On December 3rd, the Washington Wizards traded star point guard John Wall to the Houston Rockets for another star point guard in Russell Westbrook along with a couple of draft picks. While both teams got really good players, there's still a winner yet to be determined based on the large salaries each player carries to their teams. However one thing for sure: that Wall's impact in the nation's capital on and off the court won't be forgotten.
In 2010, the Washington Wizards used the number one overall pick in the NBA draft to recruit John Wall out of Kentucky. Wall was tasked with reviving a team that had spent the last two seasons in the basement of the NBA. It didn't take long for him to live up to the hype, and soon the Wizards slowly began building around him with players such as all star Bradley Beal who complimented Wall perfectly in the backcourt during their tenure. By Wall's fourth season (2013-14), he blossomed into an all-star putting up averages of around 20 points, 10 assists, and two steals. In addition, he was able to turn the team from a laughingstock to a yearly playoff team in four of those next five seasons,. Washington went to the second round in three of those four seasons, but none of those seasons were more memorable than 2017. Wall played arguably the best basketball of his career and led them to their first division title in almost four decades. After defeating the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, the Wizards faced the Boston Celtics in the second round. Although the Wizards lost the series in seven games, Wall had his signature moment, hitting a game winning shot to force a game 7. Over the following two seasons, injuries have limited Wall's play. That only doubled down on the pressure Wall was facing after receiving a supertax contract extension dating back to the 2017 offseason. Eventually, he was traded to Houston, ending one of the best stretches of Wizards basketball.
When Wall was off the court, he still found ways to make assists - but rather than to his teammates, those assists were to the community of Washington D.C. Wall's most meaningful actions was a special bond he developed with a six year local girl who was ill with cancer. In the morning of December 8, 2014, she passed away. Wall, who learned of the heartbreaking news, dedicated his 26 point, 17 assist performance in a double overtime victory to her. After the game, he was overcome with emotion while describing how much she meant to him. His contributions are also found through the charitable work he's done with Beal, whether it's donating to local charities, helping feed hospital workers, or providing meals during the holidays. Wall's efforts toward reaching to the community were recognized in 2016 when he won the NBA Cares Community Award. Even despite missing all of last season, Wall started a website designated to help provide rent relief for Ward 8 residents who were affected by COVID-19. So far, over $550,000 has been raised for the website. About a month after launching the website, Wall and his teammates led a "Together We Stand" march across the National Mall all the way to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. The march specifically took place on June 19th as a commemoration of the day Juneteenth.
December 3rd, might mark the end of an era, but John Wall's impact on Washington D.C. will always be remembered. On the court, he turned the Wizards, into a successful playoff team. Off the court, he gave back to the community he loved in so many ways. These kinds of players don't come around often. John Wall is one of them.
On Tuesday, NBA will begin its 2020-21 season. Last year was an eventful year for the NBA from the loss of Kobe Bryant, to a postponement that lasted five months, all the way to its restart at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex down in Florida. But just like a decade ago, the Los Angeles Lakers will be entering the season as the defending NBA champions. However, there are many teams entering the season with championship aspirations who will certainly challenge the Lakers. Here are my predictions for this season's awards and its champion awaiting.
MVP: Anthony Davis
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis
Rookie of the Year: LaMelo Ball
Sixth Man of the Year: Caris LeVert
Most Improved Player: Gary Trent Jr.
Coach of the Year: Monty Williams
Eastern Conference: Western Conference:
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Lakers 4
#8 Pacers 0 #8 Pelicans 1
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Lakers 4
#4 Heat 2 #5 Trail Blazers 2
#4 Heat 4 #4 Jazz 2
#5 Celtics 2 #5 Trail Blazers 4
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Lakers 4 4 Lakers #1
#2 Nets 2. #1 Bucks 2 2 Clippers #2
#3 Raptors 4 #3 Nuggets 4
#6 76ers 2 #6 Suns 2
#2 Nets 4 #2 Clippers 4
#3 Raptors 3 #7 Nuggets 3
#2 Nets 4 #2 Clippers 4
#7 Wizards 1 #7 Mavericks 2
This year, the NBA will be starting its 2020-21 season during Christmas week, on December 22 specifically. The late start is a result of the last year's unusual stretch known as the NBA bubble, dating back from July to October with the L.A. Lakers winning the championship. While the NBA on Christmas has always been one of the most popular events of the season, it might not be the best idea to start basketball during that week.
