Cavs Need to Keep Kevin Love as Second Option When Thomas Returns

October was a month to forget for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With so many changes to their roster, the Cavs struggled to gel right out of the gate. They looked like five individuals on the court instead of a team. However, thanks to a thirteen game win streak, Cleveland is sitting at 24-10 and first place in the Central Division. Oh, and they are still waiting for their point guard to play.

Increased production from a number of people led to the Cavaliers turnaround. Yes, Lebron James is and always will be the driving force behind this team, but the most important player so far this season has been Kevin Love. Averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, Love looks like the all-star Cleveland traded for years back.

The biggest reason for the transformation has been the departure of Kyrie Irving. With Irving gone and Isaiah Thomas out, Cleveland needed a second option to help Lebron. This need for scoring gave Love something he never really had in a Cavalier uniform: freedom.

Being a third option is hard. Your touches are limited, and you are expected to produce high output with a smaller amount of touches than you’re accustomed to. Any NBA fan saw Love struggle in this role. Many NBA players do struggle in this role. But this year is different. This year Love is the number two guy, and he is rewarding Cleveland.

Love’s great start to the season is a call to head coach Ty Lue. With Isaiah Thomas getting closer to return, Kevin Love needs to remain the second option behind Lebron. While the idea seems easy, the actual doing could prove to be tough. Thomas is coming off his best season as a pro by far. He is in a contract year, will have the ball in his hands as the point guard, and you know is just itching to make his mark in Cleveland. While Thomas is not a selfish player by any means, putting the ball in a score-first point guard’s hands could take touches away from everyone else.

Coming off a career year and being asked to play third fiddle is a rough thing to handle for an elite competitor. However, as difficult as this may be, Thomas needs to do so for the betterment of the Cavaliers. Love has showed what he can do when given the keys. His numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, whereas Thomas is looked at as more of a “one hit wonder.” Being the point guard, Thomas will also be able to affect the game in a non-scoring way more than Love can from the four position.

The Cleveland Cavaliers appeared to have found their groove. Despite the slow start, they are looked at yet again as the team to take down in the Eastern Conference. While adding another all-star to this hot team may seem like having your cake and eating it too, every player needs to understand their role coming out of the integration. Lebron is still King, and Kevin Love needs to be second in command. It just has to happen.

NBA Christmas Slate Full of Gifts

The holidays have become synonymous with family, giving, spreading and cheer and also, for basketball fans, the NBA. Every year the NBA hosts a five game slate on Christmas, and when the schedule is as good as it is this season it serves as a wonderful Holiday gift to basketball junkies everywhere. From individual match-ups to a rematch of the last three NBA finals, the 2017 slate has something for everyone. It will provide a day full of meaningful and fun basketball. Let’s take a look at the match-ups and what to look out for on Monday:

New York vs. Philadelphia

The Christmas day slate kicks off with a game featuring two of the more fun (surprisingly) teams to watch so far this season, as the Knicks and the Sixers face off at Madison Square Garden. Philadelphia has Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid who are one of the most talented duos in the entire league. Embiid’s been day-to-day with some back soreness, but should be good to go for Monday’s contest. Philly is the best rebounding team in the league (48.4/game) and 3rd in assists (26.2/game) which is spurred by the passing of their two young superstars. The Sixers have struggled mightily in the month of December, as they have dropped 9\nine of their last ten contests. Monday represents a good chance for them to get out of their funk and get some positive momentum heading into 2018.

On the other side the Knicks are surging as they have won six of their last ten games, and stand as one of the most improved teams.. While he still has growing (game wise, hopefully for everyone else not height wise) to do, Kristaps Porzingis has at times played at a superstar level so far during this season. Porzingis and Embiid (as long as he plays) is going to be an extremely fun match-up to watch of two of the best young and versatile big men in the league. It also needs to be mentioned that Michael Beasley has been on a tear of late and is one of the most fun guys to watch over the last two weeks, like his 18 point 4th quarter against the Celtics earlier this week. While this is the first game between the two Atlantic division foes, the Knicks have the slight edge, especially if Embiid is not playing at 100%.

Cleveland at Golden State 

The rematch of the last three NBA Finals, and potentially again in 2018, square off for the first time this season on Christmas Day in the Bay (fingers crossed this is the only rhyming within the article). Both teams have been on hot of late. The Warriors have won 11 of their last 12. and the Cavs are winners of 19 of their last 21 games after overcoming a slow start. Both teams will not be at fll strength. The Cavs will be without their top two point guards in Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose, and the Warriors will be down Zaza Pachulia, Shaun Livingston and potentially Draymond Green, although he was given the green light from the Warriors medical staff last night. While it will certainly be a better and hopefully healthier match-up come June, there is still a lot of reasons to watch the game on Xmas afternoon.

