Philadelphia 76ers: From Greatness to Laughing Stock

Source: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images North America

Source: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images North America

Philadelphia 76ers: From Greatness to Laughing Stock

By Tashan Reed: Staff Writer At Hoopstuff…

The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the oldest and most storied franchises in NBA history. They’ve had some of the greatest teams ever as well as some of the greatest players to ever play the game. They’ve won three NBA championships, with the second coming way back in the 1966-67 season when there were only 10 teams in the league and the “Baltimore Bullets” were still a thing. The team was lead by the incredible Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged 24.1 points on 68.3% shooting from the field, 24.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists, and an unknown number of blocks that season. Their third and last championship came in the 1982-83 season when a team led by the likes of Julius “Doctor J” Erving, Moses Malone, and Maurice Cheeks earned a 15-1 record in the playoffs and swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals. Although they haven’t won another championship in over 30 years, the success of the 76ers didn’t end there. From 1984 to 1992 the 76ers had one of the greatest power forwards of all time on their roster: Charles Barkley. Barkley never led the 76ers (or any team, for that matter) to an NBA championship, but he put up ridiculous numbers during his eight years playing for the franchise. “The round mound of rebound” known as Charles Barkley averaged 23.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per game which was a feat made even more impressive by the fact that he was only 6’6” (if that).

The era of Barkley ended in 1992 when he was traded away to the Suns, but a new era began only four years later when the 76ers selected Allen Iverson with the first overall pick in 1996. Iverson won the rookie of the year award in his first season, putting up 23.5 points and 7.5 assists and making it clear that he was something special. “The Answer” was one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen during his time with the 76ers and even led the team to an NBA finals appearance, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. Iverson also won the MVP award that same season, however, his great talent wasn’t enough to keep the team afloat for much longer. The 76ers slipped into mediocrity and a trend of sub-.500 records before Iverson finally left the team in 2006. Since he’s left the 76ers have been average at best, and for the last few years they’ve been absolutely horrible. Andre Iguodala lead the team from 2006-2011 and then Jrue Holiday took over from 2011-2013, but neither player was able to accomplish much success. After a disappointing 2012-13 season, the 76ers hit the reset button in the 2013 draft by trading away all-star point guard Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and a pick. With that pick they selected Michael Carter-Williams, who surprisingly went on to win the rookie of the year award. Noel missed the entire 2013-14 campaign with a torn ACL and the 76ers went on to have their worst season in almost 10 years with a 19-63 record. They selected Joel Embiid in this past year’s draft, but just like Noel he’s set to miss the entire season with an injury that he suffered in college.

Last year and during this past offseason the 76ers traded away or simply chose not to resign almost every player that gave them a chance to win basketball games. Two of the most notable names that the 76ers dumped were Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young; both of whom had been more than serviceable for the team. It’s clear what they were making every attempt to tank for this upcoming season, a topic that draws heated debates. Some don’t see anything wrong with it, they believe that smaller market teams who can’t sign the big-name free agents have to get better anyway they can. Others are strongly against it, and a few have even called for teams that tank like the 76ers are to be punished for their actions. Tanking is a strange subject that’s emerged in the past few seasons, and there really isn’t any clear cut answer on whether it’s good or bad. On one end it gives a struggling team its best shot for a top pick in the draft and a chance at selecting a potential franchise-changing player. On the other side it gives the fans almost no reason to come to the games or supports the team. Honestly, who wants to spend money to come to an arena and watch a team that’s 1-17 lose on purpose in a blowout fashion? Seriously, the organization is making it clear that they don’t care about winning, why then should the fans care about coming to see the games? Philadelphia is known for having some of the most passionate fans in the United States, and they are undoubtedly disgusted with what their once-great team is doing.

If it weren’t for their victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Philadelphia 76ers would’ve tied for the worst start in NBA history. Sure, even if they tried to form a solid roster the 76ers would’ve still been a long shot to make the playoffs. However, this isn’t the answer, it can’t be. Purposefully losing games is extremely disrespectful to a very loyal and passionate fanbase, and inevitably drops the moral of the players on the roster immensely. Losing like this makes the 76ers even less likely to be able to sign a big-name free agent and getting a franchise-changing player in the draft isn’t exactly something that happens all too often. What if the draft lottery doesn’t role their way and they end up with a pick that causes them to miss out on that special player? Do they just scrap the 2015-16 campaign and tank all over again? It’s unfair to put a fanbase through this, and it’ll be interesting to see just how long the 76ers do it.