In the past, the NBA on Christmas is one of the season's most popular events. Usually, the matchups consist of the top teams and players with high expectations coming into the season. These games are highly anticipated with both teams battling for a statement win. Most of the time, they live up to the hype with highlight plays and fantastic endings. Additionally, this wouldn't be the first time the NBA began on Christmas, as they began following the conclusion of the 2011 lockout.
However, this doesn't change the fact that the NBA shouldn't start during this time of year. For one, the resting period for the teams who weren't in the bubble will be significantly longer than teams who did. To be specific, teams not in the bubble will have over 200 days of rest by the time the season begins, whereas the Finals participants - the Lakers and Miami Heat - will have under 70 days of rest. Even teams that bowed out of the playoffs early will have less than 100 days of rest compared to teams who weren't invited to the bubble. Players such as LeBron James used social media as a source to show their unhappiness when the schedule announcement was made. In particular, he pointed out this offseason, consisting of 71 days, will be the shortest in any sport.
Another reason why the season shouldn't start around Christmas is that it will be occurring shortly after the offseason. NBA trades along with the draft occurred just about a week ago, and free agency is still going on even though most teams have probably moved past it at this point. This will make it difficult for teams to prepare for the season following their recent offseason moves. As for the players, they probably have to adjust to their new teams, along with their life off the court. Currently, this schedule will consist of a 72 game season, with the finals concluding in August. Its announcement coming three weeks before the season is a far cry from other years, where teams had a lot more notice.
One way to solve the flaws within this year's schedule would be to have all offseason transactions occur earlier than their actual time. That would usually be about two to three weeks after the Finals, which should've been the case for this year, rather than over a month following the season's conclusion. This could've allowed players who were drafted, or have signed with a new team, to get comfortable in their new situation. Another possible way of fixing the schedule would be to start the season one or two weeks later. That method can satisfy the players who stayed in the bubble until late September or October, giving them more time to rest. Both solutions could have been options for the NBA to smoothly move forward into next season.
The NBA bubble was a period that we won't forget. It was a cool experience to watch, but the NBA should have done its best to get back on schedule where all players can have an adequate amount of rest before the season starts. Starting the season only two months after the Finals isn't the way to go.
While this year has been unusual in many ways, it isn't an excuse for another abysmal year of New York Sports. With basketball not starting until December, the Jets and Giants - both at the bottom of the standings - are the only option for fans to watch. Here are all the teams we'll be looking at: the Jets, Giants, Knicks, Nets Yankees, and Mets.
New York Jets - The Jets have been so bad this season that fans are just hoping for the team to tank for a higher draft pick. Head coach Adam Gase is at the center of this storm, not only for how terribly the team is playing, but for Sam Darnold's regression. In addition, Gase's lack of adjustments during halftime and failure to take responsibility after losses hasn't sat well with players. The team is currently in line to select Clemson's phenom quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but they have many more improvements to make, starting with a new coaching staff.
New York Giants - Despite Head Coach Joe Judge making a solid impression, it hasn't translated to wins, as the Giants are in the midst of another rough year at 2-7. Their franchise cornerstone Saquon Barkley is out for the season with a torn ACL, which hasn't helped Daniel Jones in what has been a disappointing sophomore season. General Manager Dave Gettleman will likely get axed at the end of the year, leading the Giants to find a new GM to pair with their rookie coach.
New York Knicks - This upcoming season will likely be another rebuilding year, as the Knicks are still far away from contention. They do have some bright spots such as R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, who are both building blocks for this franchise. To become a playoff team, they must trade for a proven leader such as Chris Paul to really give some of their young players a boost of confidence. However, their owner James Dolan, who's responsible for the team's dysfunction over the years, has most recently been blamed for his refusal to condemn systematic racism which could make players reluctant to join.
