Class of 2017 Stand Up

The class of 2017 doesn’t exactly bolt out of the gates.

We saw the number one pick for all of four games before a mysterious shoulder injury, that apparently isn’t a shoulder injury but rather a scapular muscle imbalance, which according to his coach was caused by his trainer’s decision to tweak the shot, which according to his trainer is not true. As if it wasn’t mysterious enough, Fultz’s agent claimed that he had “fluid drained out of the back of his shoulder” and then weeks later changed his story completely and said, “fluid was put into his shoulder – not taken out.”

The result of this backstory worthy of an ESPN 30 for 30 is alarming to say the least.

https://twitter.com/TheRenderNBA/status/922658154999140352

Insert the painful reminder that The Process has now drafted Michael Carter Williams (#11 overall), Evan Turner (#2 overall), Nerlens Noel (#6 overall after trade with Pelicans), Jahlil Okafor (#3 overall) and now Markelle Fultz.

As for when we will see Fultz on the court again, 76ers coach Brett Brown didn’t sound overly optimistic.

The number two pick entered the NBA with more fanfare than even Lakers fans are accustomed too. And unlike Fultz he didn’t need a scapular muscle imbalance to ruin his shot, Lonzo managed that all by himself.

With the top two picks in a heated battle for ‘who can terrify their coaching staff and fan base more’, we are left with the rest of the rookie class to fall back on.

And at the midway point of the season, it’s fair to say that there passing with flying colours.

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Donovan Mitchell
Utah Jazz

18.9 points per game, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 44% FG, 35% from 3

Donovan Mitchell is the dux of the class of 2017.

He leads all rookies in scoring, leads the Jazz in scoring and has showcased footwork, nous and a repertoire of moves that are simply uncanny for a 21-year old rookie. Mitchell has taken it upon himself to fill the void left by Gordon Hayward and is commanding possession of the ball and the Jazz offense. Mitchell has the 20th highest usage rate in the entire league, and is hoisting up 16 shots a game, which is uncharted territory for a rookie.

But stats and numbers can become boring and monotonous in today’s game, so here are five reasons why Donovan Mitchell is the steal of the draft at pick 13.

Exhibit A – Donovan Mitchell likes embarrassing people.

Exhibit B – Donovan Mitchell has handles.

Exhibit C – Donovan Mitchell has already scored forty points in a single game.

It took Westbrook and Harden three seasons to post their first 40-point performance.

Exhibit D – Donovan Mitchell can fly.

Exhibit E – Don’t box out Donovan Mitchell at your own peril.


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Jayson Tatum
Boston Celtics

13.9 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 1 steal, 50% FG, 46% from 3

Jayson Tatum is an enigma when it comes to conventional stand out rookie seasons. He has put together a superb Rookie of the Year resume, all while playing on the Eastern Conference’s top seeded team. Usually rookies on contending teams, such as the Celtics, are devoid of opportunity and are generally unearthed in the leaner years to come.

Not Tatum though. He has exploded onto the scene, cementing himself as an integral piece to the Celtics championship push. Tatum is an incredible defender for his age, with his size and wingspan allowing him to compete with the NBA’s elite wing players. Add to that his shooting percentages, which are simply off the charts, and you have one of the most complete rookies to enter the league in a long time.

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Kyle Kuzma
Los Angeles Lakers

16.8 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, 46% FG, 37% from 3

Kyle Kuzma, wrongly or rightly, entered the NBA as an afterthought to many within the league. Taken with the 27th pick by Brooklyn, he found himself in LA as part of the D’Angelo Russell fiasco, the deal sweetener thrown into the trade to make the bookkeeper happy.

At the halfway point of his rookie campaign, Kuzma is no longer an afterthought, in fact he has taken centre stage in the Lakers rebuild. While the Ball family may still hold a monopoly on the LA spotlight, Kuzma is letting his game do the talking. With his 6-foot-9 frame and athleticism to match, he can score from anywhere on the court, nearly anytime he wants.

While he is carrying the Lakers scoring load (leading scorer on LA’s roster), Kuzma needs to develop his defensive game if he wants to fulfill his All-Star potential. He ranks in the bottom 30 players in the league for defensive real plus/minus stats, which in plain English means he is not a very good defender. He has the length and physical ability to have an impact on the other side of the court, so this is simply an area of his game he will need to develop.

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Lauri Markkanen
Chicago Bulls

15.5 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, 43% FG, 37% from 3

Lauri Markkanen is part of the new wave of NBA seven-foot unicorns. No longer does the big man sit in the paint and attack the rim all game, now they display handles the envy of many a guard and knock down threes from Steph Curry range.