 

Philadelphia 76ers Duo Lead All NBA Rookie Teams

Philadelphia 76ers Duo Lead All NBA Rookie Teams

By Josh Morgan: VP and Director of Content

There are few things more difficult in sports than predicting how well a rookie will perform in their first year in their respective league. The jump in competition can’t be overstated and for some highly thought of prospects, can be too much to overcome. Making predictions for the All Rookie teams may seem like a futile proposition; especially the second team as there are almost always players that come out of nowhere to make an impact, but I am going to make an attempt at doing just that.

First Team:

G: Elfrid Payton -Orlando Magic

When it comes to rookies putting their stamp on the league from their first season in the league, a lot of it is about the opportunity. Playing on a bad team and getting plenty of minutes to show your talent can go a long way to getting on one of these teams and I’m sorry Magic fans but Orlando won’t be very good this year. They do however have a promising rookie point guard in Elfrid Payton. Coming from a Sun Belt Conference school like Louisiana Lafayette, Payton wasn’t a household name coming into the college basketball season but his play throughout the year and his physical talents at the point guard position, standing 6’5 with long arms and a great, NBA ready build propelled him into the lottery. The Magic signed veteran Luke Ridnour this offseason but this move should not hold back Payton’s playing time and if he can add any sort of jump shot to go along with his aggressive style off the dribble and his relentless defensive play, he will not only make the First Team All Rookie but he will be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.

G: Andrew Wiggins- Minnesota Timberwolves

These next two players may undercut my theory of either playing on a bad team or getting a lot of minutes making it easier to be selected to one of these teams but there are exceptions to most every rule. In this situation Wiggins will likely be competing with other players at the two or three, wherever Flip Saunders decides to play him, such as Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, fellow rookie Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and someone they are paying a healthy amount of money to in Chase Budinger. His talent will win out in the end, his pure scoring ability and the potential he has to become a stopper on the defensive end, and he will see plenty of playing time to put up the numbers.

F: Doug McDermott- Chicago Bulls

In McDermott’s case the Bulls are not a bad team, they are one of the best in the league, but he has a skill that they need, scoring ability on the perimeter. While McDermott is a great all around scorer he will likely be asked to stretch the floor more than he will be posting up like he did at Creighton and with his phenomenal ability to cut and move without the basketball to act as a counter to his unlimited shooting range, he should put up the numbers to be named to this team. Mike Dunleavy Jr. is a great mentor to have but he is no spring chicken so the opportunity should be there for McDermott, should he put in the effort defensively that Thibs looks for, and I believe he will.

F: Jabari Parker- Milwaukee Bucks

Parker is likely the favorite for the Rookie of the Year award and for good reason. He can leave plenty to desire when it comes to the defensive end of the floor but his scoring ability is phenomenal. His jump shot overall as well as the range on it needs to improve but he can work on this part of his game while still utilizing his size to get to the rim and finish and with that size he has the handle to get around just about anyone on the floor on his way to finding his spot to score. The defensive ability isn’t there but he is a very good rebounder and with his ball handling ability he will go coast to coast time after time. Parker is in the best situation to make an impact as a rookie and as things sit right now he is a shoe-in for the first team.

C: Nerlens Noel- Philadelphia 76ers

I’ve talked a lot about opportunity with the previous players and there may not be a team that gives rookies and young players more of an opportunity to play and contribute at a high level than the Philadelphia 76ers, as they are unequivocally the worst team in the league. Noel was the 6th pick in the 2013 draft but he did not play last season due to a knee injury. This season he will be a cornerstone of the Sixers’ plans along with Michael Carter-Williams and this will put him in the conversation for the Rookie of the Year as well. He is one of the best shot blockers to come into the league in recent years and he can change the game in this way. He combines incredible athleticism and impeccable timing to swat away attempts both on help side and in one on one situations. The offensive end is a work in progress, and that is being incredibly kind, but he should have plenty of chances for put backs and lobs where he will likely find the majority of his points. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Noel averages around 10 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game or higher, numbers that will certainly find him named to the first team.

Second Team:

G: Marcus Smart- Boston Celtics

Smart has the talent to be on the first team but there is one person in his way, Rajon Rondo. There are plenty of rumors that Rondo will be traded but unless Danny Ainge gets an offer that knocks him off of his feet I don’t see him moving his best player. Smart will still get plenty of run however and could play alongside Rondo at times, helping him put up good enough numbers to make the second team in my opinion.

