10 Breakout Players Entering ‘The Silver Era’

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It’s the NBA on Christmas, everyone!

What a disaster…at least until the nightcap.

No D-Rose, no Brook, no Melo, no Kobe. Just a bunch of old stars on their way out (Garnett, Pierce, Amar’e etc.), and a few Ryan Kelly sightings. Just before the Knicks and Thunder squared off at the Garden, it was announced that Melo was out. The commentator then quickly attempted to regain interest from his recently dejected Christmas audience by using the cliche, “…but a wounded animal can be dangerous!” In this case, the wounded animal looked, well, wounded – like Amar’e after this (below).

Also notable – the unpopular Chris Smith logged his first minute for the Knicks in this game. That’s how bad it was.

Shifting Gears…

Looking back to the beginning of this season, there’s been tanking, over-performing bad teams, many knee injuries, and the laughing-stock that is ‘Coach’ Kidd. Also, since when are the Pacers and Blazers the best teams in the NBA in the same season? Certainly not under the tyrannical rule of Darth ‘BIG MARKET’ Stern!

The league is transitioning. On February 1st 2014, the NBA will officially enter ‘The Silver Era,’ an era led by current NBA Deputy Commissioner, Adam Silver.

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But who really is Adam Silver?

Well, for starters he’s the tall, thin, man who announces the second-round draft picks on draft night.

He’s also a man who has not released his actual birth date on Wikipedia, making me inherently skeptical of his legitimacy. How can we trust that he is a true US citizen? How can we allow a man, who doesn’t even release his birth certificate to the public, to run an organization that is so very essential to our lives, like the NBA? I demand your papers, Silver, and I demand them now! 

Speaking of demands, my only real demand for Silver is to bring high-schooler eligibility back to the NBA draft. Remember how much fun that was?

How can you possibly recreate the adrenaline rush of not knowing whether your favorite team just landed Kevin Garnett or Kwame Brown / Kobe Bryant or Jonathan Bender? You simply can’t! There’s simply no more exciting way to spend a sticky Thursday night in late-June! By the way, the rest of the ‘High-Schoolers Who Took Their Talents Straight to the NBA‘ list is pretty damn good. Re-open the flood gates to the Ndudi Ebis and Robert Swifts of the world!

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I also heard a rumor from an unnamed inside source about a long-term goal to add NBA expansion cities where Mexico City was in consideration. Though after the recent escalator fire/smoke debacle, which postponed the Spurs-T’Wolves game a few weeks ago, Mexico City probably just lost a few votes. Just put a team back in Seattle, Adam.

Silver’s most legitimate initiatives are his interests in getting rid of divisions, and abolishing the lottery. Oh, the horror! Grantland wrote a very thorough article about abolishing the lottery so I won’t take the time to tackle that issue.

Regarding the divisions; this is what the Eastern Conference standings looked like last week…a goddamn bloodbath.

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You may notice that the Celtics should have been the 8-seed given their .417 winning percentage, but were seeded fourth (you may also notice that 12 of the 15 Eastern Conference teams were under .500 at this point). However, if the Atlantic Division continues to under perform like a (insert old guy without Viagra/Cialis joke), which they most likely will, this will be a disastrous situation.

Mark Cuban said it best in his quote in USA Today:

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“What’s happened now is the law of unintended consequences… Because there’s so many underperforming teams in the East, and they have to play each four times, poor teams are going to make the playoffs with better records than they expected to have and good teams in the West aren’t going to make the playoffs and you’re going to have good teams getting better players and this being a good draft… Teams that tried to underperform to get the better players are going to make the playoffs and not be in the lottery. There’ll be a new set of incentives to come out of all of this.”

Basically, weak divisions can lead to decent teams in the West who don’t make the playoffs, getting better draft picks than bad teams in the East, who do make the playoffs. In a draft that’s this stacked with talent, that ain’t fair.

Obviously, Cuban is partly looking out for himself. The Mavericks are a fringe playoff team that will either get knocked out in round 1 or have poor odds to get anything good in the lottery. For the purposes of this argument, let’s support Cuban’s intentions for being a man of the people.

Again, shifting gears…

To go along with this theme of transition, I’ve ranked the top-10 breakout players entering The Silver Era 

10. Arron Afflalo 21.9 ppg / 3.9 apg / 4.6 rpg / 19.80 per

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Afflalo is 18th in the NBA in estimated wins added (4.7), in front of James Harden, and has led the undersized and under-talented Orlando Magic to an overachieving, 8-20 start to the season. Yes, this is overachieving when your roster is constructed as poorly as Orlando’s.

Mo Harkless, Glen Davis, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Maxiell, Tobias Harris. Where’s the diversity (in skill-sets)?

Afflalo is averaging 21.9 points per game (10th in the league), and seems to have confidently assumed the leadership and scorer’s role for the young Magic.  Only time will tell if this is simply a case of ‘well, someone has to score the points,’ or if Afflalo can actually be considered an elite scorer in the NBA.