Markkanen is averaging 2.5 made threes per contest. No rookie in the history of the NBA has made that many threes per game, regardless of their position or size. Markkanen just cracked the 100 mark for his career three-point tally in just 41 games. Again, nobody in the history of the league has even come close to that mark.

Let’s compare two players and their rookie seasons to put Markkanen into perspective.

Player A – 14.3 PPG, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.1 made 3’s per game, 42% FG, 33% from 3

Player B – 15.5 PPG, 7.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.5 made 3’s per game, 43% FG, 37% from 3

Player B is Markkanen and Player A is Kristaps Porzingis. Enough said.

Enes Kanter also learnt the hard way that Markkanen can do more than just shoot.

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Dennis Smith Jr.
Dallas Mavericks

14.3 points per game, 4.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 39% FG, 33% from 3

Dennis Smith Jr has played in 36 games so far this season, and has been a starter in all 36 of them. While this says a lot about the Mavericks current struggles, it also highlights the level of talent within Smith. While the shooting numbers leave room for improvement, Smith has been handed the keys of an NBA offense as a rookie and should be expected to struggle with efficiency early on.

What Smith hasn’t struggled with is dunking. The one-man highlight reel is constantly looking to add to his already impressive poster collection.

Smart move Durant, very smart move.

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John Collins
Atlanta Hawks

10.7 points per game, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 58% FG

Hidden away on the barren wasteland that in the Atlanta Hawks 2017-18 season, Collins often isn’t featured in the Rookie of the Year conversation. While he may not possess the scoring capabilities of other rookies, Collins has developed into a rim-rolling nightmare who can shoot the mid-range and lock down on the defensive end. Through his first 37 games he has also shown a knack for offensive rebounding, pulling down 2.8 offensive boards per contest (11th best in NBA).

Did I mention that he likes to dunk?

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Lonzo Ball
Los Angeles Lakers

10.2 points per game, 7.1 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 35% FG, 30% from 3, 48% FT

Lonzo Ball has more All-Star votes than Damian Lillard, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bradley Beal. If you need more convincing the All-Star voting is just a popularity contest, look no further. Also, don’t look at Lonzo’s shooting percentages. Just don’t.

In all seriousness, Lonzo came into the league with completely unrealistic expectations. Through no fault of his own he was put on a pedestal that he simply isn’t ready for yet, which is why there has been such heated debate about his performances.

In defense of Lonzo, he is actually piecing together a decent season. He is top 10 in rebounds, steals, assists and blocks amongst point guards in the NBA. The Lakers are 0-7 when he doesn’t play and the ugly shooting percentages are slowly creeping back up to respectable.

Lonzo is not the immediate savior the Lakers thought they were getting, but he still has the potential to be an elite player in years to come.

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Honourable mentions

Jordan Bell – 5.2 PPG, 4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 66% FG

De’Aaron Fox – 10.3 PPG, 4.3 assists, 1 steal, 40% FG, 30% from 3

Josh Jackson – 9.7 PPG, 1.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 39% FG

OG Anunoby – 6.4 PPG, 2.3 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 46% FG, 37% from 3

I have not included Simmons in the class of 2017 as although he is a rookie this year, he is still technically part of the class of 2016.

NBA Sitrep – Cavs slumping, KD passes 20,000 plateau and the NBA hits London

A weekly post wrapping up all the action from around the association over the last seven days.

The Cavs lost all three games last week in ugly fashion, while they have now lost seven of their last ten.

It was the first time in LeBron’s career that his team has lost by 25 or more points in back-to-back games as the Timberwolves (127-99) and Raptors (133-99) piled on the pain for Ty Lue and his men. Safe to say that LeBron wasn’t particularly happy with his team’s effort.

LeBron then missed a game-tying layup, and stepped out of bounds, as the Cavs fell to the Pacers 95-97.

The Cavs will look to halt their skid against the Warriors tomorrow in the Finals rematch.

Kevin Durant became just the second youngest player (behind LeBron) to break the 20,000-career points barrier.

With Curry out injured (ankle) and Thompson resting, Durant took just one half to tally the 25 points required to reach the milestone against the Clippers.

However, KD’s night was spoiled as the Clippers beat the Warriors for the first time since 2014 behind Lou Williams 50-point outburst.

The Bulls and Knicks played out an expected Double Overtime thriller at Madison Square Garden, with Lauri Markkanen dropping 33 points and Porzingis countering with 24 and a huge dunk to send the game into double OT.

The Bulls eventually walked away with a 122-119 win in the arguably the unlikeliest classic of the season so far.

The Celtics overcame a 22-point deficit to beat the 76ers in the eighth NBA game played in England.

Led by Kyrie Irving (20 points) & Jaylen Brown (21 points), the Celtics romped home to stun the 76ers 114-103 and notch their seventh straight win.

