Warriors Lead NBA Finals 1-0

By Lamar Battle

 

Now we get to see just how great he really is.  Am I talking about Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors who defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the 2017-18 NBA Finals ?

No.

I am speaking of Cleveland Cavalier and future Hall Of Famer LeBron James.  After delivering one of the all time great Finals performances where he scored 51 points his teammates seemingly no, actually let him down.  With the score tied and four seconds left in the game  Cavalier guard George Hill missed the second of two free throws and teammate J.R. Smith grabbed  the rebound and instead of taking the potential game winning shot or passing to LeBron James standing alone and waiting to shoot ?

J.R. elected to keep the ball and run out the clock. Countless T.V. replays and internet memes have shown LeBron’s incredulous response and frustration over the way the game went to overtime ultimately resulting in a Warrior victory.

Let’s get one thing straight,

LeBron James is a bad man!  Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times  ( A great newspaper that has fallen on hard times.)  Said that just before LeBron left the Cavaliers the first time to join the Miami Heat the CAVS had just won 61 games.  The season after LeBron left the team won 19 games.

In comparison when Chicago Bulls great and G.O.A.T ( in the eyes of some) Micheal Jordan retired for the first time and left the Bulls the team had just won 57 games.  The next season with teammate Scottie Pippin at the helm they won 55 games.

While judging all time greats most should consider that Kareem Abdul Jabbar had the most unstoppable shot, Bill Russell was the best at sacrifice and leadership, Micheal Jordan was the most spectacular and LeBron James is the best all around player (hands down)  and quite possibly the smartest ( just ask Celtics coach Brad Stevens ) player in the history of the game.

The Golden State Warriors are the better team in the Finals (with quite possibly the best shooter ever in Steph Curry)  but if LeBron James is to have any chance to beat them it will flow directly from how he handles the events as they unfolded in game one.

Will LeBron remind his teammates of just how much they let him down or….will he find a way to re-assure them that there are no hard feelings and the team will find a way to overcome together? Can he inspire limited players to rise to the occasion?

Can he control the pace of the game again like he did in game one, (a tactic used with some success by the Houston Rockets.)  Better yet,  can LeBron drop another 50 or 60 points?

The answer to these scenarios will go a long ways toward revealing the make-up of a player who could very well be the best ever to lace them up.

If anyone can pull it off he can.

 

 

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Will Kahwi Leonard Get Traded

By Lamar Battle

 

 

The answer for all of those San Antonio Spurs fans worldwide the answer is….Yes, it is quite possible !  Now the notion seems far fetched given the fact that Kahwi Leonard is a top three player in the NBA.

However over the course of the season the relationship between the Spurs and Kahwi may have deteriorated beyond the point of no return.  The Spurs drafted Kahwi developed him and won with him as possibly the top two way (offensive and defensive) player in the game today.

A quad injury kept Kahwi out for the majority of the 2017-18 NBA season.  Kahwi took longer to return from his injury than his own teammates thought was needed which culminated in a team meeting centered on Kahwi and his willingness to return to the team.

The press asked Coach Greg Popovich about Kahwi’s status and the coach’s response was to ask Kahwi’s group.  The response suggested a possible chasm  between the coach and his star player who left the team during  the playoffs and went to New York supposedly for rehab.

ESPN reporter Ramona Shelborne talked about how there appears to be a misconception regarding the severity of Kahwi’s injury between him and the Spurs.  Kahwi is eligible for the NBA’s super Max contract paying him 219 million over five years.  The question is, will the Spurs pay the max to a player who may be injury prone?

Fox Sports One T.V. host Chris Carter mentioned that his brother works with the group currently advising Kahwi and alluded to the possibility that Kahwi will not return to the Spurs unless LeBron James signs there as a free agent.  Some are speculating that Kahwi may be jockeying to force a trade.

If That’s The Case:

I believe the Los Angeles Lakers would be the best landing spot for Kahwi.  Why?  Most teams like the Celtics and Sixers may just wait until Kahwi becomes a free agent and get him for nothing.( Kahwi has one more season left on his current deal).  That way they can hang on to their young assets.

Lakers President Magic Johnson has been known to say that he is not interested in any rebuilding efforts and would like to return to contention as soon as possible and Magic has a lot of chips.

The Lakers could trade Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Loul Deng (for salary considerations) to the Spurs for Kahwi.  learning of this development LeBron may well jump on a plane in full uniform ( in the middle of the playoffs) and report to Los Angeles. (Wife and Kids to come later).

The Lakers would become contenders over-night and the Spurs would have the young players to get them back on track.  Lonzo Ball could change the teams culture on the court and Brandon Ingram would be just the prize that the Spurs always manage to find and convert into a star.

