Why the Celtics can challenge the Cavaliers in the East

By  Jackson Daignault ’18

The Boston Celtics, no matter their level of success, have always been underappreciated. The rhetoric that the Celtics are overrated cause many to  believe the Celtics are not “enough” to actually contend in the East.

However, many seem to forget that the Celtics are currently in sole possession of the two seed, and have a very realistic chance to challenge the top dog in the east, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, the Cavaliers are not full strength and have lost three of the last five, but that does not take away from the fact that they are the team to beat.

The Celtics’ prime position to dethrone the King of the East is best showcased by their March 1 victory over the Cavaliers in Boston.

The Celtics were able to defeat Lebron James’ Cavs, despite James’ triple double. The Celtics relied heavily on Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 31 points on 10-20 shooting. No sequence, however, defined the growth of the Celtics more than Avery Bradley’s lockdown defense on Kyrie Irving in the final minutes of the game. Throughout the entire game, the hard nosed defense of Bradley, along with Marcus Smart,  wreaked havoc on the Cavaliers backcourt without J.R. Smith.

This game proved that the Celtics are ready for the challenge of the Cavs. The Celtics have been plagued by injuries all year long, highlighted by Avery Bradley missing 18 games due to achilles injury. Now that the Celtics are finally 100 percent healthy, they are a force to be reckoned with.

The Celtics will only go as far as Isaiah Thomas will take them, the 5’9 point guard averaging 29.3 points per game. Thomas has been kryptonite for other teams this season, and is in the discussion for MVP. James himself called Thomas a “clear cut star,” and “a guy that you want on your team.” Thomas has absolutely lit it up this season, shooting 46 percent from the field. The Celtics will rely heavily on Thomas’ playmaking and scoring ability if they wish to challenge the Cavs in the East.

Although the Celtics were swept by the Cavaliers in the playoffs two years ago, this current team is a totally different animal.

The biggest offseason move for the Celtics was acquiring former Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford, a three time All-Star. Although Horford does not fill up the stat sheet, his overall affect on the game is apparent every time he steps onto the floor. Horford has a 16.9 player efficiency rating, second on the team. Horford is also one of the best passing big men in the league, averaging close to five assists per game. Horford is very versatile and will be able to match up with any of the Cavaliers’ big men, ranging from Kevin Love (barring he returns), to Tristan Thompson. Since Horford is able to play both the four and the five, he has the lateral quickness to keep up with almost any player on defense. The offense is often run through him when Isaiah is being heavily defended, and he has capitalized, averaging 14 points per game. The addition of Horford was huge for the Celtics, and with his positive impact on the game, they have a better chance at being able to challenge Lebron James and the Cavaliers.

The Celtics are a gritty, hard nosed team that the fans absolutely eat up. No two Celtics represent that grit more than Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. The two are absolute fiends on the perimeter, and opposing guards have a hard time getting past them. The Celtics can match up defensively with almost any team in the East, especially the Cavaliers. Seen earlier, Avery Bradley absolutely ate Kyrie Irving alive on the defensive side of the ball in their March 1 showdown, and he can continue to do so the rest of the season.

With the acquisition of Horford, and the increased scoring from Thomas, the Celtics are a real threat to the Cavaliers’ status as the top dog in the East. The Celtics should no longer be doubted, but instead they should be credited as a real contender to dethrone the King.

Why Lebron James will win the 2017 NBA MVP

Jack Beck ’18

Lebron James is the best basketball player in the world.” That is a consensus statement in the National Basketball Association (NBA), where there is very little consensus on the trending issues.

Seeing that James is the best basketball player in the world, wouldn’t it make sense that everyone would view him as the league’s Most Valuable Player? This is not the case.

There are four MVP candidates being considered as the season comes to a close: Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. In most seasons, any of these four players would have a strong case for the MVP trophy. But this isn’t most seasons.

