in both points and assists per game.
The MVP should always be the given to the best player on the best team that year. Steph has proven every game this season that he is worthy of that honour. Chances are they won’t beat the Bulls record of 72-10, but getting this close, should get his team a spot in the NBA Finals and his first NBA MVP award.
It might be cliche to pick the league leader in scoring for MVP but when that player is also averaging 6.8 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game like James Harden is, it makes that cliche go down a little easier. He’s even playing defense this year! The other names you’ll hear in this category – Steph Curry, LeBron James, John Wall – all have a hell of a lot more help than Harden does.
What about Dwight Howard you ask? Well Dwight has missed 21 of the Rockets 53 games this season, battling a variety of injuries. He’s out right now, in fact. Beyond Dwight, the Rockets have been a team in flux throughout the entire season. The departure of Chandler Parsons and the addition of Trevor Ariza. Injuries to starters Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones. The Josh Smith experiment. Through it all, Harden has been there. He’s played every single game and has the Rockets currently sitting fourth, with a first round home court advantage in a Thunderdome-style Western Conference. They may lose that advantage over the next 29 games but it’s unlikely they’ll slip any lower than 7th. And it may not matter; their home-road split says it all. They’re 18-8 at home and 18-9 on the road, the most even split in the conference. They’re a steady, focused, playoff ready basketball team and at their centre is The Beard. Harden for MVP.
We’re going to forget about the New Orleans Pelicans because the didn’t make any trade deadline moves and appear to be sliding out of the playoff picture in the West. They’re still hanging around, one game above .500, despite a three game losing streak before the break. Unlike everyone other team in the league, there is one reason for this and one reason only: Anthony Davis.
The Pelicans, in case you didn’t know, currently start a disgruntled Eric Gordon and confused Tyreke Evans in the backcourt. Jrue Holiday, former All-Star, is injured. The small forward position is manned by somebody named Dante Cunningham. (They did just manage to trade the ghost of John Salmons though, so that’s something.) The team relies on off-the-bench minutes from Alexis Ajinca for God’s sakes. That’s everything the Pelicans are not, i.e. a good basketball team. Here’s what they are: Davis and his 24.5 points a game, 10.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 1.5 steals, 56 percent shooting, and a PER of 31.8, which would be the greatest single season PER of all-time. And this is on a team who’s second best player is the nominally one-dimensional Ryan Anderson. OK, forget all the numbers and names and remember this: the Pelicans could still make the playoffs but only – only – if Davis comes back from his recent shoulder injury soon and saves the season. It’s the only way. That’s how MVPs work.
2) What was the most significant move on deadline day?
I had a whole piece written on how the Chicago Bulls were the playoff dark horse this season. I had so much to say about them fighting through upper management turmoil and never ending injuries and still being a team to be feared in April. Then the NBA deadline happened and Goran Dragic was traded to Miami. As a Heat fan (no, I haven’t jumped ship to Cleveland), you can imagine my excitement. I dumped my Chicago idea and now here we are. A potential starting lineup of Dragic, a healthy Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside has put Miami back on the fast track to relevance.
Since Miami regressed after the departure of Lebron James, it seemed unlikely they would put up much of a playoff fight, assuming they even made it in. However, after acquiring Dragic, along with Whiteside’s ongoing campaign to get his NBA 2K rating up, Miami has now upgraded their weakest positions and seem set on digging themselves out of basement of playoff seeding. It’s been no secret that Wade has been on the Tim Duncan minutes plan, but he has been very effective when he on the floor. Bosh’s numbers are also back up to All-Star form. If Deng can muster up a second wind and return to the player he once was, Miami becomes a very dangerous first round match up. Luckily for the Heat, they also have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA.
For me it was the Oklahoma City Thunder acquiring a bench. While it might be just one ‘move’, it involved three teams and a multitude of players. The trade of Kendrick Perkins and his insane contract was a long time coming for this Thunder team. GM Sam Presti is facing a season wherein his best player, Kevin Durant, will be an upcoming free agent for the first time. This was the year he needed to go all out, to ensure that Durant knows OKC is committed to winning this year, next year and beyond. In one fell swoop, he shipped out Perkins and the disgruntled Reggie Jackson, landing several weapons the Thunder have sorely lacked the past several seasons. A skilled big man in Enes Kanter, a steady backup swingman in Kyle Singler, a solid backup point guard in DJ Augustin, and a three point specialist in Steve Novak. These are role players that are happy in their roles.
Suddenly the Thunder are ten men deep and will be a completely unrewarding match-up for either Golden State or Memphis in the first round – if they make it. They’re tied with Phoenix, who made their own bevy of moves on deadline day, for the eighth spot. It will be interesting to see if the new Thunder can gel quickly and take a firm hold on the eight seed. To skip ahead to our next question, the Thunder aren’t a dark horse to win a playoff round, they’re now a dark horse to win the whole damn thing. If they get in.
The Heat and OKC undoubtedly made the biggest moves to shore up teams that had obvious holes. (For the Heat, they needed a real point guard; the Thunder needed one less perimeter player who needs the ball.) But I like what the Portland Trail Blazers did at the deadline. They have a very good nucleus of players – LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lilliard, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum (though not this year), Robin Lopez. They’ve been eliminated from the playoffs before, but they’ve been a tough out. They’re close.
In adding Aaron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee, they’ve shored up a wing rotation that was depending on the sad sack Batum and a host of nobodies, basically. While Gee isn’t exactly a world mover, he’s shown to be an effective bench performer in seasons past. He’s also shooting 41 percent from three this season, so he fits in with what Portland needs.
The real star here of course is Afflalo, who if you recall was averaging 18.5 points a game just a season ago for a hopeless Orlando Magic team. He’s a good player and coupling him in lineups with Matthews and/or Batum give Portland that last bit of oomph they may need to survive the coming playoff onslaught. Look out.
3) Which team do you think is now the playoff dark horse?
After gleefully writing on how Dragic makes Miami the playoff dark horse, there is no doubt in my mind that the move was also the most significant trade on deadline day. Goran and his brother Zoran were sent to Miami for two first round picks and Danny Granger. The Heat also had to give up backup point guard Norris Cole, who is in the midst of a terrible season – no love lost there.
Dragic made is recently clear to the Phoenix Suns that he wanted to be traded before the deadline. After enjoying a career season playing alongside Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix decided to sign Isaiah Thomas and draft Tyler Ennis in the offseason. The Suns’ organizational plans ultimately disrupted the explosiveness and chemistry the team’s backcourt had exhibited the previous season. Seeing himself underused, Dragic became fed up and demanded a trade to either New York, Miami or the Los Angeles Lakers. Twenty minutes until the deadline expired, Pat Riley worked his magic once again and Dragic got his wish. Oddly enough, Phoenix also dealt Thomas and Ennis away so they could acquire the Bucks’ Brandon Knight. The Suns’ point guard decisions continue to mystify. Still, if Dragic brings his potent offensive game (20 points per game) to South Beach, Phoenix’s loss will definitely be Miami’s gain.
It might seem counter intuitive to pick someone other than OKC, given how much I raved about them just a few paragraphs ago. I think the Thunder are now on everybody’s radar, if they were ever actually off it. The team everyone is sleeping on is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their sizzling play lately has vaulted them back into the news, but the Cavs might be the only post-hype sleeper to fall from grace and sneak back to prominence all within the same season! Before the year, people were talking about Cleveland as a juggernaut, calling the Kevin Love and Lebron combination the best forward pairing since Bird and McHale and generally salivating about the NBA’s newest ‘Big Three’.
Like Miami in 2010, Cleveland took awhile to get it together, with rumours flying this way and that. David Blatt was inept, Kyrie Irving was a ball hog, Kevin Love was unhappy, LeBron was frustrated. Anderson Varejao surprised nobody by suffering a horrific injury. All looked grim. And then, well before yesterdays crazy deadline, the Cavaliers seized their own destiny by the short hairs. They dealt nitwit shooting guard Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City, replacing him with the Knicks JR Smith (essentially the rich mans Dion Waiters, funnily enough) and acquired centre Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets. LeBron returned from a two week ‘injury’ rejuvenated. Ever since, Cleveland has been on fire. They’re 14-5 since the Mozgov trade, including a tidy 12 game winning streak. They’re still sitting 5th in the East due to their slow start but they trail the second seeded Raptors by just four games and are only 1.5 games out of the three seed. The East gets discounted because its worst teams are so bad, but Cleveland might be finally living up to the hype and it should surprise absolutely nobody if they win the title.
The championship team has to come out of the West right? Given the general tire fire state of affairs in the East, it would be the height of comedy for one of those teams to win it all. Since everyone believes in the Warriors and the Grizzlies, I’ll go a little further down the standings with the good ol’Dallas Mavericks.
What’s this? Crazy talk? Peep this: the Mavericks still have one of the best net ratings in the NBA (that’s offensive rating minus defensive rating) at +6.1. Only the Hawks and Warriors are better. They have a championship pedigree with Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, the newly acquired Rajon Rondo (remember him?) and coach Rick Carlyle. They went down swinging last year in the first round in a seven game series against the eventual champion Spurs. OK, so they lost Vince Carter, but they added Amare Stoudemire just for fun!
No doubt the Mavs have some holes in their lineup (power foward and centre are still a bit of a problem), but I wouldn’t want to face off against playoff Rondo, Monta Ellis have it all, Chandler Parsons, Nowitzki and Chandler – with a bench of savvy vets (J.J Barea, Devin Harris, and yes even Stoudemire, good God Richard Jefferson) and, um, Raymond Felton. There’s just a lot of straight up know-how there and if I was Houston or Portland or the Clippers, I’d want no part of it.