NBA Playoff Discussion; Western Conference Finals Game 1 – Spurs @ Warriors

The long-awaited Western Conference Finals started last night, and it was a great game. The Spurs came out fighting, like they have been for the majority of the playoffs, with tough battles against Memphis and even tougher battles in Houston preparing them for the biggest test of all – Golden State. The NBA’s super team came out looking quite sluggish to begin with, but that’s to be expected considering how easy they’ve had it in the West so far, and their week long break was still in their systems. But Game 1 was truly one of the greatest games to start a Conference Finals, so let’s get into it.

The Spurs had a great start to Game 1, going up big against the Warriors in the first half, gaining a huge 25 point lead, shocking every NBA fan lucky enough to watching this incredible sight. Golden State, like I said, came out looking sluggish after walking their way to the Conference Finals, and were perhaps taken aback by a San Antonio squad who were prepared to fight until the final buzzer. The Warriors were doing everything wrong, turning the ball over, missing open shots, Steph Curry airballed a three pointer to end the second quarter. They just couldn’t find the answer to getting past the #1 defensive team in the NBA, led, of course, by Kawhi Leonard, who was having his own way in the first half. Whether it was going to the lane and throwing down a mean hammer, or pulling up from the mid-range, Kawhi was doing whatever he wanted, and then stopped the Warriors from doing anything on the other end. But nothing lasts forever, and you can’t beat the Warriors for just 24 minutes, you’ve got to fight for the entire 48. The Spurs’ hopes of taking Golden State at home were destroyed when Kawhi injured that left ankle that was causing him so much discomfort against the Rockets, but continued to play, only to hurt it again a few plays later, and had to be carried off for the rest of the game. The Warriors, naturally, chose this moment to strike, and x2 MVP Stephen Curry was leading the way offensively.

Remember that Warriors team we saw last season during the regular season, when they just killed every team who came within five points of winning? The Warriors became that team again, only this time with an offensive beast in Kevin Durant. The super team’s two leading scorers, KD and Steph, took over the game and combined for a huge 74 points, and both of them shot over 50% from the field. They were pulling up from everywhere on the court, and if they missed a three, it was no problem, they just grabbed the offensive board and tried again, and rarely did they miss two in a row. You think I’m exaggerating? Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs in rebounds, and he only played 2 quarters of basketball, that’s how poor San Antonio were on the glass when they’re superstar left the court. We saw the MVP Curry, the one who pulled up from anywhere, and with such a confidence that he’d turn around before the shot hit the net. There was one play, where Steph stole the inbound, stepped back, and splashed a three, and I just thought to myself, “man, it’s been so long since we’ve seen that kind of Steph, he’s so fun to watch.” The Warriors are at their best when Steph is confident, and when KD is pulling up and shooting contested threes over LaMarcus Aldridge, there’s little more you can do than just sit there and admire these offensive freaks do their thing. It was certainly a tale of two halves in Game 1 of the WCFs, emphasised by Steph’s dramatic improvement in the 3rd and 4th quarter.

A few things to note:

  • I’m confident in believing that the Spurs would have won this game by double digits, not in the 20’s, but double digits, had Kawhi Leonard not gone down on that left ankle. He has also been confirmed to be out for Game 2, so expect a similar outcome to Game 1.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge needs to step up on the defensive end, if the Spurs want to have any hope of surviving this series. His offense has been consistently good over the last few games.
  • Klay Thompson has had no impact on the playoffs this season, despite an average performance in Game 4 against Utah. The Warriors have one of the most devastating offenses in NBA history when he’s knocking down threes, and I don’ like to see a player like Klay go through a rough stretch, so here’s to hoping he bounces back.

NBA Playoff Discussion; The Eastern Conference First Round Breakdown – 1st May 2017

So the First Round is over, and what was a truly unsurprising result for the Eastern Conference, in terms of the teams that advanced to the second round, was also a great two weeks of basketball, in almost every factor. We saw the first glimpse of playoff Giannis, John Wall showing his true ability and personality, Paul George getting bitchy at his teammates, and triumph through adversary. But just how good was the Eastern Conference First Round of the 2016-2017 NBA Playoffs? I’ll break it down for you, team by team.

Boston Celtics

Boston were one of that teams that probably should have advanced to the second round, being the first seed in the East, but, at the same time, you have to feel like they could have easily said hello to an early playoff exit. Isaiah Thomas, despite playing through the tragedy of losing his sister just before Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls, played much better than could be expected, and generally rose to the occasion, as he has done all season-long. Where $120 million Al Horford was basically invisible all series, other than a couple of threes, role players like Terry Rozier and Gerald Green stepped up alongside IT. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart played outstanding defense, particularly in Game 6, which helped bring the Celtics to the second round, where they took down the Wizards in Game 1, after being down 16-0 in the first quarter, creating a great game to open up the second round. A lot of people felt that Boston were a ‘bad’ first seed, lacking the offensive firepower that Cleveland has, or the defensive capabilities of the Warriors at the other side of the league. They are clearly without a go-to player, obviously despite Isaiah Thomas, which filled the minds of sceptics with doubts as to whether or not they could take down Chicago down the stretch of a 7 game series, which only inflated when the Bulls went up 2-0 on the road. But when Rondo went down, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, the Celtics became a much better team while the Bulls went back to the team they’ve been all season, bringing the series back to a 4-2 win, propelling them forward to the second round. Despite the 2-0 comeback, I’m incredibly sceptical on whether or not the Celtics can go toe to toe with the Wizards, especially when Thomas is likely to be locked down by a defensive star in John Wall, who is having a truly amazing playoffs. However, if Isaiah Thomas can rocket his team back to a comeback like he did in the first round, especially with what he was going through, you have to feel like the Celtics, who did secure the #1 seed remember, can defeat Washington, which can be backed up by their Game 1 victory last night. Who knows, maybe Isaiah will play better without that tooth that came flying out of his mouth during the game last night, because it surely seemed to get him going against the Wizards. But Al Horford, you’re getting paid $120 million, and you’re doing little to nothing on the court, and it’s hard enough for IT to carry the load of Boston’s offense when Horford is hitting the occasional shot, but he’s not even doing that this playoffs. And with IT likely to be looking to feed the ball more while being guarded by John Wall, Horford and the rest of the supporting cast in Boston are going to have to take some of the weight off Thomas’ shoulders, if they’re going to have any hope in taking down John Wall and the Wizards. You’ve already done it once Boston, just 3 more wins and you’ve got the conference finals under your belts.