J.J Redick was the leading scorer for the 76ers, while Embiid shot just 6-17 from the field. Simmons major highlight was his hip and shoulder on Marcus Morris.

Sliders and Risers

standings

Photo credit: ESPN

Riser

The Lakers have won four games in a row. I repeat, four games in a row! They have now crept up to 12th in the West and the lid is officially off. According to most Lakers fans a late playoff push is still on the cards, Lonzo Ball is charging up the Rookie of the Year ladder and LeBron spent another weekend checking out schools in LA.

To bring reality back into the situation, three of the four wins did come against the Hawks, Kings and Mavericks.

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The New York Knicks faint playoff hopes are fading away after losing their last three games and eight of their last ten. This week they lost to the Bulls in double OT, to Minnesota by 10 points and to New Orleans by 5.

Heat Check

Anthony Davis

vs. Detroit – 30 points, 10 boards, 1 block

vs. Portland – 36 points, 9 boards, 2 blocks

vs. Knicks – 48 points, 17 boards, 3 blocks

The numbers speak for themselves. Even while he missed the game vs Memphis with an ankle sprain, his three performances were incredible even by his lofty standards.

Honorable mention: Lou Williams – averaged 35 points over his four games last week. Read more about his case for an All-Star appearance here.

Highlights

There were a plethora of clutch shots and game winners across the league last week.

Richardson put the Heat on the high-side against the Jazz in one of their seven wins on the trot.

CJ Williams (Who?) sunk the game winning three against the Hawks. Pretty much sums up the entire season for Atlanta.

One week, two game winners for the resurging Heat who currently sit in the 4th seed in the East.

Please put Larry Nance in the dunk contest.

LeBron said no siree to Tyus Jones.

But Tyus Jones took no chances the second time around. It was just the second dunk of his career. Fair to say its probably his favourite.

The battle of the seven-foot freaks didn’t end well for Giannis.

Whoopsie Watch

Durant may have cracked the 20,000 career points mark last week, but these weren’t two of them.

Caris LeVert with the laser pass to the third row.

At this point, I no longer have the words to describe Lance Stephenson.

Oh Sweet, Sweet Lou

Don’t let the nickname fool you, because on the hardwood Lou Williams is anything but sweet.

‘Sweet Lou’, as he was endearingly coined back in his Philadelphia days, is the definition of the shoot first, think later player prototype. In fact, Lou may stretch that out to shoot first, second, third and then think. He is a professional gunslinger, who has unfortunately been a gun for hire for much of his NBA career.

After falling to pick 45 in the 2005 draft, Lou struggled out of the gates as his weaknesses were exposed against NBA caliber talent. At 6-foot-1 he was considerably shorter than the prototype shooting guard, his defense left much to be desired, his shot-selection was poor and his decision-making as a playmaker was even worse. He took the court in only 30 games of his rookie season and averaged a measly 1.9 points, albeit on an average of just under five minutes of game time.

Slowly but surely, and with the void opened by the departure of Allen Iverson, Williams started to earn more minutes and with it, more opportunities to unholster his gun and do what he does best. The shooting percentages made for ugly readings at times, but Lou managed to crack the double-digit scoring barrier off the bench and was in perennial conversation for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

After averaging his highest scoring tally (14.9 points per contest) in the 2011-12 season, Williams was traded to the Atlanta Hawks and his journeyman career officially began. After spending his first seven seasons with the 76ers, he has pulled on five different jerseys in his last six seasons. After averaging just under 15 points through the second half of the season with the Rockets last year, Lou was traded to the Clippers as part of the Chris Paul deal.

To say Williams has taken his game to the next level this season wouldn’t do his phenomenal performance justice. With the Clippers never-ending injury curse, Lou has been left to shoulder much of the offensive load for Doc Rivers men. That’s a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a slender 175-pound man, but for Lou it just means more of an opportunity to shoot the ball. Something he has very willing obliged.

Lou Williams is averaging 23.1 points per game. He leads the Clippers in scoring and at the half-way mark of the season sits 16th in scoring across the league. With his recent 50-point outburst against the Warriors he joined Harden, Beal, DeRozen and LeBron as the only players to crack the 50 plateau this season. The only players to have notched more than five 35-plus-point games this season, Harden, Cousins, DeRozen, Davis and wait for it, ‘Sweet Lou’.

He is not just taking more shots, but he is making more shots at a career-high efficiency. His field goal percentage of 44.8% is the second-best clip of his career, surpassed only by his three-ball mark of 41.4%, which is the only time in his career that he has cracked the 40% barrier. Add a strike rate of just under 91% from the line and a True Shooting percentage (considers two-point, three-point and free-throw accuracy) of over 60% and you have one of the league’s premier efficient scorers.

