When you're watching the NBA Finals, something should stand out about each roster. Not the stars on both sides, but rather the way these rosters were constructed. When you look at talent for both teams, you may notice that almost every important player is playing for the team that drafted them. This year's Finals were no different, as the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics both built their rosters through the draft.
Throughout NBA history, the majority of championship teams have constructed their roster from the ground up by using the draft as the key to success. Whether it's Magic Johnson's Lakers, Michael Jordan's Bulls, or Tim Duncan's Spurs, almost every championship roster was driven by homegrown talent. The same can be said for the Warriors, whose longtime success in the draft propelled them to their fourth championship in the last eight years. Sure, there are some exceptions, such as the 2019 Raptors and 2020 Lakers, whose top two players were acquired by free agency or trade. However, both teams used previous draft selections to acquire a big time star who proved to be the missing piece, whether it was Kawhi Leonard for the Raptors or Anthony Davis for the Lakers.
Despite this, there are still teams who set out build championship caliber rosters to pursue marquee players who are either free agents or on the trade block. This year's Nets and Lakers are primary examples. The Nets went into the season hoping that their big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden would lead them to a championship. Instead, Kyrie's refusal to take the Covid vaccine, Durant's knee injury, and Harden's desire to seek a trade culminated in the trio playing only two games this season. Even when Kyrie returned full time, the Nets got swept in the first round and with Kyrie's future uncertain, Durant might be the only one left by the time next season starts.
Out west, the Los Angeles Lakers believed they needed a third star, and would acquire Russell Westbrook on draft night. With a big three of LeBron James, Westbrook, and Davis, the Lakers looked set up to be on a collision course with the Nets. However, Los Angeles wouldn't even make the play-in tournament, as their supposed big three only played 21 games together. While their 11-10 record suggests the Lakers could've made the playoffs had all three been healthy, they would've been an early exit as they were never more than three games above .500. As of now, it's hard to imagine that the Lakers could be successful next season without parting ways with one of the three players.
On the other hand, the Golden State Warriors returned to the NBA's pinnacle after two non-playoff seasons thanks to the talent they've developed over the years. Besides Andrew Wiggins, their whole core is made up of players who they took a chance on in the draft. The first three guys that typically come to mind are Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. They set the foundation for Golden State's' long time success and each of them have been on the team for every single one of their championships during this dynasty. Additionally, Golden State's 2019 draft pick Jordan Poole developed into a reliable scorer, averaging 17 points off the bench in the playoffs. The most impressive part about Golden State's success in the draft is the fact that Curry was the highest selection at number seven, with Thompson being the only other lottery pick at 11.
As for the Boston Celtics, their success in the draft started in 2013 when they traded franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets for a ransom of long term picks. Fast forward to 2022 and Boston's top three players - Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart - are all prized possessions of the trade. Tatum is clearly the alpha dog of the three, but Brown has developed his game beyond dunking, while Marcus Smart became the first point guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996. Boston has also seen Robert Williams and Grant Williams take significant steps this season. Robert Williams in particular has a really bright future and could win a DPOY. Although Boston lost in six games, they are still very much contenders after some had written them off earlier in the season.
Any team will gain more attention from the media if they manage to acquire a star or two. They will be on national TV plenty of times and tickets will go up significantly. However, this isn't always the right formula toward building a championship team, as most of these moves don't yield the long term results many would expect. When watching the NBA Finals, general managers should realize that both teams have a least one major contributor who they previously drafted. This year was just another addition to the long list of Finals matchups where both teams had gotten to this point through the draft.
After an underwhelming 2021 season, it was believed that the Yankees' window to contend for a championship was starting to close. These opinions only became stronger as the Yankees had a quiet offseason where they made a lot of under the radar moves rather than going on their typical spending spree in free agency. Since the season started however, the Yankees have been dominating every opponent in their way. They are currently riding a 47-16 record which is not only best in the American League, but in all of baseball. Here are all the reasons for their spectacular start.
1. A More Balanced Lineup
The heart of the Yankees' lineup, without question, centers around Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. When healthy, they are one of baseball's more feared hitting duos, which is something pitchers dealt with last year. As of now, they have picked up right where they left off. Stanton has hit 13 home runs while Judge has taken his game to another level, clobbering an absurd 25 home runs. They are both on pace to hit over 30 home runs, although Judge might hit 66 at this rate. Let's not forget that he also leads the team in almost every other hitting category.