This season you have one of the greatest NBA players of all time, Lebron James, having arguably his greatest season ever, yet still isn’t considered the MVP. He is being completely overlooked for this trophy. And yet James truly deserves this accolade more than any player and more than any other year of his career.

Consider James Harden, who is shooting nearly 10 full percentage points worse from the field than James — 44.3 percent to James’ 53.8 percent. James is also shooting a better percentage from the 3-point line — 39.8 percent to Harden’s 36 percent.

Russell Westbrook has been wildly less efficient than James, shooting 41.9 percent compared to James’s 53.8 percent. To give that some context, there are 57 players in the league averaging at least 13 field goal attempts this season. James is first in field goal percentage, Westbrook is 54th — fourth from the bottom.

When considering the last MVP Candidate, Kawhi Leonard, there really shouldn’t be a conversation. Leonard is a tremendous basketball player, but he’s simply not better than James at anything on the offensive end of the floor. James averages 2.2 more rebounds per game and an enormous 5.4 more assists per game than Leonard. James is fourth in the league in assists per game, while Leonard tied for 54th.

The final argument one might make for James not winning MVP would be “value.” What would happen if you took “Player X” off of his team? Advance stats provide the answer.

If you are going off of the numbers above, Harden and Leonard are disqualified immediately.

James and Westbrook both have a much higher net impact, with Westbrook accounting for 14.1 points per 100 possessions and James at 15.1. What tilts this in James’ favor even further is that he’s the difference between an excellent team and a terrible team, while Westbrook is the difference between a pretty good team and a terrible team.

James makes the Cleveland Cavaliers arguably the best and most talented team in the entire league. Without him, they are barely in consideration to make the playoffs. The Oklahoma City Thunder on the other hand, are just a mediocre team even with Westbrook, currently sitting as the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James is universally accepted as the best player in the world. Typically, the universally accepted best player on the best team among the MVP contenders would be named MVP.

This year, that doesn’t appear to be the case. People are doing all they possibly can to convince themselves the MVP is someone other than James. They can certainly try, but numbers and common sense say otherwise.

Why Lebron James will win the 2017 NBA MVP

By Jack Beck ’18

Lebron James is the best basketball player in the world.” That is a consensus statement in the National Basketball Association (NBA), where there is very little consensus on the trending issues.

Seeing that James is the best basketball player in the world, wouldn’t it make sense that everyone would view him as the league’s Most Valuable Player? This is not the case.

There are four MVP candidates being considered as the season comes to a close: Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. In most seasons, any of these four players would have a strong case for the MVP trophy. But this isn’t most seasons.

This season you have one of the greatest NBA players of all time, Lebron James, having arguably his greatest season ever, yet still isn’t considered the MVP. He is being completely overlooked for this trophy. And yet James truly deserves this accolade more than any player and more than any other year of his career.

Consider James Harden, who is shooting nearly 10 full percentage points worse from the field than James — 44.3 percent to James’ 53.8 percent. James is also shooting a better percentage from the 3-point line — 39.8 percent to Harden’s 36 percent.

Russell Westbrook has been wildly less efficient than James, shooting 41.9 percent compared to James’s 53.8 percent. To give that some context, there are 57 players in the league averaging at least 13 field goal attempts this season. James is first in field goal percentage, Westbrook is 54th — fourth from the bottom.

When considering the last MVP Candidate, Kawhi Leonard, there really shouldn’t be a conversation. Leonard is a tremendous basketball player, but he’s simply not better than James at anything on the offensive end of the floor. James averages 2.2 more rebounds per game and an enormous 5.4 more assists per game than Leonard. James is fourth in the league in assists per game, while Leonard tied for 54th.

The final argument one might make for James not winning MVP would be “value.” What would happen if you took “Player X” off of his team? Advance stats provide the answer.

If you are going off of the numbers above, Harden and Leonard are disqualified immediately.

