NBA Finals Game 5: Way Too Simple Keys To Victory

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Saturday night, the Phoenix Suns host the Milwaukee Bucks in game 5 of the NBA Finals.

So far, every game has thrilled fans across the globe, and game 5 should be no different as both teams are looking to take command of the series by securing a third win.

Correctable Mistakes

Suns coach Monty Williams mentioned in his inspiring postgame speech that Phoenix’s mistakes in game 4 are “correctable.” And he’s one-hundred percent correct.

Phoenix uncharacteristically lost the turnover battle in their 109-103 loss to Milwaukee. The Suns committed 17 turnovers to Milwaukee’s five.

To fix their turnover woes, Phoenix needs more from Chris Paul tonight.

CP3 scored 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field and committed five turnovers in what was a tough game for the “Point God.”

Jrue Holiday’s harassing of Paul the entire length of the court on the defensive end contributed to the latter’s five turnovers, but Paul’s mistakes were trivial at times.

One of Chris Paul’s crucial game 4 turnovers leading directly to a Bucks bucket that sealed the game

Despite great defense from Milwaukee—and maybe a few nagging injuries—Chris Paul sets the tone for the rest of the Suns, good or bad.

Without Paul’s usual brand of ball security, there’s no way his team can win this game and the series.

Added note: When Chris Paul takes care of the ball and plays well, Deandre Ayton tends to score more.

Milwaukee’s Foul Shooting

Milwaukee’s leader Giannis Antetokounmpo is a prolific paint scorer. Due to his play inside, he tends to draw plenty of fouls.

However, he is not a great foul shooter. The “Greek Freak” is shooting 63.6 percent from the line in the finals. (up from his 56.8 percent mark over the entire postseason)

To make up for their superstar’s poor shooting from the charity stripe, the rest of the Bucks have to shoot lights out from the line.

It will be challenging for the Bucks to shoot well while being hounded by the fans in the Valley, but this is professional basketball. They are more than capable.

If they can shoot well from the line, they increase their chances to win what should be a close game.

Middleton Repeat Game

Khris Middleton looked like the All-Star, $35 mil per year player we’re accustomed to seeing now and then in Milwaukee.

Middleton took over game 4 with 40 points on 15-of-33 shooting. He also scored 10 points down the stretch in the 4th quarter to ice the game.

Middleton is known for having great games at home in the playoffs, but he’s also known for inconsistencies on the road.

Milwaukee has to win a game in Phoenix to win the series. To win in Phoenix, they need at least one more masterclass game from Khris Middleton.

Deandre Ayton

Deandre Ayton needs to look to score more in game 5. He’s defending the paint and rebounding well, but his scoring is what makes his team go from good to great.

Deandre Ayton’s hot game 3 start… The Suns need him to play like this to avoid going down 2-3 in the series

Ayton’s defense of the paint is the toughest assignment for any individual player in the series. However, no matter how fatigued he is, he has to prioritize scoring the ball.

Ayton should be undeterred after shooting 3-for-9 and ending up on the receiving end of one of the most impressive blocks in NBA history.

He should put together a much-improved game tonight.

Prediction & Game Time

In game 4, it took Devin Booker’s benching due to foul trouble to completely halt the Suns’ momentum and give the Bucks control of the game.

Other than that, the Suns played a terrible basketball game and only lost by six points on the road.

I’m taking the Suns (-4) tonight in what should be another close game.

NBA Finals Game 5: Saturday, July 17th 8:30 p.m EST.

Game 4 Box Score

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Featured image of the Larry O’Brien trophy courtesy of NBA.com

District of Buckets NBA Finals: Way Too Simple Game 4 Keys to Victory

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The Milwaukee Bucks took game 3 of the NBA Finals at home in a 120-100 beat down of the Phoenix Suns to bring the series score to 2-1.

In a pivotal game 4, both teams need to make adjustments and play at the peak of their abilities to win a game that will be an absolute dogfight.

Featured image of the Larry O’Brien trophy courtesy of NBA.com

Key #1: Deandre Ayton Avoiding Foul Trouble

On paper, Deandre Ayton had a solid game. Ayton scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting.

Twelve of his 18 points came in the first quarter due to early fouls that pushed him to the bench.

Without Ayton on the floor, the Suns run a small lineup, or they play Frank Kaminsky.

In a smaller lineup and against Kaminsky, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks supporting cast have an easier time scoring in the paint.