9. Andre Drummond 13.2 ppg / 12.5 rpg / 1.6 bpg / 22.45 per

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Drummond is currently 2nd in the NBA is field goal percentage at 62.2%, and 4th in the league in rebounding (12.5 rpg). He also recorded some monstrous stat-lines, like his 31-point 19-rebound outing against the 76ers earlier this season. On the flip side, he’s still raw as all hell from the line; however, you can’t argue with his consistency for inconsistency – this will make sense in a second.

He’s shooting 37.1%, which happens to be exactly his average from last year, 37.1%. It’s incredible, he just basically shoves the ball toward the hoop, wishing it in to no avail.

I am pretty confident that he won’t crack 50% from the line for years, if ever, but I do know that his 13 and 13 are making some noise around the league. He’s also 8th in the league in estimated wins added, tied with LaMarcus Aldridge with 5.8 EWA.

8. Jordan Crawford 13.6 ppg / 5.4 apg / 3.1 rpg / 17.35 per

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Coming in at number 8 is the NBA’s ‘Troll in Residence,’ (Michael) Jordan Crawford. He’s known for being an irrational confidence, heat-check guy, and he can be as inspiring as he can be exhausting to watch. While his 13.6 points per game isn’t as gaudy of a number as others on this list, Crawford is dishing out 5.4 assists per game, and has looked like a legitimate NBA playmaker for Brad Stevens and the Celtics.

A few weeks ago Jordan Crawford won the Eastern Conference Player Of The Week Award, averaging 23.3 points on 61% shooting with 6.7 assists and 3 rebounds during the week. However, over his last five games he’s come back down to earth, shooting just 32.2% from the field, and 16% from three. It seems as though Crawford is in the process of regressing to the mean.  If you are a Celtics fan who favors tanking, this is a good thing.

7. J.J. Redick 15.8 ppg / 2.0 apg / 2.2 rpg / 18.23 per

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Seven years removed from his unforgettable career at Duke, J.J. Redick is now in his prime. Coach Doc Rivers has given J.J. the ultimate green light, and Redick is taking advantage of every opportunity. He’s shooting 46% from the field, and should continue to be the x-factor in Doc’s offensive game plan after he returns from his recent injuries.

Enough praise for J.J. – if you have time, I suggest that you enjoy the video below.

6. Kemba Walker 18.7 ppg / 4.6 apg / 4.4 rbg / 18.19 per

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Many doubted whether Kemba’s game would translate to the NBA. ‘He’s just too small,’ or ‘He’s just not a good enough shooter,’ were common criticisms. Say what you will about his weak competition in the East, but Kemba Walker has led a pretty bad team to a 14-15 record, and the 5th seed in the conference.

If you peruse the Bobcats roster you’ll notice that almost nothing has changed. The only real difference is the addition of Al Jefferson, who doesn’t even shoot particularly well for a big man (45.1% fg). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (9.1 ppg / 4.3 rpg) still can’t shoot outside of the paint, Ben Gordon (5.8 ppg) has been regressing for 3 years, Jeff Taylor (8 ppg / 26.9 3p%) isn’t shooting like he did in the summer league, and rookie Cody Zeller (5.5 ppg / 4.2 rpg) isn’t exactly setting the world on fire.

So how the hell are the Bobcats on pace to win 40 games and make the playoffs? Charlotte is currently 3rd in the NBA in points allowed (93.6), Al Jefferson is adding what he’s added for the last 5 seasons (16.7 points 9.6 rebounds), Kemba is becoming an elite point guard and team leader, and of course, there are a lot pathetic tankers in the Eastern Conference.

5. Klay Thompson 19.5 ppg / 2.7 apg / 3.2 rpg / 14.64 per 

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We could all pretty much see this coming, right? Klay is a 6’7” athletic shooter in his third season, showed us that he can compete on the big stage when he went for 34 against the Spurs in game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, and he plays in the same backcourt as Steph Curry. This season he’s shooting 44.9 fg %/ 42.5 3pt %/ 78.2 ft %, and has solidified himself as not only one of the league’s top shooters, but also one of the league’s top all-around shooting guards.

4. Isaiah Thomas 18.9 ppg / 5.7 apg / 2.6 rpg / 22.33 per

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Back in high school I went with some friends to watch Winchendon play South Kent in a battle of two perennial powerhouse post graduate basketball programs. I went specifically to watch Alex Oriakhi (2013 2nd round pick to the Suns – plays overseas), whom I played against in both freshman ball and varsity. Needless to say, I lost both times by many points. In the freshman year matchup, Oriakhi drop-step dunked over my former teammate, and a current hipster.

Anyways, during the game I noticed that the point guard from South Kent was taking over. None of us had any idea who he was. The 5’8” lefty was finishing in the paint over 6’9” D1-commits, popping off screens and nailing three pointers, and slicing through any press that Winchendon threw at him. We found out later that his name was Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas, whose dad named him after the original Isaiah Thomas after losing a bet, has officially made ‘The Leap.’ Over the course of the first 20 games, Thomas averaged 18.2 points and 5.3 assists, but started in only 1 of those 20 games. He was backing up Greivis Vasquez. Why? No one knows.

