Jimmy Butler III was born in Houston, Texas in September, 1989.
Russell Westbrook will never win an NBA title.
As takes go, this might be more mild than you first think. Westbrook is going to be 30 years old this season and the Golden State Warriors’ juggernaut continues to power on, in another Conference Finals, and with rumors of a Klay Thompson extension, showing they are prepared to plow into the luxury tax. Westbrook, though, will likely be in the top five of MVP voting once again, and is one of two players to ever average a triple double in a season (he’s now done it twice). He is a fascinating, polarizing character who challenges what the goals and expectations for an NBA team are supposed to be, and whether fans and front offices have prioritized their values in the “correct” way. What is the correct way?
The conversation’s been heating up over the past couple of weeks – who is this year’s NBA MVP? The four top candidates seem to be Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James, and each has their own defining claim to the trophy. Westbrook is putting up the best box score stats of anyone in the modern era. Harden probably has the next-best box score stats but has a better record. Kawhi is the best defensive player of the bunch and his team has the best record of the bunch. LeBron is probably still the “best player in the NBA” if you ask players or coaches. So who will take the crown?
The Bulls have had a solid season so far, now ranking second in the Eastern Conference after a recent 5-game winning streak, but many still have labeled new coach Fred Hoiberg’s first season with the team a disappointment. Where has the team succeeded, and where is there room for improvement?
Though it’s finally over, the Golden State Warriors’ winning streak was the talk of the NBA during its run, and why not? The dominance of the Warriors has been more than apparent this season. Their already-defending-MVP Stephen Curry has been by far the best player in the Association this season, contributing over 1.5 wins more than the next best player in our WAR rankings. Golden State is 24-1 with an average point differential of +13.1, and there’s no doubting the already-defending-champions have been the NBA’s best team, but by how much?
Since the race for once-in-a-lifetime prospect Anthony Davis, tanking has been one of the most controversial topics in NBA conversation. The then-Bobcats aggressively lost games to put themselves in position to get the Brow, leading them to the worst winning percentage in the history of the league.
The biggest argument about tanking is usually regarding its morality, and whether a team and its fans should root for failure in order to find long term success. The league is also split on whether tanking is good for the NBA and its franchises, as shown by the failed “anti-tanking” vote that would’ve revolutionized the lottery system. However, for most NBA fans, there is little doubt that tanking is a “smart” plan. But is tanking really smart? Does it often work?
After a terrible year in 2013-2014, the Knicks made some big changes this offseason, all stemming from the hire of Phil “Zen Master” Jackson as team president. Jackson is considered by many to be the greatest basketball genius on the planet, with 13 championship rings – 2 as a Knicks player, 6 as coach of the Bulls, and 5 as coach of the Lakers – to his name. One of Jackson’s self-proclaimed biggest reasons for success is the triangle offense, a system that has taken on a sort of legendary aura over the years. The Zen Master brought his protege Derek Fisher on board to become Knicks head coach and teach the team this art, which is assumed to be the offensive philosophy New York will employ for as long as Jackson remains team president. However, the Knicks haven’t started so hot this season – they’re currently 2-6 and already falling well behind divisional rivals like 7-1 Toronto. Is the slow start due to slow chemistry building and system learning among players, or could New York have a real long-term problem?
After an amazing 2013-2014 season, the unbearably long offseason is finally coming to a close. There’s a lot to look forward to this year in the NBA, with superstars on new teams, contenders adding pieces, and more squads than ever with a chance to make noise. Let’s get started with my projected standings for the Eastern Conference, and analysis for the teams in it:
Indiana (1) vs. Atlanta (8)
This is a matchup the NBA probably wasn’t looking forward to – the fading Pacers against one of the worst teams in playoff history in the Hawks. Can Indiana get back on track and get motivated for the postseason? This is a rematch of last year’s first round series.
Overall ranking (TeamRankings): Indiana 9th, Atlanta 20th
Last 10 games ranking (TeamRankings): Atlanta 12th, Indiana 23rd
Effective field goal percentage (TeamRankings): Indiana 1st defensive, Atlanta 9th offensive
Assists per game (TeamRankings): Indiana 1st defensive, Atlanta 2nd offensive
Paul George (14th CornerThree WAR, 29th ESPN WAR) vs. Paul Millsap (21st CornerThree, 49th ESPN)
Regular Season Series Results
Indiana 2, Atlanta 2
Under the leadership of the steady Frank Vogel, the Pacers will respond to urgency after falling behind in the series, and win out on their way to round two.
