How Steve Nash influenced the NBA

By Ben Stein ’18

Though often overlooked, Steve Nash completely changed the way we view the NBA. Besides the obvious fact that he won the MVP award twice, in 2005 and 2006, his greatest influence on the game was that he made it a pass first league for point guards.

While his passing ability is unmatched, interestingly enough in all of his seasons as an NBA player he never averaged more than 19 points per game. In 2004-05 he had almost as many assists as points, scoring only 15.5 ppg, but averaging 11.5 apg. He made other players look better; when he had 11 apg it was as if he was on the other end of 22 to 33 points. The second best assister in the same 04-05 season was Allen Iverson with 10 apg, and then it dropped off massively with Jason Kidd being third at 7.3 apg.

I understand that there are still star players who are not pass first players. Damian Lillard and Gordon Hayward, for example, do not pass all that much, but there are now also many stars who do pass. The leading assist leader in the 2016-17 season was James Harden, besides scoring roughly 30 ppg he had 11.2 assists. That is not that different from Steve Nash who averaged 11.5. Also, there were many players this year that closely followed, and recently there has been an influx of great assisters.

The second and third best assisters were point guards, like Harden, had similar numbers. John Wall had 10.7 assists and Russell Westbrook had 10.4. Fourth and fifth best were Chris Paul and Ricky Rubio with 9.2 apg and 9.1 apg, respectively.

The assist leaders in the league before Nash became MVP did not average nearly as many assists. Jason Kidd was the assist leader for five seasons; in the 1998-1999 season he averaged 10.78 assists, 1999-2000 he averaged 10.12 and 2000-2001 he averaged 9.78 assists. During the 2001-2002 season Andre Miller was the league assist leader with 10.89, and Kidd led in 2002-2003 with 8.89 and 2003-2004 with 9.22. However, in the years after Nash, all assist leaders had more than 10 assists, and eight out of the last 10 have had more than 11 assists.

I do acknowledge that John Stockton owned the league with assists between the years of 1987-1996, however the players who followed him did not all assist in the double digits. All of the players who have followed Nash have.
Teams are scoring more, but it is not only the era of offensive domination…. it also due to the fact that we have some of the greatest passers playing now, partly because of Steve Nash.

Celtics should Embrace the Youth Movement and keep the first pick

By Jackson Daignault ’18

Coming off a Game Six loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the number one seeded Boston Celtics were left facing an internal question, “Now what?”

This season was always considered a rebuilding year, featuring a team that was “one player away.”

However, the Celtics played well beyond expectations, clinching the number one seed led by an All-NBA second team point guard in Isaiah Thomas. The franchise was also able to make its best free agency signing in its history with the acquisition of former All-Star Al Horford, a key piece of their offense throughout the season. These gritty Celtics were always considered underdogs, but after making a push to the Eastern Conference Finals, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope. Then Lebron James happened.

The past month was a whirlwind of emotions for Celtics fans. First, they won the draft lottery and were granted the number one pick. A few days later, the Celtics won Game Three off of an Avery Bradley game winner, inspiring hope for the Celtics to compete against the contenders. A week later, the Celtics’ last glimpse of hope was destroyed as they were eliminated by Lebron James.

What else could they have done? They had played beyond expectations, stealing a game in Cleveland, but still felt short to the star powered Cavaliers.

Now, the Celtics are faced with a crossroad: attempt to stockpile talent and contend with the Cavaliers of the world, or attempt to build through the draft?

The Celtics’ best option would be to embrace the youth movement and draft Markelle Fultz, the 19-year-old standout guard from Washington.

Fultz was a bonafide stud on a struggling University of Washington team, where he averaged 23.2 points and 5.9 assists per game. Fultz is the consensus number one pick, and has superstar upside. Fultz fits the bill for a long and productive NBA career.

Fultz and Thomas have both been vocal about their desire and ability to play together, so there is no argument in terms of fit. Pairing the two of them will allow the Celtics to dominate on the offensive side of the ball with two scorers, as well as develop their young talent. While Thomas may be a liability on defense, the 6’4 195 pound two-guard should be able to make up for some of Thomas’ issues on the defensive side of the ball, along with help from All-NBA defender Avery Bradley.

While trading for a proven star like Chicago Bulls guard, Jimmy Butler, or Indiana Pacers forward, Paul George, makes the team better in the immediate future, Lebron James is not getting any younger, and any path to the finals is blocked by him.

Trading for a player of either of their calibers would be a hefty price, one that would probably include the 2017 number one pick, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and/or one of their draft and stash players. Giving up those three incredibly valuable assets for a single player harms the development and depth of the team.

