NBA Rookie of the Year race down to two

Justin Norris | Staff Writer

The rookie class that has headlined the 2017-18 NBA season is one of the deepest classes in recent memory. Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr. and others have all given their respective franchises hope about being potential cornerstones for years to come.

Despite the number of rookies having strong inaugural seasons, the race for the Rookie of the Year award has virtually been cut down to two. These men are Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers.

These two rookies have been the catalysts behind their teams reaching the playoffs in dominating fashion. After Gordon Hayward’s departure in free agency last summer, the Jazz were not expected to compete for a playoff spot in the highly competitive Western Conference. However, Mitchell stepped into Hayward’s role on offense and led the Jazz in scoring at 20.5 points per game. A rookie has not led a playoff team in scoring since 2004, when Carmelo Anthony accomplished that feat. Mitchell’s emergence as the go-to option for Utah inspired its turnaround from a non-contender to a team that nobody wants to play in the playoffs.

Ben Simmons has enjoyed one of the best all-around seasons the NBA has seen from a rookie in a long time. Simmons’ averages of 15.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game put him in the same class as his close friend and mentor LeBron James. Like James, Simmons has been blessed with the physique of a power forward with the speed and ball skills of a point guard, making him a matchup nightmare for opponents. ESPN writer Kevin Pelton went as far as to pose the question of “whether there has ever been a rookie — including LeBron James — as versatile as Simmons.”

Despite having an almost non-existent jump shot, he has helped lead the 76ers to the third seed in the Eastern Conference by using his overwhelming size and athleticism to create easy shots for himself and his teammates. On the defensive side of the ball, Simmons is constantly wreaking havoc, which often results in turnovers for the opposing team. Despite Joel Embiid being sidelined with a facial fracture, Simmons and the 76ers remained one of the hottest teams in the NBA by riding a 16-game winning streak into the playoffs.

The drama around the two primary candidates has increased over the past week. Mitchell sparked the debate by wearing a black hoodie with the definition of the word “rookie” on it. The definition read “an athlete playing his or her first season as a member of a professional sports team.” Mitchell’s argument is that because Simmons sat out his first season with a broken right foot last year, so he should not win Rookie of the Year.

On the opposite side, Simmons did not play at all last season, so he is still technically eligible for the award. This uncommon situation has precedent. In 2011, Blake Griffin unanimously won Rookie of the Year over John Wall despite being drafted in 2009 because he sat out the entire 2010 season with a broken kneecap.

With that being said, both rookies have had outstanding rookie seasons and exceeded even their loftiest expectations. In most seasons, Mitchell would have run away with the award. However, Simmons’ versatility and impact on both sides of the floor as a 6 foot 10 full time point guard is too much to ignore.

 

New look in NBA All-Star Game

Nazim Trammell-Wells | Contributing Writer

This year’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles has players feeling a little festive, and it isn’t because of a party in Hollywood.

The NBA switched up the landscape of the All-Star Game by ditching the old-fashioned way of having the Western Conference teams play Eastern Conference teams. This year, they are implementing a new format that permits the top vote-getters from each conference to select their own team of All-Stars.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry received the most votes from their respective conferences this year, so this will make for a very entertaining game.

Team LeBron will feature Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Paul George and ex-Cavs player Kyrie Irving. Steph Curry’s team will have James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan and first-time All-Star Joel Embiid.

There is no clear consensus on who won the draft, but the general public has agreed that these teams will definitely put on a popcorn-worthy show.

The big game isn’t the only thriller of the weekend. This year, the Dunk Contest and 3 -Point Contest have much to offer. This year’s 3-Point Contest features Klay Thompson, Eric Gordon, Devin Booker, Tobias Harris and Paul George. It will be interesting to see how Gordon will defend his 3-point shooting title against Thompson, who was victorious the year before.

