All posts by Ben Zeltser

An Open Letter to LeBron James

Dear LeBron James,

Dear King – can I call you King? Let’s go with King.

Dear King,

Please beat the Warriors this year.

I’m going to have to make a confession. I didn’t want you to make the NBA Finals. I was pulling for the Celtics by the time we got to the ECF, given that my Wizards ended in disappointing fashion, yet again. You see, my dear king, I am not a huge fan of continuity. I like new storylines, underdog tales, and team basketball. What you did in these playoffs has been nothing short of incredible. To me, you have cemented yourself as the second best player of all time. For a long time, I have pledged my allegiance to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who dominated the game of basketball for a whopping three decades, coined the most unstoppable shot in the history of the game, and still holds the bragging rights of being all-time leading scorer. However, eight consecutive finals appearances in the modern NBA is unprecedented. Bill Russell still has you beat by two (for now), but it was a different game back in his time, with far less competition (albeit Wilt Chamberlain was a heck of a rival).


Speaking of Bill Russell, let’s get back to the Celtics. King, don’t take it personally when I say that I was pulling for Brad Stevens’ squad to upset you and your lackadaisical supporting cast. Let’s be honest – you carried this team to the finals this season. Does your back hurt? I wouldn’t be surprised. I liked how gritty the Celtics were; every player who got minutes actively contributed to the success of the team (even man bun). Despite Marcus Smart’s cringeworthy shot selection and the absence of Boston’s two best players, this ragtag bunch truly made me believe that your run had come to an end. But, just like every year, you singlehandedly proved everyone wrong.

King, I’m tired of seeing the Warriors dominate. Their finals run should have come to an end as soon as you put a 73-win team in their place, but they just had to go out and sign the second best player in the world. What kind of a world do we live in where a Chris Paul move to the Lakers gets blocked, but Kevin Durant is able to join a perennial Finals contender? Golden State barely scraped by the Rockets, thanks to a historically abysmal shooting night from three point range, and a timely injury to the team’s floor general. I cannot help but wonder about how differently things may have played out if CP3 was on the floor; the man is notorious for being able to make plays in any kind of situation. When Houston went cold, Chris Paul could’ve made an important triple to instill some confidence in the team. Nobody feels more confident when James Harden gets all of his points by getting to the line. It seemed like PJ Tucker and Clint Capela were the only players who really wanted it, and while Harden wasn’t bad, I simply needed more from the soon-to-be-MVP. Then again, this is the Warriors we’re talking about here. What is a team with one All Star supposed to do against a team with four of them?


King, what impresses me the most about you is your stamina. You played 94 of 96 possible minutes in the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Cavs needed you for all of them. I remember Reggie Miller criticizing KD in the first half of their WCF game seven for not doing enough on the floor, but nobody else remembers that. Everyone else is going to see his 34-point stat line and say that the Slim Reaper led Golden State to their fourth consecutive finals appearance. In reality, having four All Stars on one squad gives players the luxury of taking a rest when they need to, allowing for an evenly distributed workload. KD can afford to play an abysmal first half. Klay Thompson can afford to pick up three quick fouls in the first quarter. If this was you, King, forget about it. Do you think Kyle Korver is going to pick up anyone’s slack? I don’t think so.

King, I know your supporting cast isn’t as talented as it was a year ago. I know you got dismantled in five games last year, even with a stud like Kyrie Irving by your side. I know that your chances of even taking the Warriors to five or six games are slim. But I can still hope. I’m a sucker for a good underdog story, and if there was ever a time to prove that you’re the GOAT, it is now. Winning the championship this year would put you right at the top in my eyes – even after losing to Dirk Nowitzki in 2011. I can’t think of a better way for you to solidify your legacy. So, for your sake, for my sake, for the sake of the NBA, and for the sake of every little boy and girl who aspires to be like you, please, please, PLEASE beat the Warriors.


Ben Zeltser, unathletic basketball fan extraordinaire

We Need to Slow Down with how we Talk About the Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers trail 0-2 in their best of seven ECF series with the Boston Celtics, and the internet is going crazy. Some have been labeling it as the end of LeBron’s reign on the NBA. Others have been labeling it as a signal of LeBron’s departure from an underperforming organization that is still up for sale by its owner. Regardless of the storyline that we choose to employ, one thing is for certain: we are rushing to conclusions. And why wouldn’t we? The NBA has strategically (in addition to giving players more rest) awarded the Cavs and Celtics with a four-day break from their series, further elevating the excitement and giving fans ample time to think long and hard about why the Cavs are down 0-2. All of this free time has made for rushed opinions and ridiculous theories that can only be confirmed on the court. Here are four key concepts that we have forgotten, or have chosen not to think about.

1. The Media Controls the Narrative Around the Cavs

The media has been nit-picking LeBron James from the get-go. Despite coming back from a lackluster game one performance with a 40-point triple double, analysts and former players are all getting on the King, saying that he needs to attack the low post more. There is no doubt that he should be utilizing his physicality to a higher degree, but at that point, we are simply grasping for straws. The fact of the matter is that LeBron’s supporting cast is garbage. Volume scorers like Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson are shrinking in the face of the playoffs, and nobody is talking about it. There is a simple solution to the Cavs’ woes against the hard-working Boston Celtics, and it revolves around team basketball.


As YouTuber MDJ explains in his video, “The Chamberlain Paradox“, team success is often undercut by an individual taking up a disproportionate amount of ball possession, precluding the rest of the team from getting in a rhythm, therefore resulting in worse team play. This is the argument that many analysts have taken as a reason to shoulder the blame on LeBron. However, this argument can quickly be diffused based on the talent on the Cavs’ roster. Kevin Love, Kyle Korver and JR Smith are certainly no Hal Greer, Chet Walker or Billy Cunningham (all HOFers in their own right). LeBron has to do what he does on a nightly basis, just for the Cavs to even be in the game. Don’t let the media’s focus on LeBron James distract you from the real issue that the Cavs deal with on a nightly basis: who is going to step up to help the King?

