The Biggest Question of the NBA Restart: Western Conference

With the bubble underway, seeds 4-7 and 2 and 3 can change in the West as we approach the playoffs. The play-in-tournament also looks like it is going to be an inevitable result of bubble madness. Here are some thoughts on the biggest question we have in the Western Conference.

Can anyone stop the West Finals from being Lakers vs. Clippers?

If you take a look at the odds to win the title this year on any sportsbook, you’ll find that there are 3 teams that they feel have a real chance at winning the title: Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks. We all knew at the start of the season that this was the probable matchup in the conference finals. Do we think any teams have a real chance to put a fork in what would probably be the most-watched conference finals in years?

First, let us take a look at the Lakers and Clippers holistically.

Lakers

The Lakers have no Avery Bradley and possibly no Rondo the rest of the way. Even if they have Rondo he won’t be nearly as effective. They acquired Markieff Morris before the hiatus. Their team is somewhat in a similar situation that we have with the Bucks. We have literally no idea who is going to be on the floor for them to close games. The Lakers have played 101 clutch minutes this season (last 5 minutes of regulation or overtime in a game within 5 points). In those minutes they have 10 players who have played at least 10% of those minutes. That is absolutely crazy when thinking about coming up with the lineup they’ll use when the going gets tough in the playoffs. The 3 other most common guys in those minutes with LeBron and Davis are KCP, Danny Green and/or Avery Bradley (now it will obviously only be Green), and one of the big men (mostly JaVale). I can hear all the Laker fans screaming that I have forgotten they have playoff LeBron. Although this is a very good argument, it isn’t LeBron that scares me; It’s Davis.

In the 4th quarter or overtime this year, Anthony Davis is shooting 18 for 63 (28.6%) on shots 15 feet or longer. For a guy who is the most talented power forward I have ever seen, he needs to stop taking jumpers late in games. How many times have you watched Davis face-up on his defender, take a dribble, and step back for a fadeaway 2-pointer from 20 feet away? We tend to say that guys like Davis and Embiid “can shoot”. Yes, they can shoot but they take low percentage shots at high volumes and it hurts their teams drastically.

I’m not saying he should never shoot 3’s. Of course, when he has good looks he should. But more times than not he isn’t shooting catch-and-shoot 3’s, he is stepping into them while facing up on a guy he can easily take to the basket. If you look at the games so far in the bubble where Davis dropped our mouths to the floor, you’ll see that he was attacking the basket and making plays around the rim that nobody else in the last century could make. If he sticks to the things he is really good at which is rolling to the rim, PnR’s with LeBron, and driving and spinning off bigs who are either not quick enough to guard him or just can’t match his finishing ability at the rim, he’ll put the Lakers in a very very good position to be successful.

I don’t worry about their defense at all. Davis is good enough to anchor it all by himself but LeBron and the other wings can really hunker down and play well down the stretch of tough games. Their 3rd ranked defense in the league should stay pretty steady.

Clippers

Once Harrell gets back to the bubble and clears quarantine, the Clippers will be back to 100%. If you think about it, between Paul George missing the first few games and Kawhi taking his usual load management, the Clippers did not have a whole lot of time to get into a groove. They are 6.5 points better than their opponents which is pretty good for a team with inconsistent lineups throughout. They have the 3rd best offense in the league which actually kind of surprises me given how much of a gauntlet they are defensively. Are there really a whole lot of flaws with this team? They have the 2 best 2-way players in the league, the best bench in the league, a championship coach, and are the best rim-protecting team in the West. I have believed for the past year and a half that the best player in the league that I would want on my team to win the title is Kawhi Leonard and I still think that now. Kawhi would have finished in the top 3 in MVP and top 3 in DPOY if he hadn’t done his usual load management. The Clippers are, no shocker here, almost 12 points better with Kawhi on the floor compared to when he is off.

Paul George is having another really good year and has actually accepted being 1B to Kawhi quite nicely. He is making spot-up 3’s at the highest rate of his career and is taking good mid-range shots that haven’t been forced. George and Leonard provide the firepower and the other guys play off of them exceptionally.

The Lou Will and Harrell pick and roll is the most used as well as one of the most successful plays in the whole league. The addition of Marcus Morris gives them an above average spot-up shooter who can play both ends. If we really take a step back and look at this team, they have so many different lineups that are each very successful and don’t really have a whole lot of flaws.

So… Who are the pretenders and who are the contenders?

Here is a look at the current standings in the Western Conference:

Credit: NBA.com

If we look at this we can see that the Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, and Mavs could all switch before the final half of the regular season bubble is over. But for now, let us assume that all of these teams could move and possibly match up with either the Lakers or the Clippers down the stretch. Who of the teams remaining have a decent shot?

The Pretenders

The Kings, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns, and Grizzlies would all get beaten badly by the Lakers and Clippers. Memphis holds the lead for now, but if Portland makes their way into this play-in-tournament they will fall out.

We knew that those teams were pretenders, but are there any teams that are pretenders from the 3-7 seeds?

Utah Jazz: The overwhelming majority of their minutes played this year, especially in crunch time, have had Bojan Bogdanovic in them. His loss is one of the biggest for any team at the bubble. Their 4 most common lineups that accumulate 1,700 total minutes this season had Bojan in them. He played in nearly 80% of their minutes during the course of their whole season. He was the most clutch player on the team and was their best spot-up shooter. His loss takes them completely out of the equation. Even if Conley turns back the clock a few years and Mitchell has a great playoff run, they don’t have the firepower to not only hang with the Lakers and Clippers, but they won’t be able to beat Denver, Houston, OKC, Portland, or maybe even Dallas at this point in a seven-game series. Without Bojan, who makes the Jazz 8 points better when he is on the floor, they have a dearth of playmakers outside of Mitchell. Gobert has been amazing once again defensively but he has no ability to create any sort of offense once he has the ball. With Conley struggling, Bojan out, and a loaded West, they are likely the pretenders.

Source: NBA.com

Denver Nuggets: Their defense has somehow gotten worse and worse as the season has gone on. They were good at the beginning of the year, bad after the trade deadline, and horrible in the bubble. Granted, some of their pieces have not been playing. Skinny Jokic has worked out to some extent. This team definitely does not have the firepower to stop the Clippers or the Lakers. The problem with them is they need 1 or 2 guys who can solely focus on guarding the wings of both of those teams. Gary Harris is a good defender but he is relied on offense too much to really hunker down on either LeBron or Kawhi. We also never really know what kind of Jamal Murray we are going to get. Michael Porter Jr. has come storming out and has been unstoppable on offense. I knew this was coming (go check my tweets from earlier this year about how I was confused as to why he wasn’t playing more minutes). But the Nuggets are relatively consistent and have very good role players around Jokic. The main things with them that are huge question marks right now is how good can skinny Jokic stay in a playoff series, if Jamal Murray can become consistent, and if they can find some sort of real offense besides those 2 guys (at this point Porter Jr.). Grant has been a nice player for them this season. His impact on defense is good… according to the eye test. Advanced stats go the other way. The Nuggets are actually nearly 13 points worse with him on the floor per 100 possessions. Why is that? Well, we know that the Nuggets play a lot of pick and roll offense with guys trying to cut from the backside for easy layups. Defensively they trap the lane and force a ton… A TON… of corner 3’s. Looking at the way every team is playing in the bubble right now, I am not sure I can pick them to win their first-round series at this point unless someone like Dallas moves up. Even then I wouldn’t be so sure unless they were handed the gift of playing Utah.

The Long Shot Contenders

When I say “long shot” I basically mean these teams have a chance to scare the heck out of the Lakers and Clippers but not necessarily beat them.

Dallas Mavericks: The number 1 offense in the history of the league (116.5 ORtg). They are actually top 10 in both offense and defense and lost an integral piece in Dwight Powell. I will say, Porzingis hasn’t been good, he has been excellent. They are nearly 16 points better with him on the floor as their center. He has been shooting a ton of 3’s but he, unlike Embiid or Lopez, is shooting them at a very nice rate. Doncic and Porzingis with 3 other wings on the floor are +13 per 100 possessions. They are +11 per 100 possessions with Porzingis and NOT Luka. Those numbers are crazy good. This shows me that they absolutely have their crunch time lineup. Luka, Porzingis, Curry, Finney-Smith, and Hardaway. This team knows who they are, knows what their roles are, and play them very very well. Luka Doncic is the best 21-year-old player in the history of the league. He has the best vision, most poise, and one of the best step-back jumpers I’ve ever seen in my life. He made one of the best passes I’ve ever seen in my life the other night when he threw a pocket bounce pass through his legs with his off-hand. Seriously, this dude is going to win multiple MVP’s. They shoot the 2nd most 3’s in the league, are 29th in shots at the rim, and play a very slow-paced offense. They barely turn the ball over and are a perfect upset potential team to take the Clippers to 6 or 7 games in the first round. This team has exceeded expectations.

Source: The Athletic

Oklahoma City Thunder: Another team here who knows who they are and are extremely established in what they are capable of. They know who the crunch time lineup is, they know who “the guy” is, and they know who plays what role. This team, an afterthought at the beginning of the year, has outplayed all expectations given to them. Chris Paul has one of the best on/off stats in the league. Their crunch time lineup of Adams with the 4 perimeter guys in Gallinari, Shai, Chris Paul, and Schroder is +26.8. Schroder, in my opinion, is the 6th man of the year. Chris Paul is arguably having one of the 5 best seasons of his career. He is also the most clutch player in the league and it’s actually not even close. The problem with them is they demolish all of the under .500 and have a horrible record against teams above .500. Dort, Bazely, and Ferguson are really nice role players. Their defensive numbers lately have been up and they can really hang with anyone. They are a matchup nightmare for the Lakers and can seriously hang with the Clippers. When they play small teams, Steven Adams looks like Shaq. When they play bigger teams, they exploit their wing depth with their above-average guard play. This team is pretty dangerous. If they can get hot and allow Chirs Paul to close out games, they can make some serious noise.

The Contenders

These teams are serious threats to the Lakers and Clippers if they were to advance on in the playoffs.

Portland Trailblazers: Collins and Nurkic are back and every game I have watched of theirs in the bubble has shown the reason why they are the reigning Western Conference runner-up. Lillard is playing like 1 of the 5 best players in the league right now. Whiteside did a decent job of covering for Nurkic but Nurkic makes this team so much better. Watching the Blazers at their lowest point this year was painful because Whiteside never knew what was going on and didn’t even try to understand. He is constantly looking at Dame wondering where he needs to be. But with Nurkic, the Blazers have 3 different sets they can do which give Lillard the freedom to either do the work himself, hit the cutting big, or kick out to shooters on the wings or in the corners. Gary Trent Jr. has been one of the best players in the bubble, shooting over 60% on 3’s. Trent allows the Blazers the ability to press later in games and allows Dame to kick out to another above-average shooter when he is doubled. Melo hitting a shockingly high number of catch-and-shoot 3’s and the rest of the team taking really high-quality shots, things are looking up for Portland. With one of the best rim-runners in the league back in Nurkic, the reliance on some decent young players, and with the Blazers core back, we can’t count them out of a playoff series. If they get into the play-in against Memphis, expect them to absolutely roll them. If they get 8 seed, the Lakers can seriously be in trouble. With healthy Nurkic, the Lakers are very beatable.

Houston Rockets: The obvious choice here for the biggest threat to the Clippers and the Lakers. James Harden is (still) the best offensive player in the league. Harden won’t be the reason the Rockets lose in the playoffs, it’ll be Westbrook. Westbrook turned his season around in January and pumped out the most efficient season of his career. Russ, who used to shoot nearly 7 3’s a game at under 31%, has stopped shooting a lot and has done a lot of drive and kick. Every time Russ catches the ball near the 3-point line he has about 6 feet of space to shoot a wide-open 3 but he doesn’t. He is much more aware of the shot clock and most of those possession results in a Rocket basket. He also has limited the number of pull-up 15-footers he was shooting in recent years as well. He would shoot those at horrific percentages and take 10-12 of them a game. Now, he is getting nearly all of his points at the rim. Russel Westbrook is the single most important piece if they are to advance far into the playoffs. This team is so dangerous because they shoot the most 3’s in the league. If one night, let’s say, they go 20-42 on 3’s in a series, they are beating any team in the league. That probably won’t be a recurring thing if it does happen but we have seen it. Their small-ball lineup has allowed them to throw different options at elite wings. Although they are obviously getting out-rebounded by opponents by a lot since the trade, they have actually posted much better advanced numbers with their small-ball lineup. If Harden can continue what he is doing and Westbrook continues to be smart with the ball and maybe limit the turnovers (just a bit), they have a real shot at knocking off the Clippers or Lakers.