Antetokounmpo punished the Suns in the paint in back-to-back games.

After a 41-point 13-rebound performance in game 3, the Greek Freak is forever linked with Shaquille O’Neal as the only other player in NBA Finals history to post back-to-back 40-point, 10-rebound games.

The Suns also lose significant offensive production when their best screener and post scorer goes to the bench.

Ayton-less lineups lack scoring prowess at the center position. So in pick-and-roll situations, the Bucks can commit more defensive energy to Suns’ guards and wings.

At this stage of basketball, Ayton is aware of his importance. Look to see if Ayton is conservative when contesting shots in game 4.

Tweet from Michael Gallagher explaining net rating differences with Ayton and Giannis on or off the court—a metric that shows how much better or worse a team is on the court with a specific player

Key#2: Bounce Back Booker

Devin Booker needs to have his shots fall if the Suns want to put the Bucks in a 3-1 series chokehold.

Booker is a talented tough-shot maker, and the Bucks are doing everything in their power to make each possession difficult for him.

However, Booker is settling for jump shots often in this series. He needs to find a way to score more points around the basket despite the tenacious Bucks perimeter defense.

In game 3, Booker scored just 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting from the field, 1-of-7 from three, and 3-of-5 from the foul line.

Booker has taken a total of five free throws in the last two games. A stark contrast to the 10 he attempted in game 1.

He doesn’t need to slash all game to get more calls, but seeing a close layup or floater go in the basket is beneficial to anyone in a shooting slump.

Predictions


I’m taking the Bucks in game 4. However, I do not think they win in a blowout.

Phoenix’s mistakes from game 3 are easily correctable, and they’re too talented to not put up a fight in back-to-back games.

Game 4 should easily be the most competitive in the series so far, and I’m looking for the contest to be decided by three points when the clock hits 0:00.

NBA Finals Game 4: Wednesday, July 14th 9:00 p.m EST.

Game 3 Box Score

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District of Buckets NBA Finals Review: Game 1

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Tuesday night, the Phoenix Suns bested the Milwaukee Bucks in game 1 of the NBA Finals 118-105. In what was an electric start to the series, we witnessed moving parts on both teams critical to success or failure in each game and the entire series.

This post is a brief look at storylines, matchups, and potential adjustments that may carry over into game 2.

Bucks-Suns NBA Finals: Giannis Antetokounmpo chase-down block reminiscent  of LeBron James vs. Warriors in 2016 - CBSSports.com

Solving The Pick-And-Roll

A potential Bucks defensive problem mentioned in the District of Buckets Finals Preview went from theory to fact early in game 1.

The Suns used Deandre Ayton as a screener early and often to create action on the pick and roll. Ayton (or whoever is being guarded by Brook Lopez) as the screener creates scoring opportunities for Phoenix and pressure for Milwaukee.

Ayton set solid screens that made it tough for Bucks defenders to chase Phoenix’s guards. Milwaukee also switched many of these screens set by Ayton and left Brook Lopez on an island against Chris Paul (32pts) and Devin Booker (27pts) all night.

The Suns’ first eight points of the game came from forcing Lopez switches. Lopez switches also open up a pass to Deandre Ayton in the paint after he rolls to the basket against a smaller defender.

Ayton’s finishing around the rim is stellar. He finished the game with 23 points and 19 rebounds on 8-of-10 shooting.

The Bucks played a small lineup to adjust to the play of the Suns’ guards. They sometimes ran Giannis at center. They also brought in Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton to put more athleticism on the court and allow them to switch. However, this couldn’t last long since Brook Lopez was one of the few Bucks scoring the ball in the first half.

Lopez ended the game with 17 points. But the groove that Chris Paul found after the early Lopez switches led to his domination of the contest. Chris Paul finished the game with 32 points and nine assists.

Image

Next game, I expect the Bucks to find more scoring outside of Lopez and work to keep more athleticism and quickness on the court if they plan to switch everything on the pick-and-roll.

Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo

Plenty needs to happen for the Bucks offensively to keep pace with the Suns. First, they need more out of Jrue Holiday. Holiday finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists but the issue Tuesday night was his shooting. Holiday was 4-for-14 from the field and 0-of-4 from the three-point line.

Holiday is a better offensive player than he showed in game 1, and in game 2 he needs to use his size advantage over Chris Paul and attack the basket.