Lou has not just developed into an elite scorer by chance or situation, rather every performance is an exhibition on how to merge the ball with the nylon. With so many different methods of attack, Lou is a defender’s nightmare from the second he crosses half-court.

Lou has always had the ability to attack the rim with a variety of crafty finishes.

Some of them bordering on plain ridiculous.

He also has a beautiful touch on his floater, which has allowed him to avoid the league’s tall timber despite his size.

Once again, don’t let the ‘Sweet Lou’ nickname fool you.

Lou loves to fade from his left, with an incredible ability to straighten his body and the ball trajectory while moving laterally.

After struggling from beyond the arc early in his career, Lou has developed into a knock-down shooter from three-point land. He has made 122 three balls so far this season, which has been bested by only four other players (Harden, Thompson, George and Eric Gordon).

With the Clippers point-guard brigade (Beverly, Teodosic and Rivers) all missing lengthy stints through injury, Lou has been forced to become the primary ball handler in many situations.

He is averaging a career-high 4.9 assists this season and has formed a rim-rattling connection with DeAndre Jordan on numerous occasions.

Lou really hasn’t changed over his career. Yes, his skill-set has developed as he’s honed his craft, but the core fundamentals of his game haven’t changed. He is still a lack-luster defender, still under-sized and still makes silly decisions at times. What has changed is how the league and his team have accepted and utilised him. Because for all his deficiencies, Lou has developed into a genuine All-Star candidate and Sixth Man of the Year front-runner.

While in all honesty he is unlikely to make the All-Star team in a stacked Western Conference, his recent play makes a fine resume that stands its own against the league’s best.

In his last 13 games, Lou is averaging 30.1 points per contest. Over that stretch the Clippers have lost just three games and have finally evened up the win-loss column, sitting just one game outside the playoff bracket. While others have contributed to the Clippers rise, much of the credit should fall on Lou’s shoulders.

However, as the trade deadline approaches, rumours still swirl around Williams future at the Clippers. Not because he isn’t good enough, but rather he may be too good for the future path the Clippers want to take.

So, despite his incredible season, ‘Sweet Lou’ may still be a gun for hire.

The rise and fall of James

Basketball can be a cruel game sometimes.

James Harden burst towards the rim in trademark style as the clock wound down at the Toyota Centre. It was an innocuous play, a move that Harden pulls off so routinely that there was a hush of disbelief when the ball caromed off the rim without scratching the score-sheet. However, only seconds later the Houston faithful had all but forgotten the missed basket as Harden gingerly limped up the court.

When the dust settled, Harden was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left hamstring strain. With 57 ticks left on the clock, Harden had a firm grip on the league’s most coveted individual award. With 55 ticks, he had lost the ball, his footing and his foothold on that elusive MVP trophy.

Prior to the injury, Harden was the clear favourite for the 2018 MVP trophy. After crossing the line second in 2015 (lost to Stephen Curry) and 2017 (lost to Russell Westbrook), Harden has taken his game to the next level and was finally the frontrunner for the illustrious trophy.

He leads the league in scoring (32.2 points per game), while still dishing out just over nine assists per game (second in the league). Throw in five rebounds per contest, 1.8 steals, 45% shooting from the field with a 39% clip from three and you have a near undeniable case for MVP.

For Harden, it now comes down to his undeniable case against a harsh reality. The last ten winners of the MVP trophy have missed an average of just 2.5 games over the course of the season. The only player since 1978 to miss more than seven games and still hold the MVP trophy aloft was Allen Iverson in 2001, who played just 71 games.

Harden is slated to be re-evaluated two weeks from the injury (would likely be the 16th of January), with an immediate return seeing him miss seven games. However, many doctors believe this is an incredibly generous return schedule for a Grade 2 hamstring strain. If Harden took the more likely three weeks to recover, he would miss ten games. Suddenly the weight of history would be against him.

Enter part human, part cyborg, LeBron James.

The likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are all piecing together phenomenal seasons. But if anyone was to wrestle the MVP away from Harden in 2018, LeBron would be the clear candidate.

At the age of 33, with 15 seasons, 1,316 games and over 51,000 career minutes under his belt, LeBron is arguably getting better.

Even superstars are supposed to regress at some point. You lose a step here or there, you can’t jump quite as high as you used to and you humbly hand over the baton when Father Time comes knocking on the door.

The season that LeBron is putting together quite simply beggar’s belief. Although he would want to hope that his performance yesterday (10 points on 4 of 8 shooting) against the Timberwolves was an aberration. Considering the last time he only managed 10 points in a game was in October 2007, I’d say he is fairly safe there.

TNT and NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony put it best when he said, “There’s never been a player in his 15th season who was unquestionably the best player in the league. It’s not just that [LeBron] is really good in his 15th year. He’s the best player.”