There’s no sense in delaying the one deal that would make everyone involved happy  with the exception being  the Golden State Warriors.

Top Ten 2017-18 NBA Draft Picks

By Lamar Battle

 

With all of these teams tanking to close out the NBA season and the NBA draft almost here who are the players the teams are all clamoring for?

With out further ado, the Drop Steps Projected Top Ten,  Read em and weep.

 

1. DeAndre Ayton: 7-1 Center Arizona

The consensus number one pick. Big, strong, runs like a deer, Could improve outside shooting.  The name Olajuwon has been whispered in some circles. Would like to see DeAndre in New York

2. Marvin Bagley III : 6-11 Forward/Center Duke

All American lauded for his back to the basket skills but not much of an outside shooter especially from three point range.  I put him at number two because of his impressive motor and drive.  Has star written all over him.

3. Luka Doncic: 6-8 Guard/Forward Real Madrid/Slovenia

This years Euro-star.  Luka plays in the top European league and has distinguished himself as one of the best.  He can do a little bit of everything but is best known as a great passer.  I have him projected as the third best player on a title contender.

4. Micheal Porter Jr.6-10 Forward Missouri

Projected as number one before a debilitating injury derailed his hopes.  Having said that Micheal’s window is high as this 6-10 player can run the floor and shoot.  Could improve ball handling but that will come with time. A potential All Star for sure and a solid number four pick.

5. Mo Wagner: 6-11 Center/ Forward Michigan

Mo used the NCAA Tournament as his personal coming out party. (leading Michigan to the Championship game). A 6-11 player who knows he’s big and plays like it, he is also a knock down three point shooter.  His best feature and reason for the high pick: He has a knack for playing big in big games, a trait that should not be ignored.

6. Wendell Carter Jr: 6-10 Center/Forward Duke

Big man with the drive to become a solid 10 year glue guy in the NBA. A must have for teams looking to develop a winning culture.

7. Trae Young:  6-3 Guard Oklahoma

I made a similar mistake last year when I low rated a player who failed to lead his team to the NCAA tourney and subsequently turned down a chance to play in the NIT.  That player turned out to be Ben Simmons. Trae Young led the nation in scoring and assist (an NCAA first) and is the first child of Steph Curry (so they say) given Trae’s penchant for long range bombing. (27.4 ppg and 8.7 apg)

The draft will be full of versatile athletic combo guards but Trae Young represents a potential star once he develops his body.  At the 7th position he should be available for the Chicago Bulls…..Don’t blow this one Chicago!

8. Mohammed Bamba: 7-1 Center Texas

A seven foot shot blocker with legitimate 3 point range ? (12.9ppg and 10.5 rpg)   I would have ranked him higher if not for questions about motivation.

9. Jaren Jackson Jr: 6-11 Forward Michigan State

A steady big man with an NBA (Dad played in the league) and  Big Ten pedigree he has a lot of room to grow so to speak as Jaren is only 18 1/2 years old.  Jaren shot (59.5 EFG) an impressive percentage for a kid that played against tough competition all year.

10. Colin Sexton: 6-2 guard Alabama

One word comes to mind when discussing Colin Sexton…Intensity!  The winner of the 2017 McDonalds Slam Dunk contest knows only one way to go and that’s all out.  At 6′-2″ though he will need to shoot better from the outside.

 

Loyola, The Toast Of The Town

By Lamar Battle

 

Who would have thunk it?  Loyola  Chicago’s Men’s basketball team would take the nation by storm.

The Ramblers, who last won an NCAA title 55 years ago Surprised everybody by making it all the way to the NCAA’s Final Four.  The 11th seed made the big dance by winning their conference (The Missouri Valley).  The proverbial little sister of the poor did it by playing team ball on offense and defense.

To make it Loyola had to beat Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State but unfortunately the Ramblers fell to the University of Michigan in the  NCAA’s coveted Final Four.

How Did Loyola do it?

Well to start small schools always have a chance to make the big dance if they accomplish just one thing,  Win their conference.  The Ramblers play in the Missouri Valley Conference who with the departure of Wichita State is winnable.

Having a good coach doesn’t hurt either.  Loyola’s Porter Moser is a coach  given the time by the University to develop his type of players and program.  A writer asked him how would he deal with big ego type players?  The coach’s response was basically they don’t recruit those players.  The reporter followed up with how about if one of your existing players became that way?  The coach then added that the culture of the team would take care of that.

Those points are key in evaluating a program that understands the impact of having self sacrificing and coach-able kids who also just happen to hail from winning high school programs.  The Ramblers played the type of switching rotating defense that requires both conditioning and genuine commitment to your teammates.