Giannis Antetokounmpo proved the hyperextended knee that kept him out of two Eastern Conference Finals games is healthy enough to make LeBron-Esque chase-down blocks and power through Deandre Ayton in the paint on offense.

However, by the end of the third quarter, he looked gassed. Coming back after an absence is hard to do in an NBA playoff series, so it may take a few games for the Greek Freak to play with his usual motor for four quarters.

Antetokounmpo finished with 20 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block. A solid stat line for anyone who played 35 minutes. Despite shooting an efficient 6-of-11 from the field, there were times that the superstar looked passive on the offensive end.

A PASSIVE GIANNIS WILL NOT WIN GAMES IN THE VALLEY. I expect by game 3 of the series—assuming his knee holds up—Giannis will play with an offensive motor that matches what he has on the defensive end.

Lastly, for Milwaukee, All-Star Khris Middleton—who led the Bucks scoring with 29 points last night—needs to have the scoring outburst he displayed in the second half earlier in the game. Middleton’s scoring allows the Bucks to keep pace and even helped cut a 20 point Suns’ second-half lead to single digits.

Booker and Crowder 3pt Shooting

Almost everything went right for the Suns last night—except for Jae Crowder and Devin Booker knocking down their long-distance attempts.

Booker (1-for-8) and Crowder (0-for-5) shooting poorly is something I don’t expect to continue, but as the series progresses and changes location in game 3, establishing a rhythm beyond the arc to prepare for the road is crucial for Suns success.

A Shift In Foul Calls

One thing to look for in future finals games, especially game 2, is a potential shift in foul calls. At home in game 1, the Suns were 25-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Bucks were 9-of-16. The Suns receiving 10 more free-throw attempts is rooted in some questionable no-calls against the Bucks.

When this happens, a righting of the wrong by the officiating crew is due. The free-throw attempts for both teams should be closer to even in game 2.

Game 2 Predictions

I’m predicting a closer finish down the stretch—within five points *wink*—and still taking the Suns in game 2. I think Phoenix will ride the energy of the crowd in the Valley and will be difficult to stop offensively.

The silver lining for the Bucks is they can figure out exactly what works well for them and use it to capture some wins when the series switches location to Milwaukee.

We will find out if I’m right when game 2 tips-off Thursday night on ABC at 9:00p.m EST

Game 1 box score: LINK

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The NBA Coaching Job Hunt

With the offseason in full swing for 26 of the NBA’s teams, the search to fill coaching vacancies is heating up.

Every year, a few interesting—and on the flip side—disappointing names are mentioned every coaching cycle. Hiring practices that people experience in daily life mirror themselves every offseason in the NBA.

Today, I’m analyzing a few of the candidates across the league and why teams may be hesitant to bring in new, unproven talent at the NBA head coaching level, along with several reasons they should take a flyer on a new name.

The Devil You Know

A factor of NBA hiring, also a factor in any recruitment hunt, is how experience in the current role can sometimes trump a qualified applicant looking to prove themselves.

Mike D'Antoni tells Rockets he won't return as coach | NBA.com

As a fan who loves change, the movement by mediocre coaches to head coaching spots across the league can be disheartening. However, from the ownership perspective bringing in a name with NBA experience in the head coaching spot allows the brass to give an underperforming roster a new look before risking a rebuild.

For example, all four of the remaining coaches in the playoffs (Ty Lue, Mike Budenholzer, Nate McMillan (interim HC), and Monty Williams) have proven track records leading a team and have their new squads on the cusp of glory in this current postseason.

However, picking a coach for the pedigree can backfire.

Boston Celtics NBA Finals winning coach Doc Rivers in 2013 was traded from Boston to the LA Clippers for a first-round pick. After his time in LA came to a close, Doc advanced his way to becoming the Sixers coach.

Even though injuries hampered his success in a few playoff series, we’ve seen a few of his playoff losses include a lack of adjustments expected from a title-winning coach.

I’m not giving league management excuses for recycling talent, but I can understand how the threat of a full-rebuild is bad for business. Hiring a familiar name signals to fans their team is moving in the right direction.

Some of the big names that fit this description in the coaching pool and are either rumored to have interviews with teams or are actively interviewing are:

Mike D’Antoni, Terry Stotts, Steve Clifford

The Devil You Don’t

The other side of the coaching hire coin is to pick a talented individual without NBA head coaching experience.

There are plenty of great coaches waiting in the wings for their chance to run a team, and picking a new name and face is a great for teams attempting to invigorate their fanbase and take the team in a fresh direction.