Source: CBS Sports

Predictions

With all that being said, the predictions for the West playoffs are going to be a little bit more difficult due to the fact that the standings can change over these next few days before the play-in. But, I will try to predict the matchups and go from there.

Play-In Tournament

Since Memphis is not going to finish 4 games ahead of the 9 seed, we’re going to have a play-in. It looks like they will play either the Suns or the Blazers. Give me the Blazers. With the being said, Memphis will have to match up with the healthy Blazers. If Memphis gets the 8 seed, they will have to beat Portland only 1 time. Portland would have to beat Memphis twice to advance. Let’s give Memphis the benefit of the doubt and say they finish the season as the 8.

(8) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (9) Portland Trailblazers

Memphis will be without Jaren Jackson Jr. who is right now their 2nd best player. With nobody to be able to guard both bigs and the perimeter, the Grizzlies will struggle to handle the front line that Portland will put up. Damian Lillard is just too good in the playoffs and will outplay Ja Morant a thousand times over. Memphis will try to hang with a red hot Blazers team while backed into a corner.

Portland wins 2-0

1st Round

I am going to assume that the standings for the West are actually going to stay the same at this point. With that being said, here is what the first round would look like:

(1) Lakers vs. (9) Blazers

(2) Clippers vs. (7) Mavericks

(3) Nuggets vs. (6) Jazz

(4) Rockets vs. (5) Thunder

The only thing that I really see as possibly changing here is OKC and Utah switching at the 5 and 6. If that happens, I have a hypothetical for that scenario after I finish predicting what I have listed.

I expect Houston to, as they did last year, dominate the first round. Houston put on a shooting clinic and went small to bring Gobert away from the basket. At the end of games, Gobert was unplayable and the Rockets got anything they wanted, whether it was from 3 or at the rim. I expect this to happen in a similar fashion due to the fact that Adams will not be unplayable late in games in this series. I do think OKC can really hang tough with this team and they can force 6 or 7 games. But OKC won’t be able to keep up with small ball rockets and Harden will be out to prove he can perform in the playoffs. The backstory for this one is the obvious point guard switch with Westbrook and Chris Paul. Should be one of the most fun series to watch in the first round.

Rockets wins 4-2

This 3-6 matchup is very enticing and very unfortunate for Utah. Bojan would have been an enormous help in this series against a young team. Jokic vs. Gobert should be relatively interesting. The Nuggets have the clear advantage here because Jokic will bring Gobert out to the perimeter, similar to what Houston did in the 1st round of last year’s players. Denver has excellent cutting wing players and they will use that to their advantage. With Gobert away from the basket, they should get a lot of quality looks near the basket. With Mitchell really being the only above-average playmaker on this team right now (sorry Mike Conely), Denver will have room for error.

Denver wins 4-2

I really like what Dallas has done this season. The paragraph I wrote on them earlier is really encouraging for them going into the postseason. They would, however, have a much better chance at beating the Lakers than they do the Clippers. Luka, who has the highest usage rate in the league, will have to deal with being pestered by Kawhi, George, and Beverly all at different times of the game. Each time, the defender will be somewhat fresh. If you can knock down Luka’s productivity, you can take care of the Mavs relatively quickly. Let’s be honest, pound for pound in the postseason, the Clippers are going to be the toughest out in the league.

Clippers win 4-1 (I want to say 4-2 super bad)

Finally, the Lakers and Blazers will be an extremely entertaining series. The Blazers will come in with the attitude that they have nothing to lose because they were very far behind before the bubble started. The Lakers, especially LeBron, have so much hanging on this playoff run. It takes a special kind of person to challenge LeBron James in playoff basketball. Damian Lillard is definitely one of those guys. This series could go the distance. With the Lakers having no Avery Bradley, their best on-ball defender, it is a huge loss in a series like this. Bradley’s main purpose this season was to guard the other team’s best guard for 30 minutes; he did this quite well. With him not able to do it, someone else will have to. LeBron will have a great series and so will Lillard. But it will be the guys like Davis, McCollum, Danny green, or even Gary Trent Jr. that decide these games. Get ready for a movie. This series has upset written all over it… but LeBron has too much to lose.

Lakers win 4-2

Source: Rip City Project

Conference Semi-Finals

(1) Lakers vs. (4) Rockets

(2) Clippers vs. (6) Thunder

The Lakers are really getting the short end of the stick here. The Clippers get to pay two teams they are much better than.

I expect the Clips to take full advantage of their depth being far better than Oklahoma City’s. Chris Paul will be met, as Luka was, with the 3-headed monster of wing defenders. This is a series where the Harrell and Lou Will pick-and-roll will have a whole of success. The thunder have very talented wings offensively but won’t be able to even remotely contain playoff Kawhi as well as Paul George. The Clippers haven’t had their whole team back yet. Once they take the 1st round to get back into the swing of things, they’re going to be all hands on deck for the semis.

Clippers win 4-2

Harden understands that his playoff performance has been scrutinized his whole career. Does he get enough credit for being one of the 5 best offensive players of all time? No, he doesn’t. But his playoff failures are something he doesn’t want to repeat any longer. He and LeBron have A LOT on the line. LeBron definitely has more, but Harden is ready for a breakout. I seriously think Houston has a huge chance to knock the Lakers off here. It isn’t just a “pick one team who is best equipped to challenge them” kind of thing. I legitimately would not be surprised if Houston won in 6 or 7 games. I think this series heavily depends on which one of Davis or Westbrook is more inefficient and which one takes those terrible long 2’s or 3’s that they both tend to take. I want to pick Houston super bad. LIKE SUPER BAD. LeBron, however, has way too much on the line here.

Lakers win 4-3

Conference Finals

(1) Lakers vs. (2) Clippers

Although I do think Houston and Portland have puncher’s chances to knock off the Lakers, I can’t help but be petrified to be betting against a rested and angry playoff LeBron. But this was destined to happen ever since we found out Kawhi was going to be joined by Paul George in LA.

This series gets a whole lot more interesting now that we are in the bubble… here’s why:

The Lakers and Clippers would not have had to travel for this series if we were in a world without COVID-19. This would have heavily hurt the Clippers. LA will always be a Laker town. This means that no matter how many games this series goes, the Lakers would have been home for every single game. The number of Laker fans outnumber the Clipper fans by AT LEAST 5x. The Lakers would have been the favorite, and still probably will be, in this series. They will have gone through a much more difficult road than the Clippers. Do we really expect Anthony Davis to stay fully healthy for 3 straight rounds of the playoffs?

Not only does the bubble allow the Clippers to not have to deal with being the road team for 6 or 7 straight games, but they are just the better team. Their perimeter is better, their off-ball defense is better, and… I think playoff Kawhi has surpassed playoff LeBron. Yes, LeBron outplayed Kawhi and everyone else in their most recent meeting in the bubble. But the Clippers did not have Lou Will or Harrell and they still nearly won the game. The Lakers will be thin on the wings, drained from their previous rounds, and unable to contain Kawhi Leonard down the stretch of games. I really hope this series goes the distance. It will most likely be even more watched than any of the Warrior’s conference finals. Get ready for 1 of the best 7 game series of the decade.

Clippers win 4-3.

Source: Los Angeles Times

FYI

The Thunder and Jazz in the 1st round for the 5 and 6 really will come down to the final day. OKC owns the tie-breaker. At this point, OKC plays Miami and the Clippers to end the year while the Jazz have 1 more game against the Spurs. Right now I have the Thunder as the 5 and the Jazz as the 6. But it should be noted if they flip…this is how I predict the playoffs to go down:

The Lakers and Clippers still advance

(3) Denver vs. (6) Thunder

(4) Rockets vs. (5) Jazz

Here, the Jazz will lose badly to Houston (4-1). OKC, however, beats Denver here in 6 games. Chris Paul would be the best player in the series. That brings us to the later round where both the Rockets and the Thunder lose to the Lakers and Clippers respectively.

Wrap-Up

Realistically, the Clippers are the best team in the league. You can still get them at +320 to win the title and I suggest you take it. The West has been wild this year but one thing is for sure, the Western Conference Finals will apex mountain of this NBA season.

*All stats taken from basketball reference*

The Biggest Question and Some Predictions before the NBA Restart: Eastern Conference

Credit: USAToday.com

We are less than a week away from the restart at the Orlando bubble. 8 regular season games to go and it will be interesting to see how the standings change and what will happen come playoff time. Some of the top dogs still have major questions to answer and lineups to play with. Will it be the Bucks, Lakers, or Clippers? Perhaps a dark horse can pull together a month of good play and steal it? Should there be an asterisk next to the winner? Let’s take a look at the biggest question in the East before the restart.

Are we sure the Bucks are going to roll through the East?

Do I think the Bucks are probably going to go the finals? Yes. But there are 3 teams that have a shot to challenge Milwaukee if given the chance. With no home-court, it is completely possible. Looking at the Bucks regular season this year they are historically good. They have the league’s best defense (by a mile) and have done it in an extremely unconventional way. They give up the most three-pointers in the league at a staggering 38.6 a game. That is a very very very high number. A few years ago, taking away the 3 was considered to be crucial to success. Now, for the Bucks, allowing teams to let it fly has become a hallmark to their success. They aren’t the only good defense allowing a lot of threes. Toronto, who is 2nd or 3rd in defense depending on where you look, gives up just as many threes a game at 38.5. Two more top 5 defenses in the Clippers and Celtics give up a whole lot too. But why is this is working and should we expect a team who shoots well from three to knock them out? The answer to the latter is no but how come the Bucks can get away with this?

One thing we have to understand about Milwaukee is how much of a load Giannis really takes on. It is quite impressive that even with him off the floor the Bucks are still nearly 5 points better than their opponents. But when he is on the court, they are just over 16 points better. This is the widest margin in the league among the top players and has allowed the Bucks to run away with leading the league in point differential. To summarize these stats, it basically means that Giannis has been used so much on both ends of the floor (being the most likely DPOY and MVP which has only been done in the same season by Jordan and Hakeem) that his teammates are so incredibly fresh when they are needed. Coach Bud does a nice job of allowing the shooters to spread the floor while Giannis attacks 4 defenders at once. Here’s the problem: are we sure their crunch time lineup will be able to get it done? The lineup(s) that have been used the most frequently this season are Giannis, Middleton, Bledsoe, Lopez, and Wes Matthews. The other most common lineup is the same as above except this time with DiVincenzo for Middleton. So I ask… do you really want the choke-king (credit Dula for the sensational pun) Eric Bledsoe on the floor in crunch time? The dude is a walking turnover and has built all of the local homes with all the bricks hes providing. So who should be their 5 against teams, like them, who give up a ton of threes?

9 questions ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks' franchise-altering ...
Credit: OnMilwaukee

Here are the Bucks tiers of 3-point shooters this year. Keep in mind the league average is 35.7%. I am not including Korver because he will be unplayable (I think) at this point at the end of games.

Tier 1: Middleton (41.8%), George Hill (48%… wow that’s so damn good)

Tier 2: Wes Matthews (36.5%)

Tier 3 (below average): Bledsoe (34.8%), DiVincenzo (34.4%), Pat Connaughton (32.1%) and Brook Lopez (29.6%)

First of all… why is Brook allowed to shoot as many threes as he does? Between him and Embiid, it blows my mind. Anyway, down the stretch, it would make sense to play the guys who can shoot the ball (especially against the Celtics or Raptors deeper in the playoffs since they too give up a lot of threes). However, the two most popular lineups for the Bucks contain 2 tier 3 shooters in their most common lineup, and 3 tier 3 shooters in their second most common lineup. Obviously, this has been fine for them during the regular season; but in the postseason when the pressure is on and below-average shooters have to hit big shots, more times than not they’ll be missing more than making… a lot more. So who should be that crunch time lineup? I really do not know. If you’re playing Toronto, let’s say, you need Lopez out there to deal with the bigs they’ll throw at you. If you play Boston, you won’t really need him out there and could go smaller. Here would be my crunch time lineup for different matchups

Raptors: Giannis, Middleton, Lopez, George Hill, Wes Matthews.