Brooklyn Nets - This team and its fans have many reasons to be excited for next season. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving poised to share the court for the first time following injuries, hopes for a possible championship are high. They also have a new coach in Hall of Fame point guard (and Durant's friend) Steve Nash, who knows a thing or two about winning dating back to his playing career. Brooklyn's only issues, are Durant's sensitivity and Irving's occasional criticism towards teammates, which could lead to a tumultuous season.
New York Yankees - As of now, there is still a sour taste of disappointment stemming from the team's loss against the Rays in the divisional series. In what was another season filled with injuries, they weren't able to adapt this time compared to last year, leading to a roller coaster season. There's no question that it would've helped if the team adjusted better to baseball's new environment this season, like other teams with high expectations such as the Dodgers. Fortunately with the strong possibility of MVP candidate DJ Lemahieu resigning, they will likely have a chance to run it back next season.
New York Mets - For the Mets, this season was very disappointing. With optimism heading into the season, they never came close to sniffing the playoffs. They do have talented players such as Jacob DeGrom, Pete Alonso, and a couple of impressive rookies in David Peterson and Andres Gimenez, who could have important future roles. Their biggest and most recent change is Steve Cohen's purchase of the team, which may be the fresh start this team needs.
Although there are some reasons for fans to be positive, most New York sports teams still have ways to go before a championship is on the horizon. When the Yankees, who are the city's best team, exit early in the playoffs, that just doesn't add up to a good year. Whether these teams are losing because of their ownership, coaching, or players, disappointment is the perfect term to sum up New York sports.
Another NBA season is in the books, and the Los Angeles Lakers are championships for the 17th time in their storied history. Despite facing adversity during numerous parts of the season, the Lakers lived up to their high expectations, clinching the no. 1 seed, breezing through the playoffs, and fighting off a scrappy Miami Heat team in six games for the title. For the Heat, while their season is over, they have a lot to be proud of this season. Here are the three takeaways from this year's Finals.
After this Finals performance, LeBron James has officially established himself among the greatest Lakers. His Lakers' tenure didn't start off well, as injuries resulted in a disappointing non-playoff season. But a rejuvenated James came back to put up one of the best seasons of his career averaging 25 points, 7 rebounds, and a career high 10 assists. In the playoffs, James was on a mission. On offense, he finished around and above the rim at will, while also showing off his outside touch from everywhere. In close games, most notably game 5 against the Denver Nuggets, he displayed that killer instinct people have questioned, hitting big shots down the stretch. He closed out the Finals in style with a triple double, putting up 28 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists. Michael Jordan may have six championships, but winning four times with three different teams should put LeBron over Jordan in my opinion.
LeBron wasn't the only one performing at a high level. Last year in June, the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis in a blockbuster deal with the New Orleans Pelicans, for a several players and draft picks. As of now, it's safe to say that L.A. got what they wanted from this deal. Davis had his own dominant season, putting up 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks a game. More importantly, Davis served as the perfect compliment to James, finishing his alley oops on offense, and improving the team's defense. Despite only two previous trips to the playoffs, experience wasn't an issue for Davis, as his dominance continued. His signature moment came in game 2 vs the Nuggets where he broke the series open with a game-winning, buzzer beater from three. In the Finals, he continued to show out and even earned consideration for Finals MVP.
For the Miami Heat, they might've lost, but they should be really proud of this season. Despite the signing of Jimmy Butler, expectations weren't high for the Heat entering the season. But this team immediately clicked from the beginning. Butler not only performed at a high level, but he served as a mentor for young players such as Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. Miami finished as the fifth seed. They swept the Indiana Pacers but it was the second round where they emerged as a contender, defeating Giannis Antetokounmpo's top seeded Milwaukee Bucks. A 4-2 victory over the Boston Celtics earned them a spot in the Finals for the first time in six seasons, where despite Butler's heroic efforts, the Lakers were too good for them. However, this team has lots to look forward to. Most of the roster will be coming back and as long as coach Erik Spolstra and president of operations Pat Riley are here, this team will be good in the years to come.
