Tag Archives: Russell Westbrook

NBA Western Conference Playoff Preview: #2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs #7 Memphis Grizzlies

By: Jon

Over the past few seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder have been in the playoffs and have succeeded during their time in late April and May. However, the Grizzlies almost did not make the playoffs this season even though they were 18 games over .500. At the beginning of the season, the Grizzlies had trouble transitioning from Lionel Hollins’ to Dave Jaeger’s style of basketball. Also, Marc Gasol, the defensive player of the year last season, was injured throughout the beginning of the season. After the change of the calendar year, the Grizzlies have played great because they are reverting to their great defense. While the Grizzlies needed wins at the end of the season, the Thunder have been comfortably in the playoffs since the start of the season.

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Although the Oklahoma City Thunder won the second most games in the west, they had a roller coaster type season because of the status of Russell Westbrook. However, Durant has taken the next step forward and was able to lead the team without Westbrook, one of the ten best players in the league. Despite Westbrook making the Thunder a more talented and dangerous squad, he can be extremely inconsistent and take shots away from Kevin Durant. The departure of Russell Westbrook forced Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka to improve as players and become more integral members of the team. If Westbrook does hurt his knee again during the playoffs, the team will be ready to play at a high level. Last season, the Grizzlies and Thunder matched up in the second round and the Grizzlies were able to win the series in five games. The Thunder did not have Russell Westbrook and the team was unable to play at a high level. Kevin Durant was unprepared to put the team on his back and lead them to a victory over the rough and tough Grizzlies.

 

Why the Thunder will win?

Kevin Durant. Although some may believe that James is the best overall player in the league, Durant has been the best this season and will win the MVP and scoring title. Durant has taken his game to the next level and showed that he can lead a team all by himself. While improving his scoring, his defense has taken a monumental step forward. Durant is unstoppable on offense and his full array of skills will be on display in the first round against Memphis.

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Along with Durant, Westbrook is finally healthy and should be able to play at a high level. In his last four games, Westbrook has scored over 20 points per game while shooting 43% from the field. Westbrook is one of the most talented players in the league because he is among the most athletic in the league. Without Westbrook in the rotation, Jackson and Ibaka took a step forward and showed  they can be consistent contributors in the playoffs. Both players have scored over 13 points per game, which will be important for OKC. Both need to play at a high level in order for the team to win the championship because they will be open a lot when teams devote attention to Durant or Westbrook.

During the season, the Thunder went 3-1 against the Grizzlies because they have more talent and matchup well against the Griz. Westbrook has the ability to shut down Conley and Ibaka has the length and agility to stop Randolph.

 

Why the Grizzlies will win?

After a few lengthy playoff trips, the Grizzlies have the experience to take another long trip into the playoffs. The Grizzlies will be led by their three best players Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. The trio has been together for the last few seasons and extremely underrated as a trio. Mike Conley is one of the most underrated point guards in the league and has taken massive steps in the last few seasons. This season, Conley had the best season of his career and averaged 17 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals per game. Although many believed that Conley was overpaid when he signed his contract a few seasons ago, he has become one of the best players on the team and his contract proved to be a bargain. Conley will not turn the ball over frequently and will make his team run an efficient offense.

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Like previous seasons, the Grizzlies will rely on their big men to score and stop the opposition from scoring in the paint. Randolph has been one of the most consistent players in the league because he has averaged at least 17-10 over the past 6-8 years with different teams. Randolph may have difficulty scoring against the great shot blocker that is Dr. Nasty. However, Randolph will have a massive weight advantage over Ibaka. If Zach can use his strength to overpower the mangily Ibaka, he will grab a lot of offensive rebounds and give the Grizzlies extra possessions to score more points.

Along with Randolph, the Griz have another talented big man in Marc Gasol. He was an MVP candidate last season because he has the ability to do everything on a basketball court. Like his brother Pau, he is a great passer. Gasol can block shots, play defense, pass, score, and rebound at an extraordinarily high level.  The Thunder do not have an answer to Marc Gasol and he must play at his best, if the Grizzlies are going to win a few games in the series. Last season, Grizzlies were able to win because Marc Gasol did everything he could to lead the squad.

 

Prediction: Thunder win in 5 games

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The Thunder are playing at a great level right now. Kevin Durant is playing at an extraordinarily high level and he will not be stopped in the first round by a quality Grizzlies bunch. Although Memphis will definitely win a game or two because they are a good team and great at home, I do not see them winning three games against this great Thunder squad. The Grizzlies do not have an answer for Durant and it will become evident when he scores over 35 points per game during the series. Although Tony Allen may be able to limit Russell Westbrook’s stats because Allen is a fierce perimeter defender, Russell will be too much for the Grizzlies’ defenders. Although the games will be close because the Grizzlies play great defense, the combination of Durant and Westbrook will not be stopped towards the end of games. Marc Gasol should show that he is again one of the best centers in the game during this postseason.