G: Nik Stauskus- Sacramento Kings

The Kings have two excellent players that represented their country in the World Cup this summer in DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay but outside of those two there isn’t much when it comes to proven NBA talent. Stauskus should be a very good player in the league however because of his versatility on the offensive end. At 6’6 he has good size for his position, is a very good playmaker with the ball in his hands, a good shooter with range out to the three point line and is a very good athlete as well to finish around the bucket. He could struggle guarding the better athletes in the league but his offensive game and the Kings dearth of talent means Stauskus will see the minutes necessary to put up good numbers.

F: KJ McDaniels- Philadelphia 76ers

KJ McDaniels should have been a first round pick in this past draft. He is an incredible athlete and can put that to use on both ends of the floor, showing the potential to be a very good one on one defender as well as an effective offensive player whether it be in the mid range game or getting out in transition to catch lobs and slam home missed shots. He also took a big risk in taking a lesser contract to have the chance at a better pay day sooner and I think he will be very motivated to prove the teams that passed on him wrong.

F: Julius Randle- Los Angeles Lakers

Randle plays in a crowded frontcourt with the Lakers but his versatility and motor should win the favor of his coach and most importantly Kobe Bryant to get him solid playing time. He looks like Charles Barkley at times, high praise for someone who is yet to play a regular season game in the league yes, but his ability to handle the ball at 6’9, 250 pounds is a sight to behold. It could be said that he relied too much on playing bully ball at Kentucky last season, backing down defenders that were overmatched by his size and agility, but he is more than just a bully. He is a skilled big man and by mid season he should solidify his spot in the rotation and put up good numbers.

F: Nikola Mirotic- Chicago Bulls

Mirotic was hyped as one of the best European players in recent years and finally this season the Chicago Bulls fans will have a chance to see him on the court. At 6’10 Mirotic could be a big matchup problem for the opposition as he is a phenomenal shooter out to the three point line and has the handle to make defenders pay for overplaying his jumper. The Bulls may not want to play two rookies all that much, as Tom Thibodeau noted the last team to win a title with two rookies playing 15 or more minutes per game was the 1974-75 Golden State Warriors, but their two rookies deserve that type of playing time and a potential pairing of Pau Gasol and Mirotic would be incredibly difficult for any team to match up against.

Oklahoma City Thunder: What Kevin Durant’s Injury Means

Oklahoma City Thunder: What Kevin Durant’s Injury Means

By Tashan Reed: Staff Writer At Hoopstuff…

In a shocking story, Kevin Durant has gone from preparing to pursue an NBA championship, to recovering from an injury. After practice on Saturday, Durant complained of pain in his right foot, and further tests revealed that he suffered a Jones’ fracture. The injury will keep the Thunder superstar out for approximately 6-8 weeks. The danger here is that Jones’ fractures have been known to have difficulties healing without surgery and lead to more foot problems down the road. It’ll be crucial for Kevin and the Thunder organization to manage this injury properly and to avoid rushing his return to the floor.

Time won’t freeze for OKC, they’ll still have to play basketball during while Kevin Durant misses games, and they’ll turn to Russell Westbrook to lead the way. Westbrook has been heavily criticized for his tendency to take a lot of shots and attempt to take over the game, now he’ll be implored to do so. He’ll have the very definition of a green light, and it won’t be surprising to see him put up monster numbers in the time that Durant misses. That doesn’t guarantee victories by any means, however, Kevin Durant was able to keep the team afloat with a 20-7 record when Westbrook missed time last season due to knee issues, but Russell Westbrook isn’t Kevin Durant. Regardless, they can manage in these 6-8 weeks.

For the rest of the Western Conference, this should be seen as a golden opportunity to overtake one of the perennial powerhouses in the league. Particularly the Los Angeles Clippers, who’ll have the best chance in my estimation to use this as a head start to secure the 1st or 2nd seed in the West. The Western Conference is always painstakingly close, so even if the Thunder don’t falter without Kevin Durant, they’ll undoubtedly have a lesser record than they would have with him. Look for the Clippers, along with several other teams in the West, to pounce on this opportunity. However, for the Thunder, they should manage while Durant is on the bench with Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the very talented Thunder role players.

Los Angeles Clippers: Will Chris Paul Win His First MVP?