The Kings recently shipped Vasquez to Toronto, entrusting the starting PG job to Thomas – finally. Now, the only thing left for the Kings to do is to sell the franchise to Seattle.

3. Anthony Davis 19.3 ppg / 10.3 rpg / 3.2 bpg / 27.24 per

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I am comfortable admitting that I think Anthony Davis would be a normal-looking guy without his stupid-looking unibrow. I also think this is a classic example of stupid, but effective marketing. I would want to fire my agent immediately if he recommended that I never wax my uni-brow, but if I were getting as much promotional value out of it as Davis is, I would consider keeping it for a year or two then start waxing the hell out of it. After two years, everyone will know his face anyways, and by that point no one will really care if he waxes/shaves his unibrow. Once you’re famous, you’re famous.

In regards to his basketball performance, Anthony Davis has asserted himself as an elite big man. He leads the league in blocks, and is a consistent double-double threat every night. He’s only getting better and stronger, and if he doesn’t get too banged up too much by bulkier guys inside, he has the ability to live up to his potential, and go down as one of the best big men of his era.

2. Eric Bledsoe 18.9 ppg / 6.3 apg / 4.5 rpg / 21.56 per

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Eric Bledsoe, unrelated to Drew, came into the league as a spark-plug off the bench – think Will Bynum. But over the course of his first 21 games of the 2013-14 season (he was injured for 6 games), E-Bled has made ‘The Leap,’ that Norris never made. He’s averaging 18.9 points 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per contest; thus, the Will Bynum comparison is now insulting to Bledsoe.

He’s also led the Suns, who were supposed to be tanking, to a 17-10 start. Should the Suns be happy or pissed that their team is 17-10? I am torn enough as a Celtics fan in the 8th spot in the East. But maybe the Suns are actually good. But they can’t be. Eh, it’s Phoenix – I feel like no one cares, and that there’s not much passion for indoor sports out in the desert.

E-Bled has the F-U sneer down pat in his picture.

1. Paul George 23.9 ppg / 5.9 / 3.6 apg / 23.96 per

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Hearing about a player who’s coming out of a mid-major, and is advertised as a ‘6’9” freak athlete, who can handle like a point guard, shoot the three, and guard LeBron James,’ generally triggers two reactions – ‘What if?’ and ‘Bullshit’ – probably 2/3 of the reaction is ‘bullshit,’ though.

Three years ago, Paul George was the ultimate ‘What if?’ / ”Bullshit,’ prospect. Today, the only question left is when he will win his first championship. Leading the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers (23-5), George is averaging 24 points and 6 rebounds, and is the obvious choice for #1 breakout player of this season. If LeBron James didn’t exist, Paul George would most-likely be the face of the Eastern Conference. With that said, he is the last hope in the East to take down LeBron, and the Miami Heat.

Replace the name Obi Wan Kanobi with Paul George in this video, and that’s how I feel…

Disagree with anything? Complain to me @gregmschwartz.

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Las Vegas Summer League: Day 5 Recap

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After 5 days in Vegas most of the teams have gotten rid of their jitters/yips/resemblance to turnover factories. For example, the Lakers had an even 30 turnovers in each of their first two games, but just 17 in their third. Okay, not a great example, but on the whole players definitely look more relaxed with three games in the books. The tournament format starts today, and the top 10 teams will receive a bye. Here’s the official link to the Las Vegas Summer League Tournament Bracket.

Notables From Day 5

In yesterday’s game involving the Kings and Raptors, Ben McLemore showed everyone why he could end up being the best player from this 2013 NBA draft class. McLemore had 26 points on 8-14 shooting and 3-6 from three, and looked much more like an actual NBA 2-guard than in his previous two contests. He showed off his lightning-quick release, but still has yet to record an assist…

Opposing McLemore and the Kings was Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors much improved big man. He posted 18 points and 8 rebounds in a winning effort for the Raptors who beat the Kings 81-70, but had 9 fouls (1 away from ejection) and 7 turnovers. Yes, it’s still Summer League and he still has room to improve on both ends, but expect Valanciunas to improve on his 8.9 PPG 6.0 RPG numbers from last year. He also should have some great practice battles with ‘Psycho T,’ who didn’t seemed so psyched to be a Raptor.

For Portland, C.J. McCollum made some noise with 27 points, going 10-13 from the line. Unfortunately, he shot only 8-25 from the field and had just 1 assist in the 80-78 losing effort against the Bulls. His teammate and recent Blazers acquisition, Thomas Robinson, also had a notable game with 12 points to go along with 18 boards. Robinson, who looked like he needed a change of scenery after riding pine in both Sacramento and Houston last season, could be a nice pickup for the Trail Blazers. Also in the same game, Andrew Goudelock came back down to earth a little with 11 points on 4-11 shooting while his teammate, Marquis Teague, put up a game-high 25 points and was 3-3 from behind the arc.

Tournament-style play begins at 6pm ET, when the Denver Nuggets (0-3) face the New Orleans Pelicans (2-1).