 

All Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

2013-2014 NBA Northwest Division Preview

By: Jon

The Northwest division looks to be very competitive this season, after Oklahoma City. Potentially, all five teams will be competing for playoff spots this year in a difficult Western Conference. Portland and Minnesota are looking to take the next step and make the playoffs. Utah is in a rebuilding stage, but has a lot of talent, especially in the front court. After a great season last year, the Nuggets will probably take a step back, but they also have a lot of young talent and a new bright head coach.

1) Oklahoma City Thunder*

Can Serge become a reliable number three for the OKC Thunder Courtesy of ESPN
Can Serge become a reliable number three for the OKC Thunder Courtesy of ESPN

The Oklahoma City Thunder are major contenders this year to reach the NBA Finals and dethrone the Heat. However, there are a lot of questions with the Thunder as they are very young and attempting to ingrate new players into their rotation. The Thunder will have a great chance to succeed this season because of their star power. Led by All-NBA players Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the Thunder can defeat anyone in the league. However, Russell Westbrook needs to be able to return and play at a high level, if the Thunder are going to meet expectations. As seen last year in the postseason, the Thunder are not the same team without Russell Westbrook on the floor. Another X-Factor for Oklahoma City will be Serge Ibaka. The man they call Dr. Nasty must step up and perform at an All-Star level, if the Thunder are going to dethrone the Heat. There is a lot of pressure on Ibaka because the Thunder decided to keep him, instead of James Harden. Although Sam Presi does not make many mistakes, the James Harden trade will go down as one of the biggest blunders in NBA history, unless Jeremy Lamb or Steven Adams become major contributors in the next few years. Although Russell will be missing a majority of the first two months of the season, the Thunder will definitely win the division. This year, none of the other teams pose any true threat to the team. However, the Thunder need to remain a quality record without Westbrook. As seen in the past few postseasons, home court advantage is incredibly important and necessary for teams with title aspirations. Although the Thunder are a small market franchise, I would make an attempt to acquire a top player during the trade deadline. In my opinion, the Thunder are still one player away from winning the Larry O Brian trophy, even with the addition of Westbrook. If I was Sam Presi, I would attempt to make a deal for either LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love. Although neither are able to lead their teams to a title, they are both All-Star players and have the ability to put the Thunder over the top. Both player could probably be had for a combination of Ibaka/Lamb/Jackson/First round pick.

2) Portland Trailblazers*

Can LaMarcus lead the talented Blazers to the playoffs Courtesy of ESPN
Can LaMarcus lead the talented Blazers to the playoffs Courtesy of ESPN

After a poor year last season, which ended with a 33-49 record, the TrailBlazers look like they have the talent to surprise a few experts this season. Although the Trailblazers had a horrible 49 wins last season, the number is a little skewed. Last year, Portland ended the year on a 13 game losing streak because they lost many of their starters to injury. The Trailblazers have one of the most talented starting fives in the league, which should lead them to at least a 500 record. If healthy, the starting five of Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Mathews, and Robin Lopez should strike fear into many of their opponents because they all can score the ball and play solid defense. After recording a great rookie season, Lillard looks like he can become a true star in the league. If Lillard can learn to effectively play with LaMarcus Aldridge, the dual should become devastating on offense because they each should put up 20 points per game. On defense, the team will become better and more efficient. The addition of Robin Lopez and the return of Nicolas Batum and Wes Mathews from injury will greatly improve the team’s overall defense. Lopez is a stalwart on the inside, while Batum and Mathews can shut guards down on the perimeter. However, the major improvement this season will be on Portland’s bench. The additions of Dorell Wright, Mo Williams, CJ McCollum, and Thomas Robinson should improve a bench that was horrible and frequently lost gams for Portland. Unfortunately for the Trailblazers, Aldridge, Batum, and Mathews are injury prone and frequently miss games due to nagging injuries. If the Trailblazers can stay, they will exceed expectations and have a great opportunity at making the playoffs. However, if Portland starts the season badly, they should look to trade Aldridge from their roster. Although he is an All-Star player, he could net a good return for the Trailblazers, who need picks and players to return their success of the early 2000s.

3) Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets need to possess a high powered offensive to win games Courtesy of ESPN
The Nuggets need to possess a high powered offensive to win games Courtesy of ESPN

After a great season where the Nuggets finished 3rd in the West and claimed the best home record in the league and one of the best all-time, the Nuggets inexplicably lost in the first round, fired their coach George Karl, and did not re-sign star shooting guard Andre Iguodala. Also, toward the end of the season, the Nuggets suffered the loss of Danilo Gallinari, one of their best players and best scorer on the team. Unfortunately, the Nuggets will be without Gallinari for much of the 2013-2014 season because of his torn ACL. The Nuggets will be forced to rely on a bunch of role players to buy into a new system and achieve immediate success, in order to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they do not have a star that can generate offense or provide open looks for teammates. Although Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, and Kenneth Faried are nice players, they do not have the talent to lead a team to the playoffs in a difficult Western Conference. Although Iguodala did not have a great season last year, his absence will be felt by the Nuggets this season. Iggy’s ability and success is not shown by the number of points he scores in a game. Even during his days with the 76ers, in his prime, Iguodala was never a great scorer, career high of 19.9 points per game. However, Iguodala could do a little of everything on a basket court. Iggy could garner assists, rebounds, points, steals, and blocks, all things necessary for a team to achieve success in the NBA. Also, Iguodala was a stalwart on defense. His physicality and athleticism allowed him to matchup with the opposing team’s best scorer and limit his points. Although it did not show on the box score, it was vital for a Nuggets team that has trouble playing defense. Although ex-coach George Karl was not a great postseason coach, he was great at leading his club during the regular season, although they did not have the same talent as other teams. The loss of Karl and Iguodala will be felt this season, as the Nuggets are probably not going to make the playoffs in the star studded Western Conference.

4) Minnesota Timberwolves

Will Love stay for the whole season and lead them to the playoff Courtesy of ESPN
Will Love stay for the whole season and lead them to the playoff Courtesy of ESPN

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a lot more talent than their records have indicated the last few seasons. If the Timberwolves can stay healthy this season, they will be competing for the final playoff position in the Western Conference. Although trade rumors and injuries have diminished Kevin Love’s reputation, he is one of the best players in the game and posts some of the best numbers in the league for a big man. Love is the epitome of the new stretch forward because he can play inside and outside while grabbing rebounds and defending opposing power forwards. The Timberwolves must rely on Love to score and rebound the basketball, if they are going to compete. For the first time since the Kevin Garnett era, the Timberwolves have a complete basketball team. Along with Love, the Wolves have quality players such as Rubio, Pekovic, Martin, and Williams. Rubio has improved his game during each of his two seasons in the league. Although Rubio is not a threat to score 20 points a night, he has some of the best hands and vision in the NBA. Similar to Rondo, Rubio has the ability to improve his team without putting the ball in the basket. Pekovic and Martin will be important for the Wolves this season. Martin has shown in the past that he can score over 20 points per game. Along with Martin, Pekovic has displayed the ability to be a productive center in the NBA. Pekovic is strong and adept around the basket, which allowed him to score 15 and grab 8 rebounds last season. If Williams and Muhammed become competent bench scorers this season, the Wolves will surely be a top 15 scoring team in the NBA. However, their defense will be the x-factor this season. None of the Wolves players are known as shut down defensive players. Thus, they must learn to play as a team since they will not be able to individually defend their man. Although the Wolves will improve from last season, they will probably not make the playoffs.

5) Utah Jazz

The future looks bright for the Jazz, but this season could be a struggle Courtesy of ESPN
The future looks bright for the Jazz, but this season could be a struggle Courtesy of ESPN

After finishing 9th in the West and barely missing the playoffs by only two games, the Jazz underwent a major overhaul this offseason. The Jazz are undergoing a major youth movement and looking to build for the future. This offseason, the Jazz made a great trade, which netted them 2 first round picks and only lost cap space for the coming season. If Trey Burke did not injure himself, the Jazz would have the youngest starting five in the NBA, Burke, 20, Burks, 22, Hayward, 23, Favors, 22, and Kanter, 21. This offseason, the Jazz lost two of their best players to free agency, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. However, they were willing to not re-sign the duo because of their confidence in Favors and Kanter. Favors, the main part of the Deron Williams trade, and Kanter were both the third overall picks during the 2011 and 2012 drafts. Unlike the previous duo, Kanter and Favors have a greater upside and potential because of the defense they provide to the Jazz. While Millsap and Jefferson were quality offensive big men, Jefferson showed little effort on defense and could not protect the rim. Millsap was an undersized power forward and was routinely bullied by the other power forwards in the Western Conference. Although raw, the Jazz should rely and lean on the big men to carry them this season and in the future. Along with Favors and Kanter, they have 21 year old rookie Rudy Golpert out of France. Although he is extremely raw, he has the potential to be a great rim protector and defensive stopper because of his size and wingspan, largest in NBA combine history. Although the back court does not have the same promise as the front court, Burke and Burks have shown that they have the ability to score in succeed in the league. Although this season may be difficult for the Jazz, in terms of wins, the team will be fun to watch because they have a lot of talent and should improve throughout the season. The Jazz executives and fans should be excited for the future of the club because they have good young players, future first round picks, and they will have money to sign free agents after they lose Jefferson, Biedrins, and Williams after the season.