Jaylen Brown, the number three pick in the draft, has superstar potential and the Celtics would have a difficult time parting with him. Showcased by plays like this, Brown had a strong rookie season and will look to grow as he works into his second year. Brown is only 20 years old, and has the frame to be dominant in the NBA, coming in at 6’7, 225 pounds. Coming out of college, Brown’s jump shot was often criticized. However, Brown worked on his jump shot before and during the season, and he was a strong finisher for the Celtics in limited playing time. When Avery Bradley went down with an injury for a few weeks, Brown stepped into a starting role and played well. While Brown was inconsistent as a 20-year-old rookie, more playing time will benefit him and his development as a player. As a result of Brown’s great size, he often was given difficult assignments, such as Lebron James in the playoffs. While Brown by no means locked down James, he was able to get in his face and cause him some discomfort. If Brown is able to utilize his athletic ability to become a lockdown defender, he will have a great NBA career. The Celtics organization has high hopes for Brown, and he figures to be an untouchable franchise cornerstone.

On the other hand, Marcus Smart is in a world of his own. When Smart was drafted with the sixth pick of the 2014 draft, Celtics fans were left scratching their heads.

Another guard? That can’t shoot? What about Rajon Rondo?

But boy those critics have silenced. The positive impact Smart has on games cannot be measured in statistics. Smart puts his body on the line every time he steps on the floor, and plays with a ton of heart, a characteristic the city of Boston adores. While Smart is an inconsistent shooter (35.8%), he has shown what he is capable of, single handedly torching the Cavaliers in Game Three. The 29.1% three point shooter, Smart poured in seven three pointers, and made hustle play after hustle play to propel the Celtics to victory. Smart stepped up big in the absence of Isaiah Thomas while giving a glimpse of the future for the Celtics. Time after time, Smart has been the X factor for the Celtics, making winning plays by showing heart and throwing his body around the court. Smart could not have landed in a better place than Boston, a city that embraces his blue collar, bulldog mentality.

The Celtics also have two draft and stash prospects from last year: Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele. Zizic, the 20 year-old, 6’11 250 pound center has gained lots of national attention playing for multiple teams in Europe. According to a report from Sportingnews.com, an anonymous general manager believes that if the Celtics had not drafted Zizic with the 23rd pick in the 2016 NBA draft, he would have been selected in the top 10 of this year’s draft. The Celtics have struggled rebounding the ball this season, and Zizic figures to be the Celtics’ replacement for Amir Johnson on the glass. Developing a rebounder of Zizic’s talent will have a huge impact on the future of the franchise.

The other prospect, Yabusele, otherwise known as “the Dancing Bear”, played in China for a bit before arriving in America to play for the Celtics D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. The 16th pick in the 2016 draft, Yabusele averaged 12.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in Maine. Yabusele has a large frame, but also has a good jump shot. Yabusele has gathered Draymond Green comparisons, and if the French product can carry out that comparison, the Celtics will be thrilled. Yabusele figures to fit in the middle of the rotation, where he will continue to grow and develop.

The front office seems to be very high on both of these young exciting prospects, and expect both to be suited up at TD Garden next year.

Simply put, it would not make sense for the Celtics to give up any of these four assets for one of those two players. While adding Butler or George would allow them to better compete with the Cavaliers, the road to the finals has never been more difficult, with Lebron James showing no sign of slowing down. It does not make sense to mortgage the future of the franchise for a handful of years of contention. Boston is no stranger to winning, and will expect to maintain the winning ways of their 2008 Celtics team.

By keeping and developing their young talent/picks, the Celtics will be able to keep their championship window open for years after Lebron James finally hangs up the sneakers. A core of Isaiah Thomas, Markelle Fultz, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele, as well as former All-Star, Al Horford, and All-NBA defender, Avery Bradley, will be strong for not only now, but also the far future.

Embrace the youth movement, Danny Ainge. Let’s get Banner 18.

The NBA is Becoming Less Rewarding

By Ben Stein ’18

I remember watching the 2004 Detroit Pistons, I remember the 2007 Phoenix Suns, and yes, I remember when watching basketball was rewarding.

In today’s NBA, teams are averaging points in the 100s, and others are giving up 100 or more. Every time someone scores it is just a regular shot, it does not feel as if they have worked for it. During the 2016-17 season the Golden State Warriors averaged 116.2 ppg. I understand that it is not typical for a team to score that much, and the Warriors are also the best team in the league; however, it must be noted that other teams are scoring huge amounts, too. Milwaukee, Sacramento and Philadelphia are all averaging roughly 103 points per game. This dynamic is completely different than the way the league was in the early 2000s.