Cleveland Cavaliers

I’m not entirely sure what to say about the Cav’s performance in the first round. LeBron was, well LeBron – that incredible freak of nature we’re all so used to seeing come playoff time, basically doing everything and anything he wants on the court, whether it’s dishing the rock or throwing down disgustingly sick dunks every chance he gets. Kyrie showed flashes of his ability as a scorer, able to take over games when LeBron needs him to splash 3’s when the game is on the line. They swept the Pacers without much difficulty, despite some of the games being relatively close. And I’ve seen people saying that the Pacers could have beaten the Cavs, judging by their ability to keep games close. But let’s be honest here – no they definitely couldn’t. LeBron and the Cavs got bored in some of the games, with LeBron and Kyrie not even going into the offensive half on more than one play, choosing instead to trust their teammates, 3 on 5, to get buckets. And in Game 3, when they went down by a huge 26 points, LeBron kicked into playoff mode and took over, leading the Cavs to the biggest comeback in playoff history. Look people, you can’t doubt LeBron James, especially when it comes down to the playoffs. We saw what he could do when he gets mad in the Finals last season, we’ve seen it already this season in that 26 point comeback. I don’t get how people can say that they won’t get out of the Eastern Conference, and with a straight face, no less. He’s done it already, he’s going to do it again. And no, I’m not saying the Cavs are going to do it two years in a row, I feel that Golden State have too much firepower this year, but I am saying, with LeBron James on their side, the Cavs truly have the potential to destroy any team that comes into their path, particularly in the East, especially when Kyrie and Kevin Love are feeling it. There’s not much else to say about Cleveland, so to sum up – LeBron’s a freak, I’m 99.99999% sure the Cavaliers are heading to the Finals again in June.

Toronto Raptors

Man, these guys are so incredibly inconsistent. Their series with the Milwaukee Bucks was going back and forth between whether or not the Raptors were going to advance. “Can DeRozan get back into form?” “Can the Greek Freak be stopped?” “Are the Raptors’ role players going to show up when it matters?” These questions were flying through the minds of Raptors’ critics, such as myself, throughout the entire series. And that Game 4 performance, when DeRozan went 0-8 from the field, fuelled sceptics with all the firepower we needed to piss off every Canadian who’d ever heard of Toronto basketball. And look, I’m not one to be in denial when I’m wrong, but I don’t feel like I’m wrong about the Raptors, not yet anyway. They were dodgy in that series, and I’m convinced the Bucks would have sent them packing if Jabari Parker had recovered from injury, but they did finish it out in the end. DeRozan made a great comeback from the shocking 8 point game, throwing Giannis and the Bucks onto the curb, basically banning them from Canada, with the Bucks’ “Barney Theme song” whenever the Raptors set foot in the Bucks’ building. Serge Ibaka showed some flashes of a strong interior defender, protecting the paint against someone as rim-driven as the Greek Freak. The ‘mid-range assassin,’ aka DeMar DeRozan, stepped up to the challenge, silencing questions about whether he can perform in the playoffs as the leading scorer on this Raptors’ squad, excluding that Game 4 performance, obviously. Kyle Lowry showed signs of improvement, with a lot of people still sceptical about whether he’d be in full health after that injury which had him out for plenty of the season. Let’s be real with Toronto though, for a moment. They’ve got a lot of playoff experience on their squad, with their dynamic backcourt and Serge Ibaka being no stranger to the post-season limelight. But they are not, I repeat are not, going to put up a fight against the Cavaliers. I’ve been wrong before about this kind of thing, but I’m thoroughly convinced that LeBron James is too good for any Eastern Conference team in the playoffs, none of them can match up to his level of post-season intensity. That, combined with Kyrie’s scoring ability when he’s feeling it, spells bad news for everyone who had a sliver of hope for Toronto fans. But who knows, maybe Serge will lock down LeBron like he locked down Giannis in this small moments in the first round. Nah, saying that out loud just sounds ridiculous. Serge is probably going to be on a poster if he steps anywhere near LeBron. Congratulations to the Raptors for getting out of the first round, but I’m close to certain that your 2016-2017 playoff run has come to an end. You guys were just unlucky that the Cavs couldn’t secure the #1 seed, or you’d probably be headed to the Eastern Conference finals again.

Washington Wizards

I was pleasantly surprised with Washington’s performance in the first round, particularly against a strong Atlanta squad. John Wall showed just how dominant and game deciding he can be, following up on a close to MVP conversation-like season with a terrific Round 1 set of performances. Whether he was dunking on every Hawk who got in his way, chasing down his opponents with amazing defensive plays, or waving goodbye to Atlanta in Game 6, I found enjoyment in every aspect of his game throughout that first series. He and Bradley Beal stepped up for a huge combined 72 points to wave the Hawks goodbye in the Game 6 performance, showing flashes of one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA. Marcin Gortat showed signs of his early regular season self, turning into a foreign monster in the paint, bullying Dwight Howard in every game. Markeef Morris played decent as part of the Washington supporting cast, with his defense proving to a vital aspect in slowing down Paul Milsap, despite his 33 point performance in their season ending game. This series, the Hawks and the Wizards, was expected to go to Game 7 just because of how evenly matched the two teams were, but John Wall and Bradley Beal really stepping up and just terrorising the Atlanta defense in every attack they could. Whether it was John Wall running the floor in transition and throwing down a mean poster on the Hawks, or him kicking the ball out to his backcourt partner for a deep 3, they had the ability to destroy Atlanta. We also got a glimpse at John Wall’s confident side when he was trash talking the Hawks’ bench mid-game. And if there’s one man I want to see trash talk people, it’s John Wall. I mean, when you play well in both aspects of the ball game, you’ve deserved the right to bad mouth opponents to your heart’s content. Washington are matched up with Boston in the second round, and, although they’ve lost Game 1, fuelled by a hot shooting night for Isaiah Thomas, I have a sneaking suspicion we’re going to see an upset for the #1 seed, especially if the Wizard’s backcourt starts feeling it like they were in Round 1. All I’m sure of, though, is that we’re in for a great second round series. We know these two teams hate each other, they’ve been in several confrontations all season, so we can count on a couple of arguments, maybe even some fists being thrown, to fuel our desires for that playoff atmosphere.