The big difference for Judge and Stanton this year, is that they have much more help at the plate. Anthony Rizzo has had a lower batting average than in years past, but he's well on pace to eclipse his home run and RBI total from last year. Meanwhile, Gleyber Torres only needed 58 games to match his home run total from the last two years combined. Additionally, the Yankees have a well rounded group of contact hitters led by DJ Lemahieu, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Jose Trevino. Out of all their hitters, Trevino has been the biggest surprise, hitting .300 while delivering two walk-offs this season.
2. Better Pitching and a Fundamentally Sound Defense
Last year, the Yankees' pitching staff had some stretches where they looked unhittable while other times, they needed 25 pitches just to get out of an inning. This year, they've been far more consistent. All of their starting pitchers have a winning record with the highest ERA being Gerrit Cole's 3.33. Despite this, Cole overcame a shaky start to the season and has looked like the $324 million ace the Yankees payed him to be, leading the team in strikeouts to go along with a 6-1 record. Nestor Cortes has been baseball's biggest breakout star as of now. His 5-2 record, 1.96 era, and 71 strikeouts make him all but a lock to start for the A.L. in the all star game. The rest of the rotation consists of a fully healthy Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, and Jameson Taillon who have all contributed toward the Yankees having the lowest era in the majors at 2.81.
Defensively, the Yankees have been much more respectable in the field compared to last season. This is because Aaron Boone has been playing guys where they are comfortable at, whether it's Gleyber Torres returning to second base or Giancarlo Stanton playing in the outfield more often. For Stanton to excel in the field, Aaron Judge has made the transition to center field where he's shown that he can cover ground as well as any other center fielder. Behind the plate, Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino have proved to be defensive upgrades, as Yankee pitchers no longer have to worry about their pitches going to the backstop. These adjustments are a big reason why the Yankees are in the top three for runs saved defensively. Without the improvement of their defense the Yankees would not have baseball's best record by such a wide margin.
3. Long Term Outlook
There's no reason to think that the Yankees can't continue their dominant stretch. Aaron Boone has been pressing all the right buttons and this team not only jells together, but they look like they're having fun which wasn't usually the case last year. Aaron Judge is well on pace to finally win his first career A.L. MVP, they're going to have a bunch of starters for the all-star game, and at this rate they can clinch home field for the entire postseason. As for their current record, (47-16) the only time they've had a better start was in 1998 where they won 114 games en route to a World Series championship. And while there's still a lot of baseball to be played, fans have every right to be extremely optimistic about this team.
Before I start, I will state that the Jets were certainly not the only team to have a spectacular draft class. Other teams such as the Chiefs, Ravens, and Giants all deserve credit for their draft selections. And while it will be awhile until we can draw conclusions from this year's draft class, here's why I currently think the New York Jets' class is a game changer.
Whereas some teams might've filled two position needs with in the first round at best, the Jets managed to fill in three during the draft. Going into the draft, the biggest needs for the Jets were a cornerback, an edge rusher, and skill position, receiver or running back.
With the fourth pick, the Jets addressed the cornerback position by selecting Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner. In his three years playing for Cincinnati, Gardner became the best defensive back in the nation. His length and athleticism helped him excel in man coverage where he never allowed a touchdown during his collegiate career. Against Jameson Williams, the best receiver Gardner has faced so far, he only allowed one catch for negative yards, proving he can match up against the best. Jet fans have waited for someone to finally fill in the shoes of Darrelle Revis and Gardner might be that guy.
Due to a trade with the Seattle Seahawks back in 2020, the Jets also had the 10th pick which was used to select wide receiver Garrett Wilson. Wilson joins a receiver group of Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Braxton Berrios that was solid but ravaged by injuries. As high ranked receiver with no injury concerns, Wilson's availability is something the Jets could use given the injuries to their skill positions. In addition, Wilson is known for his contested catches during his career at Ohio State. This could be essential for the Jets as they haven't had someone with that ability since Brandon Marshall.
With a quantity of picks that the Jets previously traded for in the later rounds, they managed to move up to the 26th pick where they selected edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II. After two quiet seasons at Georgia, Johnson experienced a breakout season for Florida State recording 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, both in the top 10 nationally. He will also have some motivation going into the season as he surprisingly fell in the draft despite being projected to go within the top 10. For the Jets, they will have a potentially formidable duo of outside rushers in Johnson and Carl Lawson.