For starters LeBron has been as dominant as he has been at any time in his career. He is a leading MVP candidate along with James Harden, and is shooting 57% from the field and 41% from 3. Kevin Love has quietly been having one of the best seasons of his career, and has been huge in his role as the second option for Cleveland. As far as the Warriors are concerned they are back to business as usual. Curry and Durant are both averaging 26.3 points per contest, with Klay Thompson chipping in almost 21 a game. Draymond Green has given them the same versatility on both ends as always, and rookie Jordan Bell has been giving the team great minutes with Pachulia out and injured. The Warriors are the better team and at home, so I expect them to win, but this is the best match-up of teams during the whole Christmas day lineup.

Washington at Boston

John Wall and Kyrie Irving will serve as by far the best point guard match-up on Christmas Day, but the two teams are on opposite ends of the playoff picture a third of the way into the season. While the Celtics have been struggling as of late, losing five of ten, they still hold the best record in the Eastern Conference and stand as the lone viable threat to take out the Cavs out East. The Wizards have not quite been as good as they were thought to be going into the season, but so far they still lead their division. John Wall has struggled with some injury issues thus far, and it has played a huge factor into the Wizards slow start. Marcus Morris will miss the game for the Celtics and is the only player ruled out thus far for Monday evening.

While Wall has struggled both on the court at times, and off the court with injuries this season, Bradley Beal has continued to develop into one of the best shooting guards in the league. Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre both continue to improve and give Washington quality depth out on the wing. Getting Wall healthy and playing back at the level we all know he is capable of is imperative in getting the Wizards trending back up the Eastern Conference standings. Meanwhile, the Celtics are trying to right the ship a little bit at home on Christmas. While everyone has been talking about Kyrie Irving and rookie Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown has started to show signs of putting it all together, which is a proposition that should scare everyone in the NBA. Celtics should win this game at home, but Washington desperately needs to add some big wins to their record, which should have them coming in hungry and ready to go.

Houston at Oklahoma City

There is no match-up on Christmas day that features two teams on polar (no Xmas pun intended) opposite ends of the spectrum than Houston and OKC. Houston has the NBA’s best record (25-6), the player leading the MVP race (James Harden) and Chris Paul, who when healthy has still yet to lose a game in a Rockets uniform. Oklahoma City has struggled to find any consistent chemistry between superstars Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but a solution may be on the verge of developing as they have started to string some wins. Chris Paul and Clint Capela are day-to-day and could play, while Luc Mbah a Moute is the only player definitely out for Monday’s contest, and the Thunder come in to Monday with a clean bill of health.

While Westbrook has struggled from the field, mightily at times, this season he is still on the verge of averaging another triple-double (23.6 points/9.5 rebounds/9.9 assists per game) and has been punishing rims seemingly every night (Side Note: if you do not already, please do yourself a favor and follow @World_Wide_Wob on Twitter, he posts highlights every single night). Paul George and Carmelo Anthony struggled to get acclimated early, but are starting to find their place within the OKC offense, which can potentially make them a nightmare match-up in the Western Conference playoffs. While the Rockets have dropped their last two contests, they have been off to an incredible start and look every bit a contender out West. James Harden has been playing at an MVP level, Chris Paul is unbeaten when healthy this season and Eric Gordon has been a great piece both in the starting lineup and coming off of the bench. Clint Capela continues to improve and offers Mike D’antoni something that he has never previously had on a contender, a rim protector. This may end up being the most exciting game of the entire day.

Minnesota at LA Lakers

Monday’s lineup rounds up with a game between one of the most improved teams in the league and one of its youngest and most fun teams to watch. The Timberwolves lead the Northwest division with a record of 20-13 and feature one of the games best inside-out combos in Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony-Towns. The Lakers have been inconsistent, but with two of the best rookies in the league the future is looking extremely bright for the Lakers. As far as injuries are concerned both teams could be down one player for Monday’s game, Nemanja Bjelica for Minnesota and Brandon Ingram for the Lakers. While this game may lack the firepower of the earlier games, there are still some sure fire reasons to watch Monday night on TNT.