This season he is scoring at a higher rate than in his dominant Miami years, when he was supposed to be in his prime. His 27.2 points per contest is the third best in the league and his highest rate since the 2009/10 season.

He’s not only putting the ball in the basket more, but he’s doing it at a historic efficiency. As we creep towards the half-way point of the season, LeBron is having the second most efficient volume shooting season in league history. The only player to maintain a higher Effective Field Goal Percentage over an entire season, Steph Curry back in his blistering 2015/16 campaign.

LeBron is shooting 55.8% from the field, the third highest mark of his career. More impressively though, he is finishing through contact and tighter defenses with increased efficiency.

LeBron has always been able to absorb contact and finish at the rim, mainly because no-one has figured out how to stop a 250-pound freight-train with a crash course for the rim. This season, with defenders between 0 and 60 cm’s away (0-2 feet), LeBron is converting at 76% on 1.6 attempts. That’s a 3% increase from last season and a massive 15% increase from the season before.

After having his worst career free-throw shooting performance last season, LeBron has turned it around and is now having his second best career free-throw shooting campaign at 77.7%. LeBron credits much of this spike to his tweaked shooting form, which is just quietly turning his biggest weakness into another weapon in his endless scoring arsenal.

Over the off-season LeBron’s shooting elbow mysteriously swelled to the size of a tennis ball, despite X-rays finding nothing structurally amiss. LeBron was forced to tweak his shot form, which now has a noticeably higher release and to the terror of the league, a noticeably higher efficiency.

LeBron has never been a great three-point shooter. It has been one of the few knocks on his Hall of Fame career. Make LeBron a shooter and you have done the best you can was the cry in unison from coaches to their defensive troops.

This season, LeBron is shooting the three-ball at 39%, the second highest mark of his career. That’s 3% higher than the league average. He is shooting the three-ball at the same efficiency as Kevin Durant and James Harden. Kyrie Irving is shooting the long ball only 0.3% higher than him.

He is not only making more threes, but he is taking more threes. Just under 27% of his shots are coming from beyond the arc this season, the highest rate of his entire career. Beyond the numbers, LeBron’s three-ball is finally starting to pass the eye test. When LeBron casts up a three-ball now there is an expectation it’s going to rip the nylon, rather than the collective groan from years past.

LeBron has never really relied on a go-to, signature shot in the big moments. He is such a dynamic scorer he simply doesn’t need one. However, with the increase in his three-ball efficiency this is starting to change.

The step back three-pointer on the left wing. Earlier this season New York got a taste of the LeBron step back three as he sized up Kristaps Porzingis and delivered the dagger to the Knicks faithful. Seconds earlier Knicks commentator Clyde Frazier pleaded for his team to be wary of the three, “He’s going to shoot the three from there…He likes to shoot the three from this side.”

As Frazier eluded to, Porzingis was not the first victim of LeBron’s step back three.

Even the Warriors aren’t immune to LeBron’s step back.

Over the last two seasons, LeBron is shooting 13 of 25 on step-back three-pointers. That’s a clip of over 50%, much higher than his 38% efficiency from beyond the arc in entirety over the same stretch.

All this and LeBron is still averaging a career-high 9 assists per game (equal third in the league), grabbing 8.2 rebounds a contest (second best season) to go with 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

It’s a compelling resume, especially in combination with carrying a somewhat spluttering Cavaliers to the third-best record in the East. Unlike Harden, LeBron is also yet to miss a game this season.

LeBron would have to break the age barrier to hoist his 5th MVP trophy. Just under 80% of all the league’s MVP winners have been between 24 and 30 years of age. But if anyone could deny the ticking hands of time, it would come as no surprise to be the ageless LeBron.

If he were to ascend the throne for a fifth time, he would join an elusive group of legendary greats. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the all-time record with six MVP awards, while LeBron would slot comfortably onto a pedestal with two others in second place.

One of them is the Celtics Bill Russell, and the other is slightly more likely to cause a few heated debates.

Don’t quote me, but I think he played for the Bulls.

Pelicans or Pelican’ts

The first All-Star ballots are in and if the voting ceased now the West starting line-up would feature one Rocket, two Warriors and two Pelicans. The NBAs best big men are lined up against the wall in traditional schoolyard style and Pelicans coach, Alvin Gentry has somehow ended up with the first two picks.

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Arguably the two best big men in the league are patrolling the paint and terrorising defenses, all while wearing the same uniform. So how are the Pelicans barely clinging to their playoff spot in the 8th seed, only one game above .500?

The Cousins and Davis experiment has now stretched into its tenth month. DeMarcus will be an unrestricted free agent come this summer and the rumours continue to swirl around Davis’s future at the Pelicans. Davis himself admitted in a recent interview that the clock is ticking on the Pelicans and their two stars.