Atlanta Hawks

Much like the Wizards, I was genuinely surprised with the Hawks’ performances in the playoffs this year, but for the wrong reasons. They played lazy all series against an energetic Wizards squad, who propelled in transition, destroying Atlanta with incredible speed. I had expected the Hawks to take this series in 7 games, despite John Wall’s terrific performances, considering Paul Milsap’s improvement in recent years, combined with Schroder’s slightly overrated but still great ability over the length of the season. On paper, the Hawk’s backcourt was on a class above the Wizards,’ looking particular at Paul Milsap and Dwight Howard, who should be cleaning the offensive glass on every possession, something he hasn’t done in years for some odd reason. There was a point in time where Dwight was in the conversation for greatest centre in the league, a moment that has been completely forgotten about since the 7 footers days in LA, leading to claims of a has-been for Howard. Despite Milsap’s above average play in the series, the Hawks lacked fight throughout all 6 games, even in the games they won they seemed like a team who just wanted to be done for the year. For the entirety of the series, Atlanta had no answer for John Wall, who beat them repeatedly on coast-to-coast dunks and kick outs to Bradley Beal. Game 6 was a perfect example for how the first round went for Atlanta – they had a couple of high points in the game, Milsap’s 33 points being the main one, as well as a transition dunk for Denis Schroder, which seemed to be the only moments worth mentioning for the Hawks throughout the whole 6 games. Kent Bazemore was practically invisible in the first round, being basically the Al Horford of the Hawks, with only a couple of threes separating him for the fans in the crowd watching the game. It pains me to speak about Atlanta like this, because I’ve actually got a lot of love for Paul Milsap and his game as a whole, and am one of those secret believers that Dwight can be the centre he once was, cleaning up the boards while dunking on every man who gets in his path. But this series really filled my mind with some doubts regarding Atlanta’s ability to be a contender in the league, and I’m slightly hoping that Milsap gets traded to a team where he’d be in a position to win some games, and the ATL is just not that place. I’m sincerely apologise to the Hawks, but you guys need to step up your game if you want any hope of getting somewhere with this current squad.

Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee is probably the only team who got sent home in the first round, that you can still take out more good aspects of their performances than the bad ones. Most of these good aspects, however, revolve around the noticeable improvement of likely Most Improved Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, and that’s certainly not a bad thing, considering just how good the Greek Freak has become this season. Giannis has went from a reliable slasher to an all-around God in every sense, leading the Bucks in every major statistical category this season, which he has improved in from last year, I must add. We’ve been given a glimpse of playoff Giannis, and oh boy, that man is so good it’s almost illegal. He dunks on everybody, he plays outstanding defense on the other end of the floor, and he sends away any shot that comes near his basket. But the Bucks have a lot of other stuff to be grateful for, despite losing to a strong Raptor’s squad in the 4-2 series. For example, Thon Maker showed some flashes of his potential as a rim protector and space eater, completely dominating the paint on both sides of the floor. Also, Kris Middleton played amazing throughout the entire series, and Greg Monroe fits in well as a member of the Buck’s supporting cast, which is probably some of the best knows for Milwaukee fans coming out of the playoffs. And look, they couldn’t make it through the first round, especially when matched against an experienced Toronto team, but we’ve been given a glimpse of what the Bucks can create out of their squad when they choose to build around Giannis. You can clearly see that they’ll be able to surround Giannis with 4 shooters, giving the Greek Freak plenty of room to drive to the rim, and kick out to his teammates if he gets clustered in the paint. Milwaukee fans can be certain that Giannis is going to live in the gym for the next 4-5 months, working hard on gaining a consistent jumper, preventing defenders from sagging off of him, which in turn, will create more space for dribble drives. I mean, Giannis doesn’t have much of a problem getting to the rim already, but surrounding him with shooters will only create more space inside, and a consistent jumper means that those guarding him will no longer have the luxury of standing a few steps away from him and clogging up the lane. And I’m not talking about a 40-45% 3 point shot, but just enough to stop defenders from sagging off him, maybe 35%. If he can achieve this, and I truly believe he can, considering his improvement already from the last two seasons, and Milwaukee build around him like they should, I’m convinced the Bucks can make a deep playoff run in the coming years. Don’t worry Milwaukee, you’ve still got a lot to be happy about, no need to worry about that first round exit, the skies the limit for that young squad.

Indiana Pacers

Indiana were by far the worst team in the playoffs this year, at least in the Eastern Conference anyway. And I’m not even talking about their performances on the court, which were about as good as they could have been, considering they were swept by LeBron and the Cavs. I’m talking about their chemistry as a whole.  After Game 1, for example, when C.J Miles chucked up that game-winning attempt despite Paul George’s pleas for the ball, PG went onto the podium, directly after the game, and basically bitched about how he should be the one to take that shot, not Miles. And don’t get me wrong, he’s absolutely right about that, he definitely should be the one throwing up a prayer in the last seconds of the game, forgetting about his hopeless attempt in Game 4, but you can’t go onto the podium and tell the world that you don’t trust your teammates enough to seal the game for you. First of all, that’s terrible for locker room morale, making yourself look like you’re better than the rest of your squad, especially when you’re supposed to be a leader like Paul George. Secondly, you’re announcing to the world that you believe your teammates aren’t good enough to be taking those kind of shots. And when you’re likely to be traded in the offseason, you want to be making yourself look like the greatest teammate in the history of the NBA, not downplaying your squad in post-game press conferences. He later went on to bitch about Lance Stephenson’s on-court behavioural antics, which again shows that there is clear locker room issues within the Indiana Pacers. It’s understandable that they didn’t win a single game against the Cavaliers, and nobody can honestly say that they didn’t try, especially when they were up by 26 at one point. But the Cavs clearly weren’t playing to their full potential, the potential we saw when coming back from that 26 point deficit, and it honestly made me feel bad for the Pacers, considering how hard they played to get to that 26 point lead, only for it to be blown up in their faces by a LeBron fuelled, unstoppable offense. It’s quite depressing when you think about it, the highlight of the Pacers 4 games in the 2016-2017 playoffs, other than Paul Geroge’s hilarious rants on the podium, was a Miles Turner poster over Tristan Thompson. There’s not really a lot to say about Indiana in the playoffs this season, other than how truly awful they were in almost every aspect. And to add insult to injury, Larry Bird stepped down from the Pacer’s front office, giving Paul George no reason to stay in Indianapolis. So the Pacers are likely to lose out on the face of their franchise in the offseason, which will top off a truly terrible season for Indiana.