Fortunately for the Ramblers that same commitment works on offense too as they passed up good shots for better ones as and anyone who knows anything about basketball will attest  defenders hate chasing offensive teams through a series of five to six passes. (normally how long it takes to break a defense down).

Most good things do occasionally come to an end and that axiom held true as the Michigan Wolverines ( who had better players and coaching) ended the Ramblers Cinderella season.

What does this mean for Chicago?

The entire city got behind Loyola and if the University can find the cash to keep it’s coach then this could be the start of a fruitful relationship.

Other states have raided Chicago’s top basketball talent for years but maybe just maybe Loyola’s success will motivate Chicago area kids to stay home.

One thing is for sure,   U of I and Depaul sure could use some of them.

 

 

 

Top Five 2017-18 NBA Rookie Leaders

By Lamar Battle

 

Most predicted that the 2017-18 NBA rookie class would be one of the best and from the looks of things they were right.

Who are the Leaders in the race for Rookie Of The Year and team contributions?

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers:

At the quarter mark the leader in the race for ROY is 3rd in rookie scoring 16.6 ppg, first in rookie rebounds at 8.6 rpg and first in rookie assist with 7.5 apg.  At 6′ 10″ and with natural point guard skills Simmons is probably the closest thing to Magic Johnson that we have seen in a while. Along with center Joel Embiid the 76ers are looking like a team of the future in the Eastern Conference.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz:

The rookie scoring leader at 18.2 ppg Donovan came on late as a spectacular athlete who routinely gets the fans out of their seats (You did see that stupendous dunk against the Cavs right? ).  He has the talent and ambition to be one of the best players in the league.

Kyle Kuzma L.A. Lakers:

Quite possibly the steal of the draft and 2nd leading rookie scorer at 17.9 ppg and 5th leading rebounder at 6.7 rpg.   A  6′ 10″ slasher and quality shooter (39% 3 pointers) from Flint Michigan who gives Laker fans a reason to hope for a better future.

Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls:

4th in rookie scoring, 14.6 ppg and 2nd in rebounding at 7.4 rpg and 2nd in free throw percentage at 83.3%.  All of a sudden the Jimmy Butler trade is not looking so stupid.  Lauri surprised everybody with his confidence and surprising athleticism.  This kid has All Star written all over him as evidenced in a recent game against the Knicks where he took on the challenge to play the Knicks vaunted Kristaps Porzingas to a standstill and did just that.

Markkanen joins 2nd year players Kris Dunn (a sleeper for sure) and Zach Lavine (two time winner of the slam dunk contest) in what will become a solid nucleus on the Bulls for years to come.

Jason Tatum, Boston Celtics:

Boy did Boston G.M. Danny Ainge pull off a heist with this guy.  Tatum 6′ 8″ with what may be an 8 ft wing span will be barring injury the starting Celtic small forward for a long time.  Jason is 5th in scoring at 14.1 ppg and is shooting an incredible 47.1 percent from the 3 point line…That is correct 47.1 percent !  Boston penciled him in as a starter at 19 years old and they knew what they were doing.

Honorable mention:

Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers:

People who know me will say there he goes again drinking that purple kool aid and giving props to a player ESPN’s Steven A. Smith called a bust.

Lonzo started slow but is now starting to shoot better from the outside ( 10 ppg 34.9 fg%) even though you never hear as much conversation about the outside shooting regarding Rajon Rondo, Ben Simmons, Andre Miller or Jason Kidd.

The metric for Lonzo who among rookies is 2nd in assist, 4th in rebounds, 2nd in minutes and 3rd in blocks will be his impact on the culture of the team.  Can he through the force of his unselfish nature transform the Lakers into a respectable team with a promising future ?

And the winner is:

Stay tuned to what will be one impressive race to the finish.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com

 

 

The Thunder And The Bulls, Two Trains Running.

 

By Lamar Battle

 

Two teams two examples of confusion.  One team ( The Oklahoma City Thunder) were projected to be at this point one of the NBA’s elite teams.  The other, ( The Chicago Bulls ) were projected to be one of the league’s worst and as fate would have it the Thunder are extremely unpredictable and disappointing and the Bulls are seemingly screwing up their chance at a top lottery pick.

The Thunder brought in All Star Paul George and All Star Carmelo Anthony to join 2016-17 NBA MVP Russell Westbrook.

At this point the Thunder is in 8th place in the NBA’s Western conference.. Experts and fans are all debating on what’s ailing the team.  Could it be bad chemistry, Westbrook’s inability to share, Carmelo’s defense ?

The prevailing thought pattern now is that given his free agent status Paul George may bolt this summer so General Manager Sam Presti has his work cut out for him.  Does he keep Paul George throughout the season and risk losing him to free agency or does he trade him at mid season.