James and Westbrook both have a much higher net impact, with Westbrook accounting for 14.1 points per 100 possessions and James at 15.1. What tilts this in James’ favor even further is that he’s the difference between an excellent team and a terrible team, while Westbrook is the difference between a pretty good team and a terrible team.

James makes the Cleveland Cavaliers arguably the best and most talented team in the entire league. Without him, they are barely in consideration to make the playoffs. The Oklahoma City Thunder on the other hand, are just a mediocre team even with Westbrook, currently sitting as the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James is universally accepted as the best player in the world. Typically, the universally accepted best player on the best team among the MVP contenders would be named MVP.

This year, that doesn’t appear to be the case. People are doing all they possibly can to convince themselves the MVP is someone other than James. They can certainly try, but numbers and common sense say otherwise.

Why the Pelicans are not screwed

By Ari McCoy ’17

The Deal:

Sacramento Kings trade: Demarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi

New Orleans Pelicans trade: Guard Buddy Hield, ‎guard Tyreke Evans, guard Langston Galloway, New Orleans’ 2017 first-round pick and 2017 second-round pick (via the Sixers)

Background: The New Orleans Pelicans caught the NBA by surprise when they traded for All-Star center Demarcus Cousins from the Kings. Cousins’ name has been a mainstay in the NBA trade rumors for years, due to the instability of the Sacramento management and the immense projected haul. The Pelicans, however, have never been a projected suitor due to their lack of quality assets and publicly known interest. With a management team known for an aggressive win-now strategy, New Orleans pulled the trigger and appeared to steal away the All-NBA big. Giving up only one first round pick, one second round pick, and a few players, including struggling rookie Buddy Hield and former King Tyreke Evans, the NBA world was stunned at the lack of assets. But in the games since the trade, the team has struggled, going 0-3 before Cousins picked up a one game suspension due to being well past the league’s technical maximum. Many people are already beginning to say that the trade is a bust for NOLA. This is an overreaction.

Why NOLA shouldn’t worry yet: It’s been three games everyone, let’s relax. The team has struggled, going 0-3. In those three games, Cousins has averaged 23.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 3.7 steals and 1.3 blocks. In one of those games he only played 21 minutes against an OKC team with one of the league’s better defensive centers in Steven Adams. In that game, Cousins registered a dominant stat line of 31 points and 10 rebounds, including going 15-15 from the free throw line, before fouling out. So while the team has struggled to win games, Cousins isn’t necessarily the issue. His star front court partner, Anthony Davis, has excelled next to him, scoring 29, 39 and 38 points in each game since the trade. The real focus should be on the dearth of talent around the star studded frontcourt. Point guard Jrue Holiday was once a good player, but injuries have made him less athletic and have created significant rust. Wings Solomon Hill and Hollis Thompson are both one dimensional players. Hill is a net zero player offensively, and Thompson doesn’t provide much more than his shooting as a spot up wing. The bench is devoid of talent, supported by borderline rotation and a few D League caliber players. It is understandable why this team went 0-3 versus three good teams.

Conclusion: While the team does have two star players in the frontcourt, they can’t be expected to be a dominant team, or even much better than a .500 team, with a supporting cast like this.

Marcus Smart; blue collar basketball player

By Jackson Daignault ’18

Boston, a city with 37 professional championships, is no stranger to success.

The Celtics, a franchise that holds the most NBA championships ever (17) and currently holds the record for most wins of all time, resides here.

The New England Patriots, who recently captured their fifth Super Bowl victory thanks to the never ending success of quarterback Tom Brady, primarily bases itself in Boston.

The Red Sox, who have nine World Series victories, three of which are in the last 15 years, play their games on Yawkey Way.

The moral of the story is that Boston is a successful city. The fans love watching their teams play, and the teams love being able to represent their Bostonian fans.

One recurring theme in Boston sports is the presence of an enforcer; a player who maintains the grit and grind that makes Boston fans go crazy.

The Celtics had Kevin Garnett; the Pats have Brady; the Red Sox had Jason Varitek. This current Celtics team has Marcus Smart, a third year guard from Oklahoma State University.