By selecting Wilson, and later running back Breece Hall in the second round, the Jets have drafted three skill positions, not named Zach Wilson, in the first two rounds of this year and last year's draft (Elijah Moore is the other one). Add in last year's fourth round selection of running back Michael Carter, and this year's third selection of tight end Jeremy Ruckert, and the Jets have already done more for Zach Wilson in the draft than they've ever done for Sam Darnold. This philosophy resembles the Cincinnati Bengals' strategy of surrounding Joe Burrow with homegrown players in Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase. They are currently fresh off a Super Bowl appearance and have a bright future ahead of them.
Perhaps the most important thing to come out of this draft class if that the Jets are really establishing a foundation through the draft. By building the majority of their roster through the draft, the coaching staff will have the chance to develop these players into valuable contributors given the Jets' system is the only one they're familiar with in the pros. When you also consider the upside of last year's draft with players such as Alijah Vera-Tucker, Moore, Carter, and hopefully Zach Wilson, the Jets could be ahead of schedule. Something that fans would give anything to witness.
This year has seen so many young players in the NBA take huge steps in their careers. Whether it was Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, or Luka Dončić, the NBA is certainly in good hands for the future. With all the young talents in the league, here are my top 25 players under 25.
1. Luka Dončić
He will not win MVP as I predicted before the season but his incredible sense on the court, clutch shot making, and career averages of 28 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists will eventually earn him one. His averages are even better in the playoffs as he's turning the Dallas Mavericks into a playoff contender, as he will play in his first career Conference Finals following a 35 point masterpiece in game 7. Whether Dallas wins or not, it's only a matter of time until he will have accomplished everything an NBA player could dream of.
2. Jayson Tatum
In his first year as the established number one option, Tatum propelled the Boston Celtics to the second seed after an 18-21 start. Though he was always a big time scorer - just look at game 6 - he established himself as one of the league's best two-way players with his lockdown defense on Kevin Durant in the first round and clutch shooting against the Bucks. Add in the playoff experience he already has at age 24 and Boston could soon be hanging up banner 18.
3. Ja Morant
The high flying dunker of the Memphis Grizzlies took a massive leap in his third year, winning the league's Most Improved Player. Morant's incredible athleticism has made him one of the league's most exciting players. His impact on the team can't be understated as Memphis finished second in the West and won their first playoff series since 2015. Fans will now be hoping that he can make a full recovery as his amazing postseason was cut short after a knee injury.
4. Trae Young
Young's disappointing postseason makes it difficult to put him in the top three, but he still gets the nod at four. His ball handling and shooting has made him one of the league's most entertaining point guards since his rookie season. He's also became one of the league's best finishers with a bunch of clutch shots in big games such as last year against the Knicks and then the Cavaliers in this year's play-in.
5. Zion Williamson
Despite missing all of this season, Williamson still cracks the top five. When he is healthy, Williamson is one of the more dominant players on the court. He will back down anyone that stands in his way despite his small size for a power forward. On defense, he's a brick wall who refuses to let opponents have their way against him.
6. LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball is an impressive playmaker who has made the Hornets one of the league's most entertaining teams. While everyone loved his passing, they were skeptical about his shot. However, he has transformed his shot into a strength which is why he's dangerous on the offensive end. Although Ball hasn't appeared in a postseason yet, that will likely change.
7. Anthony Edwards
Anthony Edwards is probably the first player since LeBron to come into the league possessing an explosiveness that's highlight worthy, despite having the body of a football player. This allows him to get to wherever he wants on the court, whether it's out on the perimeter or in the paint. After being a finalist for Rookie of the Year, Edwards took a jump by leading the Timberwolves to the playoffs where he was easily their top player throughout the series.
8. Bam Adebayo
Bam Adebayo's skillset allows the Heat to flourish on both ends of the floor. On offense, he went from someone who could only score above the rim, to a decent midrange shooter with the ability to put the ball on the floor. He might look undersized on defense at 6'9, but his athleticism and agility makes him one of the league's toughest defenders.
9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
For the last two years, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a bright spot for the lowly Thunder. He's always been a good scorer, but he's also starting to become a facilitator. Despite being in the league for four years, Gilgeous-Alexander is only 23 years old. When you consider the fact that he nearly averaged 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists, imagine what he'll be doing four years later.