The Dunk Contest has some underdogs this year as well. With Aaron Gordon returning to the contest two years after his epic showdown with Zach Lavine, there is no doubt that he will be the favorite, but don’t count out Gordon’s ex-teammate — and 2015 Dunk Contest runner-up — Victor Oladipo.

Many people aren’t counting on rookie Dennis Smith Jr. to win, but some are still interested in seeing what he can bring to the table. Smith is an explosive athlete and, with the Dallas Mavericks, has tried to dunk on anyone in his path — regardless of their status in the league.

The new format is not the only new wrinkle in the All-Star Game. This year, each player on the winning team will receive $100,000. This is double the amount players have received in previous years.

In the past, fans have claimed the game lacked competitiveness, but this incentive could be the solution.  For double the dough, the competition level amongst the players should rise significantly.

Check out how the events play out on Valentine’s Day weekend.

NBA’s biggest surprises and flops

Harrington Gardiner | Contributing Writer

This NBA season so far has its fair share of expectations. The Warriors, Spurs and Rockets are expected to compete for the Western Conference crown. It’s also expected that LeBron James will lead the Cavaliers to Eastern Conference supremacy for the fourth year in a row.

However, every year, it’s important to recognize the different highlights that occur in the association. Even with annual big surprises, there are always flops–whether it’s individual performance or teams not playing up to their true potential. With this being said, surprises and flops are important to help fans understand who’s improving and who needs a little bit more work.

Biggest surprises:

1. Trusting The Process

The Philadelphia 76ers have been one of the emerging young teams in the NBA. Although they are currently 8th in the Eastern Conference, the play of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons has been really impressive.

These two players have shown star power material, and they’ve both proven that they can help this team reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.

Simmons is showing that he can win this year’s rookie of the year award, averaging 16.6 points, 7.2 assists and 3 rebounds per game. Simmons was drafted in 2016 but missed all of last season with a foot injury. Embiid is just dominating this year, averaging 23.9 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. Embiid also made the All-Star team for the first time in his career. The process has been somewhat delayed with No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz being out for a while, but improvement is looking good in Philadelphia right now.

2. The Greek Freak

Although the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t playing up to their true potential as of now, Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing like a man on a mission. He’s an MVP candidate not just because of his major improvement, but because of his dominance over other players.

His long wingspan and dangerous versatility make him nearly unguardable. He’s also carrying his team right now. He has a career high in points, field goal percentage and rebounds. Giannis, otherwise known as “The Greek Freak,” is easily in the MVP discussion, but who knew he’d be in the discussion this fast?

3. Rookies making their mark

This year’s rookie class has definitely balled out. Of course, going into the season, the hype revolved around Lonzo Ball and his impact on the Lakers.

However, many of this year’s rookies have played just as well if not better than Bell. Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Smith Jr. and Lauri Markkanen have all shown they can become the cornerstones of their respective franchises. They’re all putting up stellar numbers and are helping their teams ascend in the win column. Highlights and crossovers are great and all; but when a young player can come into the league and contribute night in and night out, that’s flat out impressive.

Biggest flops:

1. Oklahoma City Big Three

Going into this season, the trio of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George were thought to be lethal. It turns out that they’ve been absolutely horrendous. Inconsistency has been a problem for this OKC team and it has caused them to be less of a threat as the year progresses. Lastly, their biggest weakness is their bench play. If they plan to go deep into the postseason, things have to improve, and it starts with their bench.

2.Sacramento Fountain of Youth

Years of drafting young talent on this team hasn’t really paid off for the Kings. This past draft, they got four very skilled rookies: De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason. They also acquired Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and George Hill from free agency this year.

They have a great mixture of veteran presence and young potential, yet they currently sit in last place in the Western Conference. Sacramento is way behind schedule in a conference that’s already tough as nails.

3. Inconsistency in D.C

The Washington Wizards have one of the best backcourts in the league in John Wall and Bradley Beal. They also have a decent supporting cast with Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and Marcin Gortat. The question many are asking is what’s wrong?