2. The Celtics Only Held Home Court

Many analysts have counted the Cavs out of the series already, as the Celtics have never lost a playoff series in which they started with a 2-0 lead. This statistic can be deceiving, as the NBA has constantly played around with the order in which they place home and away games in a seven-game series in the playoffs. In recent times, they have settled on what I believe to be the most viable solution; two home games to one team (the higher seed), followed by two home games to the other team, and then reverting to a home-away-home schedule in favor of the higher seed. This is the best solution because it minimizes the chances of creating too much or too little of an advantage for the home team, while also allowing for players to travel as little as possible to minimize unwarranted fatigue.


Teams are generally expected to hold on to home court advantage and win the games in their respective buildings, and as the higher seed, the Celtics merely achieved what they were supposed to achieve. It still remains to be seen whether they can steal a game in Cleveland, at which point it may be time to call it a series in favor of Boston. This very well may be the case, but we must not rush to conclusions in this regard, as LeBron has proven to us time and time again that it’s not over until it’s over.

3. Ty Lue Needs to Stop Trying to Appease All of his Players

Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue has amassed notoriety for his tendency to be a players’ coach. His coaching decisions are partially motivated by the way that it would make players feel. While this may very well be the right course of action in the regular season, Lue must be more cutthroat in the playoffs when it’s win or go home. I get a headache seeing players like JR Smith and Jeff Green getting heavy minutes in playoff situations where they simply don’t cut it.


We all know that Larry Nance Jr. has no prior playoff experience, but he’s the second most athletic player on the roster, so rewarding him with 15 total minutes in the first two games is unacceptable. Likewise, when the Cavs need a scoring spark from the rest of their roster, they need to rely more upon players who have proven that they can score in bunches once they get going. Rodney Hood was averaging 17PPG on the Utah Jazz before he was traded to the Cavs, but how can Lue expect to get this kind of scoring punch in 11 minutes of action in game two? Lastly, Kyle Korver has proven to be the second best scorer for the Cavs thus far in the series, so Lue needs to turn his 21MPG average in the first two games into at least 30 minutes every night for the rest of the series.


JR Smith, a shooting guard, has made two buckets and zero three-pointers in the past two games. He needs to be benched without question, as it is visibly clear that Lue has a special place in his heart for the veteran. Lue needs to begin making these kinds of tough decisions if he hopes to change the Cavs’ luck in the rest of the series.

4. Kevin Love is All-Star Caliber, & he has to Act Like it

Kevin Love has been okay in the first two games of the series. Okay doesn’t cut it when you’re the second best player on a team that you’re hoping to take to the championship. Kyrie Irving made the game so much easier for LeBron, because he was able to take over as the focal point at any time in the game, allowing the King to relax on offense and therefore put in more effort on defense. LeBron looks fatigued when he gets back on defense because of how much he has to do on the offensive end. Love needs to demand the ball and make things happen for himself, rather than operating as a cog in the system run by LeBron. Love’s success will translate to higher team success; players will see that somebody besides LeBron can get going, which will elevate everyone else’s confidence. Love needs to average at least 25PPG and 10RPG for the rest of the series if the Cavs hope to have a chance against an extremely hard-working Celtics team.


End of Season All NBA Predictions

The 2017-2018 NBA regular season just ended in dramatic fashion last week. The Nuggets took the Timberwolves into overtime before eventually falling and surrendering the final playoff spot to Jimmy Butler and KAT. Throughout the season, some of the biggest names in basketball continued to prove why they remain atop the NBA’s elite, and some previously unknown players are positioned to be staples in the league for years to come. Here are my predictions on how All-NBA team voting will go down.


G: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
G: James Harden (Houston Rockets)
F: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
C: Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)


NBA fans are suckers for triple doubles. Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder clinched home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs last week by the skin of their teeth, after a season filled with dramatic storylines. Westbrook tacked on 20 rebounds to finish the season averaging yet another triple double. With plenty of competition in the guard slots this year, voting is sure to leave certain players in less than desirable positions. Westbrook may find his way atop these guards because voters will find it difficult to demote last season’s MVP after repeating the same feat that brought him the award last year.


James Harden and LeBron James are no-brainers when it comes to making the first team. These two will likely lead MVP voting, with Anthony Davis following closely behind. Harden has led his team to the best record in the NBA by a wide margin, and LeBron is averaging a career high in rebounds and assists after doing the same thing last year. The last time he averaged more than his current scoring margin is 2009-2010: the last season of his first stint on the Cavs.

The legacy of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s breakout season was marred by the lack of success that the Milwaukee Bucks showed this past season, putting him a tier below LeBron and Harden in terms of MVP contention. That won’t stop the Greek Freak from making the first team this year, showing massive athleticism and continued development. He will also be in the running for the Most Improved Player Award, posting a career high scoring average that tops last year’s production by four points, along with 10 rebounds a game. He also managed to stay healthy all year, a feat that not many elite forwards in the NBA were able to accomplish this year.


Anthony Davis becomes a precarious situation because he is listed as a Power Forward. He played the majority of his minutes at the four when Boogie was still healthy, but we will make a special exception based off of his ridiculous output, and he played at the center position late into the season. The Brow logged major performances on several different occasions this season, including eight games of 41+ points within the span of a month and a half. These numbers, coupled with Giannis’ dominating performance all season make it difficult to leave either of them off of the first team. Davis plays the five when Cousins is out, and was considered a center last season. Hopefully, the NBA can make an exception.


G: DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
G: Damian Lillard (Portland Trailblazers)
F: Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors)
F: LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs)
C: Karl Anthony-Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)


Damian Lillard’s latest push for All NBA First Team recognition in a recent interview will likely fall short because of the lofty competition ahead of him. I cannot stress how tight I expect the guard voting to be in this year’s ballot, but Dame’s Trailblazers hardly ended up clinching the third seed in the West, leading Westbrook’s Thunder by one game. This margin should not be enough to separate Lillard from the man averaging a triple double for the second consecutive time, at least in the eyes of voters. Regardless, Lillard posted consistent numbers for the third consecutive year, including an astonishing clutch factor and FT% of .916. The man deserves his recognition.