Tom Thibodeau has to be pleased thus far with how the Wolves have been playing, but has to see that there is still a ton of room to grow. Butler has been getting used to playing with Thibs again, but is starting to find his groove, while young centerpieces Towns and Andrew Wiggins have shown flashes, but need to continue to get better year-in and year-out to have this team reach their full potential. Making the playoffs would be a win for Minnesota this season, but they will have to continue to grow to work on winning a series or two in future seasons. The Lakers have struggled, and coach Luke Walton voiced his displeasure after a loss to Portland on Saturday night. The team is very young, and despite their struggles has to be encouraged by the Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and the strides that Lonzo Ball has made over the last few weeks. Is this the best Christmas Day match-up? Far from it. Is it worth staying up and being a little tired at the office on Tuesday (for those who work this week)? Absolutely.

Basketball becoming a huge part of Christmas Day has been a huge victory for NBA and basketball junkies everywhere. The schedule is loaded, and there should be 12+ hours of basketball to package with your family and other Holiday joy this season. Feel free to join the discussion in the comment below, or on Twitter (@thehoopgroup or my personal handle @dgunnerhg). Most importantly Happy Holidays to you and yours, and hopefully 2018 turns out to be your best year yet!

4 Flaws Behind Lavar Ball’s Big Baller Brand League

Stop me if you’ve head this before: Lavar Ball is in the news. The self proclaimed Big Baller announced this week he will be launching his own professional league for high school players who do not want to attend college for a year. The league would ideally, in Ball’s eyes, consist of ten teams, with eight players each. Each player would make anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000.

Like most things that come out of Lavar’s mouth, the league was heavily criticized by the basketball world. First off, I know this is just a ploy to get his two other sons playing in a “professional” league on American soil. That said, I don’t think the idea is a crazy one, but I do think there are flaws in the way from making this league a hit. Let’s look at four reasons the Big Baller League won’t work out.

Competition Level

Ball says this league is designed to jump start players’ careers. He thinks it will be easy to attract talent, but I disagree. Playing in the BBB League won’t be much different than playing in high school. More often than not, the best prospects already face off either in high school tournaments and showcases, or on the AAU circuit. If the best high school players go to this league, we’re not seeing if they are ready for the next level. The point of going to college is to see if a freshman is able to play at the speed of the college game, against older, more mature competition.

G League/One-and-Done Rule

Another factor is the progress the NBA is making in their developmental league, as well as their openness to altering the one and done rule. For one, if Adam Silver decides to eliminate the rule, Lavar’s league loses all excitement around it. He would not attract the top talent, that top talent would go to the league. It would be near impossible to field 80 players that would make fans excited. In addition, the NBA has gone to great lengths to develop to G League into a place where players can grow and mature, while being close to a NBA franchise. The players may not have the exposure of a prime time college game, or even Lavar’s league, but they are working with a NBA franchise. That cannot be topped in terms of developing.

Roster Size

Another thing to consider is the size of every team. Eight players is not enough to field a basketball team for a season. If we’re playing glorified pick up games from week-to-week then sure. But if this is going to be an actual league for players to showcase themselves, it needs to be legitimate. To play at an elite level, you need to be able to rotate more than eight players on a given night. What happens with foul trouble? Eight is not enough, and I don’t think he will be able to field ten teams of ten.

College Coaches

The last reason Lavar’s league won’t work for the premiere prospects is the knowledge they can learn from college coaches. Would Joel Embiid have developed so quickly had he not gone to Bill Self’s School of Bigs? Would the BBB League really get players more ready for the NBA than John Calipari does? Does anyone in the BBB League have the wealth of knowledge  that Krzyzewski, Izzo, Boeheim, Beilein and Williams do? The answer is no. Maybe you’re not making the money (save your pay for play jokes) but you can’t put a price on playing for a Hall of Fame coach before you go to the NBA. In many cases, playing for them will only help you make more money in the long run.

Lavar Ball is a marketing genius. He convinced people to buy a pair of sneakers for $500. He is literally talking his sons, and his brand, into existence. His idea is not insane by any means. Is the BBB League better than playing in, I don’t know, Lithuania? Absolutely. But for the real blue chip players, there are better options and better ways to market yourself to NBA teams. Lavar Ball is definitely the type of guy capable of running a league. However, that league is probably closer to the XFL than any league for high school basketball prospects.