Chicago Bulls

Where do I even start with these guys? They looked so good, and then they snapped back to reality, and turned back into the awful team we’ve become accustomed to seeing this season. In a 4-2 loss to the Boston Celtics, the Bulls were actually up 2-0, thanks to some great games from the Chicago ‘Big 3,’ Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo, giving NBA fans everywhere signs of hope for an 8th seed upset over the underserving #1 seeded Boston. Then Rondo goes down, and the Bulls go from a 20 assist, 4 turnover team over the space of two games, to an 11 assist, 4 turnover team in the next two games, in which they lost both to an Isaiah Thomas fuelled Celtics offense. The Bulls were transformed, briefly, into a team that could potentially be exciting to watch, and maybe, just maybe, cause an upset and force themselves into the second round. Then, reality hit, and Chicago went back to that team who struggled the catch the basketball, draw up terrible offensive plays, and choose instead to load the ball into Butler and Wade in the post, which could maybe lead to a terrible 2 points. I suppose that’s what I get for having hope for what used to be the greatest franchise in the league. Screw you Bulls, screw you. I truly hope Jimmy Butler goes somewhere where his talent can be used to his full potential. Look at it this way, Chicago, at least Rondo has some leverage for getting paid this season, considering he was the decider on whether or not you scrubs would actually win a game.

 

 

 

NBA Playoff Discussion; The Bulls Are Doing It, Bucks Could Create an Upset, MVP Battle Taking Place

The NBA Playoffs are well underway, and we are truly being treated to some great series’. LeBron James is back to being his playoff dominant self, but the Pacers are still fighting hard, led by Paul George. The Jazz are trying to figure out a new strategy against the Clippers now that Rudy Gobert is down indefinitely. Even the Blazers are fighting against the heavy firepower squad in Golden State, fuelled by their incredible back-court, who are an incredible scoring night in Game 1. But there’s a few playoff series which carry more weight than the rest. The 8th seed Bulls have something to prove with their experienced backcourt, and the Celtics are out to show they deserve that 1st seed place. The young Bucks squad are trying to show that they are not to be messed with, while Kyle Lowry returns to fuel DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors. And the MVP battle continues as Russell Westbrook and James Harden duel it out, trying to prove they both deserve that MVP award by progressing to the second round.

The Chicago Bulls are putting in work in the post-season, despite their 8th seed place in the regular season, and are showing the 1st seed Celtics that placement doesn’t mean a thing when you’ve got players like Jimmy Butler on your squad. And what’s funny is, a lot of people predicted this upset when the match-ups were set, because the Bulls have the ability to beat most teams in the league, although their regular season record shows otherwise. If I had to bet on an upset at the beginning of the playoffs, I would have put my money on Chicago taking down Boston, and for many reasons. Al Horford is pretty much diminished by Robin Lopez, Isaiah Thomas is slowed down relatively by Jimmy Butler, while he puts up anywhere between 20-40 points at the other end. Rajon Rondo is showing up for the first time this season, being just 1 rebound off a triple double, and tying the Bulls record for most assists inn a playoff game. For the first time, we’ve seen the Bulls’ “Big Three” show some chemistry and work together, which is why they’ve got a 2-0 lead heading back to Chicago. I’ve got to give a ton of credit to Isaiah Thomas for playing those first two games, despite the tragic loss of his sister Chyna in a car accident just a few days previous. It’s probably one of the hardest things a player will ever have to do – playing through grief, so respect to IT for showing up. And there’s a lot of people of Twitter saying it’s due to Thomas’ grief that the Celtics are unable to win, but I don’t think that’s the case. I mean, it’s awful what happened to Chyna, and if Isaiah was to play poorly, it would be understandable. But IT is still playing fantastic, I mean, he put up 33 in Game 1, only a day after Chyna’s death, so the blame cannot fall in Isaiah’s hands by any means. If you want to play the blame game, throw it at Al Horford and the rest of the Boston squad. Horford’s on a $110 million contract, yet he’s practically invisible while on the court, and is having little to no impact in the paint with the presence of Bulls mascot bully, Robin Lopez. So, despite the tragedy and grief he’s obviously playing with, IT is still showing up with a desire to win, but the rest of the Celtics are playing like a real 8th seed team, and not the kings of the East, and that’s why they’re heading to the Chicago 2-0 down, with a big mountain to climb. The way I see it, the Bulls could quite easily sweep the struggling Celtics, if they’re stars and supporting cast continue to play as they have been. A repeat of last night’s performance from Rajon Rondo, combined with another 20+ point game for Flash, and a typical night from Jimmy Buckets, could mean a swift exit from the playoffs for Boston, crushing Isaiah Thomas’ season-long effort.