If I were in his shoes I would find a 3 and D forward / guard to replace Andre Roberson in the starting line up, bolster the bench and  risk the big three hitting their stride just prior to the playoffs.

 

Da Bulls:

 

At the start of the season it was generally understood that  1. The Bulls would be the worst team in the League and  2. The Bulls would have a legitimate shot at landing a top five lottery pick in what is stacking up as one of the best NBA drafts in years.

All that was before the fight i.e. knock-out.

A well publicized practice brawl between Nikola Mirotic’ and Bobby Portis cost the team valuable games for both.  Portis served an eight game suspension for his role in the fracas and Mirotic’ was out for an extended period with a concussion and facial fractures.

With both players out rookie power forward Lauri Markannen was forced to start.  The team discovered that Markannen is a true player and building block for the future. But did Markannen’s starting prevent the team from losing ten games in a row?

No, it did not.

But, on the way to the draft lottery something weird took place.  Mirotic’ returned and led the team on a 5 game (now 7) game wining streak and to top that off Bobby Portis started playing some of the best basketball of his career.  The Bulls made NBA history by becoming the first team to win 5 games in a row after losing 10 in a row.

So what now ?

In a rare post game interview 2nd year guard/forward Denzel Valentine declared the Bulls as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.  Well, Denzel’s zealousness not withstanding. Bulls brass may have shown their hand when they Put Markannen back in the starting line up replacing Mirotic who had been playing lights out.

That move may signify a commitment to rebuilding and a chance at what announcer Stacey King referred to and I’m paraphrasing the race for the Baggs. ( A not so subtle reference to Duke University super freshman Marvin Bagley III ).

 

 

Cavaliers School Knicks

By Lamar Battle

 

In what turned out to be one of the more exciting NBA games of the season so far the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the New York Knicks Monday in Madison Square Garden.

Cavaliers star Lebron James fanned the pre game flames by saying the Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. is the player the Knicks should have picked instead of the guy they got rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina.  Lebron raised the ire of Knick strong man Enes Kanter who came to the defense of his rookie.

The game itself provided a bevy of thrills as LeBron, Ntilikina and Kanter became involved in a shoving match that saw the rookie Ntilikina confronting LeBron directly.

The Garden erupted as the Knicks used emotion from the dust up to race to a 23 point lead over a Cavalier team that seemed dead in the water.

Ultimately the Cavaliers erased that huge lead to win the game and illustrate the difference between an experienced team hardened by winning and an up start just learning how good they can be.

So what are the take a ways:

LeBron is still a gun fighter,

An older one but a gun fighter nonetheless.  LeBron stoked the flames that knocked most of the Knick players off their square, guarded Kristaps Porzingas with six minutes left roughed him up and then dropped the three point dagger right in his grill.  All of that while serenading the City with possibilities of a free agent signing next season.  Not a bad days work.

Kristaps Porzingas  may not be a franchise player,

At least not yet, Porzingas allowed himself to be rough housed and thrown to the floor all game long.  He has added muscle for this year but apparently not enough as Jae Crowder, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James took turns treating young Kristaps (who had his worst outing of the young season) like a rag doll and the physical play affected his game  Kristaps will need to develop his legs as they are  key in holding offensive  position close to the basket. If he continues on his current trajectory he will get stronger and more experienced sooner rather than later. ( Good news for the Knicks)

 

Frank Ntilikina is a player,

The 19 year old last remnant of the Phil Jackson regime may have come one step closer to NBA legitimacy.  Everyone is aware of Franks defensive chops and how could he not be effective on defense with that 7 foot wing span.

In all fairness this player is a potential diamond in the rough with natural play making abilities and the gumption to take the big shot when the opportunity presents itself.

The Knicks are smart to bring him along slowly as this selection will start to pay dividends in year two.

Knicks Coach Hornacek needs to get up to speed,

In today’s game there are a handful of teams that play effective help defense and they are Boston, Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland (only in the playoffs).

Notice the Knicks like a lot of teams were not included.  One of the best indicators of an organizations viability is their teams ability to play help defense.

Why is that?

Because it is truly hard to teach and enforce.  The sacrifice, energy and rotations needed will expose teams that don’t listen to or respect their coach.  Of course it pays to select the right players as smarts and unselfishness are key.

The Knicks led by Kristaps Porzingas are starting to experience early season success but until they start playing real defense they won’t seriously challenge battle tested teams like the Cavaliers.

When the smoke cleared the old gunslinger sensed a young gun ( Porzingas) in town but like those before him ( most notably Micheal Jordan)  He dealt with the young challenger in a way that will probably leave a lasting impression.