New York Knicks Report Card: Little Magic, Tons Of Frustration

RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks

The New York Knicks are 25 games into the 2021-2022 NBA season, which is a little less than one-third of the NBA season. With a record of 12-13, it’s a large enough sample size to evaluate the team’s performance and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the roster.

There are a lot of weaknesses. Spoiler alert!

Time to break out my red pen because it might get messy.

Julius Randle – C+

The Most Improved Player from 2020-2021 put up career highs in almost every statistical category during last year’s magical season. Regression was bound to happen, but some of the numbers are alarming. Randle still leads the team in points/rebounds/assists with averages of 19.8/9.8/5.2. Those numbers would be stellar if Randle were the second option on the team. However, he remains the team’s best player, and anything less than 22 and 10 is unacceptable. What’s alarming is the dip in three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. Last year, Randle shot 41% from 3 and 81% at the line. This season, it’s 33% and 75%, respectively. Randle will be the first to tell you that he needs to elevate his game because if his play doesn’t improve, the Knicks will miss the Play-In game.

Kemba Walker – D+

This hurts, man. I wholeheartedly agreed with signing Kemba Walker after he took a buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder. 2 years, 18m was a good flyer for a player that averaged 19 points a game since 2016. Besides a few scoring outbursts in the first quarters of multiple games, Kemba’s tenure with the Knicks has been a disaster. All of the defensive metrics with Kemba on the court are atrocious. Now, Kemba is out of the rotation, and will probably be traded or bought out at some point aka “The Austin Rivers.” I wish Kemba nothing but the best.

Evan Fournier – C-

Let’s get this one out of the way. I stand by my “Fournier is a solid player” take. His play will never live up to the contract, but I believed he could be the second-best player on this team. As of Dec. 10, I’m wrong. Fournier is Murphy’s Law. For every 20-point performance, there has to be a <10-point performance where he sits on the bench during the fourth quarter. Plus, Fournier is a liability on defense. If Fournier can’t make shots, he’s unplayable at the end of games.

RJ Barrett – C+

It’s been a roller-coaster season for RJ Barrett. He started the season with a bang, averaging 19 points per game with the highlight being a 35-point performance in New Orleans. Then, he forgot how to shoot especially from behind the arc. It’s actually painful to watch at times. I’m convinced he’s the best guy in the NBA at hitting the front end of the rim. However, Barrett has been more aggressive over his last two games including a 32-point performance in San Antonio. I like RJ a lot, but he’s been way too inconsistent for a guy that many believe should be the second-best player on the team.

Alec Burks and Derrick Rose – A-

The two most consistent players on the Knicks are Alec Burks and Derrick Rose. That is a real sentence I just typed. Both of these guys can create their own shot on the offensive side of the ball, which can’t be said about 80% of the roster. I hate to bring up “manalytics,” but as someone that’s watched every game, Burks and Rose never hide from the moment. They continuously want the ball in their hands at the end of games. Without these two, the Knicks would have less than 10 wins.

Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin – B

Bench mob, stand TF up! Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin have been godsends off the bench all season long. The duo are plus/minus standouts with IQ at +97 and Obi at +88 (second and third on the team). These young guys are both gym rats, and both improved on both ends of the floor especially Obi, who doubled his points per game from 4 to 8. Thibs has to consider giving more minutes to both IQ and Obi going forward.

Tom Thibodeau – B-

It’s unfair to put the team’s disappointing start solely on Thibs. This is a severely limited roster with no true closers at the end of games. However, the rotations to start the season did the team no favors. The defense is nowhere to be found at times. After ranking third in defensive efficacy last season, the Knicks are 23rd. The Knicks still play hard on a nightly basis, but the team has gotten exposed in the third quarter and at the end of games especially in close losses. That’s on Thibs.

Team Grade – C

Did I expect the Knicks to be the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference again? No. Did I expect the record to be over .500 at the one-third mark of the season? Absolutely. It’s been a disappointing start to the season so 12 wins feels like a blessing with how poorly they’ve played at times. The Knicks will need to make a few trades to compete for a playoff spot. I still think this is a Play-In team, but the idea of returning to the playoffs will evoparate quickly if this doesn’t change over the next month. I believe in the Knicks, but I’m worried.