I’m just going to say it now; Giannis Antetokounmpo is a freak in the playoffs. I mean, obviously he’s a freak all season long, hence the nickname – “The Greek Freak” – but he’s even more incredible when games truly matter. The Bucks, led by this freak of nature, are tied with the Toronto Raptors after last night’s narrow loss, thanks to huge games from Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. But they are tied, and heading to Milwaukee for Game 3, and Giannis is showing no signs of slowing down. He genuinely does everything on the court, hence why he led the Bucks in every major statistic during the regular season. But despite his incredible performance, the Bucks fell just short of a 2-0 lead heading home, as Ibaka and Lowry led the Raptors to this narrow victory, with Kyle hitting a clutch game winning two to seal the deal, and Serge hitting some important threes and defending the paint against an eager Bucks’ squad. Ibaka even swatted one of the Greek Freak’s attempts to get to the basket, which just seemed to drive him more, to be quite honest. The Bucks have surprised many watchers, including myself, who believed the Raptors would steamroll to a 4-1/ 4-2 victory over the inexperienced squad. But I’ve changed my mind, following their performance in Game 1 and 2, and am starting to think the Bucks could advance to the second round, or at the very least, force a Game 7. It’s probably the closest match up, second maybe to the Clippers – Jazz without Rudy Gobert, and is proving to be one of the most exciting to watch. I mean, they’ve held the Raptors to one loss and a very, very narrow win, a set of circumstances which I would never have forseen, even with my love for the game of Giannis. Maybe they can force an upset here, if Middleton and Thon Maker step up for some big performances. But, in saying that, the Raptors could easily throw the Bucks to the curb, if these big games from Lowry, DeRozan, and last night’s Serge Ibaka continue for the rest of the series, especially DeRozan has one of his many 40 point games. Ibaka defended the paint extremely well last night, even forcing Antetokounmpo to hesitate, and even avoid the paint, while he stood there, ready to swat anything that came nearby. It’s quite a pity that Jabari Parker is struggling with that knee injury, as adding an extra slasher to the mix would make this playoff series even more exciting than it already is. One thing’s for sure, though; if this series carries on the way it has for the initial two games, we’re in for the one of the closest first round matchups in recent history, fuelled by huge performances from the respective stars of each squad.

Russell Westbrook, James Harden, or Patrick Beverley. Who is the most important player in that series? Obviously, Pat Bev shouldn’t be in that conversation, by any means, but my God, he locked down Russ so bad. Going into that Game 1, I was expecting a 50 – 15 – 15 game from Brodie, and anything less hadn’t even crossed my mind. Then I remembered that rivalry that started between Pat and Russ that instigated two years ago when Westbrook and Beverley clashed knees, forcing Russ to sit for the rest of the series. I also remembered that Pat is one of the toughest defenders in the league. But I had never imagined that he’d agitate Westbrook so much, holding him to less than 25, and preventing a triple double (it’s odd how I expect a triple double from Russ, I realise), which has gotten my hopes up for a better performance from the other MVP candidate, that lad, James Harden. A poor first-half shooting performance was made unapparent by continuous drives to the basket and superb passing, as well as cooking up Enes Kanter that one time, leading to an outstanding 37 point outburst. And as important as The Beard will be throughout this playoff series, Pat Beverley will be equally as important in locking down Russell Westbrook, preventing those amazing 40/50 point triple doubles we’ve almost become accustomed to seeing from the Brodie. He antagonised Westbrook to an extreme extent in Game 1, and will prove to be a vital tool in stopping the league’s most explosive player. It’s hard not to see that Beverley’s tough, almost illegally aggressive, defense is getting to Westbrook, as that screen which completely levelled Pat, from Steven Adams was clearly a shot in retaliation for Beverly locking down and getting into the head of Russ on several occasions. His defense aside, Pat had a breakout game in terms of shooting, putting up a great 22 points on 4 buckets from downtown, proving that he can be a force on both ends when he’s feeling it. Coming from a Houston fan, this probably sounds biased, but after that thirty point blowout in Game 1, I’m starting to believe Di’Antoni’s Rockets can blowout the Thunder, but their performance in Game 2 tonight will be important in finalising my thoughts on the match up.

TheBloggingLeprechaun NBA Awards – Defensive Player of the Year

Defense is the name of the game, and these three players shine at it like no other. Even without a list, anyone who watches the NBA even as little as once a week will probably already know who’s in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. The last two years have been dominated by Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard, but he is no longer the only defensive monster in the league, and is accompanied by two other players who scare people with their defense, rather than their ability to put the ball in the basket. Defense is what they’re paid to do, and they do it so well they’ve even been given an award for it. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

3. Kawhi Leonard

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The Klaw, The Silent Assassin, The Man who Doesn’t Smile. Call him what you will, there’s no human alive who can poke flaws out of Kawhi Leonard’s defense, to be honest, it’s quite difficult to poke flaws out of any aspect of this freak’s game – he’s just so well rounded as a player, in both defensive and offensive aspects. His incredibly large hands give him the nickname “The Klaw,” and is probably the main reason why he steals the ball from any rim attacker unlucky enough to cross Kawhi’s path. He’s probably the best defensive player in the league, which is why he has dominated this award for the past two seasons, in fact, they should probably just rename this award in his name, like Jamal Crawford and the Sixth Man. Kawhi’s defense is good, that opposing teams draw up plays which remove the man he’s marking from the offense, as to prevent him from stripping the ball from any player on the court, which is the main reason he isn’t running away with this award yet again. It’s hard to play solid defense when your man is too afraid to attack the basket or even shoot the ball. It’s a token to Kawhi’s incredible defense, and if he were treated as a normal player on the defense end, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d be leading this list. As a Houston fan, I get nightmares every time I see this man, as flashbacks to that crazy block he had on James Harden to carry the Spurs over the finish line and win against the Rockets earlier this season. The Klaw is basically the anti-Westbrook and Harden, or any player who is the only star on their team, as he forces the coaches to pull their stars from the offense to prevent Kawhi from just shutting them down completely. The only player in the league I’ve seen who’s been able to play decent offense at the mercy of Kawhi Leonard, is Kyrie Irving, but, to be fair, Kyrie could smoke any player in the NBA when he’s feeling it, so this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It feels weird having Kawhi outside the top 2 defensive players in the league, but he could win MVP, so congratulations to The Klaw, none the less!

2. Draymond Green

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First off, I have to say that I despise Draymond, not because he’s a Warrior, but because he’s just so dirty as a player, sneaky in fact. His kicking antics are some of the most despicable actions of a player I’ve seen, and the fact that he’s notorious for them makes it all the worse. But even I, for as much as I hate him, can’t hate on Draymond’s defense. His defense is so good, in fact, that he’s managed to lock down LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard, all MVP candidates, when the Warriors have played their respective teams. There’s not many players in the NBA who can say they’ve held down LeBron James on defense. He became the first player to get a triple double, without points being an aspect of the trip dub, and instead opted for an incredible 10 steals! So, while he won’t get you 20 PPG, he’ll certainly lock down any player looking to cross him up, and if he can’t lock them down, he’ll straight up kick them in the balls. So, you know, he’s efficient on defense. Draymond creates a huge plus/minus differential when he’s on the court for Golden State, preventing an extra 6 points scored on the Warriors when he’s on the floor. If you need more stats, the Warriors are +626 in Green’s 1,970 minutes this season (via Basketball-Reference), so you know he makes a huge impact on the defensive end for the Warriors, and with offensive superstars like Steph, Klay and KD on the squad, Draymond’s only goal is to play defense, and boy does he play it well. And Draymond may be a dirty, despicable, sneaky player, but he does play some outstanding defense when he isn’t kicking players in the balls, so congratulations to Draymond Green for finally bypassing Kawhi to crack the second place spot on the list!