Los Angeles Clippers: Can Chris Paul Win His First MVP?

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

The MVP race was considered to be a 2 man competition with Kevin Durant and LeBron James, the winners of 5 of 6 NBA MVP’s, however with LeBron on a Cavaliers team that is ridiculously talented and with voter apathy likely (voters get sick of the same player winning) and Kevin Durant injured and missing about the 1st 1.5 months of the season, this is looking like the perfect time for someone who has played elite basketball for a decade and has constantly just missed winning the MVP to win his 1st. Can u guess who I am talking about? Well if you read the title that question probably sounded dumb, but I am describing Chris Paul.

Many believe that he should have won when Kobe Bryant won his 1 MVP, in 5 different seasons he was voted among the best 7 players by voters, he has won 3 assist titles, 5 steals titles, was voted onto 6 All NBA and All NBA Defense Teams and has made 7 All Star Teams. That is quite the list of accolades, but my point is that he is incredible and to me is the best point guard in the NBA and the 3rd best player in the league. As the 3rd best player and with the 1st 2 players having their own concerns regarding the MVP, you have to like his chances.

What helps those chances is that he is likely to be 1st in the league in assists per game, is arguably the best defender at his position and is the best player on a Clippers team that has an a very strong chance to win the most games in the NBA this season. With excellent offense, defense,  rebounding and depth, the Clippers are a title contender and a team that could be 1st in the NBA in offense and Paul is this team’s best player and the key to their winning ways.

At 28, Chris Paul has 5+ more seasons of being an elite player, but with LeBron James and Kevin Durant 1a and 1b in the NBA by a big margin, this is Chris Paul’s only chance left to win an MVP in this league. Although LeBron James has to be considered 1st this season on the list of MVP candidates, Chris Paul can win his 1st MVP this season.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio The NBA’s Most Improved Player?

Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio The NBA’s Most Improved Player?

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

As I was writing my NBA Award picks and writing the Most Improved Player section, there was really just two names that I considered, Ricky Rubio and Kenneth Faried. However, I chose Rubio as Faried was already excellent, he just has to get more minutes from the Nuggets, but the Timberwolves point guard will become excellent this season. It was an easy choice, Ricky Rubio is my choice for the NBA’s Most Improved Player this season.

Rubio is one of the better distributors in the NBA and is a wizard with the ball, but is also a very strong rebounder and one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA, however this league is about scoring the ball. Rubio’s stat line from his 3rd season was strong, with 9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.6 assists (4th in NBA) and 2.3 steals (3rd in NBA) per game. However his points aren’t enough and neither are his shot attempts per game, as 8.2 for a point guard playing 32 minutes is pathetic and his efficiency, 38.1 percent from the field is porous. Yes, his strengths and weaknesses are no secret, but why is he my pick for Most Improved Player?

To answer that question, just look at the roster, they are young and they are missing a guy named Kevin Love, who was their offense. Yes Nikola Pekovic will likely be their best scorer and their franchise player is Andrew Wiggins, but he is just 19 and isn’t ready for a franchise player offensive burden, although he will in a season or 2, however Ricky Rubio should be the man for this offense. Lacking the elite offensive talents of Love, the duty of making this offense work becomes Rubio’s and he cannot just distribute and score occasionally, he has to be aggressive, because he is the only player on this team that can make each of these 12 players gel together. They have elite shooters in their rotation with Wiggins and Kevin Martin, elite athletes with Wiggins, Thaddeus Young, Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine and one of the best offensive big men in Nikola Pekovic, but someone has to get them the ball and that is Rubio. He is the most vital player on this offense and the key to the offense. He can and should average 10 plus assists this season.

His distribution and defense will be excellent, probably elite, but what about the scoring? Rubio is looking for a big contract and he may get one this offseason, but let’s say they won’t give him one, this means that he will be playing for a contract this season and just because of this he would be a better scorer, as more points would equal a bigger contract, but also this being his 4th season he should get better just by being more mature as a player and with Love scoring 25 points per game, Rubio being a non-factor scoring the ball meant little, but Love is in Cleveland, so they have to get scoring from their point guard and I seem him helping. A scoring increase is very likely for Ricky this season.

I think that Ricky Rubio will average 12-13 points, 9-11 assists, 4-6 rebounds and 2-3 steals per game and become the elite point guard he has the talent to be this season. As he should have bigger numbers and take a bigger role for his team, he is my pick be the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Whether they are able to re-sign Ricky Rubio or he walks as a free agent in the offseason, expect him to have a big season.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Their Chemistry Seems Strong

Cleveland Cavaliers: Their Chemistry Seems Strong

By Christopher Kline: Staff Writer at Hoopstuff…

Although the regular season has not started, what we have seen from the Cleveland Cavaliers in their first two ball games has been utterly impressive. The additions made this offseason are taking far less time to mesh than previously anticipated, as the Cavaliers have rushed out to a dominating 2-0 start this preseason.

First off, the new and slimmed down LeBron James is facilitating the offense to a ‘T’ when in the ball game. Although he has not been exerting himself as the leading scorer in preseason play, James’ court vision and offensive execution has looked as good as ever. This could be largely a part of the job that offensive expert, Coach David Blatt, has done to organize the game plan in his first season at the helm. James has led the charge for a Cavaliers team that is getting down court in transition at a rapid pace and simply outgunning the teams they face. James has looked like the talented facilitator he has always been, and Cleveland fans are certainly getting excited for his official return come regular season play.

Another promising sign for the Cavaliers is the play of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving together in their new adjusted roles. The two former number one options have taken turns leading the Cavaliers in scoring with James’ limited playing time and have both moved the ball extremely effectively.  Kevin Love has continued to show his excellent basketball I.Q. at the power forward position, and ability to make effective outlet passes on the fast break. Irving has shown signs of becoming more of a facilitating guard, not just a pure scoring guard, which is a major aspect of his game we knew he would need to improve on to fit into Cleveland’s new offensive game plan. Irving has shown the ability to move the ball around the court on offense exceptionally well, a nice talent to have with guys like LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Dion Waiters to pass to. The performances of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving implemented into the new Cavs lineup alongside LeBron James has shown immense promise and potential for Cleveland to get off to a much quicker start than the Miami Heat did in 2010.

With James, Love, and Irving all playing at an elite level, the Cavaliers offense has flowed tremendously all around. With James and Irving being the floor generals, the rest of Blatt’s offensive scheme has fallen into place perfectly. Dion Waiters and Mike Miller have gotten countless open looks from beyond the arc, while Kevin Love has fit nicely into the offensive setup. The quickly paced Cavaliers offense is looking like it will be the most difficult defense for teams to plan for this season, as a team with a slimmed down LeBron James, a facilitating Kyrie Irving, and a floor spreading big man in Kevin Love is nearly impossible to contain. The offense has the potential to get off to a quick start in the 2014-15 season, as they already have many of the key roles figured out. This makes Cleveland an even bigger threat to grab the Eastern Conference’s top seed come playoff time.

The Cavaliers’ post has also shown nothing but positive effects on the boards. Anderson Varejao seems back to his fully healthy self, grabbing rebounds consistently on both sides of the court. Guys like Tristan Thompson and Lou Amundson have also provided excellent hustle on the boards. This nonpareil rebounding effort between the Cavaliers’ centers, along with double digit rebounding numbers almost nightly from Kevin Love make Cleveland a very intimidating team on the glass.

The Cavaliers also have made great strides defensively as well, despite the loss of defensive prospect, Andrew Wiggins, in the deal that shipped Kevin Love to Cleveland. The addition of LeBron James to a lineup with a healthy Anderson Varejao and a feisty Dion Waiters makes the Cavaliers an instantly stronger defensive team than we saw last season. Along with the addition of James to the starting lineup, the Cavaliers bench has been stocked with new high caliber defenders. The “Aussie Pit Bull” is a nickname well suited for the young backup point guard, Matthew Dellavedova, out of Australia. The Australian is one of the peskiest defenders in the league at the point guard position, and has shown great promise as a strong defender off the bench for Cleveland. Another major defensive addition made by the Cavs was bringing in the veteran stretch forward, Shawn Marion. The former athletic star may not have the same explosive athleticism he once had in the early 2000s, but his defensive abilities are still formidable for any opponent. With the ability to guard both the small and power forward positions, Marion offers the Cavaliers a versatile defender to come off the bench behind LeBron James. These added defensive weapons have only strengthened the Cleveland defense after last season’s horrific defensive campaign.

Overall, the Cleveland Cavaliers are on pace to make a big splash in the debut of the league’s newest Big Three. Cleveland’s offense is flowing extremely well after only a short stint of preseason play and Coach Blatt’s newest group seems set to make a run at an NBA championship early on. A fast paced offense, deep defense, and powerful rebounders have made the Cavaliers far and away the league’s most talented squad and as they continue to mesh this early in the campaign, the NBA can expect big things out of Cleveland, Ohio come time for regular season play.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant Or LeBron James For MVP?