Give DeMar DeRozan the recognition that he deserves. The Compton kid completely rebuilt the way he and his team play basketball, and perfected it to a tee. The fact of the matter is that DeRozan is the best player on the team with the second best record in the NBA, and that alone merits some recognition. An argument can be made that the Raptors’ success is predicated on team play, but DeRozan is the spearhead of that play style and has solidified himself as an elite player in this league. He’s that type of player who gets a ton of recognition from his fellow NBA players around the league, and everyone respects his game because of it.


KD is a perennial option for First Team All NBA, and he very well might repeat the feat this year. Ultimately, I believe that it will be too difficult for voters to leave the Greek Freak out of the first team because he played the entire season, and had an incredibly high output. Regardless, KD would be a fine selection for the first team, despite the fact that his teammates take away from his stats.

The NBA’s most well-run franchise was without their best player for the entire season, but no skin off LaMarcus’ bones. Aldridge finally had a season that reminded people of his days in Portland, and the lack of depth at the forward position in the NBA could result in a second team nod. With 23PPG, his consistent play has kept a staggeringly lacking Spurs roster in the playoff hunt in a cutthroat conference. Kudos to LaMarcus.


My hometown high school is rivals with KAT’s alma mater, and that will always be my claim to fame. The former number one pick showed improvement in shot selection and consistent numbers all year, even with the addition of Jimmy Butler. Towns has also stayed durable, playing in all 82 games, despite the fact that Tom Thibodeau likes to load his starters with heavy minutes. KAT took his game – and team – to another level this season.


G: Kyrie Irving (Boston Celtics)
G: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
F: Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder)
F: Jimmy Butler (Minnesota Timberwolves)
C: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)


The real best player on the Minnesota Timberwolves this year has been Jimmy Butler. Unfortunately, Butler was only able to play 59 games, but put up elite numbers in that time. He barely saw his production go down despite being on the same team as two star-caliber players. He also did it on both ends of the floor, tremendously improving a defense that would give up at the end of games last season. Butler took the ailing Timberwolves to their first playoff berth since 2004 in his first season; what does he have in store next?


Kyrie Irving is yet another victim of missing out on higher All NBA Team status because of missing games. Perhaps voters are relieved, though, because of the large volume of competition among guards this year. Irving’s first stint with the Celtics and as the (seasoned) leader of a franchise ended with a second-seed berth, which could definitely be considered a success. This especially holds true due to the Celtics’ lack of Gordon Hayward all season. Regardless, Irving only played 60 games, so he is lucky to make the list.

The All NBA Third Team should be renamed the All NBA Injury team. Steph Curry, the former two-time MVP is due to miss the first two All NBA teams for the first time since 2013. Granted, he has everything working against him on the road to All-NBA greatness. He has three all-star caliber teammates, and has missed 31 games this season. Only Steph can miss basically half the season and still rank among the top 15 players.


The fourth and final player whose All NBA stardom has been deterred from missing games is Joel Embiid. The Process looks to take his 76ers to the NBA Finals this year, and does so with freakish talent and consistent production. Notice how Embiid has won almost every single matchup that he has had with star big men this season (see Whiteside, Drummond). Such dominance just shows what is still to come in Embiid’s basketball career, and we can only marvel at the talent that he flashes until he can do so in a full season without a minutes restriction.

Paul George will round out the All NBA Third team. Most critics will say that the Thunder underperformed, but PG13 has stayed consistent all season on both ends of the floor. George is second in the league in steals and notably plays the most minutes for the Thunder. OKC knows that they can count on George to produce consistently with minimal hiccups, and even though he doesn’t gel perfectly with the team, he should have done enough this year to secure this spot.


Sorry Oladipo.

Top 20 NBA Point Guards

Point guards in the NBA are essentially the quarterbacks of their respective team. Not many teams in recent history have been able to succeed without a marquis ball handler leading the team. Thus, as the league continues emphasize three-point shooting and ball movement, securing a talented point guard to lead the team down the stretch of the NBA season has never been more important.

Here are my rankings on the top 20 point guards in the NBA today. Let the record show that I am excluding combo guards such as James Harden, Jamal Murray and Jordan Clarkson, as it is too difficult to pinpoint their natural position. Additionally, my rankings are based off of current talent, and the players I list may very well be better (or worse) than their ranking come next year. Here goes!

Honorable Mentions:

Reggie Jackson: Jackson desperately wanted a change of scenery three seasons ago when he became unhappy sitting the bench behind Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, his numbers have been trending towards a slow decline after a good start in Detroit. He’s the type of player to be good enough to earn a starting role on a team but to not be good enough to be able to be the point guard of a playoff contender.


Malcolm Brogdon: The Bucks went out and got Eric Bledsoe, moving Brogdon to the bench. The all-around reliable reigning rookie of the year will have to wait until he’s dealt to a new team before he can show his true pedigree. High floor, low ceiling.

Kris Dunn: This speedy ball handler out of Providence College was quickly touted as a bust after not panning out in Minnesota. However, a new change of scenery certainly took Dunn’s career off of the backburner, and he’s thriving under a rebuilding team in the Bulls. Dunn must hope to stay healthy and continue developing if he wishes to continue his career turnaround.


Lonzo Ball: Lonzo definitely has game, but the man certainly needs a few years to develop. Ball is a triple double threat on any given night and a top five passer in the league, but the rest of his game needs too much work for him to make the list. His shooting percentage, free throw percentage, three point percentage and defense all need a tremendous improvement if he hopes to fulfill all of the promises that his father has made.

De’Aaron Fox: One of my favorite players coming up in the game, it would take an idiot not to see the raw talent that Fox possesses. Fox’s rookie year boasts relatively pedestrian numbers, but with the exit of George Hill and with the Kings out of playoff contention, he should see quite a bit of usage in the second half of the season. Fox is having that classic rookie season in which everyone can tell that his mistakes can be attributed to his lack of experience in the league, and these mistakes will surely lessen has his career continues.