Celtics: Giannis, Middleton, Wes Matthews, George Hill, DiVincenzo

-Think about the Celts crunch time lineup of potentially Kemba, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Smart/Theis).

Heat: Giannis, Middleton, Lopez, Wes Matthews, and Bledsoe

-I will give Bledsoe the benefit of the doubt against a team like Miami because they don’t give up a whole lot of 3’s and Miami really isn’t great offensively so the Bucks could just load up on defense here. The fire power for Miami just isn’t enough.

Philly: Giannis, Middleton, Lopez, Wes Matthews, DiVincenzo

-DiVincenzo has become a very good 2-way player for them. He would be needed against a long, athletic Philly team down the stretch.

But all of this won’t matter for the opponent if they don’t find some way to put a tiny dent in Giannis’s productivity. There are two schools of thought when it comes to guarding an extremely overbearing player like Giannis. The first is to stop him at all costs and let the others beat you. If the other guys shoot well and play crisp, you accept defeat because you put a stop to the number 1 guy. The other school of thought is to let the main guy go out and keep his usual production but prevent the others from contributing a whole lot and hope that your 5 can outplay their top guy.

We have seen both of these work out sometimes and other times not so much throughout the NBA:

For example, the first approach was done to LeBron in the 07-08 season by the Celtics in the East-semis and it worked. They just collapsed in the middle when he drove and forced him into a bad shot, a turnover, or a teammate for threes. We have also seen it fall to pieces when the Celtics did it down the stretch to the Lakers in the 2010 finals and caused a series of role-players to come up and play huge for them, notably Ron Artest’s game-clinching shot in game 7.

LeBron James, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett - LeBron James and ...
Credit: Zimbio

The second approach is far less common but was seen a little bit more in recent history. In 2011 Dallas anchored down on Miami’s key players outside of LeBron like Bosh and Wade and prevented those guys from being extremely productive in the big moments of that series. LeBron did not play amazing but they worried more about letting LeBron, who didn’t have a good playoff reputation then, try to beat them… and it worked. However this approach did not work in the 2003 finals when the Nets sadly allowed MVP Tim Duncan (who had one of the 5 best seasons in NBA history that year) to, with ease, be the best player in that series. He seriously probably could have won that series all by himself.

But which of these will work for opponents against Giannis? Since the Bucks are having a historic season, were on pace for 70 wins, were better than their opponents by 16 points when Giannis is on the floor, and have spotty three-point shooting in their crunch-time lineup, the only way around the Bucks will be for opponents to directly attack the freak himself.

I have compiled a small list of the 5 players on a few contending teams that have the best chance against Giannis. It is actually a pretty interesting and dicey list. The teams I ranked players from were the contenders the Bucks could see at some point in the playoffs: Philly, Miami, Boston, Toronto, and both LA teams.

5) Toronto’s front line: This is the only one that is not an individual player. Nick Nurse could definitely come up with a scheme using their gauntlet of different defenses. Nurse has not been afraid to go zone and pack-line this year. Honestly, it isn’t a bad idea. If you have Gasol and Ibaka rotating on defense, both capable of doing some damage to Giannis, they won’t get too fatigued and would be able to stay fresh with the help of the two tenacious wing defenders in Siakam and Anunoby. When those two guys lock in, they are really fun to watch. Giannis would for sure either see zone, pack-line, or, if they play man, all 4 of these guys each game. It might not be enough to get the whole job done, but it will definitely throw him off for sure.

Should the Toronto Raptors trade Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka?
Credit: Raptors Rapture

4) Kawhi Leonard: Do I even need to explain this one? He got the better of Giannis in last year’s playoffs and is still, when it matters most, the best 2-way player in the league. Kawhi did a decent job last year guarding Giannis on key possessions. Although, it should be noted, the Raptors depth last year allowed Kawhi breaks from guarding him for most of the games, especially because his offensive load was so heavy. Regardless, Kawhi Leonard is one person that Giannis knows can get the better of him when it comes down to it.

3) Joel Embiid: Embiid would probably be my pragmatic number 1 in the East to guard Giannis. This is part of the reason why healthy Philly is so dangerous. Two guys in Embiid and Simmons, along with an extremely long starting 5 could disrupt Giannis if Philly were to get past Miami. Embiid, in my opinion, when he locks in is just as good on defense as Davis. He cannot get bullied inside and can guard Giannis in all areas within 15 feet of the basket. If Embiid gets in a groove, Giannis could be struggling with finishing at the basket when he’s around. Forcing Giannis to take threes will be Philly’s ultimate goal.

2) Bam Adebayo: OH YEAH. Let’s get a little dicey. Make no mistake, by the time Bam’s career is over, he’ll be on quite a few all defensive teams and win multiple DPOY awards. He is probably the only guy in the league (other than Jaren Jackson Jr. and Gobert) who has quick enough feet to hang with athletic wings and protect the rim with incredible efficiency. Bam has shown flashes of what he can do against some elite players and he has proved he is the most important player on the Heat. Granted, the Heat don’t have enough fire power to hang with the Bucks or the Celtics or the Raptors, but they have Bam as a potential stopper if Giannis was to meet them instead of Philly in the second round.

1) Anthony Davis: If we get the match up that most people think we’re going to get, The Lakers are arguably the biggest threat to the Bucks capping off their historic season. If you solely did the eye test and did not look at advanced analytics, Davis would be DPOY. Davis has the most upside to be successful against Giannis over anyone else. Giannis lit up the Lakers when they played, but that was when he hit 5 threes. If he does that multiple games in the playoffs, goodnight everybody. 90% of the league is petrified to be guarded by the brow. Davis’s raw defensive numbers this year are 2k-esque.

Is there a clear answer? No there’s not. But is there a way to try to stop Giannis, who is having a better season than any apex Shaq season? We’ll have to wait and see. Numbers don’t lie. If Bud can put together situational lineups in crunch time of these playoff games, the Bucks are the most equipped to win the title. However, if Giannis gets stopped or, more likely, if the Bucks miss a bunch of threes, they could be in trouble.

East Predictions:

Here is what the standings in the East look like right now:

One thing is for sure, the Pacers without Sabonis, will easily slide down and the Sixers will take their spot at 5. But can Philly catch Miami? Let’s take a look at their schedules:

Philly: Pacers, Spurs, Wizards, Magic, Blazers, Suns, Raptors, and Rockets.

Miami: Nuggets, Raptors, Celtics, Bucks, Suns, Pacers, Thunder, and Pacers.

This is a tough situation to base predictions off since we have no idea how certain guys will respond to being off for so many months. But if I was being practical, I would say with these schedules, given the health of both teams and the strength of their schedule, I would say Philly goes 6-2 and Miami goes 4-4.

45-28 for Philly and Miami would also be 45-28. This would give us a tiebreaker. Miami would be the 4 and Philly the 5 because Miami is 3-1 against Philly (not like it really matters who is the 4 or the 5 in that series). I expect Orlando to pass the Nets as well. With all of that being said, here is what the playoffs would look like:

1st round

(1) Bucks vs. (8) Nets (4) Heat vs. (5) 76ers (3) Celtics vs. (6) Pacers (2) Raptors vs. (7) Magic

If this was the case, we would see the Bucks, Celtics, and Raptors advance fairly easily. The Heat and 76ers would be extremely fun for the first round. Miami is 3-1 against them this year and has much better advanced numbers. Philly was wildly inconsistent, especially their home vs. road differences. But now, we basically have road games for everybody. Embiid, I’m hearing, is in the best shape he has ever been in in his whole life. I think Philly somewhat puts it together and gets past Miami. This series could go either way.

Bucks win 4-0. Boston wins 4-1. Raptors win 4-1. 76ers win 4-2.

East Semis

(1) Bucks vs. (5) 76ers (2) Raptors vs. (3) Celtics

Healthy Philly being able to throw Simmons and Embiid at Giannis is going to be so much fun. Most people, me included, had Philly in the finals before the season began. The 76ers were set up to have the best starting 5 in the league and were ready to set the East on fire. Plagued with injuries and chemistry problems, they crumbled and could not find a way to win on the road. Brook Lopez has been unreal this season on defense, but will struggle immensely trying to handle Embiid. It will be interesting to see whether we will get full-throttle all-in Embiid for the whole series or if he will take time off. Will they move Simmons off the ball? Will they get Thybulle more minutes? This is, and should be, the final straw for Brett Brown. I still the think the Bucks and their consistency will prevail. However, I think Philly will give them a major scare and is an interesting long-shot bet to make the finals.

Bucks win 4-2. ( I wanna say 4-3 super bad)

This will be one of the most fun match ups of the playoffs. Boston is more talented but Toronto is deeper. Lowry vs. Walker, Tatum vs. Siakam, and the bigs of the Toronto vs. the wings of Boston. Both teams rank in the top 5 defensively and both teams have 2 of the best coaches in the league. This series is bound to go the distance. The Raptors might be able to frustrate the young Celtics because they have so many defensive options to throw at them. Kyle Lowry will likely have a great series. The key for Boston will be whether or not Tatum will transcend and be the best player in the series. If he does, Boston will win. If, however, Nurse throws a bunch of schemes at the Celtics and Lowry torches down the stretch and Siakam continues his 2-way circus, the Raptors will win. The one thing that stands out is the Celtics lack of bigs. Gasol and Ibaka have been so good this year, Daniel Theis can only do so much. The Raptors are just too deep and are all in on putting up a true title defense. I really do think this can be a coin toss. I give the benefit of the doubt to the defending champs.

Raptors win 4-3.

Raptors trailing Bucks, Celtics in NBA Eastern Conference odds ...
Credit: Sportsnet

East Finals

(1) Bucks vs. (2) Raptors

The rematch. It is completely different this time. Now, the Bucks will have the best player on the floor. I do think the Raptors depth is more talented than the Bucks. I really do think the Bucks will struggle. The Raptors will be a handful for them defensively. Both teams give up a ton of threes. This will be a huge test for the Bucks perimeter. They’re going to have to shoot well to even get to the conference finals; once they’re there, they will have to shoot even more threes and hit a higher percentage. I think Nick Nurse will go a lot of zone in this series. The Raptors best defense this season has been when they have done the pack-line. The pack-line will not be as effective as it is against most teams. Being one pass away from guys like Giannis, Middleton, DiVincenzo, and Connaughton, all of which are dynamic cutters, the Bucks will get a lot of baskets at the rim. The Bucks are going to have to shoot through a 2-3 zone and they’ll need all hands on deck. I think this series, whether it is the Raptors or the Celtics, will be tighter than everyone thinks. The question rises this year on whether to take the Bucks or the field. My heart won’t stop screaming to take the field. My head, however, cannot ignore the advanced analytics and cannot ignore a player’s season better than any Shaq season.

Bucks win 4-3.

The West version will come at some point next week. Think about these things before making your playoff predictions and bets. The Bucks aren’t just the favorite to win the East, but the favorite to win the title.

Here are the odds for the contenders in the East (FanDuel):

Bucks: -165 Raptors: +600 Celtics: +650 76ers: +750 Heat: +1000

The field is quite tempting. If you have cash to burn, it might not be a bad idea to throw on the Raptors or the Celtics given one of them will make the conference finals for sure.

All-NBA, All-Defense, and Awards Before the Orlando Bubble

With the NBA season scheduled to return in under 2 weeks, players are still testing positive and the league has precarious feelings about the possible outcomes. The end of the season awards and all-NBA teams will be based off of the games prior to the COVID-19 outbreak (sorry people who threw lots of dough on Zion to win ROY).