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant Or LeBron James For MVP?

By Ciaran Mills: Staff Writer At Hoopstuff..

Last year, the King was dethroned by the humble Servant. LeBron James was going for his fifth MVP award and his third in a row but he was usurped by Kevin Durant, who also secured his fourth scoring title in five years. Many people are expecting an even closer race this year, with both men hoping to lead their teams to the Finals.

LeBron went home to Cleveland in the off season and will join All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, whereas Durant will be teaming up with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Both men are expected to lead their respective Big Three’s but Durant will have a more prominent role than LeBron. With all the talent on the Cavaliers roster David Blatt may look for a quicker rotation to make sure everyone gets minutes, and to keep things fresh. Out in Oklahoma, Durant has no such worries. The only other small forward the Thunder have on their roster is Perry Jones III, who will sub in whenever Durant needs a break, but won’t challenge his place in the team.

Another worry in the LeBron camp is that he is approaching 30 and, although he is an incredible athlete, he is only human. Minor bumps and bruises are going to become more frequent, which could mean spending more time on the bench, especially in the run up to the playoffs. Durant, at the age of 26, should have no such worries, as he is at his peak.

Cleveland are expected to finish top of the Eastern conference, especially considering how weak the league has become out east. This will surely help LeBron’s case, as he will be seen to lead the playoff charge. Kevin Durant may have to work a bit harder than that to bring success to his team. The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the favorites to win the West, but they face stiff competition from the Spurs and the Clippers. If the Thunder fail to make it to the top spot, it may swing the vote in LeBron’s favor.

Last season, Kevin Durant had to play 36 games without Russell Westbrook, including a 27 game stint where the point guard had to sit out due to knee surgery. Despite this, the Thunder still managed to get a 59-23 record, with KD winning MVP. So surely, with Westbrook seemingly back to full health, the Thunder should be even stronger, right? Well… No. Many fans are worried about Westbrook’s compatibility with the rest of the team, as he seems to take Durant out of the game from time to time. He also shoots ill advised three pointers, putting up an average of 7.6 attempts from deep, but only making 32% of them. If he continues this selfish play, Durant’s stats will go down, as will his chances of retaining his MVP crown.

In all honesty, this award is a two horse race, but there are plenty of players who are on the brink of competing with them. Both Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant will be coming back from injuries with a point to prove. With both players already winning the MVP award before, they know they can play to that level, but they may not be back up to their high standards of play straight away after returning from long absences. Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are likely to finish towards the top of the votes, but it is unlikely that they will challenge Durant or James. There are plenty of young players creating a buzz as well. Anthony Davis is predicted to be a star in the future, with 2014-15 likely to be a breakout season for the number one pick of 2012, but his team will likely struggle to compete for a playoff spot in the West.

At the end of the day, flipping a coin might be the easiest, and most precise, way to predict who will win the MVP award. In my opinion, the crown will go to Durant for a second year running. I feel that LeBron will perhaps take a more backseat role in the Cleveland offense. Of course he will still contribute greatly to Cleveland’s efforts this year, but he won’t be as prominent as Kevin Durant.

New York Knicks: Just How Excellent Is Carmelo Anthony?

New York Knicks: Just How Excellent Is Carmelo Anthony?

By Christopher Kline: Staff Writer At Hoopstuff…

After one of the most dominant seasons in the history of the NBA, Kevin Durant is looking as if he is on the verge of catching up with LeBron James in the debate for the NBA’s best small forward (and player). On the other hand, Carmelo Anthony had one of his least efficient seasons in recent memory, while averaging a solid three to four points less than Durant on a nightly basis. This has led many to rank KD in an entirely new class of player talent, one that accompanies only him and LeBron James, while classifying Anthony far lower on the spectrum. However, despite last season’s different success stories, it may be premature for us to place Durant so far ahead of New York’s perennial All-Star.

One of the main reasons we saw Carmelo’s numbers take a significant dip is due to his lack of efficiency. But, why was he so inefficient at times? The reason is the team the Knicks had placed around Anthony for support. With Amar’e Stoudemire battling injury and J.R. Smith experiencing on-court maturity issues, Anthony was leaned on heavily for the majority of New York’s offensive production with little to no help from the supporting cast. This made it extremely difficult for Anthony to get into an offensive rhythm, as he was forced to take more shots of poorer quality than ever before. With additions like Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Cleanthony Early and Amar’e healthy, it will be no surprise if we see Anthony’s efficiency improve this season.

