By: Dan Grant and Dave Osubronie
The NBA is coming up to the All-Star Break, which means we’ve just passed the halfway point in the schedule. We’re starting to see the true face of this season now: who’s breaking out and who’s breaking down. With that in mind, Game 6ix‘s Dave Osubronie and I felt an itch — nay, a responsibility! — to review our pre-season NBA award picks.
I have to say, as predictions go, we were pretty terrible. Just straight up inaccurate. Not that our picks were ill advised at the time or anything, just hardly any of them have worked out the way we’d hoped. Predictions are like donuts. They look great, you want one, and then you’re eating it and thinking ‘But I don’t even like coconut cream’.
Hey, when you have a made-up job, zero real stakes and you make your predictions way too early, you’re bound to succeed, amirite?
With that sobering reality in mind, here are our best and worst picks, as well as a more hopeful prediction for the rest of the year.
Our Worst Picks
Osubronie: Rookie of the Year
I tried to be bold and pick an unknown player for my Rookie of the Year. I could have picked one of the top picks in the draft, Jahlil Okafor (like Grant did) or Karl Anthony Towns. Instead, I went with the 8th pick, Stanley Johnson. It wasn’t my worst prediction ever but it certainly wasn’t my best.
Johnson has had a half-decent rookie season so far and has been lauded by Stan Van Gundy for his play. I have no doubt that he will be a successful two way player in the league. However, a big reason Johnson has not achieved star status in his first year is because another rookie is taking all of the shine. He’s fourth in jersey sales this year, has a rap song dedicated to him and has one of the greatest nicknames of all time, Three-3-Latvia. Yes, I’m referring to Kristaps Porzingis.
Besides breaking some hearts when he was drafted, he has consistently dunked his way back into the hearts of Knick fans. Kevin Durant recently referred to him as a unicorn (a compliment, I swear) because of his exceptional skill as a seven footer. More importantly, he has the support of his teammate, Carmelo Anthony. The pair have brought the Knicks back to relevance with a 22-26 record, a vast improvement from the 8-37 they were at this time last year.
Basically, I would love to go back a few months and name him my rookie of the year but I can’t. With about four months left, maybe Johnson will redeem me and catapult himself into ROY contention and Porzingis will regress.
Grant: All-NBA First Team
I thought the Stanley Johnson pick was a long-shot at the time, but he did have a good training camp. With that said, the Zinger isn’t the reason Stanley isn’t in the limelight; it’s more the fact that he’s playing 22.5 minutes per game and shooting 39% from the floor. With that said, picking him was a sight smarter than what I did, when I put James Harden on my All-NBA First Team.
‘But Daniel’ you ask, shaking your head quizzically. ‘Isn’t your biggest mistake leaving LeBron OFF your first team?’
‘Oh sweet fool’ I intone pityingly. ‘Sit down, before you fall down’.
I actually think my reasoning for LeBron missing the first team is still sound. The Cavaliers have been a mess – but they’re still in first place in the Eastern Conference. LeBron did really stick it in my craw early on by saying he had set a goal of playing all 82 games this season, but with that already out the window, I fully expect us to see the King sitting more and more as the season progresses. Will it be enough to keep him off the First Team? With Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Paul George all vying for the forward spots, it’s certainly possible.
With all that that said, my worst pick was stupid James Harden. The guy finished second in MVP voting last season and then got involved with the Kardashians and went crazy. He’s gotten his coach fired, his teammates hate him and even though he’s second in the NBA in scoring and eighth in assists and just made his fourth All-Star team, I don’t think there’s any way he makes All NBA First Team, unless he goes completely en fuego down the stretch. Even then, he’d be hard pressed to usurp Russell Westbrook from the second guard spot, with the first of course going to Steph Curry (at least I got that one right!).
Our “Best” Picks
Osubronie: Most Improved Player
So did I finally get one right? Back in October, I picked Paul George to be the NBA’s Most Improved Player. I think it’s safe to say that I have this one in the bag. Not only has George returned to elite status, he was just voted in as a starter for the All Star game here in Toronto.
This was the only prediction I was actually worried about due to the severity of his injury. He claimed he was 100% when he returned last season with six games left but he didn’t look good. Even with the summer to get some additional strength training, his total recovery seemed bleak. Do you remember what his leg looked like? As far as injuries on the court go, it wasn’t as bad Shawn Livingston, but it’s still a memory that’s hard to shake.
Despite all of that adversity, George is posting career highs in points (23.6), rebounds(7.2) and steals (1.9). He has managed to accomplish this while still being one of the league’s premier defenders and a nightly highlight reel. Hopefully the rumours of fatigue are not true and he can continue to play at this level and lead Indiana back into the playoffs. If so, he will win the Most Improved award and I will finally have a prediction to hold over Grant’s head.
Grant: Most Valuable Player
I know you’re brimming with confidence David, but I really don’t think George is going to win that award. If the NBA still handed out its now defunct ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ award, George would be a shoe-in. But this is about overall improvement, and before his injury, George was already thought of as a superstar on the rise. The Most Improved hardware usually goes to someone who has been in the league, but has made a leap for the first time. In other words, it’s a guy like CJ McCollum, who I think is a lock.
At least your guy has a chance, though.