stats from espn.com

Top Ten Point Guards in the NBA

By: Jon

 

The point guard position is one of the deepest positions in the current NBA. Although a great point guard has not led a team to a title in a long time, they are important because they lead the offense and improve team chemistry.

 

1. Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers

Chris Paul
Chris Paul

The Clippers’ point guard is regarded as the third best player in the league by most fans and experts because he is able to improve his teammates on offense and defense. Chris Paul recently re-signed with the Clippers to a max deal. Although Chris Paul has never won a major award in the NBA besides the Rookie of the Year, Paul has done something that no player has ever done before: improved the Clippers, made the Clippers respectable, and converted some Laker fans to Clipper fans. Although Paul is not a great scorer, he is great at many other statistical categories. Paul has averaged at least 9 assists and 2 steals per game over the last six years. Chris Paul led the league in assists twice and steals five times during his eight year NBA career. Although Paul does not score many points, he shoots a great percentage from the field. Chris has shot over .475 from the field 5 of the last 6 seasons and over .800 from the free throw line every season of his career. Chris Paul is a future Hall of Famer because he has led two hopeless franchises to playoff wins and success.

 

2. Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook

The Thunder’s point guard is one of the most athletic players in the league, which enables him to be one of the best players in the league. Russell Westbrook has been one of the most durable and accomplished players in the NBA. Westbrook has not missed a single regular season game during his five year career. Although Russell injured himself during the postseason, Westbrook will probably be healthy for the beginning of the season. Russell has improved during every season of his career. Russell Westbrook has transformed from a player who was extremely raw to a player who is extraordinary and one of the best in the league. Russell is a great two way player because he is strong, quick, intelligent, and skilled. Although Westbrook is a high volume shooter who does not shoot a high percentage, he scores a lot of points and sets up his other teammates. Westbrook finished top ten in MVP voting this season because he scored 23.2 points,  7.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.8 steals.

 

3. Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs

Tony Parker
Tony Parker

The French point guard has been one of the most underrated players in the NBA over the last few years. Parker was the last point guard and one of two point guards in the last 33 years to win the NBA Finals MVP. Although he has consistently been over looked because he plays with the best power forward of all-time, Parker has finally taken control of the San Antonio Spurs. At the age of 30, Parker had the best season of his career. Parker finished top five in the MVP voting this season because he averaged 20.3 points, 7.6 assists, and 3.0 rebounds. Tony scored 20.3 points while shooting at a very high percentage, 52.2%. Parker has more playoff success than any other point guard in the NBA and the only player on my list to be a major contributor on a team that won the NBA Finals. Although Parker is not strong like other PG, he is extremely quick and has great moves, which enables him to see the floor and score efficiently. Although Parker is not physically dominating like the other point guards, he is intelligent and a savvy veteran.

 

4. Derrick Rose – Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose

The former first overall pick is the first point guard to win the award since Steve Nash. Although Rose is one of the most talented players in the league, he is consistently injured, which drops him in my rankings. When Rose is not injured, he is one of the top two point guards in the league. DROSE has played only 39 games over the last two seasons, which stops him from being a top 10 player in the league. Similar to Russell Westbrook, Derrick is a physically imposing point guard who has a mismatch every night. However, Derrick is not a traditional point guard who dishes and sets up his teammates, but a high volume shooter and does not have a great shooting percentage. Although Derrick only shot under 45% during the last three season, he scored over 20 points per game. During his 2010-2011 MVP season, Rose scored a career high 25 points, 7.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per game. Although Derrick Rose has been great during the regular season, he has not succeeded in leading the Bulls to the Finals during his four year career. Rose will easily rise to the number one point guard position if he can defeat the Miami Heat and stays healthy during the regular season.