All-NBA: It will be interesting to see how these actually play out and how everyone votes. Every year we have to worry about whether or not Anthony Davis is going to be classified as a forward or a center. This season he has played 72% of his minutes at the forward spot so I am going to assume he will be designated as a forward. This is what I came up with:

First Team All-NBA:

G- Luka Doncic

G- James Harden

F- LeBron James

F- Giannis Antetokounmpo

C- Nikola Jokic

Second Team All-NBA:

G- Damian Lillard

G- Chris Paul

F- Kawhi Leonard

F- Anthony Davis

C- Joel Embiid

Third Team All-NBA: (Here’s where it gets dicey)

G- Kyle Lowry

G- Russell Westbrook

F- Jimmy Butler

F- Pascal Siakam

C- Rudy Gobert

There are a couple things to clarify here. It absolutely kills me to not put Bradley Beal on here as my third team guard. The third team could be completely done in a different way. I will try to justify the dicey picks. For me, the first team is exactly what it will be come release day. However, people may be surprised by Chris Paul being in my second team. His numbers aren’t as jacked up as Beal’s, or Russ’s, or anyone else considered. However, the advanced analytics on Chris Paul on vs. off the floor differences are unmatched. The Thunder are 10 points better when he is on the floor vs. when he is off. This beats Westbrook’s, Lillard’s and Lowry’s point differentials of -1.2 (yikes Russ), 8.9, and -1 respectively. CP3 and Dame clearly deserve it as they are keeping two teams afloat, one of which was supposed to be in re-building mode and one who was plagued with injuries.

As for the third team there were some really tough names to leave off. Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Ben Simmons, and Khris Middleton are just a few. Let me explain.

We can all agree that unless Davis is classified as a center, the three centers will most likely be Jokic, Embiid, and Gobert in that order. Jokic is a top 6 or 7 MVP candidate right now, Embiid is statistically one of the 5 most crucial guys in the league to his team when you combine what he does on both ends, and Gobert is… well Gobert. He’ll duck to the rim on screens and dunk a few times a game, grab a handful of boards, and be a defensive menace when Mitchell gets beat by ball-handlers on the wing.

The 2 third team guards and forwards I have could all turn out differently. Do I feel weird about not having two Bucks on the All-NBAs given their pace of almost 70 wins? Yes. Is Jayson Tatum probably one of the best 15-17 guys in the league right now? Yes. Can Westbrook be an absolute trainwreck? Yes.

Let me explain why I chose the guys I chose. Firstly, Lowry. With Kawhi Leonard gone after the one-hit-wonder they had last season, several people thought the Raptors would fall to a low playoff seed (not me, but some people did). However, Nick Nurse has established a solid pack-line defense with two bigs in Gasol and Ibaka who really bared down and were patient all year. The Raptors are 3rd in the league in overall defense and Kyle Lowry is a huge reason why. The most vocal guy on the court, he may not be as integral to the defense as Gasol but he has been their backbone this whole season. HE IS THE BEST RAPTOR EVER… It is a straight fact. The Raptors are steadily in the two spot in the east right now and he is the main reason why. In games in the 4th quarter on shots to either tie or take the lead this season, Lowry is shooting 54.5% from the field and 42.9% from 3. Those numbers are outrageously good. Combine that with him leading the league in charges (for like the 4th time), the Raptor’s record, his overall numbers, and you got yourself an All-NBAer.

I contemplated Simmons vs. Westbrook for quite a while before locking this in. Russ is the worst 3 point shooting guard in the history of the league (it is not close). While in OKC, he would jack up 3s at a rate of 6 or 7 per game and shoot it around 29%. That is so incredibly bad. I think the OKC staff were too scared to address this as a problem. However, Russ has been patient and efficient for a good part of this season. He is shooting his highest field goal percentage in his career, and shooting roughly only 3.8 3s per game. Its still a lot, but better than it has been. He has taken far less long 2s than he used to and he is attacking the basket higher than he ever has in his career. He is shooting the lowest amount of mid-range jumpers in his career (besides his rookie year) this season and only took 136. Although the season ended early, he was on pace to keep that number very low. He is also shooting mid-range jumpers at third highest percentage of his career as well. His uptake in efficiency isn’t just a good sign for Houston going forward, but a good sign for Russ continuing to grow as a player. Yes, he averaged a triple double for a few seasons and although very impressive, the percentages were profoundly bad. Now, averaging less than that, his efficiency has gone way up, which to me is far more valuable.

Simmons, on the other hand, has had the streakiest season of his career thus far. It is almost like him and Russ completely switched basketball personalities. Simmons has a real +/- of +12.4 at home and -7.9 on the road. This has been his toughest season due to the chemistry issues the team has, the catastrophe that is Brett Brown, and his lack of ability to get on the same page with Embiid. I will say, his defense has been ridiculously good this year. If the Sixers can figure out a way to give Thybulle more minutes, it could get ugly for opposing teams. I read a report recently that said Brett Brown was going to try to put Ben Simmons off the ball instead of being given 7 feet at the top of the key by opposing defenders. I know some pretty ignorant Sixers fans, and even they have suggested this good idea before. Brett Brown is literally 3 years behind.

If I could only keep only one person on the third team, Siakam would be my choice. He is not filling Kawhi’s shoes as the alpha on this team, but he has been decently close. Siakam continues to be able to turn into an all-defensive player when he wants to. He does not dial into this all game, probably because of his offensive load. However, he does absolutely everything Nick Nurse has dreams about doing. He is the best off-ball cutter in the league, one of the best off-ball defenders in the league, and has developed into a star in this league. He has only grown each year and, you could argue, that he could win back to back MIP awards.

Finally, I originally had Tatum over Butler just based off the eye test but then I started digging into some stats. It is true that apex mountain Tatum right before the all-star break was way better than Butler at any point this year, but Butler has been the rock of a young team with players who are learning what it means to be a hard worker in the league. Butler is 6th in the league in offensive win shares, 8th in overall win shares, 10th in +/-, and 7th in win shares per 48. All of these categories are well within the top 15 in the league this year. Butler also has a slightly higher overall offensive and defensive rating per 100 possessions than Tatum does. I also give the advantage to the vet over the 22 year old budding superstar. Tatum has some impressive feats though, and although he isn’t on my team this year, he will make several all-NBA teams and a few all defensive teams by the time his career is over.

Awards:

The awards include MVP, DPOY, ROY, 6th man, most improved, and coach of the year.

MVP AND DPOY: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL/PF): This is literally not even close. He leads the league in field goals made, defensive rebounds, PER, defensive rating, defensive win shares, win shares per 48, +/-, and defensive +/-. His per 36 numbers last year were as good as the apex Shaq seasons. This year, he has smashed those numbers. Per 36 Giannis is averaging 34.5 ppg, 16 rpg, and almost 7 assists per game on 55% from the field. The Bucks are a ridiculous 16.4 points better with Giannis on the floor than off. That is by far the biggest margin in the league. The Bucks defense is historically good. They give up the most corner 3s in the league but they continue to dominate teams who try to drive in the paint. Giannis is the best off-ball defender in the league and opposing teams do everything in their power to avoid him. As close as it is for Davis to be considered for DPOY, before the hiatus Giannis was having historically one of the 10-15 best regular seasons ever. He will win back-to-back MVPs and top it off with a DPOY. We are literally witnessing an alien.

ROY: Ja Morant (MEM/PG): Not really a whole lot to say here. Zion did not play nearly enough minutes, RJ Barrett is stuck on the Knicks, and the other solid rookies didn’t get enough minutes to match up with Ja’s volume. Ja runs away with this one after an extremely impressive rookie year.

6th Man of the Year: Dennis Schroder (OKC/PG): Usually quick to just hand it Lou Will, Schroder was an incredible backup for CP3 and SGA this season on a team that played way beyond what they were expected. Their 3 guard lineup with Gallinari and Adams at the 4 and 5 is lethal. The Thunder are +27 points using that lineup and that has been their crunch-time lineup and will continue to be. Schroder has had the best season of his career and has absolutely been the best bench player in the league this year. His field goal and 3 point percentages are both career highs.

Most Improved: Brandon Ingram (NO/SF): If you ask any skills coach around the league the question of whether or not a guy will eventually be a good shooter, they’ll tell you you can always tell from their free throw progress. One of Ingram’s strengths that he has had since high school was his ability to get to the free throw line. He does it at an impressive rate for a young player thus far but he was always a 65ish% shooter at the stripe. Even during his days at Duke he would miss big free-throws down the stretch of game. This year, he has squashed that number by shooting an astounding 86% from the line. Jumping from the mid-high 60s in free throw percentage all the way to the mid 80s is almost unheard of at any level of basketball. His jump at the stripe has immensely helped his shot selection as well. Instead of taking his two-dribble pull-up 2s that he was accustomed to taking he has stepped back and taken more 3s. Improving at the free throw line and bumping up your 3 point attempts will bump up any player’s per game stats. This small change in his game has opened up the opportunity for him to be very difficult to guard. Don’t be mistaken, his best weapon is his ability to shoot the mid-range jumper. However, the fact that he is a serious threat from 3 (39% on 6 attempts a game) and at the line, he has added more weapons at an efficient rate. I also would not be surprised if any of these guys won this award: Tatum, Luka, Bam, or even Siakam. All of those guys are extremely worthy as well.

Coach of the Year: Nick Nurse (TOR): This one is pretty much set in stone for me. So many people doubted this team heading into the season after the departure of the guy who I think is the best player in the league in Kawhi Leonard. Not only are they hanging on, they are probably the best chance at stopping Giannis. Nick Nurse has implemented a zone, pack-line, and different variations of man defense throughout the year. Nick Nurse is not one of the coaches that sticks to one way of doing and rolls with it. He is in the film room preparing with his guys day in and day out. He trusts his veterans in Lowry and Gasol and has given Siakam the freedom to blossom into a young star. They are 3rd in the league in overall defense. Almost all of their first 7 or 8 guys are above average defenders. The worst one is probably Norman Powell (dark horse candidate for MIP?) and he is the league average. Nick Nurse has put Toronto in position to not only make the conference finals, but possibly the finals. The Raptors are putting up one heck of a title defense and they are probably one of the 3 most fun teams to watch in the league.

All-Defensive First Team:

G- Marcus Smart

G- Ben Simmons

F- Giannis Antetokounmpo

F- Anthony Davis

C- Rudy Gobert

All-Defensive Second Team:

G- Kyle Lowry

G- Jrue Holiday

F- Kawhi Leonard

F- Pascal Siakam

C- Brook Lopez

Updated Rankings of the 2020 NBA Draft Prospects

Credit: Bleacher Report

With the draft in a few weeks, teams agree they would rather be in the 7-15 range in this draft then be in the top 3. This draft does not have the star power we are used to seeing, but it does have plenty of guys who have potential to be very good players in the league. There are some key headliners when it comes to this draft. The most popular one being LaMelo Ball. We also have 2 Euro darlings, a few crazy athletes, and a few guys in the top 15 who most of you would have never heard of during the regular season.

This class is loaded with potentially promising guards and there could also be a few hidden gems that could surprise some people in the second round.

Before I get into this, I suggest using a good mock draft if you’re unfamiliar with certain players and which players are projected to go where. For me, I trust NBADraft.net. Every year this is the one that, for me, is the highest quality. But remember, this is NOT a mock draft. This is a ranking of the players in the draft based off my own criteria.