1. Rudy Gobert

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Step aside Kawhi and Draymond, there’s a new kid on the block. French giant Rudy Gobert is by far one of the biggest and most intimidating defensive players in NBA history. The French Rejection measures out at a staggering 7 ft 1, and I’m convinced he could touch the ceiling of an arena just by outstretching his freakishly long arms. He holds opposing big men to an incredible 42% when matched up with them, which is huge for players like Dwight Howard and other traditional big men, who usually shoot a high percentage due to tendencies to sit in the paint and just throw down dunks and layups. It’s rare that his opponents get more than 15 points against the Stifel Tower, which is a token to his fantastic defense, and proves that Gobert is the winner of this award. Gobert is averaging a huge 13 rebounds per game, combined with a league leading 2.7 blocks, which just shows how long Rudy actually is, and how effective he is at cleaning up any mess that gets into the paint. Not only can he smack almost any shot out of the air, he’ll also pull it down and heave an outlet pass to a Jazz teammate. His net rating knocks Draymond’s out of the park, with a total net rating of +8.5 point differential when he’s on the floor. When Gobert is off the court, the Jazz’s net rating drops to an awful -3.7 differential, for a total of +10.8 point differential when Gobert is on/off the court. And if that stat alone doesn’t convince you that Rudy Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year, you are quite blind. TheBloggingLeprechaun’s DPOY award goes to Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz!

Let me know who you felt deserves the Defensive Player of the Year down below, and follow my blog for more awards and NBA Discussions. Also, check out my Twitter for updates on the blog, and just my general shite posting. Enjoy your day!

 

NBA Discussion; Beastbrook.

I had planned to give my award to the Defensive Player of the Year this evening, but Russell Westbrook has just completely changed my schedule after doing the one thing that would truly set him aside from the other MVP candidates (I’m still voting for James Harden, however) – he has finally joined Oscar Robertson to become the second person in NBA history to average a triple double for an entire season. Not only that, but he is currently tied with the Big O’s NBA record of 41 triple doubles in a single season, and with 3 games to go, I’m extremely confident that Brodie will hold that record come April 12th. It’s just too hard to believe that he’d go five games without a triple double, which has sort of locked in my belief that he will become the true triple double king at the end of the season.

Like I said, James Harden is still getting my vote for MVP, but, being a Rockets fan, that’s understandable. But the hate Westbrook is getting on social media, on the NBA’s official page and off-brand meme pages and such, is just ridiculous. I’m not a Thunder fan by any means, but it’s hard not to like Westbrook, both as a player and as a personality. He’s such a happy and fun person to watch, I mean, it’s difficult not to smile, or even laugh, when you watch Brodie do his pre-game dances, laughing and joking around with his teammates, particularly Cameron Payne. I watched a video of his pre-game dance while sitting on a chair before the Suns game last night, and I couldn’t help but laugh as he danced around and lip-synced to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Humble.’ It’s really what sets him and Harden apart from the likes of Kawhi and LeBron – they relate to the fans, and genuinely look like they’re having fun while they’re doing what they’re paid to do, which is why you see them dancing and celebrating when they hit tough shots. You just don’t see Kawhi doing that, and it’s rare to see LeBron doing it, and when he does celebrate, it’s generally his signature angry face and shoulder brush. So the hate Westbrook’s getting, I really don’t understand it. From the perspective of a basketball fan and a person, I think people should just praise Westbrook for his amazing accomplishments this season, rather than finding ways to put him down while they talk up other players.

What Westbrook has done, and is doing still, this season, is absolutely phenomenal, to the extent that no other player has come close to matching up to him in terms of out-of-this-world achievements. Whether you’re voting for Harden, LeBron of Kawhi, if you can’t appreciate the things Brodie is doing this season, you’re not a true fan of the NBA. Aside from carrying the Thunder to a playoff seed, virtually all by himself, he’s breaking near-impossible records while he’s doing it. He became the only player to join Oscar Robertson triple double average club, and has done it with the weight of an awfully atrocious Thunder squad on his shoulders, which hasn’t seemed to slow him down. And while this stat would be amazing for any player with the ability to achieve, it’s much better that we see it coming from Westbrook. He was abandoned by superstar teammate Kevin Durant at the start of the season, left all alone to carry a poor team, against an 11-12th place projection by most fans. But he’s showed everyone that he wasn’t ready to give up like KD was, and has brought the Thunder to the playoffs, and at full speed as always, I might add. He could potentially be the first MVP, that isn’t part of a top 3 seeded team, in over 20. So if you needed another argument for Westbrook’s MVP case, there you go. And look, I’m completely for Harden winning MVP this season, but I certainly won’t be mad if it’s given to Westbrook, because he is just as deserving of the award as The Beard.

Just a quick word on how close this season’s MVP race is – it’s recently come to light that the regular season MVP won’t be announced until after the Finals, in an “Award Show,” likely to give the league a chance to total up their results from social media votes and such. But I have a theory; what if the league are holding off handing out the award until the end of the playoffs, because they still don’t know who’s more deserving between Harden and Westbrook, and are going to use the playoffs as a further measure of each player’s ability and value to their team? I know the MVP award is based on regular season performances, but doesn’t it make sense? Anyway, it’s just a thought I had while trying to think of ways Harden can outshine Westbrook’s beast of a season. Congratulations to Beastbrook on officially averaging a triple double for the season, and I’m sure I’ll be talking about holding the record for most single season triple doubles in a few days.

Let me know what you think of Russ’ amazing season so far down below, and follow my blog for more NBA Discussions and to see me complete my end of season awards. The DPOY award will be handed out tomorrow evening, apologies again for the delay, but I couldn’t not talk about Westbrook after what he’s done. Check out my Twitter for updates on the blog and just my general shite posting. Enjoy your day!

