KANGS No more!!!

Is Cory Joseph an upgrade over Frank Mason? Are Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza a better SF combo than Iman Shumpert and Ben McLemore? Is Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes a better big man combo than Willie Cauley-Stein and Kostas Koufas? Is Luke Walton an upgrade at coach over Dave Joerger?

If you answered yes to at least three of the above questions, then the Kings will improve on last year’s 9th place finish in the Western Conference.

The Kings were fast, exciting, competitive, and really fun to watch last season. With the development of the young core (De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley), and veteran additions, this team is poised to make a playoff run.

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Terry Stott’s Dame Dolla-led team flourished in the second half going 29-12, finishing with the 3rd seed in the Western Conference. They dispatched the Thunder and the second-seeded Nuggets before succumbing to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals. This was accomplished with their best big man, Jusuf Nurkic, cheerleading from the bench due to a broken leg.

This year’s edition has an entirely new look and will be hard pressed to repeat that success. Both starting forwards, Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu are no longer on the roster, ditto for sharpshooter Seth Curry and playoff star Meyers Leonard. But don’t count out the squad from lumberjack territory too quickly, as Coach Stotts seems to successfully find ways to mesh enough spare parts around his high-scoring, backcourt duo.

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The Hawks won 29 games last year, but were a much tougher opponent in the second half. 29-53 is 12 games under .500, but the Hawks were only three games under .500 over the last 41. That was due to the young’uns getting better as the season progressed. The Hawks brain trust is optimistic the growth spurt continues, as they have added even more youth to the mix.

De’Andre Hunter’s Final Four heroics moved him up the draft board, and the Hawks paid a ransom to acquire him, but leadership has earned the benefit of the doubt. Their picks, combined with the teaching style of coach Lloyd Pierce and his staff, have drawn visible dividends, but will the expected leaps turn into hops? Not paying Dewayne Dedmon, when they could afford to, may hurt more than they realize.

Most projections have the Hawks winning 30-ish games. That may be conservative, but I expect a minor flirtation with .500 and another round of ping pong balls, as youth continues to mature.

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Look ahead—Trade Deadline Edition

Now we are just past the halfway mark of the season and into the annual fun that masquerades as the trade deadline.

Teams are either hoping to find the one additional piece to move them into championship contention, ensure that playoff slot which has eluded the home fans for several seasons, or offload some contracts to save a few bucks and better the future.

The interesting thing is figuring out who the sellers and buyers are. More intriguing for us fantasy hoop heads is how it affects/changes/improves/negates the numbers of current players and what kind of new opportunities can now be found for players in new situations.

We will take a look at the Eastern Conference first – identify some trade targets and discuss what that might mean.  Then we will do the same with the West.

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The Division of the Up and Comers
The Atlantic Division consists of up-and-coming teams, with the Toronto Raptors at the top of the league in wins, yet they are still learning how to incorporate Kawhi Leonard into their mix.  The Sixers are also integrating a new player in Jimmy Butler.  Boston struggled with offensive effectiveness early on, but they have started to figure things out, including an overtime thriller on Christmas against the 76ers.   The Nets have done well, winning nine of their last 10 games, a streak of success not seen in Brooklyn in many a day.  The Knicks, though, are going in the opposite direction, as they have lost nine of their last 10, but are still considered in the up and coming conversation because they have a stable of young players gaining valuable experience while their Latvian superstar, Kristaps Porzingis, mends.

Many feel the NBA season really doesn’t start until Christmas, as teams have now played about a third of the season with the strengths and weaknesses of each being exposed.  In addition, players are available as trade targets and teams that look to be lottery participants will begin to look toward the future and acquire draft assets. 

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This is the Division of New Instruction because, with one year plus the 26 games the Pacers have played so far, Nate McMillan is the senior member of the division’s coaching membership. Two teams, the Pistons and the Bucks had new coaches to begin the year, and the other two teams, the Cavs and the Bulls, changed leadership during the season.

Instruction and teaching do matter in the NBA. So many players are coming into the league with only a year of college ball, so today’s coaches must have staffs that can teach them to play the game. Coaches have to find ways to make players with limitations productive, and the coaches who can do it the best are the ones who are successful.

We witnessed Indiana’s improvement last year under the tutelage of McMillan, and the Bucks and Pistons under new leadership sport winning records this year while looking like different teams.

Three of the teams have records in the top five of the Eastern Conference, while the other two which jettisoned their head coaches early this season, are languishing at the bottom. Also, alphabetically, the records go from worst with Chicago to best in Milwaukee, for whatever that means.

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The SouthLEAST Division

Here we are at the quarter turn, as teams have played approximately 25% of their games.

We know enough to be able to make some pretty cogent observations. Try this one on: this division is the worst in the NBA. Last year, the Heat won the division with 44 wins, while the Wizards had 43. Most thought it would be those two teams battling again, but alas, the Hornets and Magic currently sit atop the divisional heap. Any of these teams will be hard pressed to win 44 this year, although since they have to play each other four times each, somebody might get close. We could easily see a sub-.500 Division champion. What has been evident is that there are four coaches who are doing a notable job with inadequate star power, while one coach has been doing an inadequate job with notable star power.

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Most of the teams in this division are what we thought they were. The Dallas Mavericks are more competitive with their new additions, but still not playoff ready. The Memphis Grizzlies, with a healthier roster, are returning to Grit-and-Grind, playing at a pace nobody wants to play. The New Orleans Pelicans will go as far as AD takes them, while hoping to capitalize on the momentum of sweeping the Trail Blazers in last year’s playoffs, but ultimately realizing the rest of the roster has a second-round ceiling. The Spurs are the Spurs, so even with multiple roster changes, the Kawhi Leonard drama, loss of veteran leadership, injuries, and adjustments, Coach Greg Popovich is still the master puppeteer who will figure out how to win more than he loses. He would probably do that even if you gave him a roster of Lilliputians. Which leaves the exception and the outlier, the Houston Rockets, who have not been what we thought they were. We all thought they would take a step back defensively, but who thought they would forget how to shoot? They seem to be finding their sea legs, and even beat the World Champion Golden State Warriors, but who would have guessed the team with the best record in the league last year would be happy to be 7-7 after 14 games?

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This week we take a look at the Northwest Division, which boasts some exciting teams to watch, some great individual offensive talents, and one seriously unresolved soap opera situation. This division is filled with teams that keep coming at you; hardworking, team-oriented outfits that don’t stop until the whole tree is on the ground. In other words, what the Timberwolves want to be.

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The young season has already provided some serious ups and downs, surprises, and plenty of excitement. We’ve seen several 50-point games, a Derrick Rose time machine experience, some thrilling overtime finishes, and one Javale McGee three-pointer.

One thing I don’t get is why players need rest when they have been chilling on the beaches of Jamaica, hanging out in Paris, or making some extra change running basketball camps, which they don’t really run, but is a way for their high school buddies to capitalize on their name and make a few dollars.

Yet, here they are resting in week 2. Gordon Hayward, I get. I certainly don’t get Kawhi resting. He rested all last year!

In this piece, I will provide some info on the basketball and fantasy trends of the teams in the Association. We will start this week with the teams located on the Left Coast.

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