There are two main reasons why scoring in the NBA has become less rewarding: the lack of defense and the influx of 3-point shooting. It is hard to track how often someone stops a fastbreak or how much time a team takes per possession, thus limiting more possessions for the other team. Still, it is easy to see how many points a team gives up on average. The 2004 Pistons gave up on average roughly 88 points per game, no team would typically score 103 on them, when someone did score on them it was entertaining because it usually involved a lot of ball movement and great clock management. The 2007 Spurs gave up 90 per game. In 2004, the number one offensive team scored 110 points per game, and the second best offense 103. More than half the league that year scored on average less than 100 points, while only one team this year did that. Teams score roughly 10 more points per game now than they did a decade ago.

In referencing the number of three point shots made by a team on average, it is true that every year there are great three point shooters. Brent Barry, Jeff Hornacek, Steve Nash and others were great shooters years ago. Currently, there is Kyle Korver, Steph Curry, Rodney Hood and Paul Pierce. However, teams are shooting more and making more shots. The Houston Rockets, this season, led the NBA in number of three pointers made. The Rockets made on average 14.2 three pointers per a game. That is roughly 42 points a game off of threes alone. In 2005, Phoenix led the league with 10 three pointers made per game and all other teams made a single digit amount with Golden State being second with 7.6 three’s per game. The influx of great three point shooting has made many games end quicker because many teams are often down by 30 at the end of the third quarter. By that time it is no longer a game, it is one team trying to bring the final deficit within 15, while the other team plays their scrubs.

When teams are scoring this much in bunches, and teams like Golden State are scoring 40 in a quarter, it doesn’t feel like a basketball game. Instead it feels as though teams are just vying for more possessions to get a chance to score.

The league is changing… but the real game is no longer valued.

All Advantages Are Contained by the Celtics

By Ben Stein

Being a Nets fan, I am not one to like the Celtics, AT ALL. However, it must be said that they do have virtually all the advantages to be set up for future greatness.

The Boston Celtics hold the number one pick in the draft and not because they are a bad team. They hold this pick because of a trade they made with the Brooklyn Nets on July 12, 2013. This trade sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and DJ White to the Nets, in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Marshon Brooks and Keith Bogans, with the Nets first round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018, as well as the option to swap first rounders in 2017. Now, this trade would not be such a big deal if it wasn’t for the fact that all the players the Nets received were in their mid 30s and out of their primes.

This year Boston boasted the best record in the Eastern Conference at 53-29 and has made it to the Eastern Conference Finals On Tuesday, it was announced that they owned the first pick in the 2017 draft which will most likely be Markelle Fultz. Fultz played for the Washington Huskies this past year and averaged, as a Freshman, 23.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, and 5.9 apg . These are outstanding stats to say the least.

Furthermore, the Celtics were the best team in the east, so they already have some elite players. Isaiah Thomas scored roughly 29 ppg this year and six rpg. Avery Bradley, another top shelf player, scored roughly 16 ppg and six rpg. Al Horford scored 14 a game with seven rebounds and five assists).

It is likely that the Celtics will also receive a very early first round pick in 2018 considering the Nets were the worst team in the league this past year at 20-62. The Nets also do not have any real scorers outside of Brook Lopez, neither do they have many playmakers outside of Jeremy Lin who was hurt for roughly half of the season.

If all the cards line up the way they probably will, this team will make it to the Eastern Conference Finals a lot. Although, beating LeBron…. that might be a tough task.

How do the Sacramento Kings transform their franchise?

By Ben Stein ‘18

The Sacramento Kings are a mess. They have not made the playoffs since 2004, fans do not have much to cheer for, and to make matters worse, their best player, DeMarcus Cousins, got traded to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Cousins was averaging 27.8 ppg and 10.6 rpg as a King through 55 games in 2016-17, before moving to New Orleans where he played 17 games. Losing an all-star and arguably a top 10 player in the league, the question is where does the franchise go from here.

There are several players who they may be able to rely on for some wins, but nobody knows who will step up and give this team a shot in the playoffs. Again, this is a team that has not won more than 33 games in a season dating back to 2006. That is 16 games under .500, but if we analyze some of their players, it might seem like they have some hope for the future.

Rudy Gay may be a viable option to build around. The 11 year vet is averaging 18.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 2.8 apg in his career, and in 2014-15 he was averaging 21.1 ppg. At 30 years old he still has a solid four to five years left of his prime.

Willie Cauley Stein is a player that the Kings could try to develop as a second star next to Gay. He averaged 8.1 ppg and 4.5 rpg in his rookie season in 75 games. The 2010 rookie of the year, Tyreke Evans, also is a hopeful option as a flexible Guard-Forward, averaging 10.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, and 3.1 apg in seven years in the league.

In free agency, Sacramento could go after someone like Gordon Hayward who led the Jazz to the second round of the playoffs this last season, or if they need a replacement for a big man they could try to sign Javale McGee who is playing good basketball with Golden State.

Either way, they should still probably eclipse more than 33 wins.