NBA Offseason Grades

Kevin Love and LeBron James

Kevin Love and LeBron James

Now that Kevin Love finally completed his move to Cleveland, I can focus on writing basketball now. Apologies for the lack of articles this summer, but it’s time to take a step back and look at which teams seriously improved their titles chances for next year, which teams are stuck in neutral, and which teams just don’t have a chance. Each team is given a Grade, summary of player Additions and Departures, and a short Insight into the future season. The insight portion is limited to a few talking points because a more thorough preview of teams will be coming out once the season is closer.  Without further ado, your 2014 NBA Offseason grades. The Eastern Conference will be done in Part 1; with Part 2 coming soon featuring the Western Conference.

Atlantic Division

Toronto Raptors

-Grade: B+

-Additions: F Bruno Caboclo (Draft), F James Johnson (2-Yr Deal), G Lou Williams (from Atlanta), C Lucas Nogiera (Atlanta)

-Departures: G John Salmons (traded to Atlanta), F Steve Novak (traded to Utah), G Nando de Colo (joined Russian league), C Joey Dorsey (signed with Houston)

-Insight: There is a lot of hype around the Toronto area. Especially after this amazingly, awesome video came out with Masai Ujiri getting fans ready for their first round playoff series against Brooklyn last spring. They have a great young core comprised of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Ross. Look out for this team sliding into the East’s top four seeds this upcoming season.

Brooklyn Nets

-Grade: C

-Additions: Coach Lionel Hollins (ex-Memphis Grizzlies coach), G Jarrett Jack (from Cleveland), G Sergey Karasev (from Cleveland), NO DRAFT PICKS

-Departures: Coach Jason Kidd (to Milwaukee), G Marcus Thornton (to Boston), F Paul Pierce (to Washington), G Shaun Livingston (to Golden State)

-Insight: I think we all knew after Jason Kidd “dropped a cup of water on the court” to buy an extra timeout, that things weren’t right in Brooklyn. Kidd is out and Hollins is in. Not a bad replacement at all considering the work Hollins did to put Memphis back on the map. The core team is still there; Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and Kevin Garnett, but what hurts this team every year is injuries. If they stay healthy, they can pose a serious threat to top-tier Eastern Conference teams. Even if they limp into the playoffs at say a 6 or 7 seed, if you’re Chicago or Cleveland (The clear top 2 teams in the East), do you want to play a team full of experienced veterans in the first round? No thank you.

New York Knicks

-Grade: B+

-Additions: Coach Derek Fisher, G Jose Caulderon (from Dallas), C Samuel Dalembert (from Dallas), G Shane Larkin (from Dallas), F Cleanthony Early (Draft), G Thanasis Antetohounmpo (Draft), C Jason Smith (1-Yr Deal).

-Departures: No one.

-Insight: Phil Jackson has been busy in his first offseason in New York. Carmelo Anthony was inked to a new five-year, $124 million deal and suddenly the Knicks are back in business…or not. As of right now, Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Dalembert, Smith, Travis Outlaw, Metta World Peace, and Cole Adrich all have contracts expiring after the upcoming season. New York only has $39 million in salary coming into the 2015/16 season, which means the Knicks are priming themselves for a run at the big free agents a year from now with all that cap flexibility. Fun fact: Amare Stoudemire’s contract ($23,410,988) is worth more than Iman Shumpert, Jose Caulderon, J.R. Smith, and Samuel Delembert’s contracts combined ($19,700,000)…he’s making more than Carmelo Anthony ($22,458,401) this season for god’s sake! As Jalen Rose puts it, “Keep gettin’ them checks, Amare”.

Boston Celtics

-Grade: B+

-Additions: G Marcus Smart (Draft), G James Young (Draft), F Evan Turner (2-Yr Deal), G Marcus Thornton (from Brooklyn), and C Tyler Zeller (from Cleveland)

-Departures: F Kris Humphries (sign/trade with Washington), G Jerryd Bayless (to Milwaukee)

-Insight: Not mentioned here is also the new 4-year, $32 million deal given to Avery Bradley. One thing is for sure, the Celtics have a lot of guards. Between Rajon Rondo, Smart, Young, and Bradley, Brad Stevens is going to have an extremely athletic group of players to find minutes for.

Philadelphia Sixers

-Grade: B

-Additions: G Alexey Shved (from the Love trade), F Luc Mbah a Moute (from the Love trade), C Hasheem Thabeet (from Oklahoma City), C Joel Embiid (Draft), F KJ McDaniels (Draft), F Jerami Grant (Draft), Vasilije Micic (Draft)

-Departures: F Thaddeus Young (to Minnesota)

-Insight: Like the Celtics, this is another team that is young and promising. Nerlens Noel will finally get his debut and drafting Embiid showed Philly’s patience with bigs and injuries. Unfortunately also like the Celtics, they shouldn’t have their aspirations set too high, it’s going to be another long season in Philly.

Central Division:

Indiana Pacers

­-Grade: C-

-Additions: G C.J. Miles (from Cleveland), G Rodney Stuckey (from Detroit), F Damjan Rudez (from Spanish International League)

-Departures: G Lance Stephenson (to Charlotte), F Evan Turner (to Boston), G Paul George (to Injury)

-Insight: This team took a hit when it failed to resign Lance Stephenson. This team took an even bigger hit with the loss of Paul George. It’s hard to put my finger on this team because they just don’t have the guards to compete night in and night out. Although I do think that having David West and Roy Hibbert will provide some stability during the season. Regardless, this team can’t get through this season fast enough.

Chicago Bulls:

-Grade: A-

-Additions: F Pau Gasol (from LA Lakers), F Nikola Mirotic (from Spanish International League), F Doug McBuckets (Draft), C Cameron Bairstow (Draft), G Aaron Brooks (from Denver)

-Departures: F Carlos Boozer (amnestied to LA Lakers)

-Insight: If you were to ask me right now who my pick is to come out of the East, it’s the Bulls. If Derrick Rose stays healthy, you’re looking at an extremely dangerous team and quite frankly, they are Cleveland’s biggest problem. How will the Cavs matchup against the Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah AND newly acquired Pau Gasol? Then you throw in Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Doug McBuckets, Taj Gibson, and Mike Dunleavy, on top of having one of the best coaches in the league (Tom Thibodeau), and suddenly Cleveland has something to worry about. I can’t wait to see these two teams play each other. Mark your calendar for October 31st at 7:00 PM on ESPN.

Cleveland Cavaliers

-Grade: A+

-Additions: F LeBron James (from Miami), F Kevin Love (from Minnesota), F Mike Miller (from Memphis), F James Jones (from Miami), C Brendan Haywood (from Charlotte), F Derrick Powell (from Charlotte), G John Lucas III (from Utah)

-Departures: G Andrew Wiggins (Drafted and traded in Love trade), F Sergey Karasev (to Brooklyn), C Tyler Zeller (to Boston), G Jarrett Jack (to Brooklyn), G Carrick Felix (to Utah), F Alonso Gee (to Charlotte), C Spencer Hawes (to LA Clippers)

-Insight: Make sure you re-read the first two additions for Cleveland. You get the idea. More on this team to come in later pieces.

Detroit Pistons

-Grade: C+

-Additions: Coach Stan Van Gundy, G Jodie Meeks (from LA Lakers), G DJ Augustin (from Chicago), F Caron Butler (from Oklahoma City), C Aaron Gray (from Sacramento), G Spencer Dinwiddie (Draft)

-Departures: G Rodney Stuckey (to Indiana), G Chauncey Billups (not re-signed)

-Insight: This team was one of the biggest disappointments this past season, but the signing of head coach Stan Van Gundy will give them some structure and direction moving forward. Andre Drummond is coming off a 13.5 PPG and 13.2 RPG season, but what hurt this team was the play of Josh Smith (14.1 PER – his lowest of his career) and Brandon Jennings (15.6 PER – worst since his rookie season).

Milwaukee Bucks

-Grade: B

-Additions: Coach Jason Kidd (from Brooklyn), F Jabari Parker (Draft), F Damien Inglis (Draft), F Johnny O’Bryant (Draft), G Jerryd Bayless (from Boston), G Kendall Marshall (from LA Lakers)

-Departures: None

-Insight: Parker is the key to this team, which is a lot to ask of a first-year rookie. During the summer league he showed flashes of pure brilliance though. Check out this video. My favorite part is at the 39 second mark.

Southeast Division

Miami Heat

-Grade: A-

-Additions: F Luol Deng (from Cleveland), F Josh McRoberts (from Charlotte), F Danny Granger (from LA Clippers, G Shbazz Napier (Draft)

-Departures: F LeBron James (to Cleveland), F James Jones (to Cleveland), F Shane Battier (retired)

-Insight: Look. Anytime you lose the league’s best player, you’re going to lose a couple more games than the previous season. I do like how Miami responded to his departure. Wade is aging and will become the Manu Ginobili of this team, but the addition of Luol Deng will help the newly maxed out Chris Bosh whether the storm in Miami. Miami may not be in the top 1 or 2 in the East, but I do like this team to make a run in the playoffs. Again, more in depth previews to come.

Washington Wizards

-Grade: B

-Additions: F Paul Pierce (from Brooklyn), F Kris Humphries (from Boston), F DeJuan Blair (from Dallas)

-Departures: F Trevor Ariza (to Houston), F Trevor Booker (to Utah)

-Insight: The biggest move this team made was the new deal they gave to Marcin Gortat. He’s locked up for five years to the tune of $60 million. The downside to this is that they failed to resign Trevor Ariza; a vital component of their core players. Having a veteran presence in Paul Pierce will definitely help the locker room and the guard play of John Wall and Bradley Beal will have this team contending in the Eastern Conference.

Charlotte Hornets

-Grade: A-

-Additions: G Lance Stephenson (from Indiana), G Brian Roberts (from New Orleans), F Marvin Williams (From Utah), C Noah Vonleh (Draft), G PJ Hairston (Draft)

-Departures: F Josh McRoberts (to Miami), G Ben Gordon (to Orlando), F Anthony Tolliver (to Phoenix), G Luke Ridnour (to Orlando), C Brendan Haywood (to Cleveland), F Derrick Powell (to Cleveland)

-Insight: Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks for close to $47 million this offseason. That is how much Charlotte spent on Stephenson, Roberts, and Williams combined (a little under $46 million). The arrival of Lance Stephenson will automatically make him one of the go-to players on offense. With the guard play of Stephenson and Kemba Walker leading this team, combined with Al Jefferson’s down-low presence, this team can make a splash in the Eastern Conference. This is an extremely young team with Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh, Walker, Stephenson, PJ Hairston, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all either 24 years-old or younger.

Atlanta Hawks

-Grade: F

-Additions: F Adreian Payne (Draft), C Walter Tavares (Draft), Lamar Patterson (Draft), F Thabo Sefolosha (from Oklahoma City), G Kent Bazemore (from LA Lakers)

-Departures: G Lou Williams (to Toronto), G/F John Salmons (traded from Toronto, immediately waived)

-Insight: If you haven’t heard about the recent front office issues regarding the Hawks, it’s probably a good thing you haven’t. It’s the reason why they are the only team to get an “F” grade. Soon to be ex-owner, Bruce Levenson, sent an e-mail to other members of the staff regarding the diversity of the Hawks attendance and fans. Stating, “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites…” For more on the story, go here. Let’s just say I don’t see many new free agents looking to punch a ticket to Atlanta anytime soon. Racial discrimination simply doesn’t have a place in today’s society. Period.

Orlando Magic

-Grade: B+

-Additions: F Aaron Gordon (Draft), G Elfrid Payton (Draft), F Roy Devyn Marble (Draft), G Evan Fournier (from Denver), F Channing Frye (from Phoenix), G Ben Gordon (from Charlotte), G Luke Ridnour (from Charlotte), G Willie Green (from LA Clippers)

-Departures: G Jameer Nelson (to Dallas), G Arron Afflalo (to Denver), G Doron Lamb (waived)

-Insight: Orlando has struggled to find its image in the Post-Dwight Howard era; going 43-121 over the past two seasons. What’s promising with this team is the young talent they now have and the cap flexibility. They’re highest paid player (Channing Frye) is getting paid $8.5 million this upcoming season. I love their young core or Victor Oladipo (All-Rookie First team and Rookie of the Year runner-up), Tobias Harris (if his ankles don’t keep nagging him), Nikola Vucevic (absolute stud on the boards), and newcomer Aaron Gordon.

That’s it for the Eastern Conference. Check back for the Western Conference next week and as always, continue to enjoy.

-Twitter: @brosephmeola

-E-Mail: senseimeola@gmail.com

NBA Finals Preview

It is finally here. The rematch that everyone wanted to see all season long between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat. Before we get into the Finals, let’s quickly discuss how these teams got here.

For Miami it was an anticlimactic series win against the Indiana Pacers, but you won’t hear LeBron and company complaining. The Pacers simply couldn’t handle the Heat in Game 6; evident by the 117 to 92 final score. A big inconsistency for the Pacers was Roy Hibbert. He managed to score 0 points once in each series (He actually accomplished this feat 4 times in total: 2 times against ATL in back to back games, 1 – WSH, 1 – MIA). On top of dealing with the necessary improvement of Hibbert, the Pacers have to figure out what to do with Lance Stephenson in the off-season.

10354308_303029809860667_864222756_nFor the 2014/2015 season, the Pacers have locked up Hibbert ($14.8 mil), David West ($12.0 mil), George Hill ($8.0 mil), and Paul George ($16.9 mil) to big money. That’s $51 million for four players, when the salary cap for this current season is $58.6 (but expect that to increase by $5 million). So now say the cap is raised to $63.2 million for next season with those four players locked up for $51 mil, not to mention you have Evan Turner’s obnoxious $8.7 million, Luis Scola’s $4.5 million, and CJ Watson and Chris Copeland’s combined $5 million. All in all, I expected some different faces in Indiana outside of the core four. Lance Stephenson is going to want close to double figures in salary and it will make it tough on Larry Bird and other executives to keep him. The Pacers are considering themselves lucky he only cost $981,349 this past season.

On the other side of the draw, the San Antonio Spurs escaped from the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games. Here’s a question: if Serge Ibaka played in those first two games, does this series have a different outcome? There’s a good chance it could have been. Ibaka’s play was the reason the series was tied 2-2 going into Game 5. Game 5 was probably the worst game Ibaka played, posting 6 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 2 BLK, while shooting 3/10 from the field. Ibaka’s performance was not the reason why the Thunder lost. They had stretches during each game where the ball was in the hands of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook way too much. Scott Brooks, OKC’s coach, basically told the team to give the ball to Durant or Westbrook and let them figure it out for themselves. You can’t do things like this against the San Antonio Spurs. As my roommate Dan says, “They’re just so god damn fundamental”.

So what is next for the Thunder? The only contracts that are expiring are Thabo Sefolosha’s and Derek Fisher’s. Other than that, you’re going to see the same Thunder team that went against the Spurs in the Western Conference finals given some unusual off-season trade. The Thunder have $67 mil locked up for next year so I’m not expecting much action from them this off-season.

Let’s start talking about the Finals now.

In the 2013/2014 NBA preview I wrote that the Heat would lose to the Pacers, but the Pacers simply weren’t the same team during the series with the Heat compared with the team that ended 2013 at 25-5. My new prediction is San Antonio Spurs in 7 games. Here is why:

Reason 1: Supporting Cast

If you don’t know by now, it’s a rematch of last year’s thrilling finals, but there are some differences. One difference is the Rosters.

For the Heat, they lost a valuable three-point shooter in Mike Miller. Who left this past offseason to join the Memphis Grizzlies. Two other additions to the roster for this season were Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. Neither of this two acquisitions have developed into what coach Erik Spoelstra would have liked. They have combined for two points the entire post season (Yes, you read that right).

For the Spurs, Gary Neal and Stephen Jackson are no longer with them. Marco Belinelli joined the team from Chicago and has provided the Spurs with quality bench minutes and consistent outside shooting. Gregg Popovich has creatively used his deep bench to help take minutes off of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills, and even Cory Joseph have played huge minutes in the playoffs to help the Spurs reach the finals. Tony Parker’s status will be monitored due to his ailing ankle, but I don’t expect him to miss a game on this type of stage. I give the edge to the Spurs in terms of their supporting cast.

Reason 2: Home Court Advantage

Even though the Heat are perfect at home this post season. Having home court in a seven game series is always good to have. The Heat beat Charlotte in 4, Brooklyn in 5, and Indiana in 6. It’s only fitting that the finals go 7 games again, just like last year, but I don’t think the Heat will have enough in the tank. Dwyane Wade needs to keep shooting 52% from the field and 40% from 3. LeBron needs support from Wade and also Chris Bosh, who has proven his outside shooting ability lately. Coming into this postseason, Bosh had only made 24 3-PT shots. Coming into the finals, he already has 25. If LeBron does his thing with Wade and Bosh shooting at a high level, the home court advantage may not matter. Regardless, having home court will help especially in the new 2-2-1-1-1 format, as opposed to the old finals format of 2-3-2.

We can go on and on, but ultimately it will come down to defense, timely shooting (I swear to god if Ray Allen does something like he did in Game 6 last year, I’ll lose it), and a little bit of luck (I swear to god if Ray Allen gets another shot to go in like the one in Game 6 last year, I’ll lose it).

Here is an interesting fun fact to leave you with.

In 1984, the Celtics and Lakers faced off in that year’s NBA Finals. The Celtics were 62-20 during the regular season while the Lakers were 54-28. The NBA welcomed a new commissioner in David Stern, replacing Larry O’Brien on April 1, 1984. The Finals that season was also the last time the Finals used the 2-2-1-1-1 format before going to the 2-3-2 format the next year (1985). This season (2014) the Spurs and Heat have their rematch in the Finals. The Spurs were 62-20 during the regular season and the Heat were 54-28. The NBA welcomed a new commissioner in Adam Silver on February 1, replacing David Stern. This Finals will be, for the first time since 1984, using the 2-2-1-1-1 format.

And who won the championship in 1984? The Boston Celtics.

And who happened to be coaching the Lakers that year? Pat Riley.

And who happens to be the General Manager of the Heat right now? Pat Riley.

Hopefully LeBron has something in store for us.

Get ready this month for a couple of NBA related articles. Last year you may remember a Point Guard article I did around the time of the Finals. This time expect a different position to be covered. In addition, expect a new article comparing LeBron James and Kevin Durant and why Kevin Durant WILL win the MVP and NBA Championship next season.

As always, continue to enjoy.

-Twitter: @brosephmeola

E-mail: senseimeola@gmail.com

 

2014 Injury All-Stars

Welcome back to Beyond the Arc. This time we’ll be taking a look at the All-Star lineups for the most injured players this season and how these players have impacted the success of their teams. To qualify for a spot on this prestigious roster, a player has to meet a combination of the following guidelines:

  1. Player X is ruled out for the whole season/remainder of the season

  2. Player X is coming back from an injury from the previous year that falls under (1)

  3. If Player X doesn’t satisfy (1) or (2), then he must have miss a minimum of 15 games during the current season.

  4. Player X, abiding by (1), (2), or (3), must be considered a starter on his respective team or is a pivotal bench player.

  5. If (4) is undetermined, Player X has to play at least 10 minutes per game for his respective team in conjunction with (1), (2), or (3).

  6. Player X can’t be an All-Star from the current season, unless you’re Dwayne Wade.

The format for the line-ups will follow the same format as the usual All-Star lineups with a little twist:

  • Starters: G,G,F,F,F

  • Reserves: UTIL,UTIL

While there are numerous injuries and players that could appear on this list, we will only focus on the 5 starters and 2-3 honorable mentions for a reserve spot. Without further ado, your 2014 Injury All-Stars:

Note:

-Stats reflect all games played through Saturday, March 29th.

-Through Saturday, March 29th, approximately 75 games have been played per team

– (Player Name/Team/Games Missed/Dominant Injury/Reasoning)

Eastern Conference:

-Starters

G: Deron Williams / Brooklyn Nets / 17 games and counting / Ankle

—Williams has been dealing with ankle issues frequently over the past seasons. He missed over 20 games in 2011-12 and rebounded nicely last year, only missed four games in total. The struggles of the Nets this season has a lot to do with the absence of Williams; they’ve managed to go 7-9 during the games Williams has missed. Prior to January 15th of this year, Williams had already suffered three sprained ankles in this season alone.

G: Dwayne Wade / Miami Heat / 20 games and counting / Hamstring

—It’s hard to tell whether the injuries to Wade are legitimate or he is finally showing signs of slowing down. Wade’s overall offensive efficiency is slowing down and it is not because LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the team. Wade’s ppg averages from the 2008-09 season and on (30.2, 26.6, 25.5, 22.1, 21.2, 19.2). In 2008-09 people forget that he lead the league in scoring. Even though he is the only player on this list that played in the actual All-Star game this year, his injuries and health are a huge factor in the Heat’s quest for a three-peat.

F: Luol Deng / Chicago Bulls & Cleveland Cavaliers / 16 games and counting / Ankle

—Deng has been dealing with a nagging ankle all season, but that isn’t his biggest concern. He had to carry the Bulls scoring load when D-Rose went down and after playing his first 10 seasons in Chicago, got traded before the deadline to Cleveland. Unfortunately he has not adjusted well, in 35 games with the Cavs he’s averaging 14.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, while shooting 42% from the field. When he was with Chicago, through 23 games he averaged 19.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.7 apg, while shooting 45% from the field.

F: Brook Lopez / Brooklyn Nets / 58 games and counting / Right Foot

—Brooklyn fans must be honored to have TWO players starting for the 2014 Injury All-Stars. The reason for Brooklyn’s struggles has a lot to do with the absence of Lopez and Williams but Brooklyn has found ways to cope with the loss. Through the first 17 games, Lopez was averaging 20.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 1.8 bpg while shooting 56% from the field and 81% from free throws (both career highs). Missing this type of production can hurt a team in the long-run; especially Lopez’s presence on the defensive end.

F: Al Horford / Atlanta Hawks / 46 games and counting / Chest

—Before the injury, Horford was one of the top centers in the league. He averaged 18.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg, and shot 57% from the field. The irony of his injury is that he suffered a torn right pectoral muscle; one season removed from tearing his left pectoral muscle. When he went down the Hawks were 16-13 and in 3rd place in the East; currently they’re 31-40 and trying to fend off the Knicks for the 8th seed.

-Reserves:

UTIL: Rajon Rondo / Boston Celtics / 49 games and counting / Knee

—Rondo has finally come back after missing the first half of the season and parts of last season due to an ACL injury. In the 25 games he’s been back, he’s quietly averaged 11.3 ppg, 9.4 apg, 5.1 rpg. His shooting has gone down (38% this year compared to 48% last year) but that is expected as he readjusts himself to the usual day-to-day grind of the league. He’ll continue to miss games on occasion since the Celtics are destined for a potential top-5 pick in the upcoming draft, and also as a pre-cautionary measure to rest what could be the future of the Celtics organization.

UTIL: Tyson Chandler / New York Knicks / 27 games and counting / Leg

—It’s tough to pin point one reason for the Knicks subpar season but they’re only 1 game out of the final playoff spot. Injuries have hurt this team but when Tyson Chandler broke his leg at the beginning of November, the Knicks season went into a spiral. The Knicks started a modest 1-2 and after Chandler got hurt in the fourth game of the season, they followed up with a 6-15 record over their next 21 games. The Knicks season may make the post season, but the injury to Chandler cost them a chance at a higher seed.

Western Conference:

-Starters

G: Russell Westbrook / Oklahoma City Thunder / 32 games and counting / Knee

—Westbrook is one of the most frustrating injured players this year. He came back almost a month earlier than expected, only to miss another whole month. He’s been rested on back-to-back nights and somehow the Thunder are only 3 games out of the #1 seed in the West. When healthy he is one of the top 10 players in the league and one of the top three point guards in the league. He gets a nod on this list because the Thunder are a completely different team when Westbrook and Durant play together.

G: J.J. Redick / Los Angeles Clippers / 44 games and counting / Back

—Towards the beginning of the season, Redick averaged the most points in the 1st quarter of any player. He was the go to shooter to start the game off. On top of that, the injury he’s sustained has limited him in a season where he is averaging career highs. In 30 games, he’s averaged career highs in ppg (15.7), free throw % (.914), field goal % (.459), and steals (0.8). Luckily for the Clippers there are other pieces to the puzzle (i.e. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin) so the loss of JJ isn’t catastrophic but having a shooting guard with his shooting touch can come in handy in the playoffs. Remember this?

F: Marc Gasol / Memphis Grizzlies / 24 games and counting / Knee

—What a relief it was to see Gasol come back to the Grizzlies sooner rather than later. He may be having one of his worst offensive seasons to date, but his presence on the defensive end goes beyond the stats you see. The Grizzlies as a team allow the fewest amounts of opponent’s rebounds. On top of their rebounding abilities, they currently have the most amount of 2pt field goals made and the least amount of 3pt field goals made. This team loves playing inside and Gasol has a lot to do with that.

F: Ryan Anderson / New Orleans Pelicans / 52 games and counting / Neck

—A victim of a season ending injury, Anderson’s absence has definitely been felt. The Pelicans are currently 32-42. Before Anderson went down they were 15-16. On top of that, Anderson, like many of the other injured All-Stars, was having a career season. Through the 22 games he played, his 19.8 ppg, .409 3pt FG%, and .952 FT% were career highs. You can’t replace those numbers, even Anthony Davis can’t spread the floor like Anderson because of his long-range abilities.

F: Nikola Pekovic / Minnesota Timberwolves / 21 games and counting / Ankle

—Another career high season that was crushed by injuries. Pekovic was a nice complement to Kevin Love, the only problem is both of them don’t know how to play defense. This is weird because when THIS is your go-to play, Kevin Love really should really never have to leave his defensive paint.

Pekovic’s career season numbers: 17.4 ppg and 8.7 rpg + 2pt FG per game (7.0).

-Reserves:

UTIL: Kawhi Leonard / San Antonio Spurs / 15 games and counting / Wrist

This is the only statistic you need to know about how much Leonard means to the Spurs right now:

He returned from his wrist injury on February 26th. As of today (April 1st) the Spurs haven’t lost since Leonard came back, including the entire month of March. They’re currently on an 18 game winning streak. Wait. No…they’re currently on an 18 game kawhinning streak.

UTIL: Eric Bledsoe / Phoenix Suns / 39 games and counting / Meniscus

—Bledsoe moves out from behind Chris Paul’s shadow when he moved from Los Angeles at the start of the season. We’ve talked about Goran Dragic’s performance this season but the Suns as a team has shocked a lot of people (myself included). I was bold enough to make the prediction during my NBA season preview that the Suns would finish dead last in the standings. To my surprise they are currently in the 9th seed looking for a crack at one of the West’s top teams. Back to Bledsoe; if he was healthy and didn’t miss almost 40 games, his 17.3 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 4.5 rpg would look a lot better. This sort of production is hard to make up for but the play of Gerald Green has been a nice compliment to Dragic’s spectacular season.

 

Cross-Conference Honorable Mentions:

Chris Paul: He’s missed games (19) but the play of Blake Griffin in his absence is the main reason why the Clippers are eying a top 4 seed in the West. Somehow he is still leading the league in assists per game and steals per game.

Kobe Bryant: It isn’t a true NBA season without one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA isn’t competing. After coming back from a devastating Achilles injury, Bryant got hit in his knee, forcing him to miss the entire 2014 season.

Derrick Rose: One of the most unfortunate injury stories of the past two years. Derrick Rose sat out all of last year in preparation for a big 2013-2014 campaign. He only played 10 games this season before tearing his meniscus. Between Rose and Bryant, both will be at the center of attention when next season rolls along. The NBA is better off with high caliber players.

In the end, injuries are apart of the game. You never want to see a team depleted with injuries, but sometimes a team that loses an impact player can rally around the cause and create a run.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks as the NBA playoffs approach and mock drafts come in in all different shapes and sizes.

Stay healthy and stay safe so you don’t suffer the types of injuries that these players did and as always, continue to enjoy!

-Twitter: @brosephmeola

-Email: senseimeola@gmail.com

 

March Madness in the NBA

Look who’s back at it.

Welcome back to Beyond the Arc. After two months dedicated to completely digesting the action across the NBA, it’s time to recap where we are. It’s been awhile so lets get right into it. Here is a look at the current playoff picture.

Since our NBA Dojo Christmas Special, a lot has happened. Russell Westbrook, who last played in the Thunder’s Christmas Day Game against the Knicks, returned and has averaged 20.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 7.4 apg in the eight games he’s been back; including a triple double in only 20 minutes. If you can’t wrap your mind around that, he tallied a triple double in less than a half. The Thunder look like the biggest threat coming out of the Western Conference with the play of Kevin Durant, currently one of two players who are averaging a PER above 30.0. (The other player’s name may sound familiar. It starts with L and ends with eBron). The East is still a two-man race between the Heat and the Pacers but the other six spots are up for grabs. The Knicks, after all they’ve been through, are only three and a half games out of the eighth spot. How interesting would it be it the Heat played the Melo and the Knicks in the first round if New York finishes the season strong? Ultimately it will come down to Indiana and Miami. Whoever gets the #1 seed between those two is my pick for the Eastern Conference Finals.

I have to point out the impressive streak the Philadelphia Sixers are on right now. They are currently on a 16 game losing streak. I repeat, a 16 GAME LOSING STREAK. There is still two months of basketball left and we now have our first participant in the ‘Riggin for Not-Picking Wiggins’ Draft. I firmly believe that Andrew Wiggins will not go first overall. Joel Embiid may be the most talented player in this class. The freshman center out of Kansas has played terrifically this season and is destined for a top-five selection. Under the assumption he ducks out of school after his first year, but as I’m writing this I stumbled upon this tweet that may have me second-guessing myself.

That being said, the Sixers have put the “Tanking” thought in the other teams’ minds. I’m looking at you, Boston, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Orlando, and Utah. Your time to lose multiple games in the hopes of landing a top-five draft pick is coming!! Look for the first of three NBA Mock Drafts at the beginning of next week with a little more insight on the teams looking towards the lottery.

For now, lets break down the top-15 teams looking towards the playoffs as of March 6th. Here is a look at the first 2014 Sports Dojo NBA Power Rankings:

  1. Miami Heat – They may not own the #1 seed in the East but LeBron put on a show during the month of February. Five players averaged more than 30 points during the month of February and he was one of them. (30.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 6.7 apg)

  2. Indiana Pacers – Coming out of the break they were 6-1 before dropping four straight games heading into Monday. The Pacers clinched a playoff berth but the #1 seed is still up for grabs so don’t stop now, Indy. The Pacers also got rid of Danny Granger’s expiring contract before the trade deadline, acquiring Evan Turner from Philly. And for some reason that is unclear to me they picked up Andrew Bynum. No comment.

  3. Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant has more than proved himself as a worthy MVP candidate this season. With Russell Westbrook working his way back into form, the Thunder are looking more and more dangerous. The addition of Caron Butler from the Bucks will ensure some safety at the 2 and 3 spots while Thabo Sefolosha deals with an injury.

  4. Los Angeles ClippersBlake Griffin is the unsung hero of this squad. Check out the tale of the past two seasons for Griffin:

  • 2012-2013: 80 games played, 18.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 22.4 PER

  • 2013-2014: through 62 games, 24.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 23.7 PER

He’s stepped up this season during Chris Paul’s absence (he’s missed 19 games so far this season) and he is the main reason that the Clippers currently sit in the 4th position in the West.

  1. San Antonio Spurs – They just shut down LeBron James on Thursday Night. Splitting the season series with the defending champs 1-1. Kawhi Leonard finally came back from a hand injury and has given the Spurs one of their healthiest and deepest lineups of the year. I’m looking forward to a possible Spurs-Thunder Western Conference Finals match-up.

  2. Houston RocketsDwight Howard has been impressive in his past 10 games. Posting a 18.9 ppg-12.1 rpg line while shooting 65% from the field. The Rockets are also one of the hottest teams in 2014. They have gone 23-6 since January 1st.

  3. Portland Trailblazers – Without question this team is dangerous. I’m interested in their rotation come playoff time. Three of Portland’s starters are ranked in the top 20 of total minutes played this season. Foul trouble will play a factor as well as their ability to hit the 3-point shot (currently ranked 2nd as a team in 3-point makes).

  4. Chicago Bulls – They’ve turned their season around and they recently acquired Jimmer Fredette to insure some backcourt depth and long-range shooting. The Bulls are a very dangerous 4 seed that can give trouble to Indiana and Miami because they live on defense, slow tempo, and low scoring games, which is something that the NBA playoffs are known for. They also just pulled off an impressive win in an OT game against the Heat in Chicago. Don’t forget about this team.

  5. Golden State Warriors – Since the break they’re 9-2 and looking to attain one of the top four spots in the Western Conference. The more time the Warriors spend at home in the playoffs, the farther they will go.

  6. Dallas Mavericks – I have to admit I was surprised the Mavericks have held on to the 7th and 8th seed for so long. I thought this team would fade away, but after a strong February (went 9-3), they’ve positioned themselves into a tough first round matchup with one of the big Western Conference teams.

  7. Memphis Grizzles – They’ve battled injuries to both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley yet they’re still in the thick of the playoff race. Their offensive game plan worries me considering they rank in the bottom 5 in terms of points scored per game.

  8. Phoenix Suns – It’s time to play the Sports Dojo’s Stat Challenge. Can you guess whose stat line this belongs to?

  • 2012-2013: 77 games played, 14.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 7.4 apg, .443 FG%, .319 3P%,

  • 2013-2014: through 58 games, 20.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.2 apg, .509 FG%, .421 3P%

(Take a second and think)

If you guessed Eric Bledsoe……I’m sorry but you are incorrect. The right answer is Goran Dragic; my pick for the NBAs Most Improved Player Award this season. Before anyone says the reason his stats are up is because he’s playing more minutes, he averaged 33.5 minutes last season and is averaging 34.7 minutes this season. Regardless, he’s been a terrific player to watch.

  1. Toronto RaptorsDeMar DeRozan averaged 26.4 ppg in February and the Raptors are sitting in the 3rd seed thanks to a very lackluster division. We’ll see what happens in the first round of the playoffs.

  2. Brooklyn Nets – Currently sitting in the 6th seed, they’re going to fight for the rest of the season so that they don’t fall into the 7th or 8th seed matchups against either Indiana or Miami.

  3. Minnesota Timberwolves – LeBron’s February was impressive but not as impressive as Kevin Love. Check out this line: 34.0 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, .487 FG%, .848 FT%, .415 3P%. I can’t wait to see where he goes when his contract expires at the end of next season (2014-2015).

Check back in later this week for the first Sports Dojo NBA Mock Draft and as always, continue to enjoy.

Twitter: @brosephmeola

E-Mail: senseimeola@gmail.com

X-Mas Special – The 4th Issue

Welcome back to the final edition of the Sports Dojo NBA Christmas Special. It’s time for part IV. The final piece devoted to some of the best highlights around the league so far this season. As always we’ll start with the lighter side of the NBA.

The Small Moments That Aren’t About Basketball

-Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley having fun with a kid before the game.

-Shawne William’s blows powder in Nick Young’s face during a game.

-Nikola Pekovic having fun with teammate J.J. Barea on the bench.

-Zach Randolph gives his warm-up shirt to a Grizzles’ fan with special needs

The Best Celebrations After Gettin’ Buckets

-Jonas Valanciunas and-one celebration versus the San Antonio Spurs

-Pau Gasol after hitting a 3-Point shot; he’s only made 38 his whole career.

Most Creative Passes

-Kevin Love’s full court pass. How does he know there’s a guy on the other end of the court?

-This could go down in another category but a great pass by LeBron nonetheless.

-More of a hustle play but a great all around effort by the Spurs’ players.

-Can’t get over how much Tim Duncan curves this pass.

The Best One-on-One

-Lance Stephenson with yet another great individual move.

-I expect nothing less from Jamal Crawford.

Enjoy the rest of your holidays everyone. We’ll see you in the new year and as always, continue to enjoy. 

Joe Meola