This will in no way be the order of the draft because every teams need is different and every prospect has skills that some teams may value over others. So… here are the rankings:

  1. Deni Avdija: (6-9/210… SF-Israel/Euro): What!?! If you have watched college basketball you’re probably wondering “who’s that?” and even if you haven’t but keep up with Euro basketball you’re still probably wondering “who’s that?” because seriously…. who is that? You are going to learn who this kid is relatively quickly. He is the best player in the draft *bold take*. He is a 2-time Israel league champion and has made a huge splash at the FIBA U20 European Championships by winning MVP (he’s only 19). He is an extremely above average passer and transition player. At 6-9, he is a good rebounder and pushes the tempo on transition opportunities so quickly. He is a nightmare for transition defenses. He is exceptional with dynamic cutting in off ball situations which is pretty rare in players as young as he is. If you don’t know what I mean by dynamic cutting, go put on a Raptors game and watch Pascal Siakam the entire time and you’ll see what I’m driving at. He is, however, a streaky shooter. His jump shot is fine looking but his percentages can fluctuate. This will be sure to balance out once he gets consistency in the league. He is much better on catch and shoot opportunities but that shouldn’t be a concern from scouts. His defense also isn’t anything to go crazy over. He is an ideal point-forward in today’s league. He is pretty skinny and could struggle with post defense but again, it’s something he’ll learn as he works on his body. He’s kind of like Ben Simmons if you took away Ben’s defense and gave him a jump shot.
  2. Killian Hayes: (6-5/195…PG-France): Hayes has undoubted translation at the next level. If he ends up being the best prospect in the draft, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Him and Cole Anthony are the two best finishers around the rim in this draft. The only hole in his game is he isn’t super athletic. The lefty has a decent frame but isn’t a crazy athlete. However, he makes up for it with his poise in transition. He has excellent hands on the defensive end too and will definitely be an immediate impact player. He reminds me so much of a young Dragic its crazy. His 3 point percentage may not be where scouts would like it to be but he has recently gotten his free throw percentage up to 86% which, if you ask any basketball person, is extremely promising for prospects who are streaky shooters. This should tell teams his shooting fluctuations will level out with time. His poise and IQ are the strongest aspects of his game. I would be surprised if he didn’t make some sort of impact immediately in the league.
  3. James Wiseman: (7-1/235…C-Memphis): Coming out of high school I was a little bit skeptical of Wiseman. He seemed to me like a big who just wanted to shoot 3’s all the time and wanted no part of being big. However, Penny Hardaway turned that around pretty quickly. Yes, he only played 3 games due to the terrible rules of the NCAA. However, in those 3 games he played like what I imagine it was like watching Wilt Chamberlain play against all the short dudes way back in the 60s. It was completely unfair. The reason Wiseman was so dominant was because Penny Hardaway put Wiseman into a system. He will likely be the kind of player who will be extremely effective in some sort of triangle/horns system. He seriously must have dunked the ball almost 20 times in those 3 games he played. There was nobody who even wanted to try guarding him. He will be, of course, an elite shot blocker due to his elite athleticism and size which gives him tremendous defensive upside. His ability to shoot the 3 is nice but it could also hurt him if he decides to start shooting them on a consistent basis. We’ve seen how this has worked for guys like Embiid (not well at all). I have no evidence to back this up but I really think the Warriors have him highlighted in big letters on all their boards. if they draft him and put him with Steph, Klay, Wiggins, and Draymond, that will immediately put them back in the hunt. I expect Golden State, however, to trade their pick.
  4. Anthony Edwards: (6-5/225…SG-Georgia): I’m going to be honest, I am not a huge Anthony Edwards guy. He is, however, the most athletic player in the draft and it’s not close. He is extremely streaky. Not just with his shooting but also with his overall effort. When he gets down, you can see it all over his face. This is obviously a huge red flag. However, he is extremely young and could develop into a perennial all star if he reaches his ceiling. His coaches say he is extremely coach-able which contradicts his on court body language at times. He has huge defensive upside and has an interesting NBA comp. If this comparison is worth anything… he has the good attributes of Wiggins and the bad ones of Westbrook. Yeah… that’s kind of scary. But, on the other end, there were time where I watched this guy and saw Dwayne Wade. Nobody has any idea what this guy is going to be in 5 years. On the bright side, he will probably go number 1 because every team in the draft picks their players on one factor above all: Potential.
  5. Tyrese Haliburton: (6-5/185…PG-Iowa State): Here we have a floor general who has great court vision, excellent box-out ability, and has a weird looking jumper that goes in most of the time. Sound like anyone in the league you can think of? I swear when I saw him this year I thought Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was actually wearing an Iowa State jersey. Is his shot weird? Yes. But what if I told you he shot 42% on 3s this year? You would probably say it’s because the volume isn’t there because if you’ve seen his shot you wonder “how does that go in?”. However, this dude shot 42% on 5.6 attempts a game… In the Big 12… that’s pretty damn good. So all in all, the guards in this class are pretty loaded. Side note, Haliburton is the best pick and role point guard in the country. There isnt anyone around Iowa State who does not rant and rave about how amazing of a person and teammate he is. He is a mature player and a great guy. He is one of my favorite players in this draft.
  6. Onyeka Okongwu: (6-9/235)…PF-USC): This dude just keeps rising. He went from nobody knowing who he is to being a top 7 pick. He is big, athletic, and isn’t afraid to go at any defender. He is an excellent shot blocker and can guard the perimeter very very well. With the ascent of Bam Adebayo this season and being the best player in the East Finals, teams all over the league are looking for someone with a similar frame and ability. Look no further than this guy. I am not saying he will be Bam right away, but he has potential to do everything Bam does. He can be extremely valuable for an NBA team. He is pretty talented in the post with a high IQ to rebound. Should be a solid big for some teams trying to contend.
  7. Cole Anthony: (6-2/180…PG-North Carolina): I am a HUGE Cole Anthony truther. Until all of his injuries and before the start of the college season, Cole was my number 1 pick and I, quite frankly, didn’t think it was even close. I watch a lot of high school/AAU basketball and he is one of the best, if not the best, high school guard I have ever seen. In fact, he is one of the best high school players ever in a lot of statistical categories. Cole Anthony is one of the three most talented offensive player in this draft. He is a highly above average finisher around the basket, passer, and rebounder (for his size). His basketball IQ is off the charts and he is one the most confident players in this draft. His knee injury was catastrophic to an already weak UNC team. He played, and played well, against some of the best defensive and veteran guards in the country like Zavier Simpson, Tre Jones, Payton Pritchard, Kihei Clark, and Devin Vassell. Seriously, go look at how good these guys are on defense at the college level. Few guards in college basketball finished better through contact than Cole. People will look at Cole Anthony and be suspicious because of his inefficient percentages; and that is a completely fair argument. However, you have to understand something… Cole played on a bad UNC team. This is a similar situation to the problem people had with R.J. Barrett 2 seasons ago. The reason his percentages aren’t so great is because he had to take more shots than usual because his teammates really weren’t capable of creating their own shots. This kid is legit. He is going to fall in the 15-20 range, and in a draft where there is no stand-out superstars, why not take the person who has the second highest ceiling? For the record, I think he is a top 3 talent in this draft. If he can get into the right situation and clean up his shot selection, he can be an elite player. I will die on this hill.
  8. Obi Toppin: (6-9/220…PF-Dayton): Okay don’t freak out… I know I don’t have him in the top 5 like the rest of America does. I know basketball is position-less these days but I really have no idea what position this dude is. I love the Obi Toppin story. Dayton’s offense was extremely fun to watch this year and Obi really came into his own. We’ve seen Obi Toppin-like players before except there is one difference: Obi can shoot. That’s great! Although I have a good, but maybe disappointing, comp for Toppin: He has Brandon Clarke’s athleticism and has Brice Johnson’s skills around the basket. Those two guys couldn’t shoot at all and Obi can shoot a little bit, which helps. However, he really isn’t as great a shooter as people think he is. He is good, but not great. His vertical athleticism is great but his horizontal agility is kind of robotic. He is a nightmare defender when switches happen and guards blow by him with ease. He isn’t big enough to play a true 4 and isn’t skillful enough to play the 3. I worry about him being able to switch on defense. He is, for sure, a very interesting prospect. I just don’t see him translating his sensational season into the league like I think everyone expects. He will be a solid player in this league because of his confidence and he has the “it” factor.
  9. LaMelo Ball: (6-8/180…PG-Australia): About half a year ago I probably would have had LaMelo just inside of or just outside of the top 10. His shooting ability, ball handling, and finishing around the basket has always been good. Now, the cause for concern would be his thin frame as well as his idle defense. But as most top prospects eventually learn (unless you’re Andrew Wiggins or Trae Young) how to told your own on defense as time goes on. His IQ, like his brother’s, is very good. If he can keep his energy up on defense and bulk up some, he should turn into a fine player. HOWEVER…. however… I personally want no part of him on my team. He has never played in a structural system where he had to adhere to team dynamics. Everybody who is everybody watched him play in high school. If you watched those games, it was an absolute circus. He would take horrible shots and shoot from half-court. Unlike Lonzo, he did not get to go play for a college coach to learn how to function in a system. When he went to Australia, it was more of the same. When he went there, he impressed in highlights but the games themselves were abysmal. He was able to take ridiculous shots once again. It is kind of like the kid who is always able to do whatever he wants because his dad is the coach. Look, his ability to see the floor is better than the majority of people his age. He is an absolute wizard with the ball in his hands and has potential to be a high-level play-maker. He has all the intangibles but I seriously worry for his lack of structure over his entire life. I would not touch him, if I am being honest.
  10. Isaac Okoro: (6-6/215…SG-Auburn): I actually think Okoro’s offensive skill set is much better than he gets credit for. His percentages can be misleading to his importance to Auburn this year. He was arguably the most important person to their team in all of college basketball. He has a great looking jumper and is a good decision maker on and off the ball. He can easily be a role player for several teams right away and he can evolve beyond that into a great shooter if he keeps working on his consistency. He has the size and skill set to be a good NBA shooting guard. The strongest case for him is he is the best wing defender in the draft. He moves his feet exceptionally and he has good role player written all over him. He kinda reminds me of a guy like Covington if he can tweak his jumper consistency with potential to be more.
  11. Patrick Williams: (6-8/215…PF-Florida State): I love love love this guy as a prospect. I am just going to come out and say he has huge Beta Al Horford potential. He can switch 1 through 5 and has excellent feet while rolling to the rim. He is a strong physical presence and he is still developing. He shot 84% on free throws… 84! That is really good for this player type. He is developing a 3-pointer and he really does have huge upside. He is definitely on my list of steals in this draft and he is one of my favorites.
  12. Tyrell Terry: (6-3/175…PG/SG-Stanford): This is another guy I absolutely LOVE. He is excellent and crafty around the basket, is an elite shooter, and battles super hard on defense. Like Haliburton, he is a high character guy who has been putting in a ton of work during the pandemic and pre-draft stuff. He has gained 15 pounds of muscle and all I hear about this kid is how much of a gym rat he is. He is the kind of player that is very very easy to root for. He is another guy who has that “it” factor about him and is probably not as high in most boards. He shoots 41% from 3 and 89% at the line. I absolutely love this guy.
  13. Aaron Nesmith: (6-6/213…SG/SF Vanderbilt): Buddy Hield, Buddy Hield, Buddy Hield. This dude can shoot from any spot in the gym. He took 115 3’s over the course of the season and shot 52.2%… Yeah, you read that right. He can play for any team right now and help them on the perimeter. His shot selection is very smart despite his range. He is elite catch and shoot and also off the dribble. The main thing about him is he is very conscious about what he can do and understands what he cannot. He is developing as a defender and is learning to be more crafty on drives. His ball fake should be registered as a lethal weapon. He is an absolute flamethrower.
  14. Devin Vassell: (6-7/195… PG-Florida State): This guy is going to be a really good role player in the league. His jump shot is horrendously ugly, but he is one of the best defenders in this draft. He can, despite his size, switch 1 through 5. He will absolutely thrive in good system. He is definitely a Spur-type. Video surfaced of his jump shot recently and it was… horrid to say the least. I don’t know if he was messing around in the video of not but the jump shot is laughably terrible looking. Regardless, he has a lot of heart and was exceptional at Florida State.