Last year, this team was in the discussion for the best team in the East, but this year, inconsistencies have plagued them. They’ve had some injuries here and there, but that certainly can’t be an excuse for losses to teams they should not be losing to.

The Wizards have the talent to be the best in the conference, yet they just aren’t playing like it.

 

Becky Hammon’s Coaching leads the Spurs to a Summer League Championship

denverpost
denverpost

Wesley Eggleston | Staff Writer

Former WNBA superstar Becky Hammon became the first female head coach to win the Vegas Summer League Championship Monday night, defeating the Phoenix Suns 93-90.  Hammon went 6-1 on her way to the title, building on the winning culture that comes with being a part of the Spurs organization.  She began coaching last season when Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich made history by hiring Hammon to be an assistant on his staff following her retirement in 2014.

Hammon was a point guard for the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars when she played so it comes as no surprise she has a knack for seeing the floor well, even from a coach’s perspective, and a high basketball IQ.  Coach Pop granted Hammon the opportunity to coach the Vegas Summer League team, and low and behold, it paid off.

“It’s just a great learning process for me, and the guys had to take some of my mistakes…. And I made plenty, but we just kept hanging together as a group,” Hammon told reporters following the championship game.  This was a good stepping-stone for Hammon as she continues to make the transition from player to coach.

Before you sleep on the possibility and dismiss the idea,  just look around the NBA: Coach Pop has disciples all around the league as head coaches, assistants, and front office associates.

Hammon also had the pleasure of coaching the Summer League MVP Kyle Anderson and championship game MVP Jonathan Simmons. Simmons recently signed a two-year deal with the 2014 NBA Champions.

“It’s a humbling experience for all of us,” Simmons said after the game to NBA TV.  “She did a great job with us.  She was solid the whole way.  It’s good to be a part of history.  This day will go down in the history books for years to come.  I barely know her and I love her already.”

Simmons will have even more opportunity to get to know Hammon this upcoming season because the NBA rookie will likely be a bottom end of the bench type of player and that usually means getting advice from the assistants more often than not.

Anderson finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, and Simmons finished with 23 points in the title game.   We live in a society now where the “un-norm” is becoming the norm and Hammon just proved, even on a smaller stage, that women with the right intellect and passion can do what is considered a “man’s job” of coaching NBA players.

As she continues to groom under Popovich, she will only get better, and regardless of whether she becomes the first woman to coach in the NBA, takes her talents to coach in the WNBA or even on the college level, she will certainly be ready for the task.

For Hammon, this day should soon be around the corner but first she must celebrate like a champ in true Coach Pop fashion. “Pop will tell me to [enjoy] a big glass of wine,” she told reporters.  Now it would be irresponsible and a “prisoner of the moment” type of response to say that Hammon is prepared to be a full-time head coach right now, but having patience and tutelage under Coach Popovich, it will be sooner rather than later we should see it occur.

Let us all not treat her differently because she is a woman in the NBA and show her respect like her players were able to do and just call her “Coach Hammon”. Basketball is a language we can all speak; it doesn’t stereotype.

Being with the Spurs has put Hammon in the right organization to make that history-making dream a reality and the wheels may have already started turning,  as Skip Bayless suggested Tuesday morning on ESPN First Take, “If in fact Coach Pop, as he says, is going to coach on through LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract, four more years.  As a Spurs fan, it would not bother me if Becky could wait it out for those four years, continue to learn, and take over, “Bayless shared. “ Wouldn’t bother me a bit.”

NBA Free Agency Signings are Shaking up the East Coast

foxsports
foxsports

Wesley Eggleston | Staff Writer

Several free agents have now found new homes while some continue to  search  for a place to settle.  Players have gone from coast to coast and are ready to make an impact in an entirely different landscape. In desperate need of a shake-up, the Eastern Conference has had made some changes and five of the biggest player moves will be outlined in this article.