“You can score, you can dominate. You can do whatever. But they calculate everything off winning. You know that. I know that. Everybody in the league knows that…For DeMarcus and me, this is the time. The time is now.”

In a league hell-bent on spacing, pace and small ball line-ups, the Pelicans are bucking the trend by pinning their hopes on two traditional big men. But while Davis (6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan) and Cousins (6-foot-11 and 270 pounds) may fit the traditional big man body-type, their play style is anything but old-school.

Both Davis and Cousins have handles the envy of many a guard in the NBA, which allows them to create opportunities previously unheard of for a big man. They can both run the point on a fast-break, surveying the options before dishing to an open teammate or taking the scoring responsibility themselves.

Here is Cousins running the fast break before finding Davis for the two-handed flush.

Here is Davis going coast-to-coast with ease on the Lakers defense.

While it may be common practice to see the likes of Steph Curry bursting around screens to create daylight for their shot, it’s somewhat uncanny to see the near 7 foot Davis nipping around the perimeter hunting for a three.

And because DeMarcus doesn’t want to be outdone, I’ll just leave this here.

Every night Cousins and Davis are a highlight reel waiting to happen, and while their dazzling moves leave fans searching for superlatives, the numbers also back up the eye test. Through 37 games Cousins is averaging 26 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists, while shooting 36% from beyond the arc. Davis is no slouch either, averaging 25.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, while besting Cousins beyond the arc with a clip of 37% from three.

As you would expect, the Pelicans frontcourt has very few offensive issues to worry about. Their combined firepower has led New Orleans to the 7th best offensive rating in the league, while scoring just over 111 points per game (best for 4th in the league). That’s almost seven points more every contest than the Pelicans managed last season, in which they ranked 26th for offensive efficiency.

Credit needs to go to Gentry for evolving his offense to incorporate Cousins, but the Pelicans slightly misfit supporting cast deserve their time in the sun as well. Jrue Holiday has taken his game to the next level, averaging a career-high 18.3 points, while still dishing out 5.2 assists per contest. Behind the play of Holiday and the somewhat shaky addition of Rondo, the Pelicans have jumped to 2nd in the league in assists, averaging over 26 per game (up from 12th last season).

While they may not be household names, E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller are leading somewhat of a three-point renaissance for the Pelicans. Moore (47% from three) and Miller (44% from three) have helped catapult the Pelicans from 19th in three-point percentage last season (35%), to 2nd in the league this campaign (38%). In the month of December, the Pelicans shot a scorching 43.2% from beyond the arc. The only team shooting threes at a higher clip then the Pelicans are the Golden State Warriors, which is not bad company for Gentry and his men.

So, the offense is anchored by two scoring giants, the team is top two in the league in three-point shooting efficiency and assists, which all combines for the 7th best offensive rating in the NBA.

This is the part where the dreaded ‘but’ enters the fray.

Unfortunately for Gentry and the Pelicans, basketball is a two-way sport. Offense is flashy, dominates the highlights reels and wins fans hearts, but without defense it all eventually crumbles to the ground.

DeMarcus Cousins is either incredibly unlucky and just always ends up on bad defensive teams, or there are some underlying issues on the other side of the floor for the three-time All-Star. Unfortunately for Cousins the numbers back up the latter.

The Sacramento Kings had a top twenty defense in exactly one of Cousins seven years there, and it was in Cousin’s rookie season. In the 2016-17 season, the Pelicans conceded just 106.4 points per game, ranking them as the 9th best defense in the league. With Cousins in tow, the Pelicans have slipped to conceding just under 111 points per contest this season, which ranks them as the 7th worst defense in the league. In the month of December, they had the 2nd worst defensive rating in the NBA.

The problems arise when Cousins is left to anchor the defense without Davis as his wingman. The Pelicans defensive rating with the pair both on the court is 104.3, which would be the 2nd best rating in the league. When Cousins is left to protect the rim on his own, the rating plummets to 112.9, which would be the 2nd worst rating the league.

Casting DeMarcus in the role of a traditional center is where the problems arise. While he fits the frame of a rim protector, he lacks the pace and lateral quickness to guard todays elite multi-dimensional scorers. While Davis can hedge out at Steph Curry to deny a three ball and then recover to contest his drive to the rim, Cousins simply can’t keep up defensively with the pace of the modern offense.

The results of Cousins left by himself speak for themselves. Here is Cousins low-light reel from a recent loss against the Rockets, in which Davis missed with a groin injury.

Cousins constantly gets stuck in no man’s land trying to defend the pick and roll. He has no idea whether to attack the ball or stay with his man and generally ends up parked below the rim waiting to collect the ball after it sails through.