Don’t forget… we tend to find, especially recently, absolute gems that fall to the middle-late first round. Guys towards the bottom of this first 14 are undoubtedly going to be in that same conversation. I would much rather be in those slots as a drafter then being in the top 3. These are just the best 14 prospects in the draft for lottery purposes. There is, to me, a slight drop-off in some of these guys in the next bunch. The next crop are:

#NameHt/WtSchoolPositionStrength
15Saddiq Bey6-8
216
VillanovaSFExcellent shot-creator. dymanic scorer with tons of tools.
16Precious Achiuwa6-9
225
MemphisPF/CTenacious. Hustle guy with tons of defensive upside.
17Tyrese Maxey6-3
200
KentuckyPGGuy is an absolute dog. Gym rat gym rat gym rat. Raw offensive ability. Steal of the draft. Heat guy.
18Kira Lewis Jr.6-3
170
AlabamaPGSpeedy Point guard who has the “it” factor. Excellent shot creator
19RJ Hampton6-5
188
AustraliaPGExplosive play-making point guard who desperately needs to figure out his jump shot. Was top 5 prospect a few years ago
20Jalen Smith6-10
225
MarylandCA lanky big who can shoot 3s? For some reason, GMs gobble this up
21Vernon Carey Jr.6-10
270
DukeCNo longer 270, he has cut weight and is an elite back to the basket player who is a poised kid willing to learn.
22Josh Green6-5
200
ArizonaSFPotential to be a really good 3 and D
23Jaden McDaniels6-9
200
WashingtonSFThis guy struggled at Washington but is the definition of potential. His ceiling is super high
24Desmond Bane6-6
215
TCUSGHigh-level shooter with excellent pacing
25Nico Mannion6-3
190
ArizonaPGHigh-level passer.
26Isaiah Stewart6-9
250
WashingtonCExtremely high-character guy who runs the floor super well.
27Leandro Bolmaro6-7
180
BarcelonaSFAnother excellent passing forward. Stereotypical skills of good foreign prospects
28Theo Maledon6-4
174
FrancePGGood PnR player. Currently being mentored by Tony Parker
29Tyler Bey6-7
215
ColoradoSF/PFVersatility on both ends
30 Aleksej Pokusevski 7-0/ 201 Olympiacos B C Top 3 potential. Do it all big

Here is a small list of few more guys who will be outside the first round, most likely, but can still impact a team:

  • Cassius Winston: You would be ridiculously insane to not want the greatest guard in Big 10 history on your team. Yeah… I said it. He is so easy to root for and was the heart and soul of Michigan State.
  • Killian Tillie: Okay this dude is literally Davis Bertans. He could help so many teams. I’m looking at you Danny Ainge.
  • I really really like Elijah Hughes. His game translates so easily
  • 3 really good offensive veteran guards with leadership experience (Payton Pritchard, Markus Howard, Devon Dotson)
  • The 2 best defensive guards in the county (Tre Jones and Ashton Hagans)
  • Cassius Stanley is going to be good… eventually. He will be a project.

*All stats, heights, and weights taken from Basketball Reference*

2019-2020 Fantasy Basketball Rankings (H2H)

If you‘re looking to avenge the fantasy football-sized hole in your pocket, you’ve come to the right place. With several elite duos, few title contenders, and several young stars poised for a breakout, this NBA season could get crazy. With this in mind, here’s a little guide to the top 150 fantasy basketball players for the 2019-2020 season.

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Credit: Blazer’s Edge

Keep in mind that this is NOT a list of the top 150 players in the NBA. This is based on prior seasons, injury consideration, volume, percentages, and more. Rankings based off of H2H points format.