Smart may not be the best shooter; he may only be averaging 10 points per game. But there’s one thing that Smart does not lack: heart. Time after time, TD Garden is blessed with a Marcus Smart hustle play; or a ball saving move.

Smart has showcased the heart and desire that Boston fans thirst for. Smart puts on a show for Celtics fans, never letting them question his heart and desire to win games.

Smart has never allowed anyone to question his offense. Although he doesn’t fill the stat sheet night in and night out, Smart is a strong, downright crazy presence on the floor. The feats Smart will go to in order to win games are unparalleled.

Although many can make the argument that Jae Crowder could fit this bill, Smart has continued to be an energizer off the bench for them, and continues to fill his role: enforcer.

Smart is averaging nearly four rebounds a game, close to the top of the team leader boards, and the only guard, besides Avery Bradley, who is even in the top eight. Smart is willing to put his body on the line night after night in order to give his team the best chance to win.

Smart also makes a huge impact on the defensive side of the ball, where he has a +/- of +6.2  . Smart is considered to be one of the best on ball defenders in the league, and it shows with his career average of 1.5 steals per game.

Last season, the Celtics had a top 10 defense thanks in part to the never ending hustle of Marcus Smart. The Celtics made the playoffs, and although they were defeated in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks, they would not have been able to get there without the continuous heart of Smart, where he had 27 rebounds and 10 steals in six games. Smart made a big difference on the defensive ball for the Celtics, where he shadowed sharpshooter Kyle Korver. After a game four win against Atlanta, Isaiah Thomas praised Smart, saying “[Marcus Smart] is going to be a special player in this league.” Smart was also often asked to guard larger opponents, such as Paul Millsap, who he held to 1 for 5 shooting against him in game 4.

Although the Celtics ended up getting ousted in the first round, Smart was a hawk on defense and showed his heart to the city of Boston.

As much as can be said about Smart’s tremendous defense and ability to defend any position 1-4, Smart is still not an effective offensive player. Smart makes up for his lack of offense with stunning hustle and defense, but if he can pick it up on the offensive side of the ball, teams will start to respect him even more. Once Smart makes these offensive strides, Boston will embrace him even more.  

As Smart continues to mature on and off the court, his offensive game will eventually catch up to his ability to work hard. But for now, Smart has shown the Celtics, and the city of Boston, that he bleeds green.

A King’s Beef

By Ben Pearl ’18

There was a stereotype that used to follow professional athletes in which athletes were only scrutinized by the media on the court, but not off. The most well known example of this is Michael Jordan, who, while on the court was very flamboyant, he had very little to say off the hardwood. This trend was extinguished in the late nineties by players like Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal, all-stars with huge personalities both on and off the court.

Over the past decade, new names have graced the top of the NBA, none more polarizing than Lebron James. His success has brought along one of the most publicized lifestyles in sports. James is infamously remembered for “The Decision,” in which he had a press conference informing the nation where he would be signing in free agency.

More recently, James is coming off a remarkable championship season and while the Cavaliers seemed destined to repeat their performance in this year’s playoffs, a recent slump has raised numerous questions regarding their potential. After losing seven times in 11 games, James called his team “top-heavy as s—” and that he felt the team was becoming complacent. As a fan of what Lebron has been able to do for the city of Cleveland and the sport of basketball as a whole, it is frustrating to see the four-time Most Valuable Player say something so negative about his team. While it is undisputed that he is the best player on the team, he is supposed to be a constant leader and a figure for younger players across the league to look up to. This outburst has been one of the few blemishes on a pristine resume that includes three world championships, and his comments have not been taken lightly.