10. DeAndre Ayton
His future is murky as he only played 17 minutes of the Suns game seven debacle, but that shouldn't understate the fact that he's still a solid player. He might not be as flashy as the other big men in the game, but he has always been a guarantee for buckets and rebounds. In every year, he's averaged double figures for points and rebounds.
11. Darius Garland
Garland is a crafty offensive player who can excel offensively with or without the ball. Although he was solid in his first two seasons, Garland's play took a massive jump this season. His averages of 21 points and 8 assists earned Garland his first career all star appearance and although the Cavaliers lost both play-in games, Garland gives fans a reason to believe again.
12. Brandon Ingram
If it wasn't for Ingram, the Pelicans wouldn't have made the playoffs, let alone the play-in. Ingram has blossomed into a consistent scorer. During the play-in however, Ingram took his game to the next level as he led the Pelicans to two straight wins en route to a playoff birth. In his first playoff series, Ingram averaged 27 points in a losing effort.
13. Jarrett Allen
With the Nets, Allen was a decent player but after getting traded to the Cavaliers, he's took on a more significant role. His offense is solid, but his defense is what makes Allen a great fit for a team that surprisingly allowed the fifth fewest points in the NBA. Allen's play resulted in his first all-star selection.
14. Evan Mobley
You can't mention Jarrett Allen's impact on the Cavaliers defense without mentioning Evan Mobley. Although he didn't win Rookie of the Year, Mobley is a very talented power forward who looks like the second coming of Anthony Davis. He can wreak havoc at the rim on offense and defense. The only difference, is that he's a better ball-handler and shooter at this point in his career than Davis in his rookie season.
15. Lonzo Ball
Had it not been for two seasons where he had to be shut down because of injuries, Ball would be higher on the list. When healthy, Lonzo Ball is a solid playmaker who's defense is extremely underrated. His impact on the Chicago Bulls this year was undeniable as they went 22-13 with Ball, compared to their 25-27 record (including playoffs) without him.
16. De'Aaron Fox
For the last five years, De'Aaron Fox has been the only player worth watching on the Sacramento Kings. His quickness makes him one of the more entertaining point guards in the league. Although Fox has yet to make the playoffs, his career averages of 19 points and six assists suggest that he'll make the most of the opportunity when the time comes.
17. Scottie Barnes
When Scottie Barnes was drafted back in July, many people thought he went too early in the draft and that the Raptors had reached. Fast forward to now and there's no one who is against that pick. Barnes won Rookie of the Year and helped the Raptors exceed expectations by making the playoffs. Although they lost to the 76ers in six games, Barnes already has a significant role on this team.
18. R.J. Barrett
Unlike most people who make these types of lists, I will acknowledge Barrett's gradual improvement throughout his three seasons. He has become a threat from the perimeter, he's probably the team's best on-ball defender, and he delivers under pressure. Last year, he was integral to the Knicks surprising success and this year, he became the youngest Knick to average 20 points a game.
19. MIles Bridges
Miles Bridges has always been one of the league's most exciting dunkers, but this year Miles Bridges showed he's more than just a dunker. He has worked on his craft and it was evident this season. He averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and assists.
20. John Collins
Like Bam Adebayo, John Collins has also become more than just a guy who can excel above the rim. While he doesn't have the physicality Adebayo has, Collins is probably a better three point shooter. He can also put the ball on the floor and he remains a favorite for Trae Young to throw alley-oops to.
21. Jaren Jackson Jr.
In the first season that Jaren Jackson was fully healthy, he put up strong numbers all across the board. Offensively, Jackson can score from anywhere as he averaged 16 points and six rebounds. He was also a big reason why Memphis was one of the best teams at protecting the rim, blocking two shots a game.
22. Tyler Herro
After a stellar rookie season which saw the Miami Heat reach the NBA Finals, Tyler Herro took a step back. However, he has rebounded this year, averaging career highs in points and assists while shooting about 40%. Herro's scoring off the bench has helped fuel the Heat's offense and as a result, he won Sixth Man of the Year.
23. Desmond Bane
After a decent rookie season, Desmond Bane has taken a significant step in his sophomore season. He doubled his scoring average from nine points to 18 points. Most of his offensive production comes from three, where's he's shot 43% in each of his first two seasons. In the playoffs, his three point % hovers around 50.