***All statistics retrieved from Basketball Reference***

Stat projections in order of Points, Rebounds, Assists

  1. Anthony Davis (LAL/PF1): When fully healthy, AD is the clear-cut number one pick. Now that he finally got his wish to leave New Orleans, he is ready to dominate. With his heart actually in the game, saying he’s a guaranteed double double is an understatement. If he stays healthy, he is my favorite to win MVP. He recently talked about how he wanted to really focus on winning DPOY. Watch out. This only assures me more of his potential MVP run this year. He’ll be focused on both ends of the floor. He knows he is a legitimate title contender for the first time in his career and is BY FAR the most talented player LeBron has ever played with. All of this on top of the fact that he is the most talented power forward I’ve ever seen and maybe the most pure talented power forward ever. There is, however, the risk of taking him because of his injury history. Yes it is a valid argument but the risk is very worth the reward. Look for AD to have a monster year on both sides of the ball. Stat Projection: 27, 12, 4
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL/SF1,PF2): Although I vouch for AD at 1, Giannis is never a bad pick there either. The reigning MVP will continue to dominate the East night in and night out. He is bigger, faster, and stronger than last year and has really worked on his jump shot. After winning 60 games, he had a tough loss in the East finals to the Raptors. He will be looking to avenge that night in and night out. He is clutch down the stretch, has huge stat jumps in big games, and is one of the best overall people in the entire league. He can, and will, be in the MVP race once again. What’s not to love about the Greek Freak? Stat Projection: 27, 11, 6
  3. James Harden (HOU/SG1): I am very confused as to why James Harden has fallen out of the top 5 of a lot of rankings. James Harden (with Durant sidelined and LeBron getting older) is still the best one on one offensive player in the league. In fact, having Russ will help his efficiency go up because now defenses can’t triple team when he catches the ball anymore. Harden has put up historic numbers. He went a stretch of 20 games averaging over 40. He averaged over 30 for more than 30 games. Not only did he just score, he still got his rebounds (6.6 per game) and assists (7.5 per game). Now that he has Russ (another guy who gets a lot of hate), his efficiency will go up and he will continue to get similar numbers. Taking him number 1 also would not be a bad move at all. Stat Projection: 33, 5, 8
  4. Nikola Jokic (DEN/C1): If Anthony Davis gets hurt this year or under-performs, this dude is all lined up to win the MVP. He was 3 assists shy of averaging a triple double… as a center… think about that. He turned it up even higher once he got to the playoffs. His actual per game numbers went up but it was the percentages that were even more impressive. Through 14 playoff games he was a near 50-40-90 guy (50% field goal, 40% on 3’s, and 90% free throws). He missed it by 8% at the line but he was a 50-40-90 through 10 games. That is a pretty good sample size too. It’s not like he just went nuts for 4 games and got eliminated. They were the 1 seed for most of the season before getting bounced by Portland. All of the qualifications for MVP will be there for Jokic. His team will be top 5 in the west, he stuffs the stat sheet, and the team is significantly better with him on the floor. If you can get him at 7, that’s an absolute steal. Stat Projection: 22, 12, 8
  5. Russell Westbrook (HOU/PG1): So many of these rankings I’ve been seeing have Russ outside the top 10. Is this some kind of bad joke? Worried about the two most ball dominant guys in the league being on the same team? Don’t. Even when Harden and Russ played with KD in OKC, Russ still averaged 24, 6, and 5. He has been a top 5 fantasy player for the past 5 years and will not slow down any time soon. Still worried about him playing alongside an MVP candidate? He already did it last year with Paul George… and he still finished as one of the top fantasy players. So if he falls to you at the back end of your first round, you should scream with happiness… and then find smarter friends. STOP THE RUSS HATE. Stat Projection: 23, 11, 8
  6. Karl-Anthony Towns: (MIN/C2): KAT is and will continue to be the top dog in Minnesota. With Jimmy Butler completely gone, KAT will have a ridiculous amount of volume. With their second best player being one of the biggest enigmas in NBA history in Andrew Wiggins, KAT will dominate on both sides of the ball. After Jimmy was traded to Philly, his points sky-rocketed. He will continue to dominate because of his volume and raw talent. Stat Projection: 25, 13, 3
  7. LeBron James (LAL/SF1): Last year I fell into the trap of being on the “he’s getting a little too old to be playing at his normal high level” train. But, of course, LeBron played at one of the highest levels of his career. Before he got hurt, he was one of the top fantasy options. If he can stay healthy this year, him and AD will both blow up. LeBron can’t not be a top 10 guy this year… right? Stat Projection: 24, 7, 8
  8. Stephen Curry (GSW/PG2): With Durant gone and Klay Thompson out for most of the year, look for Curry to continue his consistency but with more volume. The chemistry with De’Angelo Russell will take some time to get used to. So look for Curry to have a more-than-usual stat stuffer season. If Golden State is going to prevail in the West, they have to rely heavily on Curry to score 30+ and put up an MVP season. Luckily for Golden State, their franchise player is more than capable. Stat Projection: 29, 5, 6
  9. Kyrie Irving (BKN/PG3): A lot of rankings have Kyrie around the 15-19 mark. Kyrie will have a crazy amount of volume with the Nets this year. He and their two bigs will dominate the pick and roll. He will have elite shooters to throw the ball to in Dinwiddie and Joe Harris on the wing and another play-maker to slightly take the load off of him in Caris LeVert. With KD more than likely to miss the season, Kyrie is going to absolutely stuff the stat sheet this year. Despite his chemistry issues in Boston, he was highly efficient. In fact, it was the most efficient he’s ever been. Look for him to continue with that, but be playing in a place he actually wants to be. If you can get him anywhere past the 12 spot, it would be a big victory for your team. Stat Projections: 26, 5, 7
  10. Joel Embiid (PHI/C3): Obviously, the injury concern with Embiid is the only blemish here. He improved on his total games played last year. However, keep in mind that Philly is going to be VERY good. Far better than last year. Towards the end of their season, Embiid will get a good amount of rest…the time that perfectly correlates with fantasy playoffs. Keep that in mind. However, he will dominate all bigs in the East this year. Considering the only person who could guard him now plays beside him, he will have a clear path to another All NBA selection. Draft with caution but still draft him (obviously). Stat Projection: 27, 13, 3
  11. Andre Drummond (DET/C4): Andre Drummond is a MUST HAVE. He is so underrated. He has improved his free throws, handles, and jumper (even though he shouldn’t take them). He will continue to be at a high level with D Rose and Blake by his side. The only fantasy flaw he really has is his free throw percentage (which will go up). But he is a guaranteed double double and should be a top priority in your draft. Stat Projection: 17, 15, 2
  12. Nikola Vucevic (ORL/C5): Another must-have. Vucevic just signed a big extension with the Magic and will continue to be their number one option on offense. If you’re playing with the casual basketball fan, he will fall to you. He could very well crack the top 10 fantasy rankings by the end of the year. With Orlando being one of the best defensive teams in the East, look for Vucevic to dominate night in and night out. If you’re in a 12 team league, look possibly pair Drummond and Vuc and be set for the whole season on bigs. Stat Projection: 22, 13, 5
  13. Paul George (LAC/SF2): Coming off of an all NBA year and the 3rd place finisher for MVP, PG13 looks to be more of a title contender than ever before. In my life time, the two best two-way players in the league haven’t been on the same team… until now. It will be extremely interesting to see how his, as well as Kawhi’s, offensive stats play out with the amount of talent they have around them. His shoulder injury should be noted but also not worried about too much. He played through a partially torn tendon in his shooting shoulder so if he could do that, he’ll recover just fine. Look for George and Kawhi both to be taken a little bit higher than they probably should. Especially since they have the most talented team in the league when healthy. Stat Projection: 26, 7, 4
  14. Damian Lillard (POR/PG4): Let me preface by saying this… I really wish I could put him higher. Why don’t more people want to play with this dude? He has the heart of a champion, is loyal, unselfish, lets his game do the talking, and does everything right on and off the court. Like why aren’t more guys wanting to play with this dude? He deserves an elite running mate. Imagine if a guy like him and Jokic joined forces? Sheesh. Anyway, enough about my love for him. He will never not be a bad pick in fantasy. He is usually pretty steady when it comes to his per-game stats but I think his assist numbers might go up this year. He still has his running mate at the 2 guard, a Hassan Whiteside who actually seems like he’ll give effort this year, and more wing shooters than they did last year. Insert Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood and you got yourself more Dame assists. Side note… watch out for Anfernee Simmons. That dude it legit…and he is coming, trust me. Look for Dame to have another all NBA year and Portland to be right in the mix in a gauntlet Western Conference. Stat Projection: 26, 9, 4
  15. Kawhi Leonard (LAC/SF3): In one of the craziest LeBron-esque playoff runs in recent memory, reigning finals MVP Kawhi Leonard looks to show everyone why he should be the number one player in the world. He was unconscious throughout the playoffs and, what nobody seems to talk about, did it while being seriously bothered by his leg. Seriously, go back and watch the tape… the dude was literally limping around the floor practically every game from the 3rd quarter on. He is the best two-way player in the world but he will need his load management. He has gotten it every year so far and it will be no different this year. He plays every game during the NBA playoffs (of course) but will take load management games off during fantasy playoffs and throughout the season. Now, he won’t miss half the games or something crazy like that but it is something to think about when drafting him. I am, as mentioned before, unsure as to how him and PG will disperse the offensive load given how good the Clippers will be on both sides of the ball. Stat Projection: 24, 7, 5
  16. Ben Simmons (PHI/PG5): The ultimate stat stuffer, Simmons will be able to pass to whoever he wants, whenever he wants. The Sixers have the best starting 5 in the league and his numbers will be extravagant once again. This is a guy who is worth the reach in all leagues. If these videos of him shooting 3’s are legit and he can translate it to games, this could be a heck of a year for Philly. However, it isn’t that simple. Ben will shoot more of them this year for sure but he will miss a heck of a lot more than he makes. With this in mind, his percentages will get lower because of the -1 for each missed shot. Regardless, he is one of the few elite all around stat stuffers in all of basketball and should be taken probably even higher than I have him ranked. Stat Projection: 16, 9, 9.
  17. Bradley Beal (WAS/SG2): Talk about a guy who will continue to get a lot of volume. After being snubbed of All NBA honors, Beal is looking to show everyone why he is one of the best 25 guys in the league. With Thomas Bryant emerging and rookie Rui Hachimura looking to get a lot of reps, look for Beal to take control night in and night out. He will take, and make, a lot of shots for this team. With John Wall’s future still up in the air, Brad Beal is a great back end second round guy who will play the entire season. After playing all 82 games in back-to-back years, look for him to be one of those high volume guys for your team. Stat Projection: 26, 4, 5
  18. Jimmy Butler (MIA/SF4): The number one guy in Miami, Jimmy should go back to his stats in his Chicago days of 20+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 4+ assists. He is playing with a group of young Heat players whom he will grow fond of very quickly. Jimmy is probably going to be the happiest he ever has been playing basketball. He will be their undoubted leader and will show the young guys the grit and toughness they need to get better. You’d be in good shape if you can couple one of the top 5 guys with him at the back end of the 2nd round. Stat Projection: 23, 5, 5
  19. Julius Randle (NYK/PF3): So you thought this would be Zion Williamson right? Wrong…. very wrong. Julius Randle is going to absolutely dominate this year. After being a consistent double double guy last year and now being the undoubted number 1 guy in New York, Randle is going to put potential Kevin Love T-Wolves-esque numbers. Okay… maybe we’re not there yet. But he is still going to play a lot of minutes and take a lot of shots. That young core of Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, and RJ Barrett will be fun to watch play alongside Randle. He will lead the team in scoring and is an excellent option. He will more than likely fall to the 3rd round so keep that in mind. Look to get him at value. If you’re a betting gal/guy, you could throw money on him to win the MVP. Total dark horse but hey… who knows? Stat Projections: 23, 10, 4
  20. Deandre Ayton (PHO/C6): Bigs are so valuable in H2H formats. Because he played in Phoenix during his rookie year, he didn’t get a whole lot of recognition (partly because of how unreal Luka was). However, he definitely should. This dude will be playing a lot of minutes on a really bad team. Him and Booker will get the freedom to shoot their shots. He was a steal in last years fantasy drafts and he will be available in 3rd or maybe even 4th round this year. Stat Projection: 18, 12, 2
  21. Rudy Gobert (UTA/C7): There’s always those consistent guys that you rub your hands together and take a sigh of relief when they fall to you; Rudy Gobert is that guy. You know exactly what you are going to get. He is a night in and night out double double and an elite rim protector. A guy who would be much higher in roto formats, Gobert looks to take a rejuvenated Jazz team for a deep playoff run. Ol’ reliable is never a bad pick. Stat Projection: 15, 13, 2
  22. Blake Griffin (DET/PF4): Even here he might be too low. Coming off probably the best year of his career, Blake looks to continue his all NBA performance into this season. Him and Drummond will continue to lead a middle-low end team in the east. He will be their clear-cut number one guy on offense and, barring any injury, should produce at a high level once again. Stat Projection: 23, 7, 3
  23. Kemba Walker (BOS/PG6): Can we all agree that we are hyped for Kemba that he is finally out of that nightmare that is the Charlotte Hornets? Although he is not quite the basketball player Kyrie is, he fits Brad Stevens system very well. As we all know, scoring point guards do very well in the system. With Tatum ready for a breakout year and Gordon Hayward ready to be his normal self, Kemba will flourish in Boston. Potentially, his assist numbers can and will go up. Look for Kemba to be VERY under the radar in most drafts. ESPN has him ranked at 37 right now (isn’t that crazy?) Stat projection: 22, 8, 3
  24. Kevin Love (CLE/C8): Kevin Love has a rookie and a sophomore in his backcourt. He is the best player on a bad team and it’s not even close. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a night in and night out double-double guy. He could very well finish in the top 15 if he plays enough games. Love has a very good history when he is the number one option. Just go look at his numbers in Minnesota (which seems like forever ago) and last year when he came back from injury. Stat Projection: 18, 11, 2
  25. LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS/PF5): The Spurs are in a tough situation. They have Murray coming back (which is great). However, the chemistry will take some time and by the time they figure things out, they’ll be a first round exit yet again (although they gave Denver a run for their money). One thing is for sure: Aldridge will keep doing his thing. He is a consistent double double guy. The only reason he isn’t higher is because I always have injury worries with him. Another consistent big to target later in round 3 or early round 4. Stat Projections: 20, 9, 2
  26. Zach LaVine (CHI/SG3)
  27. Draymond Green (GSW/PF6)
  28. Luka Doncic (DAL/SG4)
  29. DeMar DeRozan (SAS/SG5)
  30. Devin Booker (PHO/SG6)
  31. Clint Capela (HOU/C9)
  32. Pascal Siakam (TOR/PF7)
  33. Chris Paul (OKC/PG7)
  34. Domantas Sabonis (IND/PF8)
  35. Jrue Holiday (NOLA/PG8)
  36. Trae Young (ATL/PG9)
  37. John Collins (ATL/PF9)
  38. Steven Adams (OKC/C10)
  39. De’Aaron Fox (SAC/PG10)
  40. DeAndre Jordan (BKN/C11)
  41. Hassan Whiteside (POR/C12)
  42. Kyle Lowry (TOR/PG11)
  43. Marc Gasol (TOR/C13)
  44. Mike Conley (UTA/PG12)
  45. Tobias Harris (PHI/SF5)
  46. Khris Middleton (MIL/SF6)
  47. Al Horford (PHI/PF10)
  48. Ja Morant (MEM/PG13)
  49. Donovan Mitchell (UTA/SG7)
  50. Jayson Tatum (BOS/SF7)
  51. Danilo Gallinari (OKC/SF8)
  52. RJ Barrett (NYK/SG8)
  53. Zion Williamson (NOLA/PF11)
  54. Lauri Markkanen (CHI/SF9)
  55. De’Angelo Russell (GSW/PG14)
  56. Marvin Bagley III (SAC/PF12)
  57. Jaren Jackson Jr. (MEM/PF13)
  58. Willie Cauley-Stein (GSW/C14)
  59. CJ McCollum (POR/SG9)
  60. Kristaps Porzingis (DAL/PF14)
  61. Aaron Gordon (ORL/PF15)
  62. Montrezl Harrell (LAC/C15)
  63. Jamal Murray (DEN/ PG15)
  64. Wendell Carter Jr. (CHI/PF16)
  65. Eric Bledsoe (MIL/PG16)
  66. Myles Turner (IND/C16)
  67. Serge Ibaka (TOR/PF17)
  68. Jonas Valanciunas (MEM/C17)
  69. Buddy Hield (SAC/SG11)
  70. Malcolm Brogdon (IND/SG10)
  71. Jusuf Nurkic (POR/C18)
  72. Victor Oladipo (IND/SG11)
  73. Enes Kanter (BOS/C19)
  74. Bam Adebayo (MIA/C20)
  75. Jarrett Allen (BKN/C21)
  76. Paul Millsap (DEN/PF18)
  77. Derrick Rose (DET/PG17)
  78. Otto Porter Jr. (CHI/SF10)
  79. Terry Rozier (CHA/PG18)
  80. Tristan Thompson (CLE/C22)
  81. Lou Williams (LAC/SG12)
  82. Kyle Kuzma (LAL/PF19)
  83. Caris LeVert (BKN/SF11)
  84. Mitchell Robinson (NYK/C23)
  85. Derrick Favors (NOLA/PF20)
  86. Lonzo Ball (NOLA/PG19)
  87. Thaddeus Young (CHI/SF12)
  88. JaVale McGee (LAL/C24)
  89. Brandon Ingram (NOLA/SF13)
  90. Andrew Wiggins (MIN/SF14)
  91. Jeff Teague (MIN/PG20)
  92. Josh Richardson (PHI/SG13)
  93. Dewayne Dedmon (SAC/C25)
  94. Dejounte Murray (SAS/PG21)
  95. Gordon Hayward (BOS/SF15)
  96. TJ Warren (IND/SF16)
  97. Jeremy Lamb (IND/SG14)
  98. Jarrett Culver (MIN/SG15)
  99. Jerami Grant (DEN/SF17)
  100. Larry Nance Jr. (CLE/PF21)
  101. Klay Thompson (GSW/SG16) *His injury is up in the air right now. Risky to take a shot at him early*
  102. Darius Garland (CLE/PG22)
  103. Collin Sexton (CLE SG16)
  104. Dwight Howard (LAL/C26)
  105. Bobby Portis (NYK/PF22)
  106. Spencer Dinwiddie (BKN/PG23)
  107. Bojan Bogdanovic (UTA/SF18)
  108. JJ Redick (NOLA/SG17)
  109. Justice Winslow (MIA/SF19)
  110. DJ Augustin (ORL/PG24)
  111. Thomas Bryant (WAS/C27)
  112. Jabari Parker (ATL/SF20)
  113. Coby White (CHI/PG25)
  114. Will Barton (DEN/SF21)
  115. Goron Dragic (MIA/PG26)
  116. Cody Zeller (CHA/C28)
  117. Harrison Barnes (SAC/SF22)
  118. Tim Hardaway Jr. (DAL/SG18)
  119. Trevor Ariza (SAC/ SF23)
  120. Marcus Morris (NYK/SF24)
  121. Jaylen Brown (BOS/SG19)
  122. Ricky Rubio (PHO/PG27)
  123. Kyle Anderson (MEM/SF25)
  124. Joe Harris (BKN/SG20)
  125. Dario Saric (MIN/PF23)
  126. Gary Harris (DEN/SG21)
  127. Reggie Jackson (DET/PG28)
  128. Brook Lopez (MIL/C29)
  129. Rajon Rondo (LAL/PG29)
  130. Evan Fournier (ORL/SG22)
  131. Ivica Zubac (LAC/C30)
  132. Tomas Satoransky (CHI/SG23)
  133. Mason Plumlee (DEN/C31)
  134. Dennis Schroder(OKC/PG30)
  135. Rui Hachimura (WAS/SF26)
  136. Danny Green (LAL/SG24)
  137. Shai-Gilgeous Alexander (OKC/PG31)
  138. Derrick White (SAS/PG32)
  139. Pat Beverley (LAC/PG33)
  140. Jae Crowder (Mem/SF27)
  141. Anfernee Simmons (POR/PG34)
  142. Nicolas Batum (CHA/SF28)
  143. Kelly Olynyk (MIA/PF24)
  144. De’Andre Hunter (ATL/SF29)
  145. Robert Covington (MIN/SF30)
  146. Cedi Osman (CLE/SF31)
  147. Jonathan Isaac (ORL/SF32)
  148. Terrence Ross (ORL/SG25)
  149. Dennis Smith Jr. (NYK/PG35)
  150. Taurean Prince (BKN/SF33)

This will be updated in the weeks leading up to the season.

Want a roto ranking too? Want a paragraph for a guy outside the top 25? Let us know!

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Why R.J. Barrett, Not Zion Williamson, Should Have Been the #1 Pick

In an era where the eye test seems obsolete, advanced analytics don’t do former Duke basketball star R.J. Barrett justice. It is only a matter of time before people see why the newly drafted Knicks guard is more prepared for the bright lights then his former partner in crime.