“Organizationally, there is absolutely no lack of clarity on what our goal set is. We are here to win championships,” David Griffin, the Cleveland Cavaliers general manager, said. If there is any player, coach or executive in the National Basketball League who does not go to work everyday with the mindset of winning a ring then they are in the wrong line of employment. Griffin has proven this time and time again, as he has conducted significant acquisitions and signings over the past season. He has traded for elite swingman Kyle Korver and signed Tristan Thompson to a near-max contract this past offseason, all to catalyze another championship run. For James to suggest that people within the organization are not striving to get better is completely disrespectful. Additionally, he singled out himself and fellow Cleveland superstar, Kyrie Irving, saying that they are the only two playmakers. This shows a complete disrespect for the other players on the team, which happens to include all-star Kevin Love and dominant big-man Thompson.

What is most disheartening is that James has not apologized for his comments. For most of his career, James has been a major role model for people of all kinds to follow. It would be most responsible for him to recall his comments and acknowledge that he he did was out of line. While he may be the most dominant basketball player in the world, there are still 14 other players on the roster, in addition to the countless coaches and executives who are equally as hard working. As much as he might be frustrated, going to the media is never the answer and you never throw your teammates and coaches under the bus. Moving forward, athletes should realize that the only proven measures of success are maintaining an individual selflessness and following a team goal. James will have to fall back on these keys this season if he wants to   defend his title.

Disadvantage of small market teams showcased in NBA All Star game

By Jackson Daignault ’18

The 2017 NBA All-Star game announced its reserves on January 26, finishing out the roster. The list is highlighted by familiar faces in Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lebron James and Houston Rockets guard James Harden, as well as newcomers in the Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Toronto Raptors guard Demar DeRozan.

The NBA All-Star game and its fan voting practices are inefficient in truly selecting the best players from the league. Although commissioner Adam Silver has attempted to reform the selection process, it is still not enough, as fan voting takes away from the truth and results in the All-Star game becoming a popularity contest. Silver changed the system for the first time in recent history, giving the fan vote 50% of value, along with 25% from each a player and media vote. In 2016, Forbes released its rankings of value for every NBA franchise. Those franchises under 17th in the rankings were put at a disadvantage compared to those at the top in regards to All-Star game voting.

An example of this is Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who harnessed 1,528,941 fan votes, finishing second in the frontcourt of the West, nearly clinching a bid to New Orleans. Pachulia is only averaging 5.8 points and 6 rebounds per game. Pachulia was in part able to gain votes by being the only active NBA player from the European country of Georgia. However, since Pachulia plays for the 6th highest value franchise in the NBA, he was able to capitalize on the popularity and success of his team. Pachulia finished ahead of starter Anthony Davis, who plays for the New Orleans Pelicans (ranked 30th by Forbes) and Sacramento Kings reserve Demarcus Cousins (18th).

From the opposite side of the spectrum, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was snubbed of being an All-Star starter, despite averaging a triple double. As a result of fan voting that allows fans to account for 50% of the vote, Westbrook was disadvantaged because of his teams low market value. Westbrook was third in the backcourt of the West, being edged out by Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, and Harden. Curry, who previously won back to back MVP awards, has served as one of the most popular players in the NBA, on one of the most highly valued franchises. Curry has also taken a backseat to Durant, and his stats have taken a hit as he is only shooting 46.4% from the field, compared to his career average of 47.6%. Westbrook is currently chasing NBA legend Oscar Robertson as the only player to ever average a triple double. Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder were ranked 17th by Forbes, but as a result of Golden State’s high value and popularity, Curry was able to edge out Westbrook for starting point guard because of fan votes.  

Big market teams, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, are first in the Eastern Conference and constantly receive national media attention. They are ranked 12th by Forbes and are represented three times in the 2017 game, via Lebron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, two of whom are starters. They often are more popular and are able to have their players selected as a result of their increasing popularity and revenue of $191 million.