It's unlikely that we'll ever see an NBA Finals like this one. The mental challenge of staying in the same place for four months without family, and playing without any fans might have made this the toughest NBA season yet. It might've been a long wait for basketball to come back, but this outcome made the wait totally worth it.
This year, the National Basketball Association has a lot to be proud of. One of the most competitive seasons in recent memory was put on hold for over four months because of COVID-19, but the league handled the pandemic so well. Their plan to use a large Orlando campus, or “bubble,” inviting 22 teams has been highly praised. With no home court advantage, this year’s championship will be one of most difficult ones to win.
Eastern Conference: Western Conference:
#1 Bucks 4 4 Lakers #1
#8 Magic 0 2 Trail Blazers #8
#1 Bucks 4 4 Lakers #1
#4 Heat 2 3 Rockets #4
#4 Heat 4 4 Rockets #4
#5 Pacers 2 3 Thunder #5
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Lakers 4 4 Lakers #1
#2 Raptors 3 #1 Bucks 3 3 Clippers #2
#3 Celtics 4 4 Nuggets #3
#6 76ers 3 1 Jazz #6
#2 Raptors 4 4 Clippers #2
#3 Celtics 3 2 Nuggets #3
#2 Raptors 4 4 Clippers #2
#7 Nets 1 1 Mavericks #7
Events of the past several weeks have shown that there is profound social unrest in our country. Over centuries, African Americans have been discriminated against in many different ways, recently escalating with incidents of police brutality and violence. At least three African Americans - Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd - were killed by either the police or white civilians earlier this year. Thousands of protests are happening all over America as a way of responding to the injustice. As a result, many athletes have been using their social platform to create change, take a stand, and call for action.
Notable athletes have been vocal for change, using their platform to speak out. One of those players has been none other than LeBron James. He has made many social media posts expressing the difficulties of being an African American, letting people know the reasons for his activism, and stating that white people always command African Americans what to do. He made an emotional video with the sound of a basketball hitting the floor and as the ball hit the floor, a new white command would pop up. The captions went from "Shut up and dribble", which Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham told him back in 2018, to "Shut up and lay still." James concluded the video saying, "This is why we can't just stick to sports. Do you understand now?" Colin Kaepernick has probably earned the most praise from other athletes and coaches since he kneeled for the national anthem during the 2016 NFL season. His purpose was to draw attention to all of the racism and police brutality against African-Americans. He's now became a symbol of resistance to the unfair treatment of African Americans. Recently, he created a legal defense initiative called Know Your Rights Camp "for victims of excessive force by police terrorism and civil rights violations."
NFL and MLB players have created group videos for their own respective leagues condemning racism. The NFL video featured Patrick Mahomes, Michael Thomas, Deshaun Watson, and others. All of the players pushed the NFL to make a statement condemning racism, saying "What will it take? For one of us to be brutally murdered by the police?" They named numerous African Americans who were killed, that could've been them. The video concludes with all of them stating, "On behalf of the National Football League this is what we, the players would like to hear you state: We the National Football League condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We the National Football League admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. We the National Football League believe Black Lives Matter." www.instagram.com/p/CBN8b4Kn4S0/
As for baseball, Giancarlo Stanton tweeted a video which included him and other players such as Aaron Judge and Mookie Betts. They used #Players4BLM while vowing to make their voices louder toward creating change. Their message was, "We've been told that our peaceful pleas were not made at the right time, at the right place, in the right way. We've been told to 'wait.' But we remember when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that the word 'wait' has almost always meant never. We will wait no longer. We will make our voices louder for all of us who can and for all of those who could not." www.instagram.com/p/CBeefY6lNeu/
Former NBA player Stephen Jackson was a longtime friend of George Floyd. After hearing the news of his death, he flew to Minneapolis, where he's spoken at rallies about Floyd's story to bring attention to the police brutality that still occurs. Soon, he became an unforeseen spokesman for the family and the Black Lives Matter movement which has gained momentum around the world. He also gave a passionate speech on May 29 during a news conference at Minneapolis City Hall. At Floyd's funeral in Houston, he sat next to Floyd's daughter Gianna and later held her up on her shoulders at a rally. Jackson not only promises to take care of Gianna, but to bring justice for the family. His work earned lots of praise from many players, commissioner Adam Silver, former teammates, and coaches.
