NBA Opening Night Quick Hitters

Opening night in the NBA featured two great opening games, games that could be a predictor of both the Eastern and Western Conference finals next spring. Cleveland and Houston were victorious on opening night, a Tuesday evening that featured highlights and lowlights. Let’s take a look at some things of note and (likely) overreactions coming out of Tuesday nights opening slate:

Hayward Injured

First things first, the Gordon Hayward injury was as gruesome as it gets, and nothing in this article will replicate the sheer sound and reaction that took place early in the first quarter in Cleveland. It will be hard for the Celtics to replace Hayward and the firepower he would have given the Boston offense. The most important thing is to send positive thoughts Hayward’s way and hope for the quickest, healthiest recovery possible.

Boston Still Has Young Talent

While the Celtics will miss Hayward’s presence, back-to-back draft picks, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, both showed a ton of promise on opening night. Brown scored 25 points and looked comfortable within the offense. While he shot a poor 2-9 from the Three-Point line, and registered zero assists, his ability to score looks to be improved over his rookie campaign. He also continues to show that he will be a plus defender for the entirety of his career. Tatum looked very comfortable for a rookie making his debut on the road. He finished with his first career double-double and showed that he will be a key factor in the Celtics offense. Tatum will undoubtedly take his lumps as a rookie, but it is going to be a treat for fans to watch his development as he begins to get his feet wet in the league.

Kyrie and Lebron

It was great to see the mutual respect between LeBron and Kyrie at the end of the game. Following a nasty summer breakup, it was good to see the divisiveness off the court was not able to trump the respect for their games on the floor.

Cavs Played Small Ball

Cleveland went small with their starting lineup of Rose/Wade/LeBron/Crowder/Love. Coach Tyronn Lue will tweak the lineups throughout the season, when intermittent rest becomes a priority for Rose/Wade/Bron. Plus, it will be interesting to see how the rotation looks once Isaiah Thomas is back from his injury. Jae Crowder struggled from Three Point land (1-5) on Tuesday, but he will serve as an upgrade over the streaky JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.

Durant a Millisecond Late

Kevin Durant’s game winner was just a touch too late, as the Rockets upset the Warriors to open the season. It is not even close to time to hit the panic button on the Warriors, but it was surprising to see them drop the home opener.

Houston’s Bench Was Deep

Houston’s bench outscored Golden State’s 58-48 on the strength of 20 point outings from PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon and was a key in the victory. If Houston is going to have a chance at contending with the Warriors come May, the bench will need to continue to be as productive as possible. Gordon is a lethal 6th man in a Mike D’Antoni coached offense, while PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute must continue to produce on both ends off the bench for the Rockets. Nick Young looks to be a good pick-up for the Warriors if he plays within himself and becomes a consistent scoring threat off of the bench.

CP3 Still The Same Floor General

Chris Paul only scored 4 points, and struggled from the floor in his Houston debut, but he played extremely well in every other facet of the game. He chipped in 11 assists (to only one turnover), and grabbed 8 rebounds and showed great command of the offense. The dynamic between Harden and Paul will be interesting to follow as the season progresses, but so far so good 1/82nd of the way through the season.

Off Night For the Golden State Trio

Durant/Curry/Thompson combined for ONLY 58 points, which was as much as the Houston bench. No cause for concern, as it was opening night, but an interesting statistic that caught my eye while looking through the Box Scores from last night.

NBA opening night 2017 was an interesting one, setting the tone for many more compelling nights of NBA hoops forthcoming this season.

Predicting the NBA MVP Race for 2017-2018

Last NBA season featured one of the most exciting MVP races in NBA history, with Mr. Triple Double himself Russell Westbrook ultimately taking home the honors. Trailing close behind James Harden, a scary weapon in a Mike D’Antoni coached system, Kawhi Leonard, who was the best two-way player in the league last season (not named LeBron of course), and James, who has been a fixture in the MVP race every year for going on a decade. With all the moves made during the off-season, the front-runners are a less clear, and that lack of clarity should make for yet another thrilling MVP race during the 2017-2018 season. With training camp and preseason underway, it is time to look at the front-runners and potential dark horses in this year’s MVP race.

• Front-runners

NBA MVP

o LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers

Another season, and another year where LeBron is the undisputed best player in the NBA. LeBron will have to shoulder a heavier load early on in the season with Kyrie Irving gone, and Isaiah Thomas out until at least the all-star break. LeBron is bound to slow down eventually (maybe), but Cleveland will need him to play like prime LeBron to stay even with the Celtics out East until his support is fully healthy. The only thing that scares me about Bron’s odds is the potential for Lue to limit his minutes (as he should) when he gets the chance to.

o Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio Spurs

Leonard was nothing short of incredible during his first season in the AD (After Duncan era). He is a stalwart defensively and has turned into one of the most dominant offensive wing players in recent memory. San Antonio is getting older, but they are still going to win a lot of games and Kawhi will be most responsible for those W’s. Kawhi is one of the most reserved players in the league. If he continues to improve like he has from season to season since entering the league, we may have one of the drier acceptance speeches ever. His play on the court is plenty exciting enough to make up for that.