Kyrie Irving, who is averaging 24.4 points and 5.7 assists per game, is the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference All-Stars. Not to take away from the player who hit the game winning shot in game 7 of the Finals, but as a result of his teams’ success and market value, he was able to win the starting nod over players of lesser valued franchises, like Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, averaging 23.1 points and 7 assists per game. Irving 100 percent deserved an All-Star nod, but the argument can be made that he did not deserve the nod over Lowry, who is having a career year. Although the Raptors are not a small market franchise, the Cavaliers are valued higher than Toronto by Forbes and have larger fan support, allowing their players to be selected more frequently.

It is important to consider the fact that the NBA considers NBA League Pass a “Nationally Televised game.” Of the 37 “National Televised games” the Cavaliers will play a whopping 16 actual national televised games on major networks like ABC and ESPN, not on a paid platform.

However, a team like the Utah Jazz technically receives 34 “Nationally Televised games”, but only 4 of them will be on a major network. The Jazz bring in $146 million of revenue and are ranked 20th in Forbes rankings, but are disadvantaged in All Star game selection because they do not receive as much attention as the Cavaliers, or any other big market franchise.

Utah is only represented once despite being fifth in the Western Conference. Gordon Hayward is having a career year and was chosen for the game, but his fellow Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert also deserved a nod. Gobert is playing All-Star basketball, averaging 12.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game, along with 2.6 blocks.

This is further proven in regards to the Golden State Warriors (6th). Although the Warriors are first in the Western conference, players like Draymond Green, although talented, did not deserve to make the All-Star game over a player like the Jazz’s Gobert. Green is averaging 10.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Although Green is very talented, the offseason signing of Kevin Durant has altered his stats, and his overall involvement in the game has dropped off. But since Green plays for a big market franchise, he is able to win votes as a result of name recognition and national attention.

A small market team like the Jazz are more unlikely to send players to New Orleans simply based on the fact that they do not bring in as much revenue and are unable to harness popularity. How much money a franchise makes should not take away from the recognition a player deserves in regards to an All-Star nod.

The Thunder and the Jazz, ranked 17th and 20th in value, according to Forbes, are just two franchises who are disadvantaged in the All-Star game. Although each team was represented at the All-Star game, they were both beaten out by the 6th ranked Warriors.

One of the biggest snubs of this years All-Star Game was Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. The 76ers are ranked 28th by Forbes. Embiid, after two injury plagued seasons in which he did not log a single NBA minute, is currently the favorite for Rookie of the Year. Embiid is averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in limited minutes, along with the fact the team is reluctant to play him in back to back games. Embiid’s 76ers are currently 14th in the Eastern Conference, and as a result have a lack of publicity as they do not have a single National Televised game. Embiid and any other 76ers player would be disadvantaged in the voting process because of the lack of publicity and lack of a fan base as a result.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves Center is in a similar situation as Embiid. Coming off of his Rookie of the Year season, Towns has averaged 23 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. The Timberwolves are ranked 27th by Forbes, bringing in $146 million in revenue. The Timberwolves only will play four National Televised games this season, and as a result they do not get national attention and therefore are disadvantaged in the voting process. Once again, Towns could have pulled a spot away from Draymond Green of Golden State.

In the 2016 All-Star game, Los Angeles Lakers (2nd in Forbes ranking) shooting guard Kobe Bryant harnessed 1,891,614 votes, the most out of any player. Bryant only averaged 17.6 points per game, his lowest total since his sophomore season. Although Bryant is a sure fire Hall of Famer and one of the best players of all time, his play had seriously dropped off in his 20th and final NBA season. Of the top 25 players receiving votes in the Western conference, only two were not from big market franchises (Anthony Davis, who only played 44 games on the season, and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Enes Kanter.)

Bryant was one of the most popular players in the NBA, but was still able to capitalize on the the Lakers large revenue ($304 million), and fan base in Los Angeles.

The NBA All-Star games voting process puts small market franchises at a disadvantage because of a lack of National Television appearances and smaller fan bases. The NBA needs to continue to reform the voting processes further in order to adequately represent the best players in the NBA. Allowing fan votes results in the game becoming a popularity contest, which results in small market franchises being disadvantaged.