What are your grades for the Knicks? Leave them in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

2021-2022 NBA Week 1: Fair Reaction or Overreaction?

DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls / NBA

After the first week of the NBA season, the Lakers are missing the playoffs, the Warriors are winning the title, and the Timberwolves have the best version of the Big Three.

Are these fair reactions or overreactions?

Fair Reaction: The Bulls And Knicks Can Both Crack The Top 6 In The East

The Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks both have good, competitive teams at the same time. Is this the 1990s? After last night’s 104-103 win, the Knicks moved into a tie for first place in the conference along with the Bulls, Hornets, and Wizards.

Both the Knicks and Bulls have vastly improved on both sides of the ball. The Knicks are now shooting more 3s than last year and it’s paying off as the team is fourth in three point %. For Chicago, Zach LaVine finally has a good supporting cast in Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vučević.

It’s still a long shot for both teams to avoid the NBA Play-In Tournament, but it’s not out of the question. If the Bulls and Knicks continue to stay competitive all year, they have a legitimate shot to kick a team out of the Top 6. The two likely candidates to fall out of the Top 6 are the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

For the Sixers, the status of Ben Simmons puts the Sixers in no man’s land. Simmons needs to play, or the organization needs to trade him because Embiid desperately needs help. Sitting on the sidelines helps no one. For Boston, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are studs, but they lack a true point guard. Have fun taking turns with Marcus Smart and Dennis Schröder running the point. If the Celtics do not trade for a PG, they are in danger of making the Play-In tournament.

Overreaction: The Nets And Lakers Should Panic

We are just over one week into the season, and things could not be any worse for the two finals’ favorites. Brooklyn is still missing Kyrie Irving due to the vaccine mandate, and James Harden can’t get to the free throw line if his life depended on it. In Los Angeles, LeBron has already begun his load management, and the team blew a 26-point lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder in an overtime loss to the fighting Josh Giddeys.

Both teams sit at 2-3 with clear roster problems that need to be fixed. The Nets need another scorer while the Lakers cannot figure out their rotations. (Why does DeAndre Jordan start?) Luckily for both teams, their stars will help right the ship on their way to the playoffs. There’s no need to overreact, but let’s revisit this at the end of November.

Fair Reaction: The Utah Jazz Are A Good Regular Season Team

The fact that the Jazz are undefeated should surprise no one. Utah has all the pieces to be a good NBA regular season. It’s why I picked Utah to be the #1 seed in the West going into the playoffs. Utah is Top 10 in scoring and second in defensive rating. Say what you want about Rudy Gobert, he’s a monster on the glass and defensive end. Gobert is grabbing 17.8 (!!!) rebounds per game. The Jazz will have to conquer their playoff demons in the Spring, but for now, this team should continue to roll.

Fair Reaction: The Golden State Warriors Can Be A Top 3 Team In The West

I predicted the Warriors would hover around .500 until Klay Thompson’s return, and they would end up with an 8-seed. Hand up, I think I’m going to be wrong. The Warriors are 4-1 and look like a completely different team from a year ago. Steph is, well, doing Steph things (43/40/96 % splits), but unlike last year, his teammates are shouldering the offensive load. Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, and Damion Lee are all averaging over 14 ppg. If the Warriors can stay in the top 3 by the time Klay returns, then championship expectations return to the Bay area.

Overreaction: The Minnesota Timberwolves Are A Playoff Team

Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell are accounting for two-thirds of the team’s points per game. It’s great to see their version of the Big Three healthy. I don’t want to rain on Minnesota’s parade, but can we pump the brakes just a bit? Towns and Russell have played less than 30 games together. Edwards, who is an amazing player and personality, is only in his second year. The Wolves have had one winning record since 2005. Let’s see if all three guys can stay healthy before talking about the playoffs.