An advantage to selecting a coach with an unproven track record is that a team has a chance to uncover a guru. Every great coach had someone believe in them for the first time, and comparable to the emergence of new player talent in the NBA, we are overdue for someone to emerge as the next Phil Jackson, Erik Spoelstra, or Gregg Popovich.

A personal reason I have for favoring this method is I would love to see an increase in the diversity of coaches in the league. For as long as the league has allowed POC and women on the bench, we’ve seen talented names passed over for the big jobs.

Hiring a coach is a tough process, but expanding the hiring pool instead of picking up the same few names allows the game to progress and influences a potential spread of new ideas that can take basketball to heights never seen before.

Some names I’m watching in this current coaching cycle:

Becky Hammon

Becky Hammon patiently waited in the wings for the San Antonio Spurs since she joined the team in 2014 as an assistant after her lengthy professional playing career. Hammon has gained plenty of notoriety as of late, as the Portland Trail Blazers fittingly selected her as the first female finalist for an NBA head coaching job.

Becky Hammon: 10 things to know | NBA.com

Hammon holds a fair share of firsts during her tenure as an assistant in San Antonio. She is the first woman to assume the role of head coach for an NBA Summer League team, a Spurs team she led to the summer league title in 2015.

Hammon also became the first woman to coach a regular-season NBA game when she stepped in for Gregg Popovich after an ejection in the 2020-2021 season.

To couple with her accolades, we’ve seen players give Hammon the utmost respect when commanding a team.

One day, hopefully soon, Becky Hammon will get her chance to be a head coach, and the world will see her basketball mind on a nightly basis in the league.

Chauncey Billups

Chauncey ‘Mr. Big Shot’ Billups is a name circling coaching interview talk. Billups would be a great candidate for a team to hand the reigns to in the future.

Why Chauncey Billups is Best Bet for Celtics Head Coach - CelticsBlog
Chauncey Billups and Ty Lue working for the Clippers

Billups has one of the most extensive and impressive NBA careers a point guard could have. In 1,043 games, he averaged 15.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. He also quarterbacked the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA Championship, upsetting the heavily favored Lakers in a gentleman’s sweep 4-1.

Billups’ expertise during his playing days transfers over to his young NBA coaching career. Currently, he is a lead assistant on a Clippers team that has shown in the playoffs they can adjust to almost anything an opposing team throws at them, something I would love to see him elicit from his own squad.

Future Mention

Hopefully, you learned a bit about the current head coaching carousel in the NBA and now are thinking about the motivations that teams could have going into one of the most important processes for team success in the NBA.

District of Buckets plans to revisit this topic and also add a few coaching prospect names to your radar:

Ime Udoka, Dawn Staley, Rick Carlisle and more to come in the future.

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Multi-Sport Benefits: Basketball Movement and Football Route Running

In a world of increased specialization for youth athletes, it is refreshing to see multi-sport athletes thrive at the highest level of competition.

In the NFL, there are stories about pass-catchers translating basketball-style movement to success in football. The NFL has seen players such as Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Julius Thomas make the jump from collegiate basketball to professional football using skills from the hardwood. Former Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin was an avid basketball player in high school, and Arizona Cardinals wideout Deandre Hopkins was a four-year high school varsity hooper.

The marriage between basketball-style movement and football can produce some impressive results. Much of the positioning and footwork from basketball can pay big dividends when running routes on the gridiron, as many of the translated movements are great for separation.

Doug Baldwin: Seattle Seahawks

Doug Baldwin has gone on the record saying basketball was his “first love.” Some of his route running footwork and releases have basketball crossover roots. It is safe to say his use of basketball-style movement was successful as Baldwin amassed 493 catches, 6563 yards, and 49 touchdowns over his eight-year NFL career.

Video: How Iverson’s Crossover Inspires Doug Baldwin’s Route Running

Meet Doug Baldwin, the Unsung X-Factor of the Seattle Seahawks | Bleacher  Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

Davante Adams: Green Bay Packers

Packers Pro-Bowl receiver Davante Adams also credits his release off the line of scrimmage to footwork and positioning he learned while playing basketball.

Davante Adams vs Jalen Ramsey: Matchup of the day

Adams is known for having one of the best releases in the game. His signature hops at the beginning of his routes allow him to react to the cornerback’s positioning and always keep them off balance. Adams’ route running basketball ties go beyond footwork and positioning. Adams also credits reactionary basketball skills as a tool he uses to recognize how a defensive back is trying to play him, and he adjusts based on the situation.

In the 2020-2021 season, football fans witnessed the effectiveness of this route running style for Adams every week, as he shredded defensive backs to the tune of 115 catches, 1,374 yards, and 18 touchdowns.

There are always benefits to playing multiple sports in developmental years, as many skills can overlap. As evidenced by the pass-catchers mentioned in this article, the overlapping skills may provide situational advantages that a player without the multi-sport experience won’t have in their repertoire.

It was eye-opening to see how basketball skills can impact a football field, and I can’t wait to see how Davante Adams displays his mastery off the line of scrimmage next season for the Packers.

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NBA Sixth Man of the Year Mini-Series: Eric Gordon

Last week, my focus was on Sixth Man of the Year front-runner Jordan Clarkson who has done nothing but push his lead for the award further since my last post.

This week, my focus shifts to players who may thin the gap of Clarkson’s lead if the opportunity presents itself.

Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon is a player who, when healthy, can catch Clarkson’s production.

Image result for eric gordon

This season, as of February 17th, 2020 (7:00 pm EST), Gordon is averaging 18.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. These raw numbers plus his shooting splits of 46.5 percent from the field, 35.2 percent from three, 84.4 percent from the line, and most impressively, 61.7 percent on two-point attempts.

Statistically, if the numbers stand, this season would land somewhere around Gordon’s third most productive in his career, an impressive feat for a vet who has played in the league since 2008.

These numbers place the 2017 Sixth Man award winner in striking distance if Clarkson ever slows down this season. Aside from the numbers, it is always important to look at how Gordon impacts a game.

Gordon has all the tools to be an effective scoring guard at 6’3, but what puts him on another level of bucket-getting, in my opinion, is the way he uses his frame to attack the basket. Plenty of players can use raw strength to bully their way from time to time, but Gordon has an innate ability to know when to initiate contact. Initiating contact with a defender at the right time and with the proper amount of force to avoid offensive fouls can ruin defensive timing and create space in any part of the court.

Combining his ability to create space using his body and masterful guard skills is what makes Gordon one of the most difficult players to guard in the NBA, and he’s easily one of the players who can make a legit run at the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2021.

Check back next week for another player firmly in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year race.

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NBA Sixth Man of the Year Series: Jordan Clarkson

To tip-off this mini-series, I had to start with Utah Jazz combo guard Jordan Clarkson.

Image result for jordan clarkson 2020 stats

Jordan Clarkson has been an NBA journeyman since his selection out of the University of Missouri in 2014. Despite his frequent change of scenery, Clarkson demonstrates nightly that the one constant in his career is his ability to put the ball in the peach basket.

Clarkson has a wide variety of moves in his bag, a respectable jumper, and the athleticism to mesh with his skill and create a lethal assassin when the ball is in his hands.

Clarkson is a piece that makes the 20-win, 5-loss Utah Jazz a force to be reckoned with and a legitimate threat to the Lakers’ repeat.

What’s changed? And what value does he add to his team?

So, you may be wondering, if Clarkson possessed this ability for so long, why did it take until now for him to finally become a front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year?

Two words.

Opportunity and fit.

The current setup of the Utah Jazz is a glass slipper that fits on Clarkson’s game.

Clarkson gives you instant scoring, and the Jazz desperately need shot creation on their second unit.

Also, Clarkson’s athleticism and commitment to the game allowed him to grow substantially on defense, and because of that growth, he’s seen high value minutes in the rotation.

Receiving a golden opportunity to play within the comforts of his game has taken Clarkson to new heights.

Clarkson is averaging a career-best 17.5 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game on 46.3 percent from the field, 38.7 percent from three, and a blistering 97.2 percent from the line.

This level of production should garner him All-Star consideration. Remember, I said “consideration.” not an All-Star spot.

Clarkson is playing at an All-Star level—and I plan to start the Jordan Clarkson #NBAAllStar movement with this post— but, due to external factors such as fan and player voting, and the productive seasons of other guards in the west, I don’t think he will get the nod.

If Clarkson’s production withstands the marathon of the NBA season, there is no doubt in my mind that he will be the Sixth Man of the Year for the—currently—first-seeded Jazz.

Clarkson is the top dog in the Sixth Man of the Year award race, but that doesn’t mean he’s running unopposed.

Stay locked into District of Buckets for more on the Sixth Man award race, and take a look at the latest episode of Fantasy Basketball – This Week for more updates around the NBA.

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NBA Preseason Takeaways and Stories to Watch

The NBA regular-season is approaching fast, and here are some trends to note before the games start to count.

Here is a quick rundown of a few NBA stories to watch heading into the year.

The Lakers rotation looks deadly

After winning the NBA Finals in the bubble, many people expected the league to catch up to the Lakers.

However, in the offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers retooled their lineup by adding 6th Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, 6th Man runner-up Dennis Schröder, Wesley Matthews, and Marc Gasol.

LA re-signed key veterans Markieff Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and saw flashes of increased development from Talen Horton-Tucker and Kyle Kuzma.



In the preseason, the Lakers beat the Clippers 131-106 while running an 8-man rotation without superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

I usually hate to put this much stake into preseason games, but the limited rotation showed that when everybody is locked-in and clicking, this team can go 10-12 deep in their rotation without missing much of a beat.

A scary sight for the rest of the league.

Russell Westbrook intangibly improves the Wizards

Russell Westbrook is a player who is no stranger to stuffing the stat sheet, but his impact to the Washington Wizards organization is the way his competitiveness will rub off on the younger players.

From his first practice, Wizards coach Scott Brooks said that Westbrook set an “intense” tone for the rest of the team.


His impact showed in the Wizards’ sole preseason win in Westbrook’s debut, and even though there are still plenty of question marks on this team, we know that Westbrook has the potential to change the culture in the District.

The Suns are the best they’ve been since 2010

The Phoenix Suns offseason addition of Chris Paul will maximize the potential of Devin Booker.

Booker was an All-Star in a season that saw him average 26.6 points a game for the second consecutive year on increased efficiency in 2019-2020. (+2.2 in field goal percentage and +2.8 in three-point percentage)


Booker also led the Suns to an 8-0 NBA Bubble record, a run that symbolized a changing of the culture in the valley. The change of culture mixing with the influx of new talent and the addition of a future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul makes this the best Suns team in a decade.

Patrick Williams is a Hooper

I’m not here to absolve the Chicago Bulls for reaching to take Patrick Williams with the fourth overall pick, however, I am here to let everyone know — Patrick Williams can hoop, and can make a big impact in year one.

In the preseason, Williams’ skillset showed his game is better suited to the spacing of the NBA game than the college game, which would explain his lackluster numbers in college. (even taking into account the limited usage he had at Florida State)


He’s not in the Windy City to lead the team in scoring, or honestly anything. He’s a do-it-all player who can give you solid minutes, play good defense, and fill some of the holes the Bulls have in their roster.

Steph Curry Has a Legit MVP Chance

The Warriors aren’t the powerhouse they used to be, but they still have Steph Curry.

Curry’s increased usage could bode well for his MVP chances assuming he stays healthy this season.


Side note: The extra attention on Curry on the perimeter allows for first-round big-man James Wiseman to have matchups inside he can take advantage of with his athleticism.

New Look Rockets Aren’t Enough For James Harden

The Rockets made drastic changes to their roster this offseason.

John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Christian Wood give Houston a different feel on the court, but it isn’t enough to entice superstar James Harden to stay.


Kevin Durant is Healthy

After a long recovery from an Achilles injury in 2018, Kevin Durant will be taking the floor tonight. Durant has looked good in preseason, and you can tell he’s worked his way back near the form that has his status cemented as a basketball legend.

His talent will always be there, but the main question mark will still be his post-injury explosiveness. There were moments in preseason games where you could see him move a bit slower.

Either way, it shouldn’t matter too much, as Durant’s ability will keep him in the upper echelon of NBA players this season.


The Pelicans are primed to compete

In case you haven’t seen the news, Zion Williamson is not on a minutes restriction this season.


A healthy Zion, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball are a young trio that will be one of the NBA’s toughest combinations to stop this season.

The impact Zion had on the floor in limited time last season was special.

Every player on the court has to account for every move he makes.

Zion will open up opportunities for Ingram to continue being the offensive threat we’ve seen him grow into.

Lonzo’s playmaking and defense allows New Orleans to compete with any team in the league.



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The End of the John Wall Era

Wednesday night, The Washington Wizards traded franchise cornerstone John Wall and a 2023 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets in exchange for MVP guard Russell Westbrook.