 

5. Deron Williams – Brooklyn Nets

Deron Williams
Deron Williams

The Brooklyn Nets star point guard is one of the best point guards in the league because he is strong, fast, and intelligent. Although Williams is not a great shooter, he shoots at a solid percentage and scores a lot of points. During his career, Williams has scored 18 points while shooting over 45% from the field. Although Deron had a horrible first half of the season, Williams looked like the top three point guard he was with Utah Jazz during the second half of the season. Williams averaged 19 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, and only 2.8 turnovers per game. Even though Deron had a great season compared to most players, it was considered a down year for him. However, this year the Brooklyn Nets should expect a huge year from Deron because he is surrounded by capable scorers and has had the ability to rest his aching body. During the last two seasons, Williams battled injuries, which compromised his jump shoot and speed. Since he is not recovering from an injury nor playing for the USA in the Olympics, Deron should be feeling 100% for the start of the season. Deron has the ability to return to being a top three point guard in the league because he scores and sets up his teammates while limiting his shots and turnovers.

 

6. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry

The 24 year old point guard is already being considered one of the greatest shooters of all-time. Curry posted a career high in points per game while averaging the second most points among point guards, behind Westbrook. Unlike other point guards, Curry scored 23 points per game while shooting over 45% from the field. Stephen was able to average the most points per game while posting a career high in assists per game. Curry is being considered as one of the greatest shooters of all-time because his shooting percentage and three point percentage was above 45%. Along with his great shooting from the field, Curry shoots 90% from the free throw line. Like other point guards, Curry is consistently hurt, which affects his play. Curry possesses some of the worst ankles in the league. When Curry resolves his ankle problems, he will be one of the greatest shooters and players of his generation. Curry may become the next superstar if he can stay healthy and lead his talented Golden State Warrior team to the NBA Finals or even a championship.

 

7. Rajon Rondo – Boston Celtics

Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo

The talented 26 year old point guard is one of the most skilled and exciting players in the league. Rondo is one of the most exciting players in the league because he is an amazing passer. Along with being an incredible player, Rondo is a leader, who plays the best during big games. Rondo will now have the ability to lead a NBA team since Garnett and Pierce left the team in a trade with the Nets. Although Rondo is not a great scorer, he is the best player in the league at setting up his teammates to score buckets. Although Rondo injured himself half way through the season, Rondo had been durable and a steady producer for the Celtics over the past seven years. During the last three seasons, Rondo averaged more than 11 assists per game while leading the assists for the last two seasons. Rondo is a double double machine, which is strange for a point guard because it is harder to record 10 assists than 10 rebounds. In 2012, Rondo recorded 20 double doubles in just 38 games, which is a higher rate than any other player by a wide margin. Along with recording the highest double double rate, he had the most triple doubles, 5, which was three more than any other player while playing 30 less games.

 

8. Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday

The former Philadelphia 76ers point guard has progressively improved during every season of his career. The 22 year old point guard had a break out season for the 76ers, which enabled them to trade him at his highest value. Jrue averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game during his fourth season in the Association. Jrue was the lone bright spot on the 76ers team this year, which greatly disappointed their fan base and experts around the league. Since the 76ers were in rebuilding mode, they traded Holiday to the New Orleans Hornets for Nerlens Noel, 6th pick in the draft, and a pick in next year’s draft. New Orleans will be a great fit for Holiday since they have a young nucleus where he can grow and improve as a player. Holiday is a young stud All-Star, who will play in many more All-Star games throughout the rest of his career.

 

9. Damian Lillard – Portland Trailblazers

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard

The Rookie of the Year had a great first season for the Portland Trailblazers. Lillard, the sixth overall pick, had a surprising break out season for the Trailblazers. Lillard averaged 19 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game for the Trailblazers. Damian looks like he will be a great player in this league for a long time. Lillard is a strong, large point guard, who can bully his fellow opponents. Along with great size, Lillard is a great shooter from behind the arc. Last year, Damian shot 37% from behind the arc, which is solid for a rookie transforming from the college game. Lillard’s success will be great for future college players coming from mid major schools such as CJ McCallum.

 

10. Ty Lawson – Denver Nuggets

Ty Lawson
Ty Lawson

The Denver Nugget’s undersized point guard is one of the best young point guards in the NBA. Although Lawson does not dominate his opponents with his size and strength, Lawson has great speed and intelligence, which allows him to succeed in the NBA. Lawson is the leader of the offensive juggernaut, Denver Nuggets. Lawson uses his speed to start fast breaks and out run his opponents. Ty has improved in every important statistical category since entering the NBA four seasons ago. During his best season last year, Lawson averaged 16.7 points 6.9 assists, and 1.5 steals. Next year, Lawson will be forced to take more control of the offense and improve his game because the Nuggets have a rookie head coach and they lost Galo for some of the season and Iguodala to free agency. Ty is a fantastic player and will only improve over the next few years because he is intelligent and controls the floor.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com