Despite the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is still controversy over some methods of protesting. Drew Brees said in an interview that he will never agree with anyone who kneels during the National Anthem. Many people such as James and even Brees's teammates spoke out against Brees. Even though Brees is well-liked within the football community, his comments show the lack of understanding he and many other Americans still have about racism. The responses from many fans and players who were upset by his comments shows the increase in their support toward protests against discrimination. Shortly after the interview, Brees issued an apology pledging to be an ally for the African-American community in fighting for racial equality and social justice.
This is the first time that athletes of all sports are using their social platform to create change. LeBron James recently created an initiative called More Than a Vote with the goal of standing up against racist voter suppression by educating, energizing, and protecting communities. Other athletes and entertainers have teamed up together to reach out to communities. Within one month, the organization has already identified major cities in key states in hopes of having an impact.
During this month, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace spoke out against the Confederate flag, saying it was a symbol of hate, not heritage. He successfully used his platform as the the only full-time African American driver at the top level to call for Confederate flags to be banned at NASCAR events. His viewpoints have caused him to give up sponsorships, but he has always put his beliefs over money. Shortly after he took this stand, a rope was found in his garage which was thought to be a noose. After investigations, it turned out not to be a hate crime, but the support he received was encouraging. This included an emotional procession of other drivers following Wallace who was driving his car to the front of the pit road.
This is a unique time for our country. It's important that athletes contribute to society in other ways besides just playing sports. Those ways may be varied, but recently many have come together with the purpose of working toward racial equality. It's time for the rest of the world to not just approve the work that athletes are doing, but rather make our own effort to make a difference in some way.
Here are some links to organizations founded by and supported by athletes:
Last year's offseason for the New York Knicks was one of the most disappointing ones in recent memory. With high hopes of getting Zion Williamson, the number one pick, along with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency, it looked like their bad fortunes would finally change. Instead, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The Knicks lost out on Williamson, although R.J. Barrett was having a good rookie season. Even worse, Durant and Irving decided to sign with the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets. So as the Knicks' troubles continue, how can their fortunes change this upcoming offseason?
The first move that Knicks General Manager Leon Rose should make is to hire a coach. While their interim coach Mike Miller wasn't awful, he's clearly not the answer to their problems. There are going to be a lot of available coaches who have impressive resumes, such as former Knicks' assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, and former Knicks' head coach Jeff Van Gundy. The guy who should be their first target is Mark Jackson, a Queens native who was a point guard for the team in the late 80s and early 90s. As a coach, he deserves a lot of credit for helping begin the Warriors' dynasty. He allowed Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to develop under a coaching environment that had both of them as the focal points of the offense. The team improved in his final two years, making the playoffs twice before Steve Kerr eventually took them to the top. His ability to develop players, as well as his New York roots, make him a good fit for the Knicks.
For the draft, the Knicks' top position need is point guard. Frank Ntilikina and Elfrid Payton have their moments and earned roles on the team, but not as starters. In the draft, point guards such as LaMelo Ball and Cole Anthony will probably be available for the Knicks to select. For Ball, his defense is questionable and his 3 point shooting needs work. However, his scoring and passing make him a top prospect. Another notable option for them is Cole Anthony, who posted an impressive 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists at North Carolina. He could be a big steal if his shot improves. The Knicks' first choice should be Anthony, based on the fact that he was the only bright spot on a talent-starved team and they would avoid Ball's volatile father Lavar.
