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General NBA Analysis

Smooth as Jazz

Written by Logan Karels

In the heart of Western Conference, there is a team that isn’t a powerhouse but sure seems like a dark horse team — the Utah Jazz. Classic jazz music is certainly smooth, and this team certainly fits that label. Utah wasn’t forced to make any drastic changes this offseason, as their two best players, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, are on the upswing at 22 and 26-years-old respectively.

As a franchise that seemingly looked to be on a downturn and in a rebuild after losing franchise player Gordon Hayward in free agency, last season sure was a surprise. Having two core players as your franchise cornerstones, so young in age — who both haven’t reached their prime but are also productive — is the envy of every small market team in the league.

The Jazz had arguably the steal of the draft, picking their young star Mitchell at the 13th overall pick. Mitchell had a great rookie campaign averaging 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.5 steals. This young man has been compared to Dwyane Wade in just his first year of playing NBA basketball. There is absolutely no doubt he is an elite athlete and a special talent. Standing at 6’3” and 210 pounds, he has a 6’10” wingspan making him a formidable guard in today’s game — even more so if he starts making improvements on defense. He is built similarly to Wade, who has just an inch and about 15 pounds on the young Jazz star, so it is easy to see why Mitchell drew the comparisons along with the similar intensity and playing style. Wade was an elite athlete and very explosive in his prime, and we have yet to see what the young Jazz star’s prime will bring.

Arguably the team’s MVP is defensive juggernaut Rudy Gobert. This young star already has quite an impressive resume — NBA blocks leader in 2017, two-time NBA All-Defensive first team, All-NBA second team, capped off with a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018. Gobert is the team’s most important player right now at 26, at least until Mitchell continues further down his development trajectory. It simply cannot be overstated enough how good it is for a franchise to have their two best players this young. Gobert is a defensive juggernaut and leads the way on the floor defensively. He stands tall and long at 7’1” with a historically long wingspan of 7’9”. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year acts as an anchor and essentially generates a no-fly zone around the rim. As one of the league’s premier shot-blockers, the rest of his team can channel players driving at the rim toward Gobert as he waits for them in the paint with his massive reach and defensive capability. The Jazz are one of the NBA’s top defensive teams and Gobert plays a massive role in that.

Utah had the luxury of consistency of a roster from year to year, and that continuity helps elevate a team to prominence. Great role players are always needed on any team that has championship aspirations. The Jazz do not come up short in that respect at all. Joe Ingles has emerged as another of the team’s best players and leading scorer. Ingles was one of the top three-point shooters in the NBA last season at 45 percent. Ricky Rubio runs the pick and roll with Gobert and also runs the offense, which opens Mitchell up to focus more on scoring. Basketball veterans Rubio and Ingles help the team’s young players greatly, both of whom played professional basketball overseas before their NBA careers even began. Veteran leadership is a must have on any aspiring championship NBA team. Speaking of veterans, earlier this season the Jazz acquired former player Kyle Korver. Korver has been one of the best three-point shooters in the game during his entire career. He is fifth all-time in the NBA in three-pointers made (just recently getting passed by former MVP and sharpshooting flamethrower Stephen Curry). Outside shooting is a great asset to have when you can pair it with a slasher/penetrator like Mitchell can be.

Gobert and Derrick Favors share similar playing styles, both being essentially traditional big men. Another key piece to Utah’s success is Jae Crowder, who, like Gobert, is an extremely talented defensive player, and he can also shoot the three. A notable acquisition for the team during the NBA draft was Grayson Allen, who was a talented player for Coach K at Duke, playing all four years behind the legendary coach. He plays extremely hard on defense and is yet another talented young player on the Jazz roster. The roster is jam-packed full of players who are both long and athletic. The quarter season acquisition of Kyle Korver was a great decision by Utah. Korver is one of the greatest three-point shooters ever, and his return to the Jazz, a former team of his, was a warm welcome indeed.

During last season, head coach Quin Snyder experimented with different lineups, plugging in different players here and there. He finally found a starting lineup that worked and had great rotational players as well. The Jazz haven’t looked back since. They finished the season strong and went into the playoffs and upset the Oklahoma City Thunder led by reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. Quin Snyder is without a doubt one of the NBA’s top coaches — he played for and was virtually groomed by the legendary Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski. After his playing days, he returned to Duke and finished his MBA and JD, while serving as one of Coach K’s assistants. Coaching behind such a renowned coach like Coach K is something that few aspiring NBA coaches can hope to experience. Having won the Coach of the Year award during his time in the D-League, it’s not hard to see why he was at least mentioned by some last year for the same honor in the NBA.

This season is not starting out too well for Utah, as the Western Conference has continued to get stronger, year after year. Good things are on the horizon for the Jazz however, if they continue to groom their stars. Led by head coach Quin Snyder, and star players Gobert and Mitchell, another strong season is in store for Utah if they can turn things around after their mediocre start. Things were looking to take a turn for the worse for Utah fans when Gordon Hayward left for Boston. Perhaps with all the young talent they currently possess, karma will turn around and they will be in the running for a big name free agent in the next couple years. They have certainly earned a spot on future free agent’s map of possible destinations.

Superteams: Good or Bad for the NBA?

Written by Logan Karels (@Karels23)

Superteams. A superteam is a term thrown around in the sports world quite often in this era of basketball.

So, what exactly defines a superteam? A superteam is when a professional sports team has multiple all-star (or all-star caliber) players on the same team. Historically, superteams have always existed in the NBA. Parity in sports is common terminology brought up regularly by fans around the water cooler. The dynastic Golden State Warriors are no exception in the NBA.

The truth is — the league has consistently remained the same. Every year, come postseason time, only a handful of teams have a shot at winning the NBA championship. The remaining teams in the league simply are not on that same level as the top teams.

Let’s take a look at what are considered some of the best teams (superteams) in the history of the NBA.

Obviously, the Chicago Bulls superteam is automatically in the discussion. Led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, one of the most fearsome duos the league has ever seen, this team was considered to be the best of all time. In the 90’s, The duo led the Bulls to six titles in eight years, including two three-peats (losing in the Eastern Conference Finals twice in between when Jordan went to go play baseball).

The current Golden State Warriors superteam has had a dominant stretch in the last several years including a record-breaking 73-9 regular season. What is most impressive is the three championships in four years (and if Draymond doesn’t get suspended during the 2016 Finals probably would be going for their fifth straight title this upcoming season). If they keep up their level of greatness they have a chance to dethrone the Jordan-Bulls dynasty off the all-time rankings.

The 2013-era HEAT led by LeBron and Wade were also very dominant during their time as teammates, winning an extraordinary 27 games consecutively during the regular season, along with Chris Bosh and their supporting cast. They won consecutive titles and lost in the finals on the years bookending their repeat championships.

It’s worth mentioning history’s past great superteams that newer NBA fans may not entirely know of. The “Showtime Lakers” with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. The original Celtics super team led by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. An even older Celtics superteam yet were led by the legendary Bill Russell, with Bob Cousy and Sam Jones.

Parity in Professional Sports

Parity refers to the equality of the league, meaning that in a perfect world, the best 30+ players would be evenly distributed to teams in the league- making the league much more competitive and interesting. Historically, parity within the NBA has remained a constant. Each era had the respective teams who dominated the rest of the league. Each season, very similar to today’s league, only a select few teams have a real chance to win the NBA championship.

The NFL differs highly from the NBA in terms of parity. The Superbowl favorites often change every season. Staying consistent in the postseason, making the conference finals, and advancing to the title game proves extremely challenging. In basketball- you have 5 players who are the main impact on the game — whereas in football you have 11 different players on both sides of the ball, offense and defense. Counting special teams and substitutions throughout the game, there are many players that teams must rely on in high pressure game situations. For instance, in the NBA teams “shorten” their in-game rotations and substitution patterns. In the NFL, there are too many positions and it just isn’t realistic.

In the NBA, a player like LeBron or Michael Jordan, one individual player can have a massive impact on a game. On the football field, it is difficult for a specific player to have such an impact on the game outside of a quarterback with a few exceptions. One such exception is a player like Khalil Mack, the Bears’ defensive star that just came over from the Raiders. He alone has changed the Bears defense entirely to one of the top defenses in the league. Even so, they are far from considered one of the best teams in the league, and even in the NFC North. When you get a player with that kind of skill level who is leading an NBA team —  that team is almost guaranteed to be one of the best, if not the best teams in the league.

What makes a Superteam?

What exactly qualifies a team as a Superteam? For most people, it is multiple all-star caliber or superstar-caliber players on the same team. Looking at the current Golden State Warriors roster — Steph Curry and Kevin Durant — with three MVP awards between them can dominate the game anywhere at any given night, regardless of the team they are playing. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Demarcus Cousins are all-stars as well. Golden State also has arguably two of the best shooters of all time in Curry and Thompson. The league has never before seen a team that can bolster a lineup (eventually) of five all-stars.

Many try to make the argument that the blame solely lies on LeBron for the superteam phenomenon we have seen in recent years. This is probably a misconception, as there were superteams before “The Heatles” came along in 2010. The whole reason LeBron left his hometown team for Miami is so he could get more reliable help to beat the Boston Celtics’ big three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, which could be considered a big 4 when adding Rajon Rondo’s impact on the game. It’s extremely difficult to find a championship roster without two or more future Hall of Famers on the leagues’ superteams of the past. The glaring reason for this is: it’s near impossible to win a title by yourself. Every great team has its star player, of course, but one thing they all have in common is other stars and great supporting casts.

Effects on the NBA

The topic has been the root of debate for NBA fans around the country and globally. Many say that superteams are ruining the league and that is not true in my opinion. If it was, the league would have been ruined ages ago due to all the superteams in the NBA since Dr. James Naismith invented this wonderous game.

In truth, superteams actually benefit the NBA. The Warriors have gained an insane amount of popularity and attention when they play. The NBA is thriving financially in part due to this, another reason why superteams- even like the Warriors — only spell good things for the NBA. The first rounds of the playoffs weren’t great overall, but the Finals itself has been breaking previous viewership records. Every player and team in the league wants nothing more than to beat Golden State, the best current team. This bolsters the competition and makes for highly entertaining games.

Superteams force the rest of the league to work harder to get better and improve their skills. When a team like the Warriors gets remarkably far ahead of the rest of the league in terms of skill, the pressure is on all those other teams to advance, whether that would be signing players through free agency, trading, or just working hard every day to improve. Other teams need to increase their risk profile and “swing for the fences” as it were to compete with Golden State. It will be very exciting to see which franchise can put together a roster good enough to compete with the Warriors- like the Rockets almost did last season.

The Los Angeles Clippers: An NBA experiment

This upcoming season’s Los Angeles Clippers’ roster is quite interesting to say the least. It’s a unique enigma.

“Lob City” is no more- with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan all having moved on to different teams. Many have pointed out the fact they have no real star- which is very true. When was the last time a team had this significant a lack of talent variation? What does that even mean? It means that the organization has no superstars, but contains a deeper than average team. Most of the players are closer to the same talent and impact level than any team you can think of. This roster consists of many solid role players, but no real star player to lead. We’ll see what that means for the Clippers this season with the absolutely stacked Western Conference including the seismic shift of LeBron changing conferences and joining the legendary Los Angeles Lakers across the hall. 

Harkening back to 2004

The first team that comes to mind when you think of a “flat” roster is the 2004 Detroit Pistons- though they did win the championship that year. The premise is still similar: they did not have a star or superstar level type player either. One could make the argument for Chauncey Billups being their star/leader, but he wasn’t a superstar caliber player.

That starting five was a very solid lineup:

  • Chauncey Billups
  • Rip Hamilton
  • Tayshaun Prince
  • Rasheed Wallace
  • Ben Wallace

Detroit was a heavy underdog in the series against LA, but overcame the odds. The team is comparable to the Clippers roster. Some of the better-known players on the roster would include Lou Williams, Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Danilo Gallinari to name a few. Despite losing their star player and defensive anchor in DeAndre Jordan, The Clippers can make a push toward the playoffs. No one is going to be expecting much from this squad- which makes for the perfect recipe for success-  and therefore there is no pressure on them to succeed. The Clippers roster is also quite deep and features a number of players who will be solid rotational guys and give a great boost off the bench.

Roster Expectations and Analysis

The Clippers’ lack of star power will certainly pose a problem later on in the postseason, but their significantly superior depth will help them win games during the doldrums of the regular season. The roster shockingly has a combined zero all-star appearances for such a veteran team.  However, they get on the board with a handful of defensive first and second team appearances thanks to Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley.

Luc Mbah a Moute, who is another great defender, can add a scoring boost off the bench and helps round out their forward rotation with “professional scorers” Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari. The defensive side of the ball will indeed be one of the teams’ strengths thanks in part to these three defensive standouts leading the way and setting an example for their teammates. Boban Marjanovic is a giant of a man, and will also help with defense by clogging the lane and disrupting opposing players’ drives to the baskets.

Lou Williams has earned the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award twice in his career- one being this past season- and the team will look to him to lead them in the scoring department after his strong campaign. Probably, Williams (and many other players in the rotation) are in the range of the 40th best players in the league or thereabouts (but no better), which is just going to make things all the more interesting.

Solar Insights Editor-in-Chief Eric Saar and ESPN’s Kevin Pelton discuss the Clipper roster

For full podcast (near end of audio): click here

This team is built for the regular season and rosters like this do not come around too often. Most of that is due to the shift in culture in the NBA lately. These days you NEED to have 2-3 All-Stars to even compete for the title it seems. The premise of the Clippers roster is good in theory, but having such a plethora of veteran NBA players can help raise the floor for a team like this. They have a high basketball IQ and will be calm in certain types of situations that may arise in high-pressure games.  Fewer mistakes will be made because of their experience. On the flip side, their lack of a true superstar will definitely lower their ceiling. Teams need a superstar to lead them throughout the season and in critical postseason games. These superstars take all the defensive attention and try to lead the team to victory.

Still, they need a star to lead them. It would be awesome to see some others teams try this out with a completely solid roster from top to bottom- but led by one star- and with all the rotational guys producing significantly in one aspect or another.  It all about players embracing their role and how much money there is to spread around.

This Clippers team is going to surprise some people with their play in the upcoming season. Even though the Western Conference is going to be tough — as usual — this Clippers roster has the potential to push through and possibly even earn themselves a postseason berth. One of the bright spots for the team will be their defensive prowess, especially on the perimeter. Led by Bradley, Beverley and Mbah a Moute, the three will work to set an example for their fellow teammates to get everyone more involved and ultimately improve on the defensive side of the ball. Lou Williams has the potential to lead on the other side of the ball, however. He is certainly a talented scorer and has displayed it at certain times throughout his career. Overall, this Clippers team is pretty well rounded and stuffed with solid players who will provide great production in their time on the court. One thing is for sure- Clippers fans should be excited to see how this roster emerges and performs against the tougher teams of the league.

Old Eras of 76ers Basketball to a Bright New Future

Written by Logan Karels (@Karels23)

The Philadelphia 76ers are a franchise with a storied past, filled with superstars era after era. These include Julius Erving (a.k.a. Dr. J), Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley, and Moses Malone as just some of the players this franchise has had the privilege to bring in the fold since their inception. Some legendary names to be sure, there is no denying that. Only time will tell if their franchise cornerstones, Simmons and Embiid, can etch their names into 76er history and join the other greats of this storied franchise that has the third-most regular season wins in NBA history (behind the legendary Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers).

The Wilt Chamberlain Era

During the 1964-65 season, Philadelphia acquired the legendary Wilt Chamberlain from the Warriors, leading to a great era in Philly. A name that every Sixers fan will know and respect, to be sure. Chamberlain absolutely dominated the league on every team he played on. He is one of the most legendary and recognizable figures in basketball history. Of course, everyone knows about his iconic 100 point game, which to this day has still not been surpassed and probably never will be. His career for the Sixers was not very long, but it didn’t take away from anything he accomplished during his time in Philadelphia. That Sixers squad was very talented from top to bottom from their duo of star players — Chamberlain and Hal Greer — to their role players. Reportedly there was some tension between the two stars, Greer not wanting to give up being the undisputed leader and the authority that came with it. As the season progressed, however, they started to mesh well and put those differences behind them. With Philadelphia, Chamberlain won the NBA championship in 1967, and also won three straight Most Valuable Player awards from 1966-1968.

The Julius “Dr. J” Erving Era

The Julius Erving era was an exciting time for Sixer fans. Dr. J revolutionized the way basketball was played. He played a major role in popularizing modern basketball which had an emphasis on leaping and playing at a high level above the rim. He was such an iconic and polarizing player to watch. Most people will remember that legendary play against the Lakers in the 1980 finals, where he pulled off that ridiculous reverse layup and seemed to hang in the air forever. It was athletic and acrobatic plays like this which allowed him to shape the way basketball would forever be played — even to today.

Erving played a major role in helping legitimize the American Basketball Association (ABA), being the most well-known player of the league when they merged with the NBA. After he was traded to the Sixers, Erving quickly grew into the leader of his new team- leading them to a great 50-win season. While in the ABA, he was expected to do everything for his team- and while playing for the Sixers he focused his role mostly on scoring- but he also kept up with his unselfish play keeping his teammates involved.

The Charles Barkley Era

Charles Barkley arrived in Philadelphia during the 1984-85 season. Barkley brought happiness to the fans of Philadelphia mostly in part thanks to his humorous and occasionally controversial personality and actions. The Sixers made a return to the Eastern Conference Finals during Charles’ rookie season, ultimately losing to Boston. Little to the knowledge of the Philadelphia fans, the Sixers would never again advance to the Eastern Conference Finals again during Charles’ tenure. In June of 1986, Harold Katz perhaps made two of the most controversial and extremely criticized roster moves in the franchise’s history. Moses Malone was traded to Washington and the first overall pick in the year’s upcoming draft to Cleveland.

In the 1987-88 season, the Sixers finished the regular season with a losing record and led to the franchise failing to earn a playoff spot for the first time since the 1974-75 season. In 1988-89 the Philadelphia 76ers made their return to the playoffs after the one-year hiatus. The following season, Barkley finished second in MVP voting. The Sixers finished atop the division ending the season 53-29 overall. Following their victory over Cleveland, the Sixers met the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the second round. Philadelphia would be defeated by the Bulls in five games in back-to-back years. The 1991-92 season, the Sixers finished with another losing record, leading to only the second time they missed the playoffs during Barkley’s tenure. On June 17, 1992, Charles Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang. This deal was highly criticized by the league community, including the franchise’s fans.

The Allen Iverson Era

After many years of disappointment following the departure of Charles Barkley, there was a shining moment. The franchise won the draft lottery for the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft. With that pick, the Philadelphia 76ers found the “Answer”, in Allen Iverson. Iverson is widely regarded as the best “pound for pound” player in NBA history due to his small stature and weighing less than a typical guard would. Paired with new ownership of the team and Iverson as their focal point on the team, things seemed to be heading in the right direction. Iverson was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in his debut season. Following Iverson’s rookie year, the coach was fired and they unveiled a new logo design and jersey; hopefully to signify a new era in 76er basketball.

Larry Brown was hired as the new head coach and he was known for a defense-first type of coach. He also was renowned for transforming average teams into winning teams with his mindset and coaching ability. Brown and Iverson often clashed, disagreeing on various views and opinions of the other.  Early on during the season, the Sixers traded Jerry Stackhouse to Detroit. Philadelphia received a couple defensive stars in Aaron Mckie and Theo Ratliff who had a major impact in the team’s resurgence. The Sixers began this resurgence in the 1998-99 season which was shortened due to the lockout. Philadelphia earned the sixth seed in the playoffs- this was the first time the franchise had returned to the playoffs since 1991.

The Sixers were steadily improving year after year- but Iverson and Coach Brown continued to have disagreements and clash with each other. Their relationship suffered much during this time and was starting to look like Iverson was going to be traded. Later on, it became apparent that Iverson was going to remain in Philadelphia and he and Brown started to work on their relationship and fix things between the two. In the 2000-01 season, the Sixers had a great regular season and secured the first seed in the East. After a hard fought playoff run, the Sixers, led by Iverson, emerged victorious in the Eastern Conference Finals and advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1983. Philadelphia was bested by the Lakers four games to one. Philadelphia’s 2000-01 season featured the NBA MVP, Iverson, Coach of the Year in Brown, Defensive Player of the Year (Mutombo) and the Sixth Man of the Year (Aaron McKie).

In 2003, Coach Brown resigned from his position as head coach. The following season, the Sixers acquired Chris Webber from Sacramento with the hope that they had finally found another star to complement and support Iverson. The same year in the draft, they selected Andre Iguodala who would be another vital piece for the Sixer squad. A couple of seasons later, in December of 2006, Iverson came to the front office with an ultimatum: acquire players who will help support me, or trade me. Two weeks later, Iverson was traded to Denver, and thus ended the Iverson era in Philadelphia.

The Simmons/Embiid Era

Fast forward some years to now, and the Philadelphia 76ers are back as an Eastern Conference powerhouse. Led by their young core in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, this season’s Rookie of the Year, they had a strong 2017-18 season and things are only looking up from here as both players will continue to develop and get better. What does this mean for the league? It means that certain historical league rivalries have been reignited and that can only mean great things for the league in the years to come.

Comparing the team now to past eras, it feels different, to say the least. With the whole “Trust the Process” theme coming to fruition with their stellar drafting ability recently, Philadelphia has done just about everything they can do to ensure that they are back to one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for years to come. It is great for the league now that the Sixers are back as a top team in the Conference. Legendary old rivalries have been reignited again, most notably the rivalry between Boston and Philly. The Sixers are back and are here to stay. Personally, I think it is great for the league to have these old rivalries coming back and it can help to bridge the gap between the Sixers fans of old, and their young fans.

2018 NBA Rookie of the Year Race

Written by Logan Karels (@Karels23)

Stats & Team Records

Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons — these are the two young players who were frontrunners for the honor of the Rookie of the Year (RotY) award. First, we will take a look at their regular season statistics.

Donovan Mitchell:  20.5 PPG |3.7 RPG | 3.7 APG | 1.5 SPG

Ben Simmons: 15.8 PPG|8.1 RPG |8.2 APG | 1.7 SPG 

Mitchell is obviously more of a scorer and shooter than Simmons is, but you have to look at what else Simmons does for the Sixers. As a point guard, he often brings up the ball and running parts of the offense, all while distributing and getting his teammates involved.

Simmons helped lead his team to a 52-30 record, taking the third seed in the Eastern Conference. On the other side, Mitchell led his team to a 48-34 record, taking the fifth seed in the West. It can be argued Mitchell had the more impressive season due to his team being in the tougher Western Conference. Not to discredit the Sixers spectacular turnaround from the previous year with an impressive 24-game improvement (from 28 games in 2016-17 to 52 last year). It would appear “Trusting the Process” has indeed worked out in their favor. It’s obvious they will continue their upward trajectory in the upcoming seasons with all the young talent on the roster. Before this year, Philadelphia would never have been thought of a landing spot for LeBron. However, after their turnaround season, things are looking up.

Player Comparisons

As great as Ben Simmons is; he has weaknesses — as all rookies do. Obviously, the most notable flaw would be his shooting ability. Mitchell certainly has the edge here despite Simmons’ raw higher field goal percentage. You have to take that with a grain of salt as most of Simmons’ shot attempts come from inside the paint while driving to the basket due to his weak shooting ability. Obviously, this translates to Simmons’ free throw shooting ability as well. It’s also below average: 56% compared to Mitchell’s 80.5% on the season. Mitchell is already drawing comparisons to Dwyane Wade which is an honor in itself, Wade being the future Hall-of-Famer he is. The only significant difference is that Mitchell is a stronger shooter than Wade was at that age. Of course, Mitchell has some serious work to do to live up to Wade’s reputation in the league.

Both of these rookies had outstanding seasons and many memorable moments it’s hard to pick the best ones. One could go on forever about how talented these two rookies really are. What Mitchell did to lead his team in his rookie season was an incredible thing to behold. The fact is that he was playing in the Western Conference as well. Simmons also helped to lead his team to the playoffs this year. Simmons was even drawing some comparisons as a “mini-LeBron” due to them being such a freight train in transition with nearly unparalleled court vision as playmakers.  That comparison is a quite a stretch since Simmons has only played 81 games while LeBron has played 1143 regular season games. We’ll revisit when Simmons has developed further and is in his prime. There may be some similarities in the future.

Some pundits thought there should have been a co-rookie of the year award just like Jason Kidd and Grant Hill in 1994-95.

Closing Thoughts

While Simmons won the Rookie of the Year award over Mitchell, Jayson Tatum deserves an honorable mention in the race for ROTY. Tatum really stepped up amidst a plethora of injuries that plagued the resilient Boston Celtic team led by Brad Stevens. With all this taken into account, I thought Mitchell should have won. What he has done to lead the team in the Western conference was tough and he deserves to be recognized for it. This doesn’t take away from Simmons’ season at all though. He still had a very impressive rookie campaign. It was great to watch all the leagues’ young rookies compete this year and will be even better watching them improve in the seasons to come. Given all the stats and accolades these two players accumulated during this past season, I believe that Mitchell should have won ROTY, but something was telling me that Simmons was going to be taking home the hardware instead.

To Fight a Mascot: A Scientific Study

Ryan Stivers (@ryanMstives)

So you’ve found yourself in a worst-case scenario. In order to continue living life, Norse trickster God Loki has given you a challenge. He has devised the ultimate battle for you to face, you must fight fifty duck sized versions of any NBA mascot. But Loki has some rules for your challenge as to not make it easy, so who do you choose? Lucky for you, this article exists.

RULE NUMBER ONE – NO INANIMATE OBJECTS

This rule is to avoid choosing anything that couldn’t fight back. It knocks out a pretty good amount of choices right away. We Lose:

  • Nets
  • Mavericks
  • Nuggets
  • Pistons (Yeah the logo is a horse but it’s Detroit, Piston in great scope more than likely means the car part.)
  • Rockets
  • Pacers (Still no clue what a Pacer is)
  • Clippers
  • Lakers
  • HEAT
  • Knicks
  • Thunder
  • Magic
  • 76ers
  • Blazers
  • Spurs
  • Jazz

Teams left – Hawks, Celts, Hornets, Bulls, Cavs, Warriors, Grizzlies, Bucks, Wolves, Pels, Kings, Raps, Wizards.

RULE NUMBER TWO – LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY

Loki has also dictated that your choice in this battle for life, your choice must be of reasonable danger, “is there a real threat you may lose?”

With this rule we now lose:

  • Celtics
  • Cavs
  • Warriors
  • Kings
  • Wizards

Basically, all of these get tossed out because more or less the fight would just be fifty tiny humans attacking you with either smoking pipes, little swords or (probably?) a bunch of two-year-old Harry Potters. Really the point of this was to eliminate mythical creatures and tiny baby fights.

Teams Left – Hawks, Hornets, Bulls, Grizzlies, Bucks, Wolves, Pels, Raps

RULE NUMBER THREE – Can’t choose ones that are already similar in size to a duck

This cuts out:

  • Hornets (stretch, but more than likely they exist and no one should want to see them.)
  • Pels
  • Hawks

Teams left – Bulls, Grizzlies, Bucks, Wolves, Raps

With these three rules in play and only five teams to choose from, let’s rank them.

NUMBER FIVE – Raptors

Size – 1.5 ft high – 6.5 ft long

Weight – 33-43lb

This would by far and away be the worst. Fifty duck sized extinct carnivores relentlessly attacking you sounds like a nightmare. The only plus side is that in the Lost World we all learned that raptors can be defeated by some smooth gymnastic skills, so if you can utilize a high low bar, you may move this into your top three. Outside of being the next Gabby Douglas, anyone may struggle to knock down fifty bloodthirsty creatures designed to be land-bound piranhas. Raptors rank the least-beatable and that’s that.

NUMBER FOUR – Grizzlies

Size – 3-3 ½ feet width, 6-7 feet tall

Weight – 300 – 800lb (yeah, that’s an actual estimate. That’s so much variation, it isn’t even funny. Literally, I can’t even find a joke here for it.)

As far as modern animals go, these are by far and away the most blood thirsty and ready for battle. If anyone took anything away from the motion picture Wild America it is that these animals are ready to fight at all times and that Devon Sawa was entirely underrated as a teenage heartthrob. We all owe apologies to Devon and bears the world round. (Side note, Despite Dwight Schrute’s argument for black bears, Grizzlies are the most terrifying so drop it.)

NUMBER THREE – Wolves

Size – 3 – 7 feet

Weight – 50 – 110lbs

I recently watched the film Wind River from Taylor Sheridan and despite the snub of him winning any award I took one thing away from the ability of wolves, they’re pack hunters. Even if you’re fighting fifty one third sized wolves, chances are they break off into cliques in some weird ass ‘Mean Girl’ fashion and are able to flank you at any attempt of you to survive. The only reason they rank behind Grizzlies is because they’re sort of dogs and if you can tap into your that, you may be able to domesticate them in some sort of Mowgli ala Jungle Book Fashion.

(Author’s note: The American Gray wolf was the reference for this, it was the largest in North America and what should be assumed to be the most blood thirsty. Like Chuck Bronson in Death Wish.)

NUMBER TWO – Bulls

Size – Not sure, every Google or Yahoo search gave answers for Pit Bulls, which doesn’t help here.

Weight – 1,100 – 1,500lbs

Most people don’t have much interaction with Bulls, by the by they aren’t something that any non-Spaniard deal with on a day-to-day. While we have steer, steer are quite docile. Anyone who has seen footage of Bulls overseas should know not to mess with Bulls but in the rank of this, they are the second-least terrifying. Outrunning Bulls in this situation would be a walk in the park, literally, you should be able to walk and be just fine. You have to assume of course they move at the pace of about a standard Canadian goose, while aggressive, waddling will be a factor because of the awkward shape. This is a winnable battle.

NUMBER ONE – Bucks

Size – 3 – 7ft

Weight – 100lbs

They’re deer. Literally, deer. That’s it. Louis C.K. once referred to these as “giant rats.” Do not waste time, do not over think this, this is the choice. All joking aside, this should have been the choice from the get. If you have to battle Loki in an NBA mascot fight, this is the answer.

The Point Forward in the Modern NBA

Ryan Stivers (@ryanMstives)

What is a point-forward? The term has cropped up in recent years among NBA discussions. Traditionally, the term describes a big-man (at least someone taller that “transcended” the label of “guard”) who ran the offense for the team getting his teammates involved as the primary ball-handler. Now, the concept of a big-man playing the point guard position is nothing new, Magic Johnson stood a full 6’9” and ran the offense for the famous showtime Lakers. Oscar Robertson was 6’5” and averaged a triple-double for a season; even Penny Hardaway stood a shocking 6’7”. But despite all of these guards being as big as they were, they were just that, true guards. None of them fell into the category of a “point forward.” So, height and size aside, what is it that makes a true Point Forward and not only that, what makes a great one? For the purposes of this article, it needs to be tossed out that anyone considered a true Oscar have all already been discussed.

As for a point of reference in this argument, each of the four selected typically plays the forward position but at one point or the other in their career run the offense through their use of ball-handling or offensive output. Each of the four was ranked using metrics such as Player Efficiency Rating (PER), assists per game (APG), turnovers per game (TOV), and points per game (PPG) throughout their career. Each category was then ranked one through four for each player and an average score was taken for the ranking of the category. Not the most mathematically nuanced, but combined with the eye-test, it can help us rank these players.
Let’s go:

#4

Ben Simmons
PER – 17.1
APG – 7.2
TOV – 4.0
PPG – 16.3

To start with and not to be unfair to him, Simmons has the smallest sample size of the four players. After having spent his “rookie” season on the bench for the Sixers, the 21-year-old is making a splash, running the offense in Philly. It doesn’t hurt a bit that he has Joel Embiid to help hold down the paint or guys like Robert Covington and JJ Redick to stretch the floor, but what is most intriguing and exciting to watch with Ben is his passing. Through a career total of 42 games, his average of 7.2 assists a game ranks him first among all current rookies with only Lonzo Ball even close at 7.1 (and he’s only played 36 games for the Los Angeles Lakers).

So what is Ben Simmons’ ceiling? Where is his weakness? If his time at LSU (and so far in the league) is any indication, then the only handicap in his game would be his jumpshot. While his field goal percentage at the rim is fine (43.6 percent), he seems to have no confidence in his jumper — for good reason. Between three and ten feet from the basket Simmons is shooting 32.3 percent, and it gets worse. From ten to 16 feet out (known as mid-range) he is shooting 19.8 percent — not good. His three-point shot is practically non-existent. Ben’s game is still young and working its way through The Process but that certainly hasn’t stopped him from showing flashes of greatness.

#3

Giannis Antetokounmpo
PER – 19.8
AST – 3.7
TOV – 2.4
PTS – 16.4/28.2 (2017-2018)

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now, Giannis is a freak, in every sense of the phrase, word or what have you. Every game Giannis is like a baby deer learning how to walk and going from that walk to an outright sprint in four seconds. His eye-test is through the roof to where most people agree he could win an MVP before he turns 25. His points per game are included above only because of how high it is this season compared to his first four years; two of which he was listed as the starting SG/PG —
Giannis has done it all. This is a 6’11” terror who is listed on BasketballReference.com as playable at every head coach to design a perfect player and then develop him into a Hall-of-Famer (except for his shooting, which was bad, but is steadily improving). For his first three years, jumpshot. Through last season and this year he has increased his volume as well as his accuracy to an insane 54.6 field goal percentage (obviously a lot of those are layups/dunks using his incredible 7’ wingspan and massive hands). He is even attempting 1.6 threes a game (with not great accuracy, but it’s improving). Much like with Simmons, Giannis’ upward potential relies entirely on his ability to build up his jumpshot — and he has already made TWO All-Star games!

#2

Kevin Durant
PER – 25.2
AST – 3.9
TOV – 3.2
PTS – 27.1

This may be an unconventional pick for this discussion but it needs to be argued. Durant began his career with the (now long-gone, RIP) Seattle Sonics where he played the shooting guard. To refresh, Earl Watson, Luke Ridnour, and Delonte West were the three point guards for the Sonics that season and for some reason head coach P.J. Carlesimo believed playing the true seven-footer (he is, don’t even deny it) in an off-ball role would benefit this team. In hindsight, it didn’t really help the team, but it did help Durant.

Durant started out hot in his rookie season averaging 20.3 points per game on 43.0 percent from the field and a below-average 28.8 percent from deep. Once moving to OKC and playing with high-usage players like Westbrook and Harden, he wasn’t able to really show what he could do with the ball in his hands. Coincidentally, it wasn’t until he came to play in Golden State that his usage rate as the primary handler really became a thing. Playing alongside one of the greatest shooting point guards (do you need to ask?) in the history of basketball as well as an accurate shooting guard (Thompson) with probably the quickest release of all-time, occasionally, Durant was able to flourish in a more primary role while the others either rested or played off-ball. Durant would probably be mad he comes in second again, but still, coming in at number two on this list isn’t so bad.

#1

LeBron James
PER – 27.6
AST – 7.1
TOV – 3.4
PTS – 27.1

If positionless basketball is just now taking on, then somewhere around 2007-08 is when this OG of all positions invented it. There’s a reason he’s known as The King, The Chosen One and The Akron Hammer. His ‘07 season was the mountaintop of “drag every single one of you to defend the Eastern Conference no matter what I have to do” (seriously, look at the rest of that roster). During that season, LeBron averaged 30 points a game on an excellent 48.8 field goal percentage, while shooting 31.5 percent from behind the arc. His points were a career-high that season while his assists were 7.4 a game, tied for fourth-highest of his career. This was a season in which his roster consisted of Shannon Brown, Larry Hughes and Delonte West (dude has taken a beating this article – clearly he was not a great point guard).

LeBron began his fifteen-year career as a shooting guard and eventually evolved into the primary ball handler/offensive threat on every team he has played on. Currently, he is averaging 8.6 assists a game which is a near career-high through the better part of the last two decades. He is a freight train in transition, unstoppable in the post, with the incredible vision to break down your defense if you dare bring a double-team. The King has transcended what it means to be a big man running the offense and for that, he has to be the true winner in this contest.

The 2017-18 Knicks are the Epitome of New York

New York. The Big Apple. The city founded in 1624 by Dutch immigrants who initially named the city New Amsterdam before the English took it over forty years later.

The city of dreams and street corners filled with gyros, pizza, and falafel. A city that quite literally welcomed those with no option and no hope into their harbor, into their island with nothing more than a statue and a statement of, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The greatest city in the world was built upon the staple and belief that “immigrants built us, they made us who we are.”

It is only fitting now that after twenty years of fading in and out of the public spotlight that the Knicks are once again on the precipice of relevance. Even more fitting, it’s on the backs of a Frenchmen, a Turk and a Unicorn built in a Latvian laboratory.

When looking at the cultural importance of the city of New York, people should never forget that this city gave the world everything from the Beastie Boys to Velvet Underground to Patti Smith, the Talking Heads, the Notorious B.I.G. and everything in between. This was a city that Jay-Z once referred to as the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” a place of refuge for those searching for something greater. The concept of “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” was born upon the winding maze that built that city.

There is a claim to New York being the Mecca of basketball, the home of some of the greatest basketball players of all time. Among the list of these players they tout – Kareem, Cousy, Tiny Archibald, Lamar Odom and Stephon Marbury among a litany of others hailing from the city and state.

Beyond giving the NBA some all-time greats, this is a city that boasts the legendary Rucker Park – the pinnacle of all streetballers. This is a court so well known that players who were of the NBA caliber honed their skills here while hustling in games but never going to the League. Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond set a single-game record here with 82 points in a single game, he was so well-known, he had the Lakers knocking on his door to play for them but turned them down because he made more money playing street ball. Joe is just the tip of the iceberg though. This is a city that gave the world Earl “the Goat” Manigault and Pee Wee Kirkland, two players who by all accounts were better than many of their NBA contemporaries, but due to their various troubles, never quite got to where they could have made it.

Despite all of these legends and tales of greatness, nothing stands out for New York basketball quite like the Knicks teams of the early nineties. If basketball were to be defined in this small fraction of time (’91-’95) it would be defined with three things:

  1. Jordan
  2. Balls-to-the-wall defense.
  3. The three-point revolution.

Now, all three of these had a major impact on how the game was beginning to evolve, but none of them quite encapsulated the changes the NBA was undergoing as well as the Knicks during this era.

This New York team had Oakley and Ewing, one of the best down low, “Just try and drive” combinations to ever exist in basketball. Although, certainly aided by the lack of hand-checking rules instituted by the league after their time had passed. They had the underdog story in John Starks’ career of going from bagging groceries in college to starting guard for the Knicks. This is a city — a team — built upon being the greatest you could possibly become. A quest to fulfill your potential.

All of this is what makes this 2018 team so special. This is not a team that was designed to win. By all accounts, this team should be trying to lose (with as much grace as possible). Hornacek is in a place to take a very unlikely and almost rag-tag “Big Three” on a run in the Eastern Conference that no basketball fan was expecting.

The current Knicks roster gravitates around three men whom for all intents and purposes were believed to be expendable, the types of characters who were booed when drafted (Kristaps Porzingis number four overall in 2015), traded for better propositions, (Kanter, traded after two seasons with Utah to OKC) and Frank Ntilikina, the man who had three selections at the same position ahead of him in his draft.

These three misfits were banded together to try and revive a franchise that had gone dormant with the Melo Years. The Knicks have not been to a playoff series since 2013 and before that hadn’t made it out of the first round since 2000.

So what makes this group so special? What makes them so “New York?” Why are these three more special than those who preceded or those that shall succeed them? It isn’t the flashiness of their style of play, it isn’t the fact that they were heralded as the greatest of their generation in their drafts or even as those that would change a game. No, they all carried something beyond that, something greater than themselves.

Enes Kanter is a 25-year-old Turkish nationalist born in Switzerland. Despite his attempts at playing college basketball and denial by the NCAA for “too much” compensation by his national team, Kanter was still selected third overall in 2011 by the Utah Jazz. Kanter, hailing from Turkish parents, has been very outspoken against President Erdogan, and his rule over Turkey. Enes has caused so much controversy against the dictator that his own family has had to disown his political views. They also implored him to change his last name because of his antagonistic stance towards Erdogan. He caused so much controversy that in 2017, his passport was revoked by Turkey and he was stranded in Romania until the U.S. helped get him back to the states.

If speaking out against a government regime and how much you disagree with a political view isn’t American, then who knows what truly is anymore.

None of these three Knicks are without controversy, on his draft day, Kristaps was selected with the number four overall pick and was promptly booed by every member of the crowd. He was an entirely unknown being tossed into the teeth of the New York media alongside long-time hero Carmelo Anthony.

Even poor Frank was met with question marks, as most fans would have preferred the Knicks to have taken Malik Monk or Dennis Smith Jr.

So maybe that’s what makes these three so fantastic, it has to be the disrespect, this feeling of “well you’re not New York, you don’t get us.”

If Scorsese and Brando taught all of us anything, it is that New York will always be the hardest and most critical place in all of the U.S. of A. It is a city that was built upon the backs of those dreaming for a greater life than what they had been given; striving for the greatness they knew existed inside of them all along.

It is only fitting that now, some 20 years later, after the Knicks last major run that three immigrants from three entirely different situations would lead them toward the path of excitement and resurgence. Even if they don’t make the playoffs; even if this car careens off of the road and into the proverbial ditch, three foreign guys saving the Knicks and basketball in New York, well that is just the most New York thing we could imagine.

How Westbrook became the Kanye West of the NBA

By Ryan Stiver (@ryanMstives)

There have only ever been three, “Oh shit, game-changer” type moments in my entire life:

  • When my current girlfriend led me on a cat-and-mouse game to get her phone number so I could call her again.
  • The moment Kanye West’s “Through the Wire” music video played before basketball practice one morning in 8th grade — on MTV no less!
  • Witnessing Russell Westbrook play basketball.

Now, no one needs to hear the story about how the girlfriend leads me on a wild-goose-chase for ten digits, it is the latter two topics and the parallelism between them that are important. Here it’s, “How Westbrook became the Kanye West of the NBA.”

There, of course, are the easy examples of them both having their own clothing line or being top-five in their respected fields, but there is more than that, these two men are not just talented, rich celebrities — they are enigmas. They are Brodie and Yeezus, singular names that only certain greats can achieve (Prince, Oprah, Cher). They stand alone upon a plateau of greatness that only particular people can achieve.

Like butterflies emerging from a Louis Vuitton-stitched cocoon, the two men burst onto the scene having spent their formative years learning from men perceived to be superior to them at their craft. This time spent in the backseat — the shadows — learning from those around them, prepared them for the journey ahead as they yearned for an opportunity to break through.

Westbrook is full of a braggadocios attitude, a theatrical man, unafraid of his irrationality of being the greatness he strives for. That sounds an awful lot like a young boy from the suburbs of Chicago who once penned, “I found bravery in my bravado.” They both played second-banana to two people considered objectively better (Jay-Z and Durant respectively) before striking out on their own to show how much they’d learned while riding shotgun.

Tidbits here and there were the building blocks of their individual brick road to greatness. Some examples include Common’s “The Food,” or Talib Kweli’s “Get By” remix, (which of course, was produced by West). They were Westbrook’s 2011 and 2012 seasons where he averaged 23 points, five rebounds and four assists per game, following it up with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists the following year.

These were the pods dropped into the earth set to bloom into something magical, something beyond the realm of our understanding of hip-hop or how basketball was to be played. They changed the game. These two men were altering the landscape of the worlds around them with nothing but their own sheer will to succeed on their quest to become the greatest of all time.

We had seen the glimpse of greatness from both men before their masterpieces came to the forefront of the cultural consciousness. Westbrook’s Finals appearance against a strong Miami team was his “Late Registration” moment. It was his leap up and into superstardom that showed the world what he would be capable of as his career progressed. It was the sophomoric attempt that led to a truly unforgettable outcome.

Coming off the loss of that Finals, Westbrook — like West — would ride right on the cusp of G.O.A.T. levels, but never quite reaching that level. Both men driven by pure rage and artistry, an ego that needed to be freed.

In 2010, Kanye would release his magnum opus, the masterpiece upon which the Church of Yeezus was built — the chief cornerstone. If “Late Registration” was Brodie’s Miami Final, then “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is his triple-double season.

Much like West after the now infamous “Swift” incident at the awards show, basketball heads waited with baited breath to see how Westbrook would come back. No one knew for sure what he was going to be capable of, but fans knew it would be special and landscape-changing. That was exactly what happened.

Now we wait to see what happens going forward. Does Brodie go and make his equivalent of “YEEZUS”, the year where he goes full swag-mode entirely relying on his own ability, despite having the resources around to become part of the cultural zeitgeist? Or will Westbrook skip this phase and become more self-aware? Will he realize that his peak has come and now it is time to influence not only those around him but those coming up behind him, much like “The Life of Pablo” did for Kanye?

Does Brodie come into the 2018 season knowing full-well he has hit the pantheon of greatness in the current NBA and decide that it is now time to take a leadership role, to escort a younger generation of players on their own journey or does he decide he still has more in the tank to do it all himself?

No single person or example can answer these questions, we all just know that witnessing the rise of both these men has been nothing short of spectacular. West and Westbrook are a no-holds-barred, do everything with an Oak-sized tree chip on your shoulder and outperform, “because we are the best” mentality. It may not always be true for the both of them — but it sure is amazing to witness.

 

2017 Trade Season Suns-Specific Thoughts


It’s trade season, which means Suns’ fans want to get rid of anyone on the roster old enough to rent a car. But what should we think about this team? How do we approach trade season?

If you missed my earlier article on understanding the NBA trade season, click the link to check it out and become a more educated NBA fan.

Here we’ll discuss the landscape of this Suns team and how they should proceed with the trade deadline creeping up on us this Thursday (February 23rd at 3:00 pm ET).

Makeup of the Team

Coach Earl Watson’s 2016-2017 Suns’ squad can easily be separated into three distinct age groups:

  • The young’ens- Dragan Bender (19), Derrick Jones Jr. (20), Marquese Chriss (20), Devin Booker (20), Tyler Ulis (21), TJ Warren (23), Alex Len (23), Alan Williams (24)
  • The in-betweeners- Brandon Knight (25), Eric Bledsoe (27)
  • The grizzled vets- P.J. Tucker (31), Jared Dudley (31), Leandro Barbosa (34) and Tyson Chandler (34)

Note: I’m not counting Ronnie Price, who is basically just a coach.

Hmm, I wonder why they are losing? Especially, when their veterans weren’t even really ever close to a top player on any team they’ve been on. It’s certainly difficult to win in the NBA when, not too long ago, 36 percent of your team couldn’t legally drink and only 3 players have more than 6 years of NBA experience under their belt (Dudley, Barbosa, Chandler).

How to rebuild

That just means that this team is in the midst of a rebuild. Every team (maybe the Spurs excluded) goes through this period. The way to get out of a perpetual rebuild is to draft carefully (and get lucky), as well as mold your youngsters into either a part of your core or valuable assets to trade — if they don’t wind up fitting your style of play or timeline.

It’s my philosophy that young teams need veterans to teach them how to play basketball – the right way – teaching them how to win. Helping them understand how to love and embrace the grind and have the proper outlook on playing a professional sport. While the physical maturity of these young players is pretty straight forward, the mental portion of their development is not. It’s an oversimplification to say, “just throw them out there and they’ll get better” throwing out any semblance of nuance, precision or context.

Yes, playing time is a way to get used to the speed and physicality of the pro game, but especially in their rookie year, a lot of the maturity is getting comfortable playing basketball as a career. It’s the travel, handling THAT much money, being yelled at, becoming responsible, and on the court understanding your role and your responsibilities. Those are taught in practice and not wholly while the bright lights are shining.

What is likely to happen and not happen

Fan favorites Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa will probably not be moved (unless they need to be included in a big trade) because general manager Ryan McDonough JUST brought in these prototypical vet presences this offseason to help coach Watson instill his famed “family” culture in the lockeroom.

In the time between the departure of Steve Nash and the emergence of Devin Booker, multiple Dan Majerle hustle-award-winner P.J. Tucker came from overseas to be the heart and soul of several Suns teams. He always got rebounds he shouldn’t have been able to nab, dove for loose balls, developed his shot and vocally led this team. Unfortunately, with T.J. Warren right there on the depth chart, Tucker eating into his minutes, combined with the fact that Warren has the higher ceiling, and that Tucker’s skill set and contract make him the perfect addition to a contender, the chances are high that Tucker will be dealt by the time the trade deadline rolls around.

The same is sort of true of Tyson Chandler. He was brought in for two reasons.

One, he was signed to hopefully seal the LaMarcus Aldridge free agency decision in the summer of 2015. Secondly, he was here in Phoenix to mentor Alex Len in particular, but the entire Suns as well (as one of the only two current Suns’ players to win a title – along with Barbosa who won his ring in 2015 with Golden State).

Chandler can still rebound with the best of them. His 11.4 boards per game put him in a tie for 8th in rebounds, while playing less minutes per game than anyone ahead of him, and his fourth-highest mark in this department during his 16-year career. He can still play decent interior defense and can be the vocal leader and defensive anchor for a team that actually has playoff or championship aspirations.

Both objectives have sort of been accomplished. The Chandler signing nearly sealed the Aldridge free agency, but sometimes you just can’t really compete with the San Antonio Spurs pedigree. Also, he has mentored Len, who is certainly blooming and has that “tap-out” rebounding skill DOWN PAT. Chandler will be a great addition to a team and the Suns will see what they can get back for him – paving the way for Len to bloom even further. The flash we saw from Alan Williams makes this all even easier. We’ll always have Chandler’s thrilling put-back slams to remember him by.

The other player that has been paraded around the league as available to be dealt is Brandon Knight. However, rumors are that he certainly isn’t coveted, but we’ll see when teams get desperate on Thursday. He is currently one of the worst players in the real plus-minus metric that tracks how well a team does when a player is on the floor versus on the bench. It is certainly an eyebrow-raising stat, but not a nail in the coffin for his career.

Knight is a good player, but oftentimes seems to squander a possession when the Suns can least afford it. He has been on the trading block as it seems Phoenix may finally be past the years-long era of the two (or three) point guard system as Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker return the Suns to a traditional backcourt. Knight is playing a decent sixth-man role, but probably wants to be starting – he just can’t and shouldn’t in Phoenix. He’ll find his niche on some team and flourish there. His value is waning, and while on the one hand his skill set is valuable, the tape and the numbers don’t lie. But if McDonough was able to get a first-round pick out of a sandbagging Markieff Morris, he can probably do okay with a smart, hard-working player with the skill set that Knight possesses.

Bledsoe and Len

It’s frustrating to hear others discuss Bledsoe on the same level as any of those previous players like Tucker, Chandler, Knight. He’s better than them. None of them were/ever will be a top three player on a championship team – but Bledsoe definitely could. It doesn’t matter if he “doesn’t fit their timeline” There isn’t some caveat in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement saying that a team is only eligible to win a championship if their 3 best players are all within 4 years of each other, or something like that. Roles change. For a few years, one player is the best while the other two support him, then another player steps up, while another takes a step back. It’s how the NBA works.

If Bledsoe is dealt as the odd-man out of this Suns’ core, he should bring back more than these other players, which is a testament to the wonderful job (in general) GM Ryan McDonough has done as Bledsoe was traded to Phoenix for practically nothing (and actually if you think about it, Jared Dudley is back with Phoenix, so Bledsoe was basically acquired for a second-rounder).

The rest of the players are in the aforementioned young’ens group and are also all on their rookie contracts, so, unless they are filler for some trade that nets the Suns a superstar, they should all be staying in the Valley of the Sun for the time being.

Alex Len is the closest to his rookie contract being up as he is a restricted free agent this upcoming summer. That means that if anyone offers him a contract, the Suns have the ability to match it. With his increasingly aggressive, fluid, and impressive play and the way the salary cap is booming, I’d say he’ll stay in Phoenix.

So, let’s see what happens as the Suns’ trade season heats up.

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