To analyze this trade, we have to consider how this trade impacts the following.

1. The Basketball Court

2. The Fanbase

Rockets news: Russell Westbrook's decision that sped up John Wall trade

Before getting into the emotional impact, it’s time to look at how this move changes the way the team plays the game of basketball.

To keep this first part short and sweet, Westbrook’s domination of the basketball puts the fit in jeopardy in Washington, and while Wall’s pass-first mentality fits anywhere, we have yet to see him cede touches and play a bit more off the ball.

Due to injuries, Wall has not seen the floor in roughly two years. Assuming Wall produces similarly to when we last saw him—even when healthy, he is not the player Russell Westbrook is.

On almost a daily basis, you can pull up Twitter and see someone blaspheming about the abilities of Westbrook. However, he is more than capable of propelling a 25-win, ninth-seeded team in the East this past season into the playoff picture.

His skill set, albeit similar to Wall’s, is separated by his higher motor. Wall plays hard, but no basketball player brings more heart to the floor than Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook brings his best effort every night and expects the same for his teammates, and if you’ve watched the Wizards over the years, you understand that one of the biggest knocks on this team is that they often play down to the talent level of lesser opponents. Talk about his intensity all you want, but you know he isn’t holding back against anybody.

In Washington, Westbrook will be one of the primary paint attackers and will either draw extra defenders off the Wizards shooters or have an easier time in the lane—something that worked well in Houston.

One thing absent in Houston for Westbrook was coach Scott Brooks. This trade allows for the two to unite for the first time since their Oklahoma City Thunder days. The ceiling for their success is lower than it was in OKC when you saw the pair maximize one another, along with the talent of Kevin Durant and James Harden as they reached the 2012 NBA Finals.

However, in 2020 The Wizards are Beal’s team, adding Westbrook solidifies the starting five, and when coupled with the development of Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant, plus the re-signing of the Latvian marksman Davis Bertans, instantly improves the team in talent, and hopefully in win total.

On Houston’s end, they get a player returning from a multitude of season-ending injuries, but also a talented guard, who is feeling “110% healthy” and looking to remake his mark in a rapidly changing league and pair with James Harden.

The Rockets are going through a makeover of their team as well, and the trade is a move that looks to appease their current superstar and potentially bring in future young talent with a first-round pick in 2023.

Fan & Community Impact

Washington Wizards Ben's Chili Bowl Temporary Mural on Behance

This trade hits D.C sports fans incredibly hard due to the presence that John Wall had among fans in the area. Wall has given back to the community time and time again and even became a staple within the culture, whether by showing up in Shy Glizzy videos (NSFW warning: Language) or being forever linked with Rosebar.

Regardless of what anyone thought of him, John Wall’s connection to this city was deep, and he is forever a part of the D.C community.

On the flip side, the D.C community also gets a guy who has the potential to represent the area just as well in a short time. Westbrook’s intensity on the floor represents the area well, and he is also known along with his wife Nina to be incredibly charitable and embracing of his playing community.

Russell Westbrook speaks at Black Lives Matter protest in California
Westbrook marching in Los Angeles shortly after the death of George Floyd (p/c:USA Today)

Verdict

Adding Westbrook gives the Wizards a fighting chance to win 15-20 more games than the previous season, and Wall allows the Rockets to have a number two on the roster with a much lower usage rate.

Wall and Westbrook have roughly the same amount of money and time remaining on their contracts, but Wall has a 15% trade kicker—a trade kicker being the percentage of the salary that becomes a bonus for a player when traded.

Overall, both sides needed to make this deal. The move appeases the superstars on both sides and both teams can compete in their respective conferences.

It’s sad to see John Wall go, but at the same time, all we can do in life is pick up the pieces and keep going.

Officially, this is now a Russell Westbrook defender blog.

Featured

Draft Notes: First Round

The 2020 NBA Draft was as eventful as ever, and keeping track of the moves is tough, but don’t worry, I’ve decided to share with you some notable news from the first round of the draft.

LaMelo Ball

The first three selections in the draft went as planned, and LaMelo Ball going 3rd overall to the Charlotte Hornets was no surprise. I love the fit as it gives LaMelo the perfect situation to step right into an impact role, with even more opportunity for growth depending on what Charlotte does with Terry Rozier and Devonte Graham at the guard spots.