Since Leon Rose was hired, the Knicks have been monitoring big name players, but the main person they should target is Chris Paul. Though he's 35 years old, his leadership and playmaking are the reasons why the Oklahoma City Thunder were overachieving this season. The Knicks wouldn't have to give up one of their young players or a high draft pick to acquire Paul. The Knicks should also target Paul because he'd be re-united with Rose, who was his agent. On the court, Paul's playmaking should help the Knicks win more games in the short term. In the long term, his leadership will help the development of players such as Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. More importantly, he's a guy who can bring a winning culture to a losing franchise, something the Knicks desperately need.
Every Knicks' offseason has some plan to revive the franchise. Most of the time, their plan fails and they have to start all over again. The focus of this year's plan is to make their young players better. Hiring a coach known to get the best out of his players, drafting well, and getting one of the best point guards of the millennium can give these guys a boost of confidence to succeed in the long term. Winning may not come immediately, but by making all of these moves, it can establish a winning culture.
Throughout his 17 seasons, Carmelo Anthony has been one of the NBA's top scorers. Using some of the most the most basic moves, he's regarded as one of the best players of his generation as well as of the best scorers in the league.
Until the pandemic, Melo was enjoying a comeback season with the Portland Trail Blazers. I think that if there was a Comeback Player of the Year award in basketball, it would be given to him. He started his career with the Denver Nuggets in 2013 where he enjoyed seven successful seasons, including an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. But heading into the 2010-11 season, Melo had a change of heart, and wanted to be traded to the New York Knicks. He was traded in February, 2011, and he took them to the playoffs for three straight seasons. The 2012-13 season was arguably his best, as he won the scoring title and took the Knicks beyond the first playoff round since 2000. Melo continued to ball out, but the Knicks missed the playoffs in his final four seasons, before he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since getting traded by the Knicks, he's been on four teams, only playing for two of them. Melo was out of the league for one year before signing with the Trail Blazers. He's been a great fit for them, averaging 15 points per game and making every executive think twice about not signing him.
So how is Melo still the great scorer that he is, even after a year out of the NBA?
Anthony's scoring isn't complicated. He can score using 12 simple moves. From the perimeter, he can attack the basket using a rip and go, dribble hesitation, pump fake, or spin move in the post. His jumpshot can come from a pull up off the dribble, hesitation outside or inside the three point arc, pump fake, turnaround, or in transition. Perhaps his most devastating move is his jab step, which I'll explain through a simulation of three possessions.
On the first possession, Anthony gives you a jab step. It has you thinking about whether he'll shoot it or drive. He then drives to the basket with ease and scores.
On the second possession, Anthony gives you a jab step. You immediately think that he's going to drive to the basket and you move with him towards the basket. The only problem, is that he's still in the same spot with the ball and you can only watch him make another basket.
On the third possession, Anthony gives one jab step. You're not hesitant at all. He gives you another jab step. You back up. A third jab step now makes you think that he's going to shoot. Then with a simple pump fake, you go flying by and then it's just a matter of whether he scores on a jump shot or at the basket.
With those moves, Melo has a scoring average of 24 points in the regular season and playoffs, a scoring title, and over 25,000 points in his Hall of Fame career.
It's a shock that Melo was out of the league for such a long time. His defense is questionable, but he can score at ease in a way that's rarely seen. Even after being out of the league, his scoring ways still makes him one of the best scorers in the game.
The NBA's season may be on hold, but there are rising stars who have a bright future ahead. There are a lot of top tier players who, despite having played in the NBA for around 5 years, are still very young. Unlike established players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Anthony Davis, who are mostly in their mid to late 20s, I'm instead going to talk about the best players who are currently in their rookie or sophomore season. So here we go:
1. Luka Dončić
This one was an obvious choice. Though Luka Dončić recently turned 21 years old, he's playing like a veteran. From his rookie season, he bursted into the spotlight averaging 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists while leading the Dallas Mavericks to statement wins over teams like the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics, and Thunder. After the season, he was awarded the Rookie of Year. But what he did last year feels like an afterthought compared to this year. His averages have all gone up to 28, 9, and 8, he is number 1 in the league with 14 triple doubles as well as in franchise history with 22, and he has the Dallas Mavericks in position to make their first playoff appearance in 4 years. They actually might not have to clinch if the NBA chooses to start the playoffs as soon as their coronavirus hiatus is over. Getting back to the subject of Luka, his unique ball handling and passing at 6'7 allows him to be one of the craftiest guards despite his lack of athleticism. By the way, his clutch performances aren't too bad either. Don't be surprised if he wins an M.V.P. award in the future.