Indiana in 6
Miami (2) vs. Charlotte (7)
The ‘Cats are back in the playoffs, but they’ll have a tough task ahead of them in the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Heat. With Big Al Jefferson in the middle, can they put enough pressure on Miami’s small lineups to make things interesting? Charlotte has ended the season strong, while Miami has had a rough go of it in March and April.
Overall ranking: Miami 7th, Charlotte 17th
Last 10 games ranking: Charlotte 8th, Miami 24th
Assist-turnover ratio (TeamRankings): Miami 1st defensive, Charlotte 2nd offensive
Points in the paint per game (TeamRankings): Miami 10th defensive, Charlotte 21rd offensive
LeBron James (4th CornerThree WAR, 1st ESPN WAR) vs. Al Jefferson (16th CornerThree, 52nd ESPN)
Regular Season Series Results
Miami 4, Charlotte 0
As they did last year against an inferior Bucks squad, Miami will blow through the competition in round one, though Charlotte will steal game 3 in Carolina.
Miami in 5
Toronto (3) vs. Brooklyn (7)
With playoff legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, alongside established veterans Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, Brooklyn takes its intriguing lineups into a changing-of-the-guard matchup with Toronto, who brings youth and hunger to this battle.
Overall ranking: Toronto 12th, Brooklyn 16th
Last 10 games ranking: Toronto 14th, Brooklyn 22nd
Ranking in Toronto (TeamRankings): Toronto 14th home, Brooklyn 20th away
Ranking in Brooklyn (TeamRankings): Toronto 9th away, Brooklyn 10th home
Kyle Lowry (13th CornerThree WAR, 14th ESPN WAR) vs. Deron Williams (83rd CornerThree, 57th ESPN)
Regular Season Series Results
Toronto 2, Brooklyn 2
Two of the most underrated teams in the playoffs face off. Brooklyn’s experience, alongside Jason Kidd’s great coaching, will push this series to the limit, but with the league’s fourth-best point guard by both WAR ratings in Kyle Lowry next to hungry first-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, and superior ability to play on the road, the Raptors will make Drake happier than Jay-Z and advance past the Nets.
Toronto in 7
Chicago (4) vs. Washington (5)
John Wall and Bradley Beal lead one of the league’s most explosive backcourts and a run-and-gun, three-point shooting offense for the Wizards against Tom Thibodeau’s grind it out defense for the Bulls in a clash of styles that will be more exciting than its billing.
Overall ranking: Chicago 13th, Washington 15th
Last 10 games ranking: Chicago 4th, Washington 13th
Three point percentage (TeamRankings): Washington 5th offensive, Chicago 8th defensive
Shooting efficiency (TeamRankings): Washington 14th defensive, Chicago 28th offensive
John Wall (10th CornerThree WAR, 34th ESPN WAR) vs. Joakim Noah (11th CornerThree, 11th ESPN)
Regular Season Series Results
Washington 2, Chicago 1
John Wall and the Wizards are ready for the big time, but they’ll have to prove it against one of the league’s best team defenses. Chicago will struggle to score, and Washington will jump ahead in this series despite its beginning at the United Center. However, as the series progresses, Tom Thibodeau will make the necessary adjustments to neutralize the Wizards’ deadly backcourt, and put the cap on a very exciting series.
Chicago in 7
Find the corresponding Western Conference breakdown here.
by Derek Reifer, Northwestern University
It has been said recently that the NBA has never been stronger than it is right now, and it really is true. The NBA is all over the sports news, currently dominating the news cycle on ESPN, getting more airtime than America’s pastime, the MLB. Franchise values are skyrocketing and the league recently turned down a prospective owner who wanted to pay a billion dollars for the Kings, over $300 million more than they was valued at before the bidding war began. The league has two extremely marketable superstars in Kevin Durant and LeBron James, who by all accounts are not only phenomenal basketball players, but also good citizens.
The NBA is an interesting test case because of the idea of parity in sports. With the NBA, you can pick 8 teams at the beginning of the season and you will have a 90% chance of getting the correct champion. Don’t believe me? Check this out.