24. Tyrese Maxey
Before the Philadelphia 76ers traded their malcontent Ben Simmons for James Harden, Tyrese Maxey really stepped up as the no. 2 option behind Joel Embiid. Even after Harden's arrival, Maxey continued to flourish with his craftiness on offense. As a matter of fact, Maxey performed better in the postseason than Harden, averaging 20 points compared to Harden's 18 while displaying a lot more effort. Just search up his hustle in game three against the Heat.
25. Jordan Poole
When the Golden State Warriors selected Jordan Poole late in the first round, not many thought much about the selection. However, Poole now has a significant role with the team, establishing himself as the newest "Splash Brother" alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The only difference between them is that Poole is 10 years younger than both Curry and Thompson.
Eastern Conference: Western Conference:
#1 Heat 4 #1 Suns 4
#8 Hawks 2 #8 Pelicans 0
#1 Heat 3 #1 Suns 4
#4 76ers 4 #4 Mavericks 2
#4 76ers 4 #4 Mavericks 4
#5 Raptors 2 #5 Jazz 2
#3 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4 #1 Suns 4
#3 76ers 0 #3 Bucks 3 #2 Grizzilies 1
#3 Bucks 4 #3 Warriors 2
#6 Bulls 0 #6 Nuggets 4
#2 Celtics 2 #2 Grizzlies 4
#3 Bucks 4 #6 Nuggets 1
#2 Celtics 4 #2 Grizzlies 4
#7 Nets 2 #7 Timberwolves 1
One thing that has drastically changed throughout the NBA's 75 year history is the value of point guards. They've evolved from being solely valued as passed-first guys, to score-first players who must have a solid three point game. While this year's MVP candidates such as Nikola Jokić, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are not point guards, the position is still more valuable than ever.
When you look at most of the contenders, they all have stellar point guard play. For example, the Phoenix Suns have the last version of a pure point guard in Chris Paul, otherwise known as the Point God. Paul might be averaging a career low 14.7 points, but he still has the ability to bring out the best in his teammates, which is a big reason why Phoenix has won a franchise record 64 games.
Other teams who will have home court advantage in the West can thank their point guards, who have elevated their teams sooner than anyone could've expected. In Memphis, Ja Morant has enjoyed a breakout season, As a result, Memphis has tied their franchise record for single season wins. Even when he hasn't been on the court, Memphis is 20-4, which says a lot about his impact on the team.
Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks has enjoyed his winningest season in his young career, helping the team earn home court advantage for the first time in his three years in the playoffs. As a matter of fact, Dallas has two other reliable point guards in Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie. The three of them have all contributed to the Mavericks' second half success this season.
The Milwaukee Bucks have Jrue Holiday who has always been a scrappy defender and a dependable scorer. He will conclude this season shooting a career high 41% from three which is going to make him tough to defend considering his ability to create while driving to the basket. He can also set up Antetokounmpo and Kris Middleton rather than one of them bringing the ball up.
Stephen Curry has been the only consistent player for the Golden State Warriors this season. In a campaign that has seen them win 12 games after being 41-13, Curry is the reason why they haven't fallen further in the standings even with a streaky supporting cast.
In general, having a competent point guard is beneficial when a team is neck and neck in a close game. According to NBA.com's clutch stats - based on whether a game is within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or any overtime period - four of the five teams I mentioned are in the top ten: Milwaukee, Dallas, Phoenix, and Memphis. All teams have the luxury of a point guard who can successfully calm everyone down.
As for some of the teams I didn't mentioned, their regular season success might not be sustainable in the playoffs because of their suspect performance at the point guard position. For example, the Bulls and Nuggets are two teams who have had solid regular seasons, but will be skinny at point guard entering this year's playoffs.
Denver lost Jamal Murray to a torn ACL last season, and while they could get him back during the postseason, they need to win more than a few playoff games for that to happen. Especially if they want to match up against teams such as Phoenix after getting swept by them last year.
The Bulls on the other hand will suffer in the playoffs without Lonzo Ball who hasn't played since January. Without him, the Bulls have a .511 winning percentage which is far below their .628 winning percentage with a healthy Ball.
Of all the playoff teams who lack a real point guard, the Boston Celtics could be hit the hardest. They are a legitimate contender in the East with their suffocating defense, but the lack of a true point guard will come back to bite them at some point. Remember how I listed some teams who were in the top 10 for clutch stats? Well, Boston has the second worst record in that category. Marcus Smart has always had the reputation of laying his body on the line but his ability to run an offense is not exactly superb.