2. Ja Morant
Though this guy was picked at no. 2 by the Memphis Grizzlies, he was definitely playing like the no. 1 pick during the time that Zion was out. His stats of 17 points, 7 assists, and a shooting percentage that hovers around 50 are good; his highlight reels are even better. Morant's name continues to pop up on basketball highlights all over the internet and for the right reason. Take for instance his putback dunk over the Rockets' P.J. Tucker, beating Sun's Aron Baynes to the hoop to seal a win in Phoenix, or his stare down after breaking the ankles of the Clippers' Jermey Robinson before knocking down a 3 pointer. When he's not making highlight plays, he's earning praise from peers like LeBron James who labeled him "Super special" earlier this month. Most importantly perhaps, is how in one season Morant has transformed Grizzlies into a playoff team (unless the NBA choses to resume the season and they end up collapsing). No matter how the season ends, he has established himself as the face of this franchise.
3. Zion Williamson
If it wasn't for an injury that kept him out until late January, Williamson would've probably been ranked higher than Morant. But unfortunately, the unexpected happens, and that was the case with Williamson. When he came back, though, he didn't just ease back into basketball. He came with a purpose. He debuted with a 17 point 4th quarter outing and didn't look back. Pretty quickly, he regained all of the strength and athleticism that he displayed in college. Williamson's successful recovery is impressive considering he's 6'6" and 284 lbs. He may have only played 19 games this season, but 19 games was enough for him to dominate, bring a vibe, and show leadership. He may not be going to the playoffs like Luka and Ja, but he'll have Pelicans' fans going into the offseason very optimistic about their future.
4. Trae Young
It's kind of hard to believe that a guy who is so scrawny, plays so well. That's the case for Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks. In just 2 seasons, he's already one of the best shooters, ball-handlers, and passers in the NBA. His defense needs work, but those three other abilities I just mentioned make other NBA players look like they're still in high school. Young's impact didn't happen immediately, as he went through a bumpy first half of his rookie season. In the second half, however, he went on a tear and although he didn't win Rookie of the Year, it didn't stop him from carrying his momentum into this season. His averages of 29 points and 9 assists per game, which include 11 40-point and 1 50-point night, shows his massive leap. Unfortunately most of those 40-point games have tended to be a losing effort throughout his young career. Hopefully the Hawks will build around him this offseason so his performances can finally result in more wins.
5. R.J. Barrett
Though the New York Knicks failed to win the lottery for Zion, it allowed them to take a good consolation prize in R.J. Barrett. He hasn't posted the stats or made as many highlight reel plays as the previous four players, but he deserves credit for handling New York's spotlight while playing for a franchise that's earned the reputation as a laughingstock. After some impressive performances to start the season, Barrett started to show growing pains, which can be expected from a 19 year old. However, his play and confidence has improved throughout the season. The game that stands out was against the Houston Rockets, where he dropped 27 points as well as a tough layup in the closing moments that stretched out the Knicks' lead en route to an upset win. The improvement of Barrett's stats and confidence gives Knicks fans something to be hopeful about during a very rough stretch. These are the first steps Barrett has taken toward becoming the face of this franchise.
These players were all drafted with high expectations despite the fact that their average age is only 20 years old. Guys like Luka have taken massive strides while others like R.J. have shown some signs of progression. Nonetheless, it's very impressive to see another group of young players make a name for themselves while playing against grown men with experience. It's unfortunate that we don't know when we'll see these players in action again, but we do know that as long as the players I've talked about keep improving, the NBA will be in good hands for the future.