Where Does Trae Young Stack Up in the 2018 NBA Draft

A freshman is taking college basketball by storm, and his name is not Marvin Bagley or Michael Porter Jr. In case you have missed it, Trae Young has taken over college basketball this season. Young is leading the country in points and assists per game right now. He is fresh off an absurd 26 point, 22 assist outing in only 29 minutes on Wednesday night. Plain and simple, Trae Young and Oklahoma is must watch basketball.

Dominating college is one thing, but not all players translate to the NBA game. Freshman phenoms like OJ Mayo, Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams are all examples of players who dominated college for a year, but did not live up to the hype in the NBA. They don’t necessarily deserve the bust label, but they are also not Kevin Durant, James Harden or Anthony Davis. So with that in mind, where does the best player in college basketball (yes, he’s been the best so far) net out in next year’s NBA Draft?

When it comes to way to early mock drafts, the names Bagley, Porter, Ayton, Doncic and even Bridges are the first ones written down. Not many people talk about the 6’2, 180 pound freshman from Oklahoma. Young is making the case though, to be drafted ahead of some of those names. For one, look at some of the teams projected in the Top 5. Chicago and Atlanta both took big men in last year’s draft. Taking another center could interfere in their development. Young’s ability to get his teammates involved and drop dimes would help Markkanen and Collins more than adding another big body next to them.

Secondly look at the body of work. I know it’s early, but Young has been superb. Porter has been out with injury. Bridges has been solid, but hasn’t taken the leap we expected; granted Michigan State is loaded with weapons. Bagley and Ayton have been great. Young has been better. He has had the highest scoring game this season (43) and tied the NCAA record for assists in a game (22). How does a team turn that down?

The biggest knack on Young is his size. He does not have the NBA ready body that Bagley, Ayton and Bridges do. Neither did the guy everyone is comparing him to, Steph Curry. Young may not be ready now physically, but he has the potential to put on strength and size once he is drafted. In a league where we now draft on potential, how can you turn down a player for his current body at 18/19 years old.

So where would I put Trae Young if I had an incredibly early 2018 NBA Mock Draft? I’m buying the hype, because the hype is real. I’m putting Young as the second best prospect on the board right behind Bagley. If I’m Chicago or Atlanta, I am absolutely taking him and giving myself a point guard and forward for the future. I would expect Young’s numbers to drop slightly once Big 12 play starts, but I think he will still put up crazy numbers that will make him near impossible to pass up come June.

Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t seen Oklahoma yet, check them out.


NBA Rookie Power Rankings – Week Five

Welcome back to the fifth installment of our HG Insider NBA Rookie Power Rankings for the 2017-2018 season. This loaded rookie class has done little to disappoint the hype they carried with them into the league thus far early in their careers. The fifth week of the NBA season was a bit shorter than the others due to the Thanksgiving Holiday, but it still saw rookies having an impact and included some movers in these very rankings. Let’s take a look at how the rookies stacked up in Week 5.

Week 4 Rankings:

1. Ben Simmons – 76ers
2. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers
3. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls
4. Jayson Tatum – Celtics
5. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz
6. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavs
7. John Collins – Hawks
8. Lonzo Ball – Lakers
9. Dillon Brooks – Grizzlies
10. OG Anunoby – Raptors

1. Ben Simmons – 76ers

Simmons missed Saturday’s win against the surprising Orlando Magic due to soreness in his elbow, but with two great showings earlier in the week he remains at the top. 18.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game are still jaw dropping numbers from a rookie. 51% shooting from the field is nothing to slouch at either. He had 27 points and 10 rebounds against the Jazz and 16 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds against Portland (both wins). Simmons did nothing to even give a glimmer of hope for someone planning to take the number one spot from him.

2. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers

Kuzma holds on to the number two ranking for the second week in a row for the HG Insider Rookie Power Rankings. He chipped in 22 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds in a match-up against the Bulls. He also contributed 17 against the Kings on the night before Thanksgiving. Kuzma comes into week six with averages of 16.8 points, and 6.3 rebounds a game while shooting 49.8% from the field, 36.6% from 3 and 75.9% from the line. Magic Johnson has to be increasingly happy with each passing week that he made a move for Kuzma on draft night back in June.

3. Jayson Tatum – Celtics

Tatum saw his ranking go up by one spot in this week’s installment of the rookie rankings thanks to his ability to contribute at an efficient level for the leagues best team. While he scored just 11 points in each of the last two games, the Duke product made winning plays, and showed glimpses of his superstar level potential in two games this week. Tatum is averaging 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. His shooting percentages, 49.2% from the field and 47.6% from 3 and 84.1% from the free-throw line, are still abnormally good for a rookie. The wing has been steady, if nothing else, and it is going to be a nightmare for teams to compete with him and Jaylen Brown on the wings as the duo continues to get better and gain experience.

4. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz

Mitchell moves up the rankings one spot this week, and looks poised to continue to make moves up the board as he grows more consistent with his play. The Jazz rookie helped lead the team to a 2-1 week, with big performances against the 76ers and the Bucks, two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. While he struggled from the floor against the Bulls (1-10 from the floor, 4 points), he contributed in other ways to help the Jazz get a win at home (7 assists and 5 rebounds). In his last 5 games the former Louisville guard is averaging 14.4 points, 5.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds a game while shooting (and this is where it gets weird) 36.2% from the floor and 39.3% from long range. Mitchell has been playing well, but he also has to focus on his shooting and consistency finishing at the rim as he progresses as a pro.

5. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls

Markkanen had a relatively quiet week (by his standards thus far), and the Bulls dropped all three contests in week five, which caused him to slide just a hair. He chipped in 13 points and 14 rebounds against the Lakers on Tuesday night, scored only 3 against the Jazz, but rebounded to give the Warriors 14 and 6 in his last game of the week. Lauri is averaging 14.6 points and 8.2 rebounds a night and proving to be a good floor spacer (34.5% from downtown). With Nikola Mirotic slated to return to the lineup soon, it will be interesting to see if this at all effects any minutes/touches given to Markkanen.

6. John Collins – Hawks

Collins moves up one spot to number 6 in the week five installment of our rankings. He may have had the best week of all rookies on this list. He was one rebound shy of posting back-to-back double-doubles, but perhaps what is most impressive is the rate at which he has been converting his shots around the rim. Collins is shooting 74.4% from the floor in his last 5 games. He undoubtedly has been one of the very few bright spots for the Hawks this season. Collins won’t always make the highlight reels, but the rookie has been efficient and consistent. If he keeps up his current pace will only continue seeing his stock rise in the coming weeks.

7. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavericks

Smith Jr. rebounded in a positive manner from the struggles that he endured on the court during week four, but still saw his ranking fall one spot during the week five installment of our rankings. The NC State product is a threat to climb back up the rankings as his play breeds some more consistency, but he showed that his ceiling is higher than most everyone else during week five. He led the Mavericks to a 2-1 record during the week, including a 15 point, 4 assist performance against Russell Westbrook and the OKC Thunder. He has showed a greater command of the offense with each passing week, but like most every rookie not named Jayson Tatum, Smith needs to work on improving his shot-making abilities (31% from the floor and 25% from 3 in his last 5 contests).

8. Lonzo Ball – Lakers

Lonzo’s struggles from the floor have continued, but the rookie has been contributing in other ways for the Lakers as he continues to adjust to life as the face of the NBA’s most prominent franchise. Lonzo contributed 8 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists against the Bulls on Tuesday. He also outplayed fellow rookie lead guard De’Aaron Fox in a loss to the Kings (11 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds while shooting 3-5 from three point range). Ball is still working diligently on finding his shot, and the solution to that lays more in the long term than in the short term/ That said, he has assimilated himself as a playmaker and someone who has been disruptive in passing lanes on the defensive end averaging 1.4 steals per game. His first shoe, the ZO2’s are getting ready to be sent out in the coming days and Ball looks to capitalize on the further notoriety and continue to work his way up the rookie power rankings.

9. De’Aaron Fox – Kings

Fox worked himself back into the rookie power rankings this week coming in at the number 9 spot. He had a solid week, and flashed some of the brilliance that give Kings fan a sliver of hope for their future. Fox is averaging 10.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game while shooting a respectable (compared to other rookie PG’s) 40.2% from the floor and 30.8% from 3 point range. The Kings stink, and Fox shares touches with George Hill, but he has the potential to rise in the rankings as the season goes on.

10. Dillon Brooks – Grizzlies

Brooks falls one spot in the rankings to number 10, but continues his great play as a role player for the Grizzlies early in the ’17-’18. The highlight of his week was chipping in 13 points against the Mavericks in a loss on Wednesday. Brooks has been contributing in ways that aren’t showing up on the stat sheet, but his numbers of 9.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists are not too shabby either. Is Brooks a legitimate ROY threat? No, but he looks to have been a great get for the Grizz.

Honorable Mention:

OG Anunoby – Raptors
Malik Monk – Hornets
Mike James – Suns
Josh Jackson – Suns