TheBloggingLeprechaun NBA Awards; Rookie of the Year

There’s no soft way to put it, but the race for Rookie of the Year for the 2016-2017 NBA season was as underwhelming as the Dunk Contest, with no rookie truly shining at the level of Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Davis in their respective rookie seasons. Rookies such as Brandon Ingram, who was expected to make a huge impact in his first season with the LA Lakers, as underperformed to a horrible extent, to a point where a 16 point game was considered a turning point in the forward’s career, while his teammate D’Angelo Russell put up 40 points against the Cavaliers. This has been the trend for the majority of rookies this season, and even some of the players on the top nominees list don’t truly deserve to be there. With that being said, though, let’s get into it!

3. Buddy Hield

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I really like Buddy Hield, I liked him coming into the draft at the beginning of the season, and had really hoped he would go to a team where he could be used to his full potential, but no, he gets drafted to the Pelicans. While in a Pelicans uniform, Buddy averaged 8 PPG, confirming my suspicions that he would be misused, and destroying my dreams of him turning into a future star. But then a wonderful thing happened – Boogie Cousins gets traded to the Pelicans in a 3-player package which included Buddy Hield, so he could finally use his talents on a team that are now lacking a scorer, and since the trade, he’s improved dramatically as he fits in well to a team that have actually been playing some pretty good basketball since trading their superstar away. Since the trade, Buddy has averaged 17 PPG on 48% shooting, which is actually great for a rookie scoring guard. I, for one, am so happy that Buddy got traded, as now we can finally see his true potential as a scoring guard, and, if he can improve his defensive rating, Hield can definitely be an all-star in future years. In other years, however, I understand that Buddy wouldn’t get into the top 3 for ROTY, but I guess he should consider himself lucky to be drafted into such an awfully boring group of players. In any case though, I truly believe that Buddy has a very high ceiling, and I’m praying that whatever god may exist out there, that he’ll transform into a star scorer. Who would’ve thought being involved in a trade for DeMarcus Cousins would release this kid’s potential? Anyway, congratulations to Buddy for cracking the 3rd spot on the ROTY list!

2. Malcolm Brogdon

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For those of you who never heard of Malcolm Brogdon, remember that rookie who dunked on LeBron and Kyrie in the same game? Yeah, that was Malcolm Brogdon. I genuinely feel that Brogdon deserves to be a Rookie of the Year, and while he just missed out this season for me, I’m sure there’s plenty of people, probably Bucks fans, who will have him down as their number one. Since the start of 2017, when Brogdon began to receive decent minutes as a guard, he’s brought his points per game up by 2, is shooting 88% from the foul line, and averages 4 APG, so he’s pretty all-rounded in terms of what he does on the court. Nobody had really heard of Brogdon until he put both LeBron and Kyrie on a poster, and since then, he’s been popping up all the time as a true contender for the ROTY award. In March, he brought his FT% up to an incredible 95%, an extremely rare achievement for a rookie. He’s also become more confident as a shooter, averaging a couple of more attempts per game alongside my MIP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Brogdon is, as well as Antetokounmpo, one of the bright spots for the Milwaukee Bucks, and plays better defense than most of the rookies this year. His 10 PPG average is sure to improve as he continues to grow as a player and receive more minutes for the Bucks and, potentially, develop into a star, which could be a scary development when paired with Giannis. And hey, if you dunk on two of the best players in the league in your rookie season, you’re obviously destined for great things in the NBA, right? In any case, congratulations to Malcolm Brogdon on placing 2nd in my ROTY list.

1. Joel Embiid

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It’s a testament to the performances of the rest of the rookies in the 2016-2017 season when a rookie who was injured back in February, is still leading the way for Rookie of the Year now in April. A torn meniscus coming at the end of the February meant more surgery for ‘The Process,’ who was drafted back in 2014 but only played his debut game in the NBA this season. Before the injury, Embiid had a truly outstanding season on a truly awful 76ers team, and was the team’s one bright spot considering Ben Simmons’ injury which put him out for the season before he even got to play. Despite only playing 25 minutes per game due to injury concerns and minute restrictions, Embiid averaged 20 PPG, combined with 8 RPG, to lead the way for Rookie of the Year, and, to be quite honest, just throw every other rookie out of his path as he steamrolled to stardom in his first few games. While it took the rest of the season’s newbies a couple of months to settle into the NBA, Embiid took off almost immediately, and was relied on early on by the Sixers to play well down the stretch of close games, despite being a rookie. Embiid is a perfect example of what the league is looking for in centres, with the NBA’s recent transition to a shooting league, as the Sixers big man has the ability to stretch out to the 3-point line in order to knock some down, and is quite capable, with a respectable 3PT% of 37%. As well as that, The Process plays outstanding defense, and is in a class of his in that respect, averaging an incredible 2.5 BPG in his rookie season, putting him miles ahead of his rookies peers in every aspect of the game. While this injury strikes yet another concern for Sixers fans, as they’ve become accustomed to big injuries from the rookie star, there’s no doubt in my mind that, combined with the passing ability of likely ROTY next season, Ben Simmons, Embiid and the Sixers have an extremely high chance to make the playoffs, especially if they make some more magic in the draft like they have been the last few years, only this time, hopefully without the injuries they’ve faced from their rookies. To conclude this post, TheBloggingLeprechaun’s Rookie of the Year award goes to 76ers centre Joel Embiid!

Let me know who you felt deserved Rookie of the Year down below, and follow my blog for more awards and NBA Discussions. Check out my blog on Friday evening for my Defensive Player of the Year award, which is likely to cause huge controversy. Have a peek at my Twitter for updates on the blog, and just my general shite posting. Enjoy your day!

 

 

 

 

 

TheBloggingLeprechaun NBA Awards; Most Improved Player

In the case of youth players in almost every sport, at least in Ireland anyway, the most improved player award is considered to be more an insult than an acknowledgment of improvement, highlighting the player’s previous lack of ability which has improved just enough for them to be considered applicable to the line-up. I feel, personally, that this is not the case in any sport, particularly in a league as tough as the NBA. The Most Improved Player (MIP) award is a genuine acknowledgment of a player’s hard work and dedication to improve their game in the off-season, and is, without a doubt, an extremely prestigious award, which plays a major role in motivating rookies and newer players to work hard. In the case of these 3 players, their improvement has caught my eye to the point where I find myself watching their games closely, whereas if it weren’t for their new and improved game, I would certainly not flick to the games on a regular basis. So let’s get into it!

