Sports Roundtable: NBA Edition

By Jake Davidson ’19 Matthew Druyanoff ’19 and Matthew Gross ’19

Overview:

The NBA is a popular subject around campus and around the United States right now, as the 2015-16 season kicked off in October.  We provide analysis from around the league to provide some predictions over the top players and teams of the league this year.

 

Championship Team:

Matthew G: San Antonio Spurs

What happens when a four-time all-star joins a team that already has power forward Tim Duncan, small forward Kawhi Leonard and point guard Tony Parker? Head Coach Gregg Popovich and General Manager RC Buford are hoping that the signing of power forward Lamarcus Aldridge will lead them to the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Aldridge signing wasn’t the only major offseason acquisition that the Spurs made; they also convinced power forward David West to sign for the veteran’s minimum, and he gives the Spurs additional depth. The Spurs ended last season in a last-second loss to the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. Last year’s Spurs were under seeded as a six seed due to a rule that seeded division winners higher, but that rule has since been abolished and had it been in place last season, the Spurs would likely have made it deeper into the playoffs. The Spurs may have lost players from last year’s team, most notably center Tiago Splitter, but their off season signings more than make up for this lost talent.

Matthew D: Golden State Warriors

The reigning champions of the NBA are looking to win another title. Led by MVP point guard Stephen Curry, the Warriors will certainly be a contender for next year’s NBA finals. As, they have made the playoffs the last three years, and they should make it a fourth. The team has six offensive and defensive weapons in the Splash Brothers (Klay Thompson and Curry), forward Harrison Barnes, forward Draymond Green, center Andrew Bogut and guard/forward Andre Iguodala. Although the team traded away David Lee, it should perform as well or even better than last year because either Lee was out with injuries, or he came off the bench during the games. During this preseason and training camp, the Warriors were ranked first in the NBA. I kindly disagree with the prediction that the Spurs, Clippers or Cavs will win the playoffs. These teams have notable weaknesses, which places them behind the Warriors. The Cavs always fight injuries such as point guard Kyrie Irving’s playoff leg injury, the average age of the players on the Spurs is way too high and the Clippers always choke.  Also the Warriors have a 11-0 record, which is one of the best in the NBA at the moment. The Warriors were the best team overall in the NBA last year. These strengths should continue in the 2016 season for the Warriors.

Jake:  Los Angeles Clippers

There are a couple things that are surprising about the status of teams currently in the NBA.  The first is that over the course of two or three years, the hierarchy of teams in Los Angeles has taken a full 180 degree turn.  The second is that the Clippers are now the better team in Los Angeles. Since the change, the Clippers, have not yet won an NBA championship since this 180 degree turn.  The Clippers’ most recent season had been fruitful, but the team came up short, boasting a preliminary record of 56-26 and the third seed in the Western Conference (which has been established as the more prolific conference as of late).  In the postseason, the Clippers lost in the Western Conference semifinals in seven games to the Houston Rockets.  This deceivingly underestimates the skill level of a team with a starting lineup containing veteran stars point guard Chris Paul, power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan, not to mention the arguably best coach in the league: Doc Rivers.  Rivers, over the past two seasons as head coach, has created a strong chemistry with the aforementioned key players and absolutely has the tools needed for a championship team.  The Clippers’ real competition this year include the Houston Rockets (again) and the reigning champion Golden State Warriors.  After losing to the Rockets by only one game, there is a strong chance the Clippers could win a series this season against them.  As for the Warriors, they have a prolific backcourt with point guard Stephen Curry, but they also have an unsynchronized frontcourt that could cause their demise around mid-season, leading the Clippers to never even play them in the postseason.

 

MVP:

Matthew G: Lebron James

Basketball fans were highly critical of James’s last season due to the fact that he didn’t perform to the lofty expectations he set for himself. His season was not bad by any means as he averaged 25.3 points per game and 7.4 assists per game. James also had to carry the Cavaliers for most of the season due to injuries to power forward Kevin Love and point guard Kyrie Irving. When James himself was injured and missed some games, the Cavs struggled. According to ESPN, James had a 17.03 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), so that essentially means that he singlehandedly wins approximately a quarter of the season for the Cavs. James is unstoppable when he drives to the basket and opposing teams have no answer for him. His athleticism separates himself from the rest of the MVP field.