My own ‘best’ pick was hard to decide on, as I put forth a tepid pool of mediocrity this year. Ultimately, I went with Anthony Davis, even though he’s got no real shot at the MVP award at this point. That’s a four man ‘race’ with Steph Curry waaaaaaayyyy out front, followed by Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and LeBron.
This was supposed be the year of AD! Many people thought the Brow would take the league by storm this year and drag his team to the playoffs while dominating like the generational talent that he is.
I myself wrote the following:
‘Every now and again, we get to witness a player make the supreme leap. It’s usually a player with a middling supporting cast, who has to push himself to the absolute limits of his powers to drag his team to the playoffs. We’re talking 1971 Kareem, 1978 Moses, 1987 MJ, 2007 LeBron.’
So no, expectations couldn’t have been higher. Even though injuries have decimated the team around him and hampered his own effectiveness, we expected Davis to be the kind of player that could galvanize a season for his team. It just hasn’t happened.
The fact that he’s putting up a 22.9 points and 10.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game isn’t comforting, because all of those wonderful numbers are actually DOWN from last season. His PER is down too, though he’s still ranked 7th in the NBA. But I mean, look at those numbers! He’s an unreal player even in a ‘down’ year and I still expect him to be an MVP front runner for years to come.
I actually think Davis is setting up for a big second half, with expectations considerably lower and his team regaining some health, but we’ll have to wait at least another year for the Brow to leap to the next level.
Man, that was painful. Let’s turn our thoughts to the future.
The rest of the NBA season shouldn’t come with many surprises. Unless someone is seriously injured, the Warriors should dismantle the Cavaliers and repeat as champions.
The boldest move should come from our own Toronto Raptors. I see Masai Ujiri making a trade to finally get some stability at the power forward position. A trade before the deadline might be a bit surprising since the Raptors are currently riding a franchise-record ten game win streak, but it’s one that needs to happen. They sit right behind the Cavs at second in the Eastern conference, but they are 2-5 against the Cavs, Spurs, Warriors and Bulls, the leagues elite teams. Are any of these teams actually worried about playing Toronto in the playoffs? Without this move, Raptors fans could end up in the same embarrassing position as last April.
The Raps have improved greatly this season, and are now a top 10 offensive and defense team. However, we need a four who can mask the defensive liabilities of Jonas Valanciunas or offensive struggles of Bismack Biyombo. Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola and even James Johnson have had some nice moments, but again, consistency is key.
The problem with bringing in someone new right now, would be changing up team chemistry, which seems to be at an all time high. With all the GM’s here in Toronto for the All Star break, I’m convinced Masai once can again workout a deal that keeps the core happy and propels my hometown Raptors to elite status. #IBelieveInMasai
I actually completely agree with just about everything in that statement! What a weird sensation.
My prediction isn’t for the trade deadline. I think because of last years anarchy, everyone is expecting a repeat performance, and I just don’t see it. There are very few sellers on the market right now, with young teams like Utah, Detroit, Charlotte and Sacramento making playoff pushes and the dregs of the league — the Lakers, 76ers and Nets — seemingly having very little in the way of attractive assets. The stars just don’t really line up. Sure, Ryan Anderson or Jeff Teague will probably get moved, but overall, I don’t think we’ll see the flurry we saw last year.
My prediction is for the off-season, when I think that both Kevin Love and Blake Griffin will get traded. For each other.
Think about it.
Love is unhappy with his role in Cleveland, having been relegated to a third banana role by Coach David Blatt, and apparently having played a large role in his unprecedented mid-season firing. Blake just broke his hand by repeatedly punching a team employee and good friend in a late-night altercation here in Toronto. Neither guy is happy and neither franchise is happy with either guy. Seems like it’s time for a change, no?
The problem with trading a superstar is that you can never get equal value. It’s always a ‘four quarters for a dollar’ type of proposition. That is a real road block; unless you can move them for another superstar.
If it goes down, I don’t think it will happen until the summer, but all the pieces make sense. Both players are in their primes. Love is locked in for four more years after this season and Griffin still has two years on his deal, so neither can bolt. The salaries match-up for a one on one swap.
But why would either team make a move of this magnitude?
The big knock on Blake in LA is that he doesn’t space the floor well enough for the Clippers to play him and DeAndre Jordan at the same time. Insert Kevin Love, and that problem evaporates. Can you imagine a Chris Paul-Kevin Love pick and roll? Sweet fancy Moses. Throw in the fact that Love is a California kid with ties to Los Angeles and you’ve got a perfect situation.
Cleveland has Timofey Mozgov coming off the books this year and Anderson Varejao the next, and should be looking for a long term partner for Tristan Thompson as they play out the end of LeBron’s prime. They may think they have that in Kevin Love, and if Coach Tyronn Lue manages to get more out of him, the need for this deal might disintegrate. But Blake is the perfect complement for Cleveland, a singular talent who is still just 26, someone who passes well, can get his own shot and can play both the four and the five if the team wants to go small and run, as Coach Lue seems to want to do.
Blake is undoubtedly a more valued player than Love at this point in his career; but the fact the he’s only signed for two more years, and Love for four (under the old CBA no less) offsets the difference in their value.
It’s a match made in heaven.
All predictions are, when you first make them.