3. Seth Curry

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Seth Curry, the hairband-wearing Steph, has been flat out balling since the All-Star break, and even sparked some conversation regarding MVP. This, obviously, is a ludicrous statement, and, to be quite honest, is completely delusional, but you get the sense that Seth has improved dramatically over the course of the season. Naturally, Seth flies under the radar for most NBA fans, overshadowed by his brother Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. He is basically a poor man’s Steph, and, trust me, that’s not a bad thing. He’ll give you sharpshooting consistently, excellent ball handling, and a clutch game which most would argue is lacking in Steph’s game. He’s a beast in 2K, with his shooting ability being matched to his brother’s, so that’s quite a plus for those who don’t want to fork out 200K on a sharpshooter. This season alone, Seth’s had 10 20+ point games, as well as a fantastic 31 point performance against the Timberwolves, in a game they still LOST, which is a great set of stats considering Seth only cracked the starting line-up since the return from the All-Star break. The fact that he didn’t start for the majority of the season, makes up for his mediocre 13 PPG, which is proven by his 18 PPG average since February. I genuinely feel bad for Seth, putting in solid work on a team surrounded by an old-age Dirk Nowitski and inconsistent Harrison Barnes, with a coach who refuses to allow the struggling team to tank in order to gain some help in the draft. If Seth was to be traded to a team where he actually had some help, I personally feel he could average 20+ PPG. What makes Seth’s season so special, is that he has basically been unheard of by casual NBA fans, despite having a great stretch of games. His almost-limitless range is quite close to his brother’s, and he’s got that cold blood, which allows him to shoot daggers when needed. You want to know a fun fact about Seth? He was more sought after in college than Steph. Yeah, bet you didn’t know that one. But he’s finally showing people that he’s sick of chilling in his brother’s shadow, and is ready to ball out for a team that will just let him play. I should probably clarify that Seth just beat out Jabari Parker for the 3rd place award for Most Improved Player, but huge credit to him anyway for the hard work he’s put in to get to where he is this season. Congratulations to Seth!

2. Nikola Jokic

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A big man making the Most Improved list? This is almost unheard of in the NBA! But almost every NBA fan will have ‘The Joker’ on their list of candidates for MIP this season. Jokic passes the ball like a guard, dishing is out from the post on a consistent basis, allowing him to finish just behind Kristaps Porzingis in the Skills Challenge. The Denver Nuggets big man is basically a young Kevin Love, only with much more potential to become a superstar in the coming years. Jokic is shooting 58% from the field, which probably seems low for a centre, but is actually quite high for a big that can shoot the three ball, making a third of his shots from behind the line. The Joker has improved dramatically in points per game, bringing himself up to 16.5 PPG, assists, averaging a nice 5 APG, as well as rebounds, marking out at just 10 with 9.6 RPG, which is no joke, haha I’m hilarious! Sorry about that. What I find most impressive about Jokic’s improvement this season is, though, how exciting he has become to watch. It’s difficult to go a game without seeing a LeBron-esque pass coming for 22 year old machine, and with at least another 10 years of NBA time in him, he’s only going to get better. I feel he has the ceiling of a Dirk Nowitski, but will almost definitely be a better playmaker. No, I’m not saying he will be better than Dirk, but doesn’t he have that potential? If this season is anything to go by, I believe so. It’s hard to believe, looking at him this season, that 6’10 passing big man like Jokic was drafted late in the second round, and has now become one of the best young players in the league. In January alone, he averaged 24 PPG, as well as over 11 RBG, and has been well over the 6 APG mark of most GUARDS over the last three months, which is just incredible. Jokic is 6’10 for God sake, yet he runs the floor and dishes the rock like a 6’3 guard. This kid is definitely one to watch, so keep an eye out for him. Jokic takes the runner-up award for MIP!

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

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Was there even any doubt that the ‘Greek Freak’ was going to top this list? I would be extremely surprised if Antetokounmpo didn’t win the official MIP award, equal to the point if Harden or Westbrook don’t win MVP. When your nickname is the Greek Freak, you have to live up to a name like that, and this season, Giannis is more than living up to the name, and showing everyone around the league that he is to be feared. Every time he walks up the court, there’s a strong chance he’s going to put someone on a poster *cough, Curry, cough,* and let’s face it, Giannis is just a scary dude. He’s a 6’11 guard, 6 FREAKING 11. Imagine you’re an opposing point guard, and you’re forced to defend this guy, hell no man I’m getting out of the way of this dude. And I know, he’s fitted into the point forward role this season, and has usually been guarding and guarded by other small forwards, but on rare occasions, we have seen him taking point guards, which is just ridiculous. Giannis was the youngest player to take part in the All-Star game this season, and was just throwing out highlights left and right, including a crazy putback poster over Steph Curry, despite him dodging it earlier in the game. His selection to the All-Star game this year was a token to his dramatic improvement, having better stats in every statistical category this season. The Greek Freak is averaging 23 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, as well as a 52% shooting record, which are all huge improvements in his stats. Antetokounmpo is probably the most fun player to watch in the NBA this year. When he walks up the court, towering over just about every player daring to match up to him, you just wonder who he’s putting on a poster this time. He requires so much attention from opposing teams, which is why he’s raised his assists by 2 per game, and is why he’s topping the MIP list for me. His defence is absolutely incredible for such a young player, but isn’t much of a surprise considering his 6’11 size. What’s even scarier though, is that, despite being KD sized, he’s amazingly quick, and seems to fly up and down the court, allowing him to glide through the air. I remember this one play from earlier in the season, where Giannis did this insane windmill dunk, and it looked as though his arm had stretched out as far as the free-throw line! And despite having such a fecking hard name to spell, I’m certain Antetokounmpo is going to take the Most Improved Player award by a country mile. So the winner of TheBloggingLeprechaun Most Improved Player is: Giannis Antetokounmpo!

Let me know who you felt deserved the MIP award down below, and follow my blog for more NBA Discussions and awards! Check out my Twitter for updates on the blog and just general shite posting. Keep an eye out for the Rookie of the Year post Wednesday evening. Enjoy your day!