Davis is the perfect Robin to Cousins Batman. He has the speed and agility required to play defense in the modern game and can clean up Cousins mistakes. The recipe for Pelicans success seems to be playing Cousins and Davis together, but that just presents another issue for Gentry.

Behind Cousins and Davis, the Pelicans are scrapping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to back-up big men. Omer Asiks jersey number is more than double his scoring average, and he wears number three. Cheick Diallo (pick thirty-three from the 2016 draft) has potential but is simply too inexperienced to anchor a line-up at this stage of his career.

Gentry has been hesitant to sit Cousins and Davis on the bench at the same time this season, and understandably so considering the inevitable offensive drop-off. But the key to the Pelicans short and long-term success seems to revolve around how best to hold the defensive fort when Davis takes a breather. Plan A was to rely on Cousins, but if they want the success they so eagerly crave come playoffs, Gentry better be reading up on his alphabet.

Unfortunately for the Pelicans, there is no magic answer to the DeMarcus Cousins riddle. How do you translate his incredible highlights and raw numbers into a winning formula? It’s the question that will be keeping Alvin Gentry and GM’s across the league awake at night.

The clock hand is ticking dangerously close to midnight for the Pelicans and the Davis and Cousins era.

As Davis said himself, “the time is now.”

The end of an era

The captain is gone.

The final chapter of the Chris Paul era in Los Angeles has been penned.

The curtains have been closed and Lob City is no more.

A team with so much potential, that will ultimately be remembered for a few flashy dunks, a handful of television commercials and a laughable tally of technical fouls.

This may be one of the greatest ‘what if?’ teams in NBA history. A future Hall of Fame point guard, a young, dynamic power forward who could jump out of the gym and a defensive anchor protecting the rim.

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. A formidable core the envy of the league, primed for a run at that elusive championship.

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Since Chris Paul controversially joined the team for the 2011-12 season, the Clippers have notched 313 wins.

Only two other teams have a better win-loss record over that six-year span. They just happen to be the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.

In that same time-period, the Spurs have reached two NBA Finals and popped the champagne bottles once, with a 4-1 crushing of the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals.

The Golden State Warriors have made three NBA Finals and sit on the verge of a dynasty, with two rings (2015 and 2017) in tow.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs for sixth straight seasons with Paul at the helm.

The franchise has never reached the Western Conference Finals.

That alone should cast a pall over the legacy of LA’s little brother, but unfortunately for Doc Rivers men, it only gets worse.

In the 2014 playoffs, the Clippers defeated the Warriors in seven games, before holding a 101-88 lead against the Thunder in Game 5. With four minutes to play. And they lost.

Clippers fans may cry foul about some questionable umpiring, but the Clippers made their own mess and the Thunder went on to take a 3-2 series lead and advance to the Conference Finals in six games.

In 2015, the Clippers advanced to the second round after an incredible series against the San Antonio Spurs. Chris Paul battled through an injured hamstring to hit the game-winning shot over Tim Duncan as the confetti fell from Staples Centre.

With Chris Paul sidelined, the Clippers still managed to split the first two games against Houston and then cruised to a commanding 3-1 lead with Chris Paul back in charge.

To clarify on commanding, they won Game 3 by 25 points and Game 4 by 33 points. They stood just 48 minutes away from the franchise’s first ever Conference Finals appearance.

After falling in Game 5, the Clippers had a chance to re-group on their home floor for Game 6. The Clippers dominated from the outset and opened up a 19-point lead in the second half. They entered the fourth quarter with a 92-79 lead.

Enter Josh Smith and Corey Brewer. Two slightly washed up veterans who were below 30% shooters from 3-point land in their career. Yet in the last quarter they went video game mode and hit just about every shot they took from beyond the arc.

The pair combined for 29 points in the last quarter. Houston combined for 40 points in the last quarter.

In case you’re wondering, the Clippers lost. Again.

They shot just 4-22 from the field in the final quarter. After a Chris Paul lay-up with 6:47 left on the clock, they missed every single field goal attempt until a pointless buzzer beater as time expired.

They would have faced a Golden State team, minus Kevin Durant, who was pushed to six games by Memphis in the semi-finals and would need six games to beat a Cleveland team with no Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving.

No-one is claiming they would have definitely beaten the Warriors. But they would have given them a run for their money, and had they advanced they would have faced a wounded Cleveland.

What could have been.

In 2016, the Clippers faced the Portland Trailblazers in the first round. Chris Paul broke his hand. Blake Griffin re-injured his quad. In the same game. In the same half. Season over.

In 2017, the Clippers faced the Utah Jazz in the first round. Blake Griffin suffered a plantar plate injury to his right toe. Season over. Lob City over.