Matthew D: Stephen Curry

The fan favorite “Baby Faced Assassin” should win the MVP award, as he is the reigning MVP who has dominated the NBA from the three point line. Last year, Curry set the NBA record for most three pointers made in a single season. He also led his team, which was the best team in the NBA, in scoring, assists and steals. Last season, he averaged the sixth most points and assists and the fourth most steals. This season Curry is averaging a whopping 33.4 points a game, 5.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists. Curry averages the most points in the NBA and the second most assists.  From dominating the three point line to leading the best team in the NBA, Curry should win the Kia MVP award.

Jake: James Harden

Two words: The Beard.  While these words may not convey his skill level, shooting guard James Harden became notorious for his voluminous beard and stayed notorious for his undoubtful skills.  Harden started in all 81 games he played in last season, missing one game only for a minor knee injury.  He led the team in the 2014-15 season in points-per-game, assists-per-game and steals-per-game with 27.4, 7.0 and 1.9, respectively.  He also led the team in Player Efficiency Rating with 26.2, which takes into account players’ productivity per minute with above 6.09 minutes-per-game played.  Comparatively, His Player Efficiency Rating ranked 5th overall in the league.  Harden was the league’s most objectively dedicated player last season, with the highest amount of minutes played.  He was also the league’s leading total point-scorer.  All of these records leads one to believe that even if the Rockets don’t win the championship next season, that Harden’s progressive skill level will lead him to the MVP award.

 

Breakout Team:

Matthew G: Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks have an exciting young core in guard/forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, forward Jabari Parker and forward Khris Middleton. They also added power forward Greg Monroe this offseason who will fit in perfectly with the Bucks. The team finished 41-41 last season with a first round exit to the Chicago Bulls, however they played a significant portion of the season without Parker due to a torn ACL. The Bucks will improve last season by getting back and because of the aforementioned signing of Monroe. Monroe has struggled the past few seasons on the Detroit Pistons as he couldn’t coexist on the court with fellow center Andre Drummond. Monroe should thrive in the post on the Bucks. The squad made a splash last trade deadline when they acquired point guard Michael Carter-Williams, he should be able to guide the offense and act as their floor general. They also have a strong bench led by power forward John Henson, who is improving every year. The Bucks’ successful season last year was just the beginning of a great team in years to come.

Matthew D: Los Angeles Lakers

After finishing one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Lakers look to rebound this year and try to be the team that they are known for being. They have won the most NBA titles, and they have veteran shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Battling through injuries to Bryant and forward Julius Randle, the team struggled offensively and defensively throughout the season. During the offseason though, they drafted rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell, even though they needed a center badly in the draft. This position was filled by Roy Hibbert, an exceptional veteran center. Russell turned out to be a great pick for the Lakers because they didn’t just struggle on defense, but also on offense. Russell turned out to be a better pick than the public thought because he is the most likely to become a star player in the NBA out of Karl Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and himself. Also, during the preseason the Lakers took down the Maccabi Haifa, which is the best team in the Euro League by a score of 126-83. The Laker’s season still looks very promising after a 2-9 start.

Jake: Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards have casually been tossed around in basketball fans’ perspectives as a second-class team.  Up until very recently, the Wizards had an under .400 record every season and were not a playoff team.  However, because of their repeatedly low skill level, they have had good draft selections for the past few years that include small forward Otto Porter, shooting guard Bradley Beal and — to my knowledge — the only NBA player to have a song named after him, point guard John Wall.  These young players have solidified their chemistry over the past couple years and have achieved, most recently, the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference of the NBA playoffs.  These young NBA players are sure to do well this year and rise up in the rankings.

 

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