Credit: CBS Sports
Credit: CBS Sports

In July of 2017, something unimaginable in the basketball world happened. The United States basketball team lost in a world tournament. Although it was a U19 team in FIBA, it was still very shocking to someone who follows all levels of USA basketball like I do. The USA team included the likes of Carsen Edwards, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, P.J. Washington, Romeo Langford, Kevin Knox, Josh Okogie, and Mitchell Robinson (just to name a few). USA lost to team Canada in the semifinal 99-87. It was the most watched game of the tournament and arguably the best game of R.J. Barrett’s career. That’s when I knew. It’s when I knew he was going to be one of the most special young basketball players I have ever seen (and yes I’m not that old). The then 17 year old had 38 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists. Although his advanced stats were fantastic (a 40 efficiency rating and a +/- of +14), most of his performance could never be measured by statistics.

Let me start by justifying my… let’s say credibility… for the claim I have made. I have been a huge Duke basketball fan by entire life. Before you click off rolling your eyes due to the hatred you probably have for Duke, hear me out. I have watched every Duke basketball game since the 2011-2012 season. These last 8 years as die hard fan have been a lot of fun; especially considering they won the title in 2015. I watched Duke basketball before the one-and-done and am now living through it. I have watched every game post Kyle Singler, every 1st and 2nd round exit in the NCAA tournament, and almost every iconic ACC one-and-done player after Kyrie. From the pinnacle fan moment of winning the national title, to the rock-bottom in-and-out/what-could-have-been bank shot by Grayson Allen that would have sent Duke to the final four. I’ve seen it all. So in other words, I am not the typical bandwagon Duke basketball fan who watches the two UNC games and a few tournament games and calls it a season. I watch all of the recruits in their AAU circuits and high school games that are aired on TV as much as possible. With all that being said, let me make my case.

Before the 2018-2019 season started, myself along with a lot of Duke fans were wondering whether Zion could do more than just be a freak athlete and a highly above average transition player. Because, in fact, he did play against mediocre high school talent at best. He had quite a few injuries in the AAU circuits so I did not get to see as much of him as I wanted. Heck, he even had a finger injury during the McDonald’s All-American game. So yeah, the skepticism was real. However, when I watched him play in Duke’s Canada preseason tour, I was mesmerized. He did everything… and a whole lot more. He was instantly one of the best rebounders I’ve ever seen, one of the best shot blockers I’ve ever seen, and had a better second jump off of an offensive rebound than Marvin Bagley III (which I didn’t think another college player would for a while). Zion is clearly very special, I am not denying that. He kept Duke in their Elite 8 game against the Spartans nearly by himself in the first half and played one of the best games a college player has ever played in the ACC quarterfinal against Syracuse.

So yeah, Zion is amazing. On and off the court. Did I mention he swept every single NPOY award? I understand why the consensus is that he is the next big thing. I, however, am all in on Barrett. In fact, I think R.J. will be a clear cut better pro than Zion. So why do I think R.J. should have been the #1 pick? Why should it have been him over this generational athlete; the guy who plays like someone we have never seen before?

Part of my reasoning is because I saw something most of the college basketball community didn’t: the 6 games Zion Williamson didn’t play after his infamous shoe injury. He injured himself 30 seconds into the first game against Carolina. That game lost almost half it’s viewers after it was reported he wasn’t going to return. If you could guess what other 4 nationally televised games were the least viewed for Duke last season, I bet you could guess which 4 they were (2 of the 6 he missed were played against UNC which always get high viewership anyway). So I know for a fact people did not witness what I did over that stretch.

What R.J. did in those 6 games without Zion was show the highest level of a will to win I have ever seen on a college basketball player in my lifetime. The one exception I could think of would be Cardiac Kemba. R.J. was on that level. His performance against Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina on the road was something else. At this point, most of you are probably scrolling through the box score real quick to look at his numbers in those games and thinking to yourself “10-27? how is that an above average performance?” Let me give you an example

The game when Zion got poked in the eye, they played on the road at Florida State. Zion did not play the entire second half. R.J. completely took over. Yeah, he scored a lot using his versatile skill set. But it’s what he did in the final stretch of that game that allowed them to win. When Duke had a chance to win with an out of bounds play under the basket, everyone in that building knew who was going to get the ball; the guy who played all 40 minutes and had 32 points. The only problem was, nobody actually got it right. The play was drawn up around Barrett. R.J. faded to the corner after a little slip screen from the block, knowing he would draw at least two defenders. That allowed a back screen for Cam Reddish to curl and fade to the three point line to be wide open. When I say wide open, I mean he could have signed the ball before anyone was even near him. He hit the shot and Duke won the game. Yes, Reddish hit the shot, but it was R.J. who allowed for him to be wide open. It was R.J. who wanted Cam to get the ball; who wanted to win even if his hot hand wasn’t the guy to get it done.

Still not buying my logic? Let me debunk the “ball-hog” notion that surrounded R.J. all season. The notion that apparently played him out of being the number one pick, according to some. If I were to ask how many people reading this could name me 3 non-freshman players on Duke’s roster, how many would be able to? Duke fans aside, probably not a lot. So let me help you name them. Without Zion Williamson, here’s the guys who R.J. had to help him score.

Before I get into the players I am not AT ALL trying to be negative about them. Because each player, especially this past season, was very good at their role. Obviously, most of them were not scorers. I love all these guys and all they contribute to the program. I am extremely excited about these returning guys this upcoming season. So here’s what R.J had once Zion went down

Cam Reddish and Tre Jones were the two most talented players R.J. had around him at the time of the injury. Reddish was so inconsistent that he became unreliable. His occasional Paul George-esque step back jumpers gave the fan base hope of a leap… a leap that never really came. This led him to become one of the biggest enigmas in the draft. Tre Jones’s role on the team was to pass first and put immense pressure on the ball (both of which he did exceptionally well). But he too was not a reliable scorer. He would hit elbow jumpers occasionally and was wildly inconsistent from 3 point range. But again, he and Reddish were not consistent scorers. But what about the other guys? Couldn’t they take the load off of R.J.? The captains, Javin DeLaurier and Jack White, were both good in their respective roles; both of which were not scoring. Once upon a time White was a good perimeter shooter during the non-conference before having a nightmare final 3/4 of the season from deep; missing over 30 straight from beyond the arc at one point. During that time he was predominantly used for rebounding and was basically a non-factor in March. DeLaurier is a defense-first player who could lose in a shooting contest to any 12 year old AAU shooting guard in America; 3 point and free throws (he is also my favorite player because of his undoubted hustle and ability to lead. However, he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of boat). Marques Bolden was plagued with injuries his entire career and never really recovered well. I thought he was looking up after the Auburn game in Maui when he blocked every shot imaginable and was beating the eventual final four guards of Auburn up the floor on fast breaks. However, he got hurt in the road game at UNC late in the year and did not get going until later in March and was not nearly as effective (which is a shame because he was the clear-cut starting center before he got hurt his freshman year).

The guards should be different right? Guys who can really shoot the ball and allow R.J. to attack downhill and have someone to throw it too when he can’t barrel his way through? Well Jordan Goldwire is a defense first guy who, actually, peaked at the right time. He air-balled, I think, every three point shot he took during the regular season and his percentages were atrocious. He doesn’t have the ability to create his own shot and is not your typical score-first college guard. However he played exceptionally well from the Louisville game on and should make a leap this upcoming year. Alex O’Connell is a tall, lanky, and surprisingly super athletic shooting guard who has an elite catch-and-shoot jumper. Unfortunately, this helped R.J. once during the best case scenario for a catch and shoot guy; playing against the 2-3 defense of Syracuse where he had 20 points. However, every time he had to dribble the ball, he looked like Stanley Hudson on his best day out there. So when they played tight defense on him, he too was not effective. The guys not mentioned like Baker, Vrankovic, and Justin Robinson did not play enough to be mentioned.

That was a long list of player profiles all to prove one point. In a way, doesn’t it make sense why R.J. had to take so many shots? He was truly the only guy who was consistently able to create his own shot. In games where he wasn’t being double teamed, his assists numbers went up. Being ball-dominant does not make you a ball hog. All I am saying is he HAD to take that many shots to give Duke a chance to win those games.

I am also not saying him taking 25 shots a game makes him so special. What makes him special is willingness to fight and leave everything he has on the floor. You can teach someone how to make free throws, how make threes, make mid-range shots, and teach schematics and x’s and o’s. What cannot be taught to any athlete on any level is how to be a winner. Aside from this, his stats were also very good. 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists is pretty good for any freshman, let alone any player, playing in college basketball’s best conference. All I heard after the season was how R.J. played himself out of being the top pick. How in the world did he do that? That’s right… by being a ball hog.

He led the charge when Zion went down. Without him, Duke would not have won their games against Florida State, Syracuse, Wake Forest, national champion Virginia (twice), and probably other games. He did it all with guys who nobody would consider even average collegiate offensive players.

I saw it when he won the national championship in high school. I saw it in FIBA when he was 17. I saw it at Duke on the biggest stages against the best college players. Now, I will see it under the bright lights of the the city that has been plagued with horrible ownership and a fan base desperately awaiting someone to be their savior. New York fans, you have your guy.

Yes, Zion has the will to win too. But I do not get the same feeling watching Zion that I do watching R.J.. For me, it is strictly my eyes and senses telling me. They tell me that R.J. shows the will to win qualities more than Zion does.

As I said before, most of my arguments are based on eye test and not analytics. But what about logic? Let’s take a second to logically look at Zion Williamson at the next level. Doesn’t logic seem to say a guy his size, who jumps that high and that powerfully, is bound to play in the league for only a decade. Maybe less? Have guys like him had long NBA careers?

Before you start screaming names like LeBron, Shaq, and Shawn Kemp, think about it. We have NEVER seen anyone like Zion before. The guy weighs over 270 pounds. Wouldn’t it make sense to assume logically that at an 82 game pace his body will eventually break down at a faster rate compared to most? Especially quicker than R.J.’s? Part of my reasoning is I don’t think Zion will be able to play nearly as many minutes as R.J. throughout his career. R.J.’s body type is similar to that of Vince Carter, a guy who has been around to play in 4 different decades. It makes sense to assume R.J. will be better for much longer.

R.J.’s full talent was put on display during his summer league games. He did, as most people love to point out, struggle mightily his first 2 of 4 games each team gets before playoffs start. In the 4 “regular season” games of the summer league, despite the struggles, R.J. was the only player with at least 50 points, 35 rebounds, and 10 assists. He has better talent around him now and started to show how elite he can really be.

I truly believe that over the last 8 years of Duke basketball, R.J. Barrett is the best I have seen. The analytics, although are great, cannot compare to the stat that cannot be measured; the will to win. Zion, of course, has it too (as I said before). R.J.’s is just on a different level. He is the son of the guy who is Mr. Canadian basketball. He is the godson of Steve Nash, one of the best floor generals to ever walk this planet. He was by far the best high school player in his class for years. He led Canada to a FIBA U19 title at 17 years old. He was the go-to guy at Duke. He is a winner. Every time I watched him I just got the feeling that this kid would die out there if it meant his team could win. Bold Take: The Duke team would have had a better record with a whole season without Zion, then a whole season without R.J.. In other words, R.J. had more impact/was more important than Zion. The eye test is the reason R.J. Barrett will be better than Zion Williamson.

My final point elaborates on the eye test vs. analytics thing with a familiar example. It seems a new trend of people slamming Kobe Bryant over advanced analytics has been born. These ridiculous people on First Take and all these other terrible shows are saying he is not even a top 20 guy of all time due to the amount of missed shots and inefficiencies he had. For years people talked about Kobe as right there with MJ. I know a lot people in their 20s might say he is better than LeBron and Duncan. This is outrageous to say… if you look at it from an analytics perspective. Using that lens he was incredibly inefficient and did miss the most shots in the history of the league. But it was what we watched with our eyes that made him superlative. It was watching him in those Western and NBA Finals. It was watching him win 5 titles and literally sacrifice every part of his body to do it. He might have missed the most shots in history, but he will ALWAYS be my pick to take the last shot. Want to know why? Because Kobe Bryant was an absolute dog with the heart of a champion. Having the heart of the champion is immeasurable stat I saw in R.J. Barrett in July of 2017. It’s what I saw all season at Duke. It’s what I will continue to see as his career opens up as the new guy in New York. I promise, New York, you got your guy; you got your winner. Despite the countless highlight dunks, blocks, and fast breaks of Zion, the Maple Mamba will fly, to the shock of many, higher than Zion ever could.