Tier 5: Playoff Caliber Point Guards

20. D’Angelo Russell: Russell barely managed to make this list simply because of the lack of body of work that we have seen from him thus far into his career. He definitely experienced some growing pains in his first two years in the league with the Lakers, but got to start fresh with the Brooklyn Nets following a trade. He jumped to a start that would have put him higher on this list, but unfortunately went down due to injury for a large part of the first half of the year. Russell is still working his way back to the same minutes that he had during his surge, but we must see how he comes back. His defensive game could use work, along with his free throw shooting, and his maturity level from a leadership standpoint must improve if he hopes to lead the rebuilding Nets in the future.

19. Elfrid Payton: Payton has been stuck on a stagnant sub-par Magic team for his entire career, so it’s nice to see him find a new home in Phoenix. Known by most for his hair and unorthodox play style to match, Payton has been absolutely killing it in his first few games with Phoenix. An underrated defender and passer, he needs to become more of a scoring threat if he hopes to take his game to the next level. In his short time in Phoenix, he has shown an ability to take on more of a scoring workload, but we will have to see if this trend continues.


18: Ricky Rubio: Rubio is the perfect floor general for a team with plenty of scoring options. Unfortunately, he is on the Utah Jazz. Regardless, Rubio has consistently been an incredibly reliable defender and playmaker for both the Jazz and his former Timberwolves team, but needs considerable improvement on the offensive side of the ball. His percentages have slowly been trending upwards as he continues to develop his shot, and as he approaches his late 20s, he still has a few years to make it better.

17: Dennis Smith Jr.: This man is an athletic freak of nature. In just his first year, Smith has become a regular when it comes to churning out highlight reel dunks. As his career wears on, the Russell Westbrook reincarnation must make sure to take care of his body, as his talent is hinged on his athleticism. Smith plays solid defense and all around basketball, but his sub-par shooting percentages have floated under the radar. This will surely improve as early as next season, but for now, Smith is stuck at number 17.


Tier 4: All-Star Caliber Point Guards

16. Dennis Schröder: Schröder can just smell his first all-star appearance. The German point guard is often overlooked because of the team he plays on, but he can match up against any guard in the league. Schröder is physically gifted, with a wingspan that turns his 6’1” stature into an afterthought and large hands that drew comparisons to Rajon Rondo coming into the league. Despite his raw talent and improving numbers as his usage rate increases, Schröder has been abysmal from three-point range this season, averaging .287 from beyond the arc. Granted, given the lack of talent on his team, he has likely seen far less open looks this season, and his previous good three point shooting seasons allow me to give him the benefit of the doubt. If these struggles continue, he may wind up losing his spot on this list.

15. Jrue Holiday: New Orleans was one of the first teams in the NBA to adopt the “positionless basketball” mantra that is expanding in popularity. However, their roster personnel is the main motivator behind their affinity to this play style. Not only do they have two big men in Boogie and AD, but they also have two floor generals in Rondo and Holiday. The former all-star has shown his multifaceted skillset by seamlessly fitting into the shooting guard slot, but that hasn’t stopped Holiday from taking on the point guard role when Rondo misses games or sits out. The former all-star is helping keep the Pelicans afloat amid tragic injury to a certain Demarcus Cousins, and he is doing so with career highs in field goal shooting and points per game. His assists have taken a slight hit from sharing the point guard role, but his 5.6 assist per game average is more than enough to categorize him into the point guard position.


14. Jeff Teague: Teague has taken plenty of different roles in his time in the NBA, and his newest role features him on the Minnesota Timberwolves as its unsung hero. Prior to Jimmy Butler’s injury, the Wolves had plenty of scoring coming from all over the court, with three All-Star caliber players sharing a spot in the starting five. Teague, a former All-Star, is the fourth option on this team, but that is just fine. His shooting numbers have improved from last year, and he still ranks top five amongst point guards in assists per game. Teague, who once led an Atlanta Hawks team to 60 wins in subtle fashion, has never gotten the credit that he deserves. Point guards often produce the flashiest numbers among players on the floor, but Teague relishes in his opportunities to make the team better in any way that he can. Just because his role is smaller than some of the people above him on this list does not mean that he is a less effective player

13. Goran Dragic: Dragic was selected to his first All-Star team this year as a replacement, despite a dip in his numbers. This can probably be attributed to commissioner Adam Silver’s desire to reward Dragic for so many good seasons in the NBA without recognition. The Slovenian international is a shooting threat from all over the floor, and he can easily create for his teammates at any time. Dragic currently has a trash Heat team in playoff contention, and they can continue to look forward with such a reliable player to handle the ball.


Tier 3: Special Players

12. Eric Bledsoe: This man just wants to play basketball. From acting as Chris Paul’s backup in his first few years in the NBA to being stuck in a three-man logjam in Phoenix with the two guards sandwiched between him on this list, Bledsoe has constantly been in bad situations. This season, he finally finds himself on a contending team with other pieces, and despite the Bucks’ early struggles to gel together, Bledsoe has shown his natural ability. At just 6’1”, the man is a freak athlete, hard worker, and also extremely strong with the basketball. His work on the defensive end especially has improved as of late, and look for his offensive numbers to follow as he gets more acclimated with the young Milwaukee Bucks roster. It’s exciting to see what Bledsoe does with his first opportunity to shine.

11. Isaiah Thomas: Everyone knows what Isaiah can do on the offensive side of the ball. However, last year’s MVP candidate finds himself so low on this list because he is quite literally useless on defense. Even if Isaiah wanted to play defense, he is matching up against guys who are simply too big for him to guard. If a 6’0” point guard is considered undersized, then what is Isaiah Thomas? Regardless, his ability on the offensive side of the ball alone is enough to put him in the thick of things on this list. Thomas has been fighting a hip injury for the past year and is still looking to get back into form with his new Lakers team, but once the tiny titan actually gets his powers back, everyone will be reminded of just how good IT can be. Let’s not forget that the man averaged 29 and 6 on stellar shooting last year for the first seed in the Eastern Conference.