Despite being the scoring champion last season, one cannot automatically classify Durant as the NBA’s top scorer. Carmelo is one of the most versatile scorers the league has seen in recent memory, and is neck and neck in comparison with Durant. Both players can shoot the ball extremely well from long range, along with being able to pull up and shoot the ball from mid-range. While Durant is most certainly quicker driving down the lane, Anthony is able to drive to the basket with extreme efficiency as well and finish at the rim because of his size. One thing that sets Anthony’s elite scoring ability apart from that of Durant is his post game. While Durant can score from down low using his long arms and height advantage, Carmelo’s post game is much more developed. Anthony’s array of post moves makes him difficult to contain down low. This is what makes him an arguably better pure scorer than Kevin Durant. Both players have an uncanny ability to put the basketball through the hoop, but Carmelo Anthony is the more versatile of the two scoring wise.

One aspect of Anthony’s game that has always been highly criticized is his defensive abilities. While Durant experienced a breakthrough season on the defensive end, Anthony quietly put up solid numbers on that side of the court as well. During Olympic training, head coach Mike Krzyzewski stated that he was ‘surprised’ by how good Carmelo’s defense was, despite the public criticism he receives from fans and the media. While Durant is the superior perimeter defender when comparing the two stars, you cannot say the same for post defense. As the stronger of the two, Anthony has the ability to block shots and offer more pressure in the paint, despite being a few inches shorter than Durant. Carmelo’s quietly strong defensive ability makes Anthony a respectable opponent on both sides of the court, not just offensively.

The one area where Durant really stakes his claim as the better player between the two is facilitating. The reigning MVP improved the passing aspect of his game tremendously last season, especially in the absence of Russell Westbrook. Durant’s quickness and large hands allow him to be an extremely effective facilitator when he needs to be, as he can make accurate passes and find open spots of the floor. While Anthony’s off-season has been dedicated to losing weight and improving his facilitating in the Knicks’ new triangle offense, Durant still holds the upper hand in that skill.

When you compare these two superstars, they are truly similar, only in different ways. What exactly does that mean? Well, when you look at Anthony and Durant, both are extremely talented scorers, but Anthony is more versatile in the post while Durant is slightly more effective from the perimeter. Both are talented rebounders for the small forward position, yet Durant uses length and height while Anthony uses his strength to get those rebounds. Both are solid defenders, but Anthony is a stronger post defender while Durant is a stronger perimeter defender. These two are extremely similar in many different ways, which makes it hard to argue that Durant is truly the far and away better player. While Durant certainly has claimed his position as the better of the two players, it is not by a large margin, as Anthony is right on his tail in terms of talent.

Los Angeles Lakers: Is This The NBA’s Best Bench?

Los Angeles Lakers: Is This The NBA’s Best Bench?

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs this season, I’m sorry Laker fans, but they just lack the talent of the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Rockets, Warriors and Pelicans and at best they will be the 10th best team in the Western Conference. I cannot even say they are better than the Nuggets, Timberwolves or Suns. Yes, they have Kobe Bryant, but their starting 5 of Steve Nash, Bryant, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill is one of the weakest in the NBA. However, their bench is excellent and it may be the most productive bench in the league for the season.

Their 2 main 2nd unit guards, Nick Young and Jeremy Lin should each score 15+ points per game and be among the 10 best bench scorers in the NBA and could be the best duo in the league. They won’t play defense, but Nick Young is a ridiculously talented scorer, who can score 30 points 10 times per season, however consistency, immaturity and poor shot selection will keep him from being more than a gunner off the bench. Lin is different, he is consistent, he is a strong team player, a very solid distributor and he could start on a number of teams, but each are excellent. With these 2 players you can expect 30-35 points per game, 7-8 rebounds and 7-8 assists per game, although 5-6 of those assists will be from Lin. Regardless, they are an elite bench duo.