Unfortunately for the Clippers this chapter doesn’t have a happy ending.

With Chris Paul walking to the Houston Rockets, the Clippers championship window has been closed shut.

Re-signing Blake Griffin and adding quality players such as Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly provides a glimmer of hope for the future, but for now it does little to compensate for Paul’s loss.

However, what Chris Paul and the Lob City era has done for this franchise cannot be understated.

Before Chris Paul’s arrival the Clippers were the laughing stock of the NBA. They were irrelevant, completely overshadowed in a crowded market by their big brother, the LA Lakers.

Over the past six years the Lob city era, with Paul at the helm, has brought the Clippers out into the spotlight.

They will never be the Lakers. They will always be subject to the little brother jokes. But they will also never be irrelevant or forgotten again.

The Clippers may have taken a few steps backwards this off-season, but they have taken too many steps forward in the past six years to lose hope.

The championship window may be shut for now, but thanks to the Chris Paul and the Lob City era, the groundwork is laid for future success.

Now it’s up to the new era of Clippers to pen their chapter, hopefully one that involves a few more playoff wins and maybe even a ring or two.

The regular season that promised so little, yet delivered so much

Boring. Predictable. Pointless.

82 games of mediocrity as we are forced to watch the Warriors and Cavaliers tear the league to shreds.

This is what the experts moaned and the fans lamented as we headed into the 2016-17 NBA season.

The Cavaliers have no competition in the weak Eastern Conference, the Warriors with Durant in tow may go through the season undefeated.

Six months later and as the dust settles on the regular season, the naysayers have been forced to eat their humble pie.

Because the regular season we witnessed was anything but boring, predictable and pointless.

It was competitive, absorbing and quite simply, historic.

From the very first night of the season the script was turned on its head. The ever-reliable Spurs came to Oracle and spoiled Durant’s debut, drubbing the Warriors to the tune of 29 points.

Then began the year of the triple-double. Prior to the 2016-17 season, the record for most triple-doubles in a season was 78. James Harden, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James put up 77 on their own this season. The entire NBA, try 115 triple-doubles.

The human wrecking ball Westbrook averaged a triple-double. Words can’t do justice to how ridiculous that accomplishment is, not to mention he dragged the Thunder along with him into the 6th seed in the West.

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Yet despite Westbrook’s video game like stat-line, he is by no means guaranteed the MVP award. Enter James Harden, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.

Harden led the league in assists, was second in scoring and carried the Rockets to the third best record in the NBA.

LeBron reminded everyone why he is still the best player on the planet. He averaged career highs in rebounds and assists, while shooting a ridiculous 54.8 per cent from the floor.

The two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard, emerged into one of the most dominant offensive players in the league. He finished the season averaging over 25 points and led the Spurs to another 60-win season.

No wonder the MVP debates are getting heated. This looms as one of the tightest Most Valuable races in NBA history.

The 2016-17 season saw 31 players average more than 20 points per game. That number hasn’t been seen for over 30 years, just four years ago only nine players averaged the 20 mark.

One of those 31 players stands at just 5’ 9”. In a league full of tall timber, little Isaiah Thomas exploded onto the scene, averaging just under 29 points a game and leading Boston to the number one seed in the East.

Yes, you read that correctly, the number one seed in the East. After bursting out of the blocks, the Cavaliers limped across the finish line and lost the number one seed to the Boston Celtics.

After January 10th, the Cavaliers completed the home-stretch with a 23-23 record. The Brooklyn Nets won as many games as the Cavaliers in the month of March. For those who are unaware, the Nets have the worst record in the entire league.

The Cavaliers did however win a Christmas day classic against the Warriors. Richard Jefferson turned back the clock with two monster dunks, before Kyrie Irving had Warriors fans feeling all sorts of deja vu. It was one of the games of the season, possibly a precursor for things to come in the playoffs.

This season we also saw a record ten players score 50 or more points in a game. Klay Thompson erupted for 60 points in just three-quarters before the 20-year-old, Devin Booker, dropped 70 points in a losing effort for the Suns.

DeMarcus Cousins scored 55 points for the Kings back in December, but made bigger headlines when he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield and a few draft picks.

Joel Embiid showed us why the Sixers fans need to ‘Trust the Process’, Dirk Nowitzki reached the 30,000 career points plateau and Paul Pierce hit a 3-pointer with his final shot at the Garden.

All of this and we’ve barely scratched the surface of how great this season truly was.

Even Dion Waiters was on fire and dropping game winners left, right and centre at one point. Nobody can argue that isn’t historic.

So, with the groundwork laid and the home-stretch upon us, let’s get these playoffs started.

If there anything like the boring, predictable and pointless regular season, then we should be in for an absolute treat.