10. Ben Simmons: Along with Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons currently leads the ROTY race due to his unselfish play, unparalleled build for a point guard, and his basketball fundamentals. Simmons could be categorized as any position from 1-4, but as long as Markelle Fultz looks like a bust, Simmons is considered a point guard. Listed on ESPN at 6’10”, the 2016 first overall pick is a mismatch problem for any position on the floor, especially the point guard position. He averages incredible numbers all around as a triple double threat on a nightly basis. If he could expand his game beyond the three-point line and improve his free throw shooting, Ben Simmons could find himself among the NBA’s elite much sooner than even he himself had expected.

9. Kemba Walker: Cardiac Kemba sits just one spot out of the second tier, and that may be just because of the market that he plays in. On a team where the second offensive option is Dwight Howard, Kemba is averaging 23 and 6, steadily keeping up with his production from last year. The John Wall lookalike continues to improve his shooting as he adjusts to today’s NBA, and has rightfully received two consecutive all-star nods as a result. If he hopes to gain more recognition, Walker must either move to a contending team that receives more attention or help bring the Hornets into the playoff race. He’s stuck with them for the remainder of the season, so we’ll see if he takes this mediocre roster into playoff contention.


 Tier 2: All-NBA Players

8. Kyle Lowry: Good NBA players make the most of their prime years and do as much as they can in the time that they are still at the peak of their game. Great NBA players adjust their game past their prime to prolong their greatness. This is exactly what Kyle Lowry has done. There is no question that, at the age of 31, Lowry is on his way out of the top ten point guards in the NBA. He is averaging 6 less points per game this year than his total in 2016/17. However, Lowry is still an All-Star talent, averaging career highs in rebounding, nearing his career high in free throw percentage, and leading his Raptors to the first seed of the Eastern Conference. He has effectively let DeRozan share more of the offensive load and has transitioned into becoming a reliable, experienced veteran point guard who can basically do anything on the floor. As long as Kyle Lowry helps the Raptors continue to contend, he will remain atop this list.

7. Mike Conley Sr.: Mike Conley is no longer overrated. Sure, he still hasn’t made an All-Star team, but that will likely come in the next few years. But the lack of exposure that he gets in a market like Memphis was offset when he was paid a hefty sum to continue being his reliable self. We are currently seeing exactly how much Conley means to Memphis in his time fighting injury. After starting out 5-1 with Conley, the Grizzlies have gone 11-34 since losing him for the season. His unavailability resulted in the controversial firing of head coach David Fizdale, and has also prompted thoughts within the organization of forcing a rebuild and starting over. I love the fact that the man has never received a technical foul, as it shows his character as a basketball player. Conley turns 31 next season, but his skillset is predicated on his basketball IQ rather than his athleticism, so we should see a few more good years from Conley after he gets healed up.


6. Damian Lillard: There may be no player in the NBA with more ice in his veins than Damian Lillard. The man who doubles as a rapper is known for hitting clutch shots when the team needs him most, and has averaged at least 25 points per game in each of his last three seasons. He’s another small market player who misses out on deserved recognition for reasons outside of his control. Lillard has career highs this year in FG%, FT% and BPG, while maintaining all other parts of his game. His team currently sits in 5th place, right in the thick of things in the Western Conference. Some may have Lillard a bit higher on this list, and he very well may be deserving of that. Besides for McCollum and Nurkic, his supporting cast is rather mundane and could use some help to take the next step in his career. He could also improve on the defensive side of the ball, as the people ahead of him on this list are better all-around players.

5. Chris Paul: I honestly believed that this would be the year that Chris Paul’s numbers take a dip. Suffice it to say that I was wrong. CP3 is showing his worth on the Houston Rockets, a team that currently sits atop the Western Conference, even above the Golden State Warriors. With Paul, the team is easily a championship contender. The fact that Paul is able to simply walk into that building and immediately gel with his new teammates speaks to his basketball IQ and his ability as a basketball player, especially after seeing the early struggles of teams like the Thunder. The Rockets have only lost six total games on the season when Chris Paul has played. If that doesn’t do him justice, his career high FT% and continuous production from other parts of his game absolutely should. Paul also does it on the defensive end as he has done for his entire career, which could not be said for many of the players on this list and many of the players in the NBA in general.


Tier 1: Perennial MVP Contenders

4. John Wall: Yes, the Wizards have a better record this season when John Wall is out. Yes, Wall is reeling from a season that had people predicting him as an MVP contender this season. No, he has not lost it. John Wall has the it-factor. Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook have it too. He wants the ball when the clock is expiring and he isn’t afraid of anyone. John Wall may be having an off year, but he was still named to the all-star team and he still does it on both ends of the floor. If these rankings were solely based off of defense, Wall would be in the top two between he and Chris Paul. On the offensive end, he is averaging a career high in the category that he needed to work on the most: three-point shooting. This kind of development makes me optimistic that Wall will come back with a vengeance from his injury. Just last season, the Kentucky product averaged 23 and 11, and we should see similar production later on as the Wizards make their playoff push. Wall should see considerable improvement before the playoffs, as his mentality can be compared to that of LeBron’s, who obviously kicks into a completely different gear once basketball starts becoming more important.

3. Kyrie Irving: I am obsessed with Kyrie Irving. I love the fact that he wanted to do it away from LeBron. It shows me that Kyrie has an alpha mentality and that he wants to be great. He knew what his legacy would have turned into had he spent all of his prime years being the Robin to LeBron’s Batman. Kyrie is considered an MVP candidate this season, as he has led a young, Hayward-less Boston Celtics team to the current most wins in the Eastern Conference. Due to coach Brad Stevens’ tendency to play unselfish, team basketball, Irving’s stats this season do not do him justice. He is the best ball handler and dribbler in the NBA, and is a top-five finisher around the basket. His shooting range extends throughout the floor once he crosses half-court, and his defense has been improving too. He is enjoying a career high FG%, and as long as he stays hungry, he will continue producing highlight reel plays and ridiculous stat lines. Look for him to take it up a notch in the playoffs, as well.