They also have a lot more than just Young and Lin, as they have 2 very talented young big men on their bench, Julius Randle and Ed Davis who should each play big minutes this season. They are likely the 3rd and 4th big men on the Lakers and Randle as a rookie could be their best offensive big man. He is very athletic and a skilled scorer and rebounder, who if given 25+ minutes should average 12-8 or better. Davis they somehow signed for just 1 million dollars in what was one of the best contracts of the offseason and he will help them this season. He only played 15.2 minutes per game for the Grizzlies, but he just averaged per 36 minutes, 13.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, so he is a strong defender, rebounder and scorer and is efficient too as he shot 53.4 percent from the field. As the 4th big man he should get similar minutes as he had with the Grizzlies and similar per minute numbers and if given a big minutes, he will produce. He is much better than a 4th big man in this league. They also have a 3rd capable big man on their bench in 3 point shooter Ryan Kelly who just averaged 8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, but he has to be more efficient if he would like minutes this season, as their depth is better.

They have 2 more talented young players who could play a role for them, Xavier Henry and Jordan Clarkson. Xavier Henry played well for the Lakers in his 1 season in LA averaging 10 points per game and is an athletic bench scorer, although inefficient, but he should average similar numbers for the Lakers as their 4th perimeter player. Jordan Clarkson was the Lakers’ 2nd round pick this offseason and the Missouri guard is an excellent scorer and if he gets playing time he will score and with Steve Nash 40, there is a strong chance he will get minutes this season as the 2nd point guard.

This bench won’t play much defense, but they should be the best offensive bench in the NBA this season and can score 50 points per game. Technically their bench won’t be the NBA’s best, that would be the San Antonio Spurs, who have elite offense, depth and defense, but the Lakers should have the most productive one.

Chicago Bulls: Why Joakim Noah Will Win DPOY

Chicago Bulls: Why Joakim Noah Will Win DPOY

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

The Chicago Bulls were just 1st in opponents points per game and with arguably the NBA’s best defense, their best defensive player Joakim Noah won Defensive Player of the Year. Noah is going to win the award again this season too. Why?

1st, Noah is an incredible defensive player. He is able to slow any big man on defense 1-1 and is an excellent weak-side defender and shot-blocker. He is too an elite rebounder and each defensive rebound by Noah takes potential 2nd chance points from Bulls opponents. What will happen this season? He will continue to play excellent man-to-man defense, block-shots and rebound, it is pretty simple, he is one of the NBA’s best defenders.

However, being one of the NBA’s best defenders isn’t the only key to winning the award, as just as vital to the equation is playing elite defense on an elite defensive team. The Bulls will be have one of the best defenses again, as Tom Thibodeau is a defensive genius, the Bulls have multiple excellent defensive players playing with Noah and the Bulls are a defensive 1st team. As the leader of that defense he will get a big part of the credit, which he deserves and as they have a chance to be even better this season, Noah will look even better. Why will they be better? Look at this roster.

Jimmy Butler is an elite perimeter defender, Taj Gibson is one of the best defensive big men in the NBA like Noah, Kirk Hinrich is a very strong defender on point guards and shooting guards and they are each still on this team, but with Derrick Rose healthy and basically taking the minutes from D.J. Augustin who is a small and mediocre defender and with Pau Gasol taking the minutes from Carlos Boozer who is pathetic, their 2 best offensive players will help their defense be better. Derrick Rose is an elite athlete and he can stay with any point guard in the league and is also strong, so he can contain each of the NBA’s excellent scoring point guards. Yes, he isn’t going to be playing as strong of defense as he is capable of each second he is on the court, as he is the focus of the offense, but when he has to, he will be excellent. So with Rose, Hinrich and Butler getting most of the minutes at the 1 and 2, they can be elite at guard. When it comes to Gasol starting at power forward, he is taking Boozer’s 25+ minutes per game and although Gasol isn’t the same defender as Noah or Gibson, he is very solid and solid defense (Gasol) is better than pathetic (Boozer). Carlos Boozer got about a 3rd of the minutes at the 4/5 for the Bulls and having someone capable at the 4/5 take his minutes makes the Bulls’ frontcourt sooooooo much better. So the Bulls are better at guard and in the frontcourt so they should be a better defensive team than the one that was just one of the best of this decade and with Joakim Noah the best defender of the group and the most vital player of this defense, if they play as well as they are capable of, it will only help him win this award.

DPOY Winning Equation… Individual elite defense + playing on the best defense = Defensive Player of the Year

Joakim Noah will be elite, the Bulls’ defense will be 1st in the league and Joakim Noah will win the Defensive Player of the Year Award for the 2nd time, this season.