Monta Ellis, former Dallas Maverick, has signed a deal with the Indiana Pacers, making the switch from conferences.  Known for being a high volume two guard, Ellis averaged 18.9 points per game and 4.1 assists last season.  It seems that Ellis, although he has been good every where he has played so far in his career, has not been as dominate as he once was when he played in Golden State.  This might be  due to poor coaching or not being the right fit for a team.

Ellis brings energy, scoring, and an adamant attitude.  It is possible that playing in the East will finally allow Ellis and his new team to get over the proverbial hump and advance far into the playoffs, which is something Ellis desperately wants to do by the end of his playing career.  Something that might a little harder to do as center for the Pacers, Roy Hibbert has now been traded to the Lakers.  In essence, Monta Ellis just can’t catch a break.  But he will undoubtedly give his teammates everything he has, regardless of who is on their roster, as he has shown on his prior teams.

The Cavaliers were able to resign power forward Kevin Love to a contract worth $110 million for five years.  Love is a viable piece in today’s NBA because he can stretch the floor, stepping away from the basket at times, to drain three pointers. He’s also a consistent banger on the boards as one of the top rebounders in the league.  Love averaged 16.4 points, 9.7 rebounds for the Cavs this past season.  Redemption has to be on Love’s mind this season.

During the first round of the playoffs (his first appearance in his career mind you), Love had a season ending shoulder injury caused by Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk. Love called this a “bush league play” and was forced to miss the rest of the playoffs.  The joke is either on us as fans, or him. Love either wasn’t missed as much as the Cavs thought he would be, or the Eastern conference was just that weak. In either case, the Cavs still made it all the way to the NBA Finals without his services.  It may be fair to say that although the Cavs lost in the sixth game, they still managed to win two, leaving many to wonder what could have happened if Love (and Kyrie Irving) played.

The Cavs were also able to resign guard Iman Shumpert on a $40 million contract.  A steep price for the Cavs to pay for the guard, as he averaged 8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists.  Nothing to be alarmed about for Shumpert, as he did play alongside LeBron James, who does tend to dominate the ball for obvious reasons.  He might be slightly overpaid for his services, but one can be sure that de-facto general manager LeBron James gave his blessing on the signings.

Another big potential move made in the East was the Chicago Bulls offering guard Jimmy Butler a 95$ million contract extension.  The swingman averaged 20 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists for the Bulls this past season.  When at his best Butler can be seen as a top three two-way player in the league.  He is often left with the responsibility of guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player and he does all that while averaging around 44 minutes per game.

It is safe to say that if 2011 MVP Derrick Rose has another setback, [GOD FORBID], that Jimmy Butler will be able to hold the horns down for the Bulls.  The Bulls will be with a new head coach this upcoming season as former coach, Tom Thibodeau, was fired this offseason following the Bulls exit from the playoffs.  Butler’s game shouldn’t take a beating under new coach Fred Hoiberg but that has yet to be seen.

It will be fascinating to see how Hoiberg works his offense around Butler and Rose (the 2011 NBA MVP) this upcoming season.  If he can get a consistent mix of a Butler-Rose tandem, then that will make the Bulls a team that the Eastern Conference won’t be able to sleep on.  Not that they have been overlooked previously but a new coach and a minor tweak here and there could soon bring an NBA championship to the Windy City. Just ask the Golden State Warriors…

The last free agency signing move worthy of discussion is forward DeMarre Carroll.  He signed a 4 year 60 million dollar contract to join the Toronto Raptors this upcoming season.  Carroll averaged 12.6 points this season on 49 percent shooting and 40 percent shooting from downtown.  He was a pestering defensive presence for the Atlanta Hawks last season and might have had an impact on helping the Hawks advance further in the East had he not had his injury.  A previous journeyman D-League player, Carroll is now a known name in the league.  Although his last team didn’t retain his services, he can now continue to grow his game and brand up North and continue to be a  threat wherever he is on the court.