NBA MVP

o Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

The Greek Freak made one of the bigger leaps in the NBA last season, going from a player with massive potential to one of the best players in the league. However, the scariest part is that Giannis is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. He will once again be manning the point guard position for the Bucks and will lead a team that has an opportunity to play itself into home court advantage in the Eastern Conference. If Milwaukee can grab the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference race it will largely be on the shoulders of Giannis and that should propel him into the thick of this season’s MVP race.

o Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans

Davis is the best “young” player in the NBA and is still 2-3 years away from his prime. While the Pelicans are far from a contender (unless were discussing must watch teams on League Pass), Davis should put up some absolute monster numbers this season. Brow would need to average close to 28-14-5-2 and get the Pelicans in the playoffs to have a chance here, but would we really be all that shocked if he were able to accomplish this? I’m just keeping my fingers crossed Davis (and the rest of the league for that matter) stay healthy throughout the entirety of the season.

o Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors repeating as NBA champs this season seems like the most likely outcome and Durant will once again be their best player. While the Warriors have too many weapons for Durant to be the favorite, the best player on the best team will always be a contender for the MVP award. While it is hard to envision Durant winning, leaving the 2nd best player in the league off of the MVP front-runner list does not seem right.

• Darkhorse Candidates

NBA MVP

o Russell Westbrook- Oklahoma City Thunder

Leaving the reigning MVP off of the front-runner list seems wrong, but Westbrook should see the wins rise as his averages fall, even if just slightly. Following up only the 2nd triple double season in NBA history is going to be a hard act to follow, especially with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Russ is still the most exciting player in the league, and will remain among the league’s elite, but it is hard to see him repeating as the MVP in 2017-2018.

o James Harden – Houston Rockets

Harden, the runner-up last season, is another name that was tough to relegate to the dark horse section, but it will be hard to top what he did last season. With the addition of Chris Paul, Harden will be playing off the ball more than he did last season, and his usage will surely go down with someone who needs the ball as much as CP3. Harden will still be an all-star and his numbers will be eye-opening, but it would take a monumental effort, and some down years for some of the front-runners to see Harden winning the award this season.

NBA MVP

o John Wall – Washington Wizards

Wall was one of the best players in the league over the last half of the ’16-’17 campaign and was the East’s 2nd best player by seasons end. Wall is going to put up monster numbers and average a double-double while helping to position the Wizards amongst the top half of the Eastern Conference this season. Whoever finishes higher in the East between the Wizards and the Bucks could determine who plays a role at the end of the MVP race between Wall and Giannis.

o Steph Curry – Golden State Warriors

Curry will face the same strengths (best team in the league) and weaknesses (lot of touches to go around) as his teammate Durant, but one of the two could pose an MVP case by seasons end. I would be surprised to see Curry win this award, but a top 5 player on the league’s best team is always a potential threat to take home the league’s highest individual honor. Curry will likely be okay with back-to-back championships come June of 2018.

o Jimmy Butler – Minnesota Timberwolves

Butler ‘s story is nothing short of incredible, and reuniting with Thibs and the exciting young nucleus in Minneapolis will serve as a reminder as to how good he could is. Butler will need to provide veteran leadership and help get KAT, Wiggins and company to the Western Conference playoffs. If Minnesota can make the postseason, Butler figures to be at worst a minor factor in the MVP race. While Karl Anthony Towns is likely to find his name on this list for at least a decade and change to come, this year it is Butlers time to shine.

 

It will be interesting to see the MVP race unfold this season, and see who steps up to claim the award in 2017-2018. The NBA may lack parity in elite teams, but it is not lacking on talent, and that should ensure incredibly tight MVP races for years to come. The NBA is in great hands from the top down, and it will be awesome to watch which players insert themselves in the MVP conversation over the next few years and beyond.

@DGunnerHG

Breaking: Kyrie Irving traded to Celtics in Blockbuster Trade

Tuesday nights in late August are generally reserved for three things when it comes to the sports news cycle; Major League Baseball, Pre-Season NFL Football and the Little League World Series. However, in 2017, the NBA refused to be outdone as superstar point guard Kyrie Irving was granted his wish to be traded out of Cleveland. The lucky suitor? None other than Cleveland’s toughest competition in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics. In a rare trade between inter-conference rivals, the Cavs sent Hoop Group alum Kyrie Irving to the Celtics in exchange for Isiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 1st round pick (which figures to be a top 3-5 pick next summer). Let’s take a look at how each addition will add to their respective rosters, how this effects the Eastern Conference race and how the two teams now stack up against each other.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics added Kyrie Irving in Tuesday’s blockbuster trade. While he brings a lot of similar skills to the table as Isaiah Thomas, Irving is bigger, a better scorer and is someone Boston can solidify as the face of the franchise for the next decade. Irving will be a slight upgrade on defense from IT, mainly due to his size, and Marcus Smart will be a perfect compliment as a backup for Irving to help mask those defensive deficiencies that still plague Irving. With the acquisition of Irving the Celtics lineup will probably be the following:

Kyrie Irving
Gordon Hayward
Jaylen Brown
Marcus Morris
Al Horford

Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier figure to play key roles off the bench. This lineup will be better offensively than the ’16-’17 outfit and slightly worse defensively across the board. The Celtics still did not address the glaring rebounding issues from last season. However, on sheer talent, this will be the toughest team LeBron has had to deal with in the East in a long time. It will be interesting to see how they mesh together under Brad Stevens. The Celtics also parted with a lot of assets to get Irving. Irving is a slight upgrade over Thomas, but Crowder will fit in perfectly with the Cavs and the Nets pick figures to be top 5 in what is shaping up to be a LOADED 2018 NBA draft. Irving will fit in seamlessly in Boston, but is it enough to dethrone the King? Only time will tell. Regardless, if they fall short in ’17-’18, Danny Ainge has set the Celtics up to be one of the premier teams in the East for the foreseeable future, and the conference favorites if LeBron bolts West next summer.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland picked up two impact roster pieces, a likely top 5 pick in June of 2018 and depth in the front court for parting with Irving. Isaiah Thomas will be able to pickup the scoring slack left behind by Irving and give LeBron a great 2nd option offensively. Thomas also allows Cleveland to limit the minutes of Derrick Rose in the hopes that he can stay healthy and effective, especially come playoff time. Thomas is a net negative defensively, and imaging Thomas/Rose chasing around the Warriors in the finals (if they make it) is a nightmare that will haunt Cavs fans come June 2018 (again if they beat the Celtics). Crowder is a perfect compliment to the Cavs offense, an upgrade over the current wing players on the roster and will toughen up the Cavs perimeter defense. Zizic was a 2016 1st round selection for the Celtics and has potential to become a solid piece for the Cavs well beyond the ’17-’18 campaign, as will the pick coming from the Nets for the 2018 draft. The Cavs lineup figures to be the following:

Isaiah Thomas
Jae Crowder
Lebron James
Kevin Love
Tristan Thompson

Rose, Smith, Shumpert, Green and Korver will all see minutes off of the bench for Cleveland, although it will be interesting to see if they make any deals towards the deadline and how they will tighten their rotations over the course of the season. Overall, I think this trade does not hurt the Cavs and does nothing to unseat them as the favorites in the East next year. They still have the best player on the planet, 2 other all-stars and a good crew of role players. LeBron is a year older and the Celtics are supremely talented, but I refuse to pick against the King in the Eastern Conference until someone dethrones him. However, this move does not make them a more dangerous threat to Golden State or whoever happens to come out of the West.

A month ago Kyrie bet on himself, requesting a trade to leave from under LeBron’s wing and join a team where he is the man. In Boston he will get the opportunity to do just that and dethrone the King along the way. While the NBA offseason is one of the best dramas going today, I, for one, cannot wait for this NBA season to tip-off as the Cavs and Celtics open up against each other in October. 2017-2018 is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in a long time.

Kyrie Irving – A Superstar Taking a Gamble

kyrie irving

Shockwaves were sent throughout the basketball world just a few days ago when it was announced that Kyrie Irving is looking to be traded away from the Cleveland Cavaliers – furthermore, outside the large shadow of LeBron James.

Various reasons have been thrown out: a beef with James and trying to get ahead of the King’s exit in 2018 have been the prominent ones. The deeper you get into NBA Twitter, the thicker and foggier the smoke gets. Regardless of the reason, or the time-table in which that is discovered, this move signals that Irving is ready to go all in on himself as the man to deliver a franchise to the promise land. Kyrie was the man in Cleveland before LeBron, but asking a 19-22 year old to deliver a franchise deep into the postseason is an unfathomable weight to hoist onto the shoulders of any NBA player. Even Lebron himself could only do as well as a 4-0 sweep in Finals in his first stint in Cleveland.

Do Lebron and Kyrie Have Beef?

With LeBron, Kyrie has been a great sidekick for James, being able to shoulder scoring and ball handling duties that relieves pressure for the NBA’s best player. With one ring, three Finals appearances and a championship clinching shot, Kyrie has continued to blossom. Now he feels that he is ready to be the ball dominant player on a team, and lead said team to the postseason.

The rumors of his possible landing spots is a fairly decent list: San Antonio to team with Kawhi and a return home to New York seem to be the hottest two rumors of the last few days. Kyrie has also been mentioned as a candidate to land in Minnesota, Miami or even as a replacement for CP3 in LA . Regardless of where he lands, Kyrie has stepped up to the plate, and is going all in on himself to thrive away from Lebron. As Jason Concepcion notes in his article for The Ringer, “Kyrie is courting failure on a scale that should command our respect.” Regardless of where you see Kyrie in the pantheon of NBA players, specifically Point Guards, he is willing to potentially buck the trend of superstars joining super teams to preserve their legacies with rings.

While the results of Irving’s gamble remain to be seen, it takes a lot of guts for someone to bet on themselves. Salute to you Uncle Drew, I’ll always pull for the person who is willing to gamble on themselves.