2. Stephen Curry: This man is easily the greatest shooter that the NBA has ever seen. Kevin Durant is the second best player in the NBA and Curry is still averaging more points than him this season. This purely speaks to his shooting prowess and reminds people around the league of why he was our league’s repeat MVP just two seasons ago. Curry’s averages are right on par with where they have always been, and the fact that he still does it on a team with four all-stars is simply ridiculous. Curry will remain a part of the NBA’s elite until he retires.

1. Russell Westbrook: I want to clarify this: I hate Russell Westbrook. He is probably one of my least favorite stars in the NBA. He’s a great person and role model in professional sports, but I just cannot grow to like him as a player. However, that does not stop me from accepting the fact that he is the best point guard in professional basketball. As of right now, he is .5 RPG away from repeating the feat of averaging a triple double for the duration of an entire season. On a team with two other stars who handily score the basketball, Westbrook also leads the team in scoring by a sizable margin of three points per game. The man does it all on the basketball court. He drastically needs to improve his three-point shooting, but you can count on him to hit the three when it’s clutch time. Westbrook was our league’s MVP last season, and if the Thunder make a late playoff push that sees them capitalizing on their potential, Westbrook can probably emerge as a surprise candidate. Even though they went down in five games last season, I’m still amazed at the fact that he averaged 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in that short-lived series. The only other player that I can think of who can shoulder a team as much as Westbrook can just happens to be the greatest player in the world.


Moving On: USA’s World Cup Qualifying Catastrophe

Whether you think that the United States got unlucky in their 2-1 defeat to Trinidad or whether you think that they simply got outworked and were lazy on the pitch, one thing is certain: it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on from the old way of doing things. The old coaches, the old players, the old tactics – everything old needs to go and it couldn’t be any more obvious. The excuses are aggravating and the fans deserve more from the team. Nobody wants to hear that it’s tough to get points in Trinidad, Costa Rica or Mexico; if the United States wants to be a top international team someday, it shouldn’t matter where they play.

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“Hotshot teams from Europe” (Bruce Arena) like Germany and Spain don’t care where they play, because if they’re truly good enough, they’ll get results no matter what, and if they did play in the CONCACAF division, we all know that they would finish at the top of the group with a sizable goal differential. Millions of dollars go into the program, and the United States was simply not prepared enough and didn’t show up to play in the qualifying round. The United States could only pull out 12 points in 10 matches and at best played at a mediocre level away from home. It was shameful and they let down an entire nation. The younger generation will not be able to watch them this summer and be inspired by the glory and happiness that the World Cup can bring a country.

Bruce Arena coached the national team from 1998 until 2006, when he was fired because the United States’ failure to make it out of the group stage in the World Cup. Hiring him back after letting go of Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t make any sense at that time. It’s the equivalent of taking your ex back after getting cheated on. It didn’t work out the first time, so why would it work now? What kind of epiphany could he possibly have had that convinced US Soccer that he was the man for the job? Sometimes you need to leave the past in the past, and the USMNT simply could not do so.


One can’t simply point fingers at the coaching staff, though. The players looked like they wished they were somewhere else Tuesday night, the complete opposite to that of the team that was on the field in Orlando just four days prior. In the first half, the United States looked jet-lagged and created minimal opportunities.

A wise man once said, “If your play isn’t entertaining for the fans, then you aren’t playing the game right.” That couldn’t have been any more true Tuesday night. The first half was a bore, and they tried to fix their mistakes too late. The United States didn’t come to play and they got what they deserved, and now it’s time to move forward.


This all starts with the youth teams. Ever since the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, the game of soccer has expanded exponentially in this country and kids from New York to California want to get involved. The cost, however, if you’re playing for a team outside of high school can get to be a bit expensive depending on what route is taken. MLS academy teams are fully funded, but with other academy and premier teams, that isn’t always the case. To be apart of the Dallas Texans U14 and U18 academy teams, the cost will run you around $2,000. The price is equivalent for many academy and premier teams across the country. Youth coaches also need to teach tactics earlier on that kids will take into the high school level where they truly learn to hone their skills. They need to stop teaching the kids perfection based on endurance and how to act like robots, and start teaching creativity. When the United States go to the World Cup, fans of other countries compliment the team, not necessarily on their skills, but rather on their work ethic. It’s time for that to change, and it all starts with building skills during a player’s youth.

As fans and supporters of the US national team, we all have different perspectives and ideas pertaining to how to improve the team. Whether your philosophy differs from your neighbor, one thing is evident: change needs to be made and it needs to be made now.

Five Bold Predictions for the 2017-2018 NBA Season

The NBA has recently been widely commercialized like no sport has ever been before, showing a clear-cut direction: up. Of course, this only refers to its popularity; many die-hard NBA fans have been quick to dismiss the recent NBA’s excitement because of its modern-day lack of competition. Nonetheless, we see that professional basketball’s popularity will not cease anytime soon, with its seemingly continuous stream of headlines ranging from what shoes LaVarr Ball is wearing, to rumors of Kevin Durant’s multiple twitter accounts. This is compounded by a newly introduced NBA Awards show, a platform for annual NBA recognitions to be commercialized and dramatized in order to milk as much money as possible out of NBA fans all over the country. With all of this being said, one thing is clear: businesses will always be businesses; but where there is demand, there will always be fandom.

My NBA fandom continues to grow, which means that even though I grow tired of hearing Kyrie Irving have to explain his decision of asking for a trade to the media despite his complete liberty to advance his career however he wants, I still continue to speculate about how this next season will go. Here are some of my bolder predictions (cue the Law and Order “dun dun” sound):

Avery Bradley will be an All-Star and First-Team All Defense


The Detroit Pistons have a glaring flaw on their roster without a clear-cut scorer. My grandma can shoot better free throws than Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson is a roster nightmare, Tobias Harris is good but not great and Stanley Johnson talks big but doesn’t back it up. This opens the door for the Pistons’ only promising offseason acquisition: Avery Bradley. Bradley was a huge snub for All Defensive Team honors this past season, and the same mistake won’t be made again, as he will show his worth on both ends of the floor for Detroit. Bradley has always been one of my favorite players for his gritty play that doesn’t always show up on the box score, but he gets buckets too! Bradley has seen his scoring average increase over the past three seasons, and the same can be expected as he joins a team with much less talent and depth than that of his former team, the Boston Celtics. He’s a hard worker with a solid three point shot, and while his team may not make any noise this upcoming season, you can expect Bradley to make headlines on both ends of the court.

Boogie Cousins will be a Wizard by the Trade Deadline

My Washington Wizards are for real, but Marcin Gortat showed his age and his lack of versatility in the 2017 Playoffs. The Wizards clearly need one more star player to compete against the Cavs and the Celtics, and with a solidified backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal along with Otto Porter Jr. on a max contract, that player should play the four or the five role. Cousins works perfectly into their roster, as he and Wall were college teammates at Kentucky and got along beautifully – something which not many teammates of DeMarcus Cousins could say.


The Pelicans experiment is definitely interesting, with a talented roster including Cousins, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo, but a lack of expected success could lead to bickering among teammates and the necessity to make some tough decisions in the front office. The West is now loaded, making a team that has the talent to be a 1-4 seed have doubts about whether it could achieve that success. In a situation where there may be nothing wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pelicans quickly go into panic mode after falling behind teams like the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, Timberwolves, and possibly the Nuggets, Grizzlies, Blazers, Jazz and Clippers. WOW. With all of this kind of talent in a conference, compounded with the fact that Cousins is set to be an unrestricted free agent come next summer, it would be mutually beneficial for both the player and the team to make a switch. Cousins would gel easily into a team that plays in the East, and the Pelicans will be able to get some assets that they can work with in order to build for the future.

People Will Remember How Good of a Player Melo is in 2018


Whether Carmelo Anthony plays this upcoming season for the Cavs, the Rockets, the Trailblazers, the Knicks, or some other team, there is no doubt in my mind that Anthony will have a revitalizing season in 2018. Everybody loves the “Hoodie Melo” videos surfacing on the web, featuring several impressive offseason basketball showings by Anthony while sporting a hoodie, but nobody has stopped to think about whether or not this will translate into the regular season. I think that it will. Carmelo Anthony hears everyone’s criticism, and he is eager to respond. His ranking as the 64th best player in the NBA by ESPN was the icing on the cake. Meanwhile, the oddsmakers at Sports Betting Dime give Carmelo 12/1 odds to finish in the top 10 in scoring this season. Phil Jackson’s triangle offense never gelled with Anthony’s playing style, and assuming that he stays on the Knicks, he has plenty of young support around him to help propel him into being a highly effective veteran leader. A weak Eastern Conference provides a clear-cut opening for the Knicks to possibly make a run for a seven or eight seed, with only the likes of the Sixers, the Heat and the Pistons to stand in their way (assuming that the Celtics, Cavs, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks and Hornets all make the playoffs). The Eastern Conference provides a huge opportunity for Melo to make a comeback, be it as an All-Star, or simply as one of the top scorers in the East.

De’Aaron Fox is your Rookie of the Year

Oddsmakers have five different rookies above Fox as favorites to win the ROTY award, but my money is on the speedster from Kentucky. Lonzo Ball is the favorite, but Ball is a high-volume passer, not a high-volume scorer. Ball could very well have a better season than Fox, but the award has historically been given to players who can primarily put points on the board. Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz rank second and fourth on odds sheets respectively, but their productivity could nullify each other in their rookie seasons. Along with Joel Embiid, a high-volume scorer in JJ Redick, a developing Dario Saric looking to improve on his stellar rookie campaign and more young guys looking to get their names out there, it will be difficult for anyone to especially distinguish themselves. Last but not least comes Dennis Smith Jr., who has wowed fans with his inhuman athleticism. Smith is an interesting prospect who may very well vie for the award, but he is very raw at this stage in his career and most likely could have used another year or two in college if this was a different era of basketball. Fox looks to be more talented defensively, has a better assist to turnover ratio, and most importantly shines more as a leader on the court. Smith can dunk the basketball better than any other rookie in the draft, but today’s game is about spacing the floor, and Fox does a better job of this than Smith does.Fox_Summer_League.0
De’Aaron Fox got drafted to a team that is desperately searching for a new face of their franchise. George Hill and Buddy Hield are solid, but Fox truly has an opportunity to stand out. He may not even start at the beginning of the season, with the depth chart projecting him to be Hill’s backup, but the Kings will soon change this as they begin to fall out of playoff contention. The Kings’ roster features plenty of young talent, and fans can expect Fox to rally these guys together and produce a great rookie season.

The Timberwolves Will Win 50+ Games EASILY

 Bleacher Report projects Minnesota to win 39 games in the 2017-2018 season, but I think that they could even eclipse 55 wins if they play their cards right. Minnesota didn’t just address their obvious flaws this past season, but they also addressed their underlying ones. Problems like being able to finish games out and play better in the fourth quarter (which was one of their biggest problems last season) were nullified with the addition of one of the best late-game performers in the NBA. Butler isn’t afraid to take that last-minute shot, but more importantly, he can guard anyone in the league when the clock is ticking down. Karl Anthony-Towns was absolutely robbed of an All-Star berth this past season, and hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself as Minnesota gets more national viewership with its stacked roster. People also forget that Jeff Teague ranked seventh in the NBA this past season in assists per game, trailing five high-usage players in James Harden, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and LeBron James, along with Ricky Rubio. Aside from Paul (who handled the ball every time the Clippers marched down the court last season), no other player in front of him played more minutes. Teague will surely get players like Andrew Wiggins, KAT and Butler involved, while scoring on his own at the same time.

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The team has also managed to acquire depth that puts them among the most solid rosters in the NBA. Shabazz Muhammad returns on a bargain deal that puts him with promising rookie Justin Patton, defensive stud Taj Gibson, starting caliber big man Gorgui Dieng, veteran scoring threat Jamal Crawford, and the human alphabet Nemanja Bjelica. With capable deputies in every position, this team looks set to completely do a 180 on their 31-win season.

While this team certainly looks good on the stat sheet, we must also account for team chemistry. Newcomers in Butler, Crawford, Gibson and Teague look to play big parts in the team’s game plan next season, so it is important that the team gels well. This would normally be a bigger concern of mine, if the coach of the team wasn’t Tom Thibodeau. Thibs has had a storied history coaching Butler and Gibson in Chicago, and will have no problem rallying this team together to win even more games than he did with his 50-win Bulls in the 2014-2015 season. Minnesota looks primed for a playoff run, and expect that to come sooner rather than later.

Umar Farouk Osman Wins Gatorade Men’s National Player of the Year Award

For the third time in six years, the prestigious Gatorade National Soccer Player of the Year award has been presented to a promising Ghanaian talent. Umar Farouk Osman came to America to not only play soccer, but to build relationships, live out his dreams and for an unprecedented education.

Osman received the award directly from 2015 recipient, Jack Harrison, who currently plays as a winger for NYCFC of the MLS. At the young age of 20, Harrison currently ranks second on the team in goals, only behind former international Spanish superstar David Villa, exemplifying the bright future that lies ahead for any recipient of the Gatorade National Men’s POY Award.

Gatorade National Boys Soccer POY Photo 1
Jack Harrison (right) presents the award to Osman (left). Photo by Gatorade.

When discussing Osman’s potential and future, Harrison said, “We both came to the states for an education, but at the same time, we were able to be here because of soccer. Through his hard work and dedication, he’s driven himself to this award and hopefully to many other things as well.”

Harrison also said, “I played against him before. (He) showed immediate talent and (he’s) got lots of potential. (Umar’s) very exciting to watch.”

Osman’s journey began in Ghana, where he faced immediate competition. Umar said, “There are ten regions in Ghana and the soccer scouts travel around the 10 region (circuit) to recruit soccer players. I traveled around the 10 regions to compete against over 400 kids. Out of the many soccer players, they chose 11 of us to go to Right to Dream for the finals tryouts.”

Right to Dream is a highly selective charity academy in Africa that helps young, talented soccer players reach their true potential. Founded in 1999 by Tom Vernon, the goal was to provide children and their family with the opportunity to build a better life for themselves through the sport of soccer. The program has since grown to become a residential international school that offers scholarships to players like Osman all across Africa.

Right to Dream has been highly successful on the international stage. In 2015, their U15 squad (pictured) beat Genoa 4-3 in the Manchester United Premier Cup World finals to take home the trophy. Photo by News Ghana.

Recent developments include the opening of a women’s program in 2013 and the installation of a $2.5 million all-purpose facility in 2010, which has led it to gain acclaim as one of the best training academies in the world. Right to Dream has since established partnerships with several American high schools, such as The Hotchkiss School, where Osman has attended.

“At Right to Dream, I was assessed in terms of my character, soccer ability and academics. I was at Right to Dream for about three years before heading over to the states. During my three years, I was challenged in many ways. I had to compete every single day to earn a starting spot on the team and if my grades weren’t good enough, I didn’t get to practice with my teammates,” Osman said.

His goals and his aspirations are high, and he is only able to reach that high with the strong support system that he has. Osman said, “My mom is my biggest motivation. She supported (me) in every decision I made. She allowed me to leave home at the age of 10 to go chase my dreams. It’s hard sometimes, but my mom knows I’m in safe hands, so it’s all good.”

Chasing Osman’s dreams have not come without some hardships. In his first game for Hotchkiss, a private school in Connecticut, Umar broke both his clavicles and missed most of the season. He responded to such adversity by scoring a total of 63 goals and assisting 45 times to conclude his high school soccer career. Not too shabby for a 5’9”, 150 lb midfielder out of Ghana.

Photo by The Hotchkiss School

Outside of his mother, Osman has plenty of people in his life to look up to, both on and off the pitch. He said, “Jack Harrison and Tom Vernon (founder of Right to Dream) are my biggest inspirations. My inspirations (when) growing up and learning how to play soccer were David Silva and Lionel Messi, although I support Manchester United. (In Ghana), Asamoah Gyan is a player everyone is looking up to. He’s done a lot for the national team and he cares about his country.”

Osman will be thinking about such contributors when deciding what to do with the $1,000 grant that he receives on behalf of Gatorade along with his award. This money goes to a cause of Umar’s choice, with the opportunity of raising that sum to $10,000 by writing a short essay about the subject.

On the pitch, Osman describes his biggest skill set to be his speed and his fearless mentality when attacking defenders. Other coaches have been quick to laud his size, technical skill, and his dedication to playing both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively.

Photo by Vimeo.

Osman is slated to attend the University of Michigan and play for their men’s soccer team. He said, “I will have to stay at school and work extra. I really want to be a professional soccer player in the near future. I’m planning on getting my degree first before going pro. I’m excited for that because Michigan has the right facilities and faculty to help me attain my dreams in life.”

Umar has developed a close relationship to his community upon arriving in the States, showing the content of his character. “Shout out to the Black Rock team for winning the state cup this year and for representing Connecticut in Nationals. I really had a good time playing with the guys. They’ve been very supportive, especially Theo, Noah, Cole and Stephen. They’ve always been there for me and couldn’t have asked for a better teammates,” he said. Sounds like Osman has found a home away from home.

Photo by The Hotchkiss School.

“It means a lot to me to win this award and it tells me whatever I’m doing, people are watching and they appreciate what I’m doing. Winning this award serves as a stepping stone to work extra harder (towards) achieving my dream. My next goal is to settle in college and get used to the style of play and then move from there,” Osman said. Umar plans to play in the MLS, and hopes to stay close to his friends in the process.

**Cover photo by USA Today.