Let me also state that one reason why we're not even talking about underachieving teams such as the Knicks and Lakers is because their point guard play was extremely disappointing.
So when you're watching playoffs, and wondering who will go the distance, analyze their point guard. Whether he can run an offense or not will determine their fate.
After more than two months of work stoppage, a brief strike, major offseason moves, and new rule changes, today marks Opening Day for baseball in 2022. Among the notable changes this offseason was the implementation of a new playoff format. For the first time in a full season, there will be six playoff teams in each conference with the two best teams having first round byes while the other four teams will compete in a best of three wild card series. With these additions likely to have a significant impact on this season, here are my predictions.
#3 Toronto Blue Jays over #6. Boston Red Sox
#4 New York Yankees over #5 Tampa Bay Rays
3. Toronto Blue Jays over 2. Houston Astros
1. Chicago White Sox over 4. New York Yankees
3. Toronto Blue Jays over 1. Chicago White Sox
#3 Atlanta Braves over #6 San Fransisco Giants
#4 New York Mets over #4 St. Louis Cardinals
#1 Los Angeles Dodgers over #4 New York Mets
#2 Milwaukee Brewers over #3 Atlanta Braves
#1 Los Angeles Dodgers over #2 Milwaukee Brewers
#1 Los Angeles Dodgers over #3 Toronto Blue Jays
With just over two weeks left in the regular season, we're starting to get an idea of what the NBA standings are going to look like come playoff time. In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns have clinched the number one seed with the best record in the NBA. Behind them are the Memphis Grizzlies who have overcome the Golden State Warriors for the second spot in the West. Over in the East, the Miami Heat hold the first seed while the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers aren't too far behind. Out of all six teams, here are my rankings for who has the best title chances.
1. Phoenix Suns
Since the beginning of the season, the Suns have been the best team in the league. They will be the only team to win 60 games, and will have home court advantage for the entire postseason. The first two players that come to mind, without question, are Chris Paul and Devin Booker. When both players are on the court, Phoenix is an amazing 44-8 record. However, they aren't the only ones carrying the team. Other young players such as Mikal Bridges, DeAndre Ayton, and Cam Johnson have continued to make significant contributions in their third seasons. Offensively, Phoenix stands in the top five for points, assists, and field goal percentage, while their defense has only allowed 106 points per game. On top of their success, they still have the bitter taste of last year's defeat to the Bucks so they will be poised to get another opportunity.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Like the Suns' duo of Booker and Paul, Philadelphia also has their own scary duo of James Harden and Joel Embiid. After putting up an MVP caliber season last year, Embiid is making an even stronger case this year. His field goal percentage is slightly down from last year but he is averaging career highs in points and assists. He also hasn't had to deal with many double teams with the acquisition of former MVP James Harden. His perimeter game gives the 76ers more floor spacing than they ever had with Ben Simmons complementing Embiid. The two superstars form a deadly pick and roll duo as Harden loves to create off screens while Embiid can either roll to the basket or shoot from outside. How far Philadelphia goes in this year's postseason however, depends on whether their other scoring options in Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey show up.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
After being in the thick of the playoff picture, the Bucks are back where they belong at the top of the standings. Despite last night's loss, they still hold the number two seed in the East and are only 2.5 games out of the one seed. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middletoon, and Jrue Holiday have continued to play at a high level with all three leading the team in points. Despite Brook Lopez missing all but one game, they still lead the league in points with 114 per game. Their bench is constructed of players who aren't over the hill, but can still give around 20 minutes a game. Overall, this is a team that mostly resembles last year's championship roster. They already know what it takes to reach the promise land and it's not crazy to say that this team might even be better than last year's team. The only team that may give them a tough time is Philadelphia but they are the team to beat.
4. Miami Heat
Despite a disappointing 2020-21 season that saw the Heat get swept in the first round, the Heat reloaded their roster by singing Kyle Lowry to team up with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. As of now, Miami is first in the East with 47 wins and history suggests that they are on pace toward getting back to the finals.
While their offense is okay, they really on the defensive end where they leave their mark. Bam Adebayo's insane athleticism gives Miami a guy who can protect the rim despite being his small size at center. Lowry is still one of the top defensive point guards even at 35, and Tucker has the ability to guard all five positions at 6'5. The reason why I rank them no. four is because their offense will have to step up come postseason time.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
After a slow start to the season, the Grizzlies responded by winning 11 of their next 12 games and have since been one of the NBA's top teams. Their franchise cornerstone Ja Morant has finally made the long anticipated leap into an All-NBA caliber player with averages of 27 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Their other draft picks such as Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson have all took noticeable steps in their young careers. They have made such a significant contributions that Memphis has been an amazing 16-2 without Morant. Their only flaw is three point shooting, particularly Morant who's subpar numbers behind the arc will have opponents preparing to exploit that weakness during the playoffs.
6. Golden State Warriors
After competing for first with Phoenix for the first two months of the season, Golden State has fallen to the third seed. Part of that has to do with injuries, most notably to Draymond Green and now Stephen Curry. Nonetheless it's still surprising to see how much Golden State has been slumping. Offensively, Stephen Curry was the only player who playing at high level since all star break. The defense has struggled mightily since Green's injury. Klay Thompson, despite some brilliant outings, is still trying to fully regain his form. Andrew Wiggins, arguably the team's X-factor going into this year's playoffs has been slumping since the all star break.
With lot of attention surrounding the NBA's 75 Greatest Players, I've decided to play around with the selections by making three All NBA Teams. They will solely be constructed of the players who were honored at halftime of the All Star Game.
All NBA First Team
All NBA Second Team
All NBA Third Team
Coach: Pat Riley
I know Phil Jackson has six more championships (11) than Riley (5), but Riley won with different teams while using different styles. I'd take him over some Triangle nonsense.
It wasn't one the greatest Super Bowls of all time, but it was certainly a entertaining contest that was close until the final play from scrimmage. In the end, the Los Angeles Rams emerged as Super Bowl champions for the second time in franchise history, and the first time in L.A. Among the many notable storylines such as the amazing halftime show, the one I found most fascinating was how both teams managed to get to this point.
For the Rams, they've been going all in since 2018, albeit their first taste of playoff football came in 2017 thanks to the hiring of Sean McVay. He took over a talented but underachieving roster and won 11 games in his rookie season, clinched the NFC West, and was awarded Coach of the Year. The Rams would then spend the next offseason making a flurry of trades, free agent signings, and contract extensions. While not all of the players they acquired or extended (Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters, Brandin Cooks, etc.) remain on the team it set a blueprint for their approach toward reaching the promise land. None of their transactions were more integral to their championship than these following moves: extending Cooper Kupp for three years, Jalen Ramsey for $105 million, trading a second and third round pick for Von Miller, giving up Jared Goff and two first round picks for Matthew Stafford, and extending Aaron Donald for six years and $135 million. With the exception of Andrew Whitworth who always gets resigned at a cheap price, these players almost make up the entire core.
When the Rams started to become a powerhouse, the Cincinnati Bengals were realizing that they would likely have to rebuild their roster. Their core which had helped them make the playoffs throughout the early 2010s was getting old and their best days were behind them. Pretty soon, they ushered in a new wave of offensive talent through the draft. Among these draft picks were Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Jamar Chase, and Tyler Boyd. In their first full season together, the Bengals had one of the most potent offenses in the league. They rebuilt the defense through many low profile free agent signings such as Trey Hendrickson and Von Bell who formed a devastating safety duo with Jessie Bates during the playoffs. Although no one in this core outside of Bell and Hendrickson had playoff experience, the entire team played as if they'd been there before, winning one tight game after another before ultimately meeting their match in the Super Bowl. There are still areas the Bengals need to address such as their pass protection, but their rebuild is well ahead of schedule.
As for a future matchup between these two teams, don't count out that possibility from happening. Both teams having young rosters who know what it takes to reach the big dance. The Rams have arguably the best coach not named Bill Belichick, the best cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the best QB-WR tandem, and one of the best defensive players this game has ever seen in Aaron Donald. They also might have an easier path with Tom Brady retiring and questions surrounding Aaron Rodgers' future in Green Bay.
The Bengals on the other hand play in a much tougher conference, but they already have a dangerous offense that looks destined to win championships in the future, and the leader of that offense is Joe Burrow. He cemented himself as a top 10 quarterback in his full season after missing the final six games from 2020 with a torn ACL. Burrow did injure that same knee during the Super Bowl but it won't require surgery and given that he was able to make a full recovery last offseason, the same should be expected.