Hornets Select LaMelo Ball with 3rd Overall Pick in 2020 NBA Draft |  Charlotte Hornets

As he sends another son to the NBA as a top-three pick, Lavar Ball reminded us all that his unorthodox and often criticized methods paid off with his choice of hat for the evening.

Image
“I Told You So!”

Deni Avdija

At the ninth overall selection, the Washington Wizards stuck to a draft philosophy as old as time itself—Take the most talented guy remaining on your draft board. As a result, 19-year-old Deni Avdija will take his talents to Washington, D.C

Avdija is the youngest MVP in Israeli League history, and even though his selection might have surprised Wizards fans at nine, they made a pick that represented value based on his pre-draft projections.

Avdija was ranked within the top six by The Athletic and The Ringer, and Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard stated he had scouted him since he was 16-years-old, so it’s reasonable to see how once Onyeka Okongwu was off the board, Avdija was the ideal selection.

If you’re unfamiliar with his game, please take the time to check his highlights below and keep in mind to analyze how he moves, creates space, and scores.

Most people watch highlights and just focus on the ball going in the basket, but you can notice plenty about a players ability if you take note of just how surgical they are with their movement in the way they score.

Footwork and technique always show up on tape.

Ricky Rubio Returns to Minnesota

Ricky Rubio returning to the Wolves is a big note of my draft night because of what the move signals. Bringing Rubio back is an indicator to me that the Timberwolves made a trade to give their young team a leader and a proven winner.

Yes, I said what I said. Rubio knows how to win games better than most rotation point guards in the league, and his presence increases the ceiling of every player on the roster.

Rubio is a great veteran guard and will find minutes in the rotation due to his playmaking ability. Lineups Involving Rubio will allow scorers to work off the ball and focus on doing what they do best—put the damn thing in the bucket

After Selecting Anthony Edwards 1st overall and adding other young playmakers in the draft, the Wolves are turning in a direction that takes them a step closer to the playoffs.

Next, Minnesota must make the right moves in free agency to help maximize Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell’s impact in the upcoming season.

Minnesota Timberwolves trade PG Ricky Rubio to Utah Jazz for protected  first-round pick

Celtics Take Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard

Sharpshooting, every team needs it, and the Boston Celtics made spacing the floor a priority on draft night.

For a team planning to be in the thick of the eastern conference, the selections of Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard are picks that can help space the floor on day one.

Celtics select Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard in 1st round
Nesmith (left) Pritchard (right)

Pritchard was one of the most competitive guards in the country at Oregon. He never backed down from a challenge and has an impressive skillset that propelled him to lead the Pac-12 in both scoring and assists a year ago. I project him to be effective off the bench and eventually develop to a point where he can command the Celtics second unit as soon as this season.

Joining up with Pritchard is Vanderbilt product Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a lights-out shooter, and the combination of these players in the first round will help the Celtics lessen the blow of potentially losing Gordon Hayward this offseason.

The chart speaks for itself as the Vanderbilt product is one of the, if not the best catch-and-shoot rookies in the class. His value fills a much-needed hole in the Celtics offensive attack by adding another off-ball shooter to the rotation.

Haliburton Slips

Tyrese Haliburton is one of the most talented mismatches in this class due to his size at the point guard position. He’s also skill-wise everything you want in a playmaking guard, so it was confusing to see him fall to Sacramento with the 12th pick.

The Kings should feel great with the selection, but as a fan, I’m worried that he may not be able to maximize his potential in Sacramento.

Sixers

The 76ers were active during the first draft under new GM Daryl Morey. The Sixers may have one of the steals of the draft with Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey’s selection at 21st overall.

Acquiring Maxey raises the talent level of the roster, and Morey’s trades rid the Sixers of Al Horford’s bloated contract and brought shooting to the team in the form of Danny Green and Seth Curry.

Klay Thompson’s Injury

Without a doubt Klay Thompson Tearing his Achilles is the most impactful story that occurred on draft night. The Warriors potentially lose one of the biggest pieces of their organization as they were primed to make a twilight run in the western conference.

The injury did not result in a change of plans for the team on draft night as they selected the most talented player on their draft board, Memphis big James Wiseman, 2nd overall.

Final Thoughts

The first round of the draft mirrored the unpredictability of the world around us as we saw many surprises one can attribute to the stoppages of sports last spring.

The first round was absent a few all-conference and conference player of the year candidates, so we may see a few gems in this class from late in the draft.

I’ll share my thoughts on some moves from the 2nd round— including undrafted free agents—in my follow up post.