Fair Reaction: The Mavericks Should Trade Kristaps Porzingis

I’m a firm believer in players needing a “fresh coat of paint” to revitalize their careers. Kristaps Porzingis looks lost in Dallas. He’s far removed from his “unicorn” days pre-ACL injury in New York. Porzingis is averaging 12.7 ppg, 6.0 RPG, and 0.7 apg. Those are good numbers for a backup, not a top player in the third year of a $158 million contract. The sooner the Mavericks can find an offer for Porzingis, the better.

What are your thoughts on the opening week in the NBA? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.com.

2021-2022 NBA Season Preview: Are The New York Knicks Back?

Julius Randle of the New York Knicks

Are the New York Knicks back? Let’s ask Amar’e Stoudemire.

Amar’e might have been 10 years too early on his declaration. But after a 41-31 record that resulted in the team’s first playoff appearance since 2013, the Knicks very well might be back.

In 2020, the Knicks were the scrappy underdogs under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau. The Knicks clawed and battled their way to the fourth-seed in the Eastern Conference through the defense (top 5 in defensive ratings) and rebounding (top 10 in rebounds per game).

On the offensive side of the ball, Julius Randle shattered expectations by becoming a dynamic playmaker on his way to a stat line of 24/10/6 and a trophy for Most Improved Player. Derrick Rose was a godsend at point guard, RJ Barrett improved in almost every statistical category including 3P% (32% to 40%), and Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and Reggie Bullock all became solid contributed.

Last year was full of surprises. After a successful year, those surprises have now turned into expectations. The days of praying for a 30-win team are over, or at least fans including myself believe those days have passed. Now is the time to build on the momentum from last year and grow into a consistent playoff team.

Things That Must Happen For The Knicks To Take The Next Step

– The Knicks must make the playoffs: I can’t stress this point enough. If the Knicks don’t make the playoffs, then last year was a fluke. All of the building blocks put into place last year mean nothing if this team can’t play meaningful basketball in April. I don’t expect the Knicks to be the four-seed again, but if they don’t make the Play-In Tournament, then the season will be a failure.

– RJ Barrett must become a playmaker: If RJ Barrett wants to become a star in this league, then he must become a playmaker on offense. What do I mean by playmaker? Throughout last season, the go-to play for the Knicks was a Randle isolation. That either lead to a tough make, a missed shot, or a pass for a three. While Jules was amazing for most of the year, his playmaking was nowhere to be found in the Atlanta series. This is where RJ comes in. RJ needs to be able to take his man off the dribble and either get to the rim, pass for an open three or hit a pullup jumper. His 2020 game averages of 3 assists and 3.8 free throws are not going to cut it. Those need to get to 4.5 and 5 at the very least.

– Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier must ease the offensive load for Randle: It sounds obvious, but Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier were paid to play offense. They were brought in for their ability to create offense, especially off the dribble. As I stated above, the go-to play was a Jules-iso. Kemba is the best opening day point guard for the Knicks in over a decade. If he stays healthy, the Knicks have a true starting point guard. With Fournier, he must shake off his preseason shooting woes and become a threat from behind the arc. Anything less than 40% is a failure and I’m being generous with that number.

The Bottomline

Superstars win championships, and right now, the Knicks don’t have any superstars. That’s ok for now. The Knicks must return to the first round of the playoffs and play a competitive series. If the team ends up playing the Nets or Bucks in the postseason, then their season will most likely come to an end. However, if they run into a team like the Hawks, Heat, or Sixers, then the Knicks must last more than 5 games. If the Knicks win a playoff series, I’m doing cartwheels outside of MSG. I’m expecting 42-45 wins.

It’s time to take the next step towards becoming a winning franchise once again.

Playoffs or bust.

What are your predictions for the Knicks? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

2021-2022 NBA Season Predictions

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets / NBA

In my best Daniel Craig voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re back.” The 2021-2022 NBA Season begins tonight when the Nets take on the Bucks and the Warriors face the Lakers. After an offseason full of vaccine questions, trade requests, and unhappy stars, I’m glad to put that all behind us and watch some good basketball.

Oh, wait. All of that stuff is still happening because the NBA continues to be dramatic!

Sigh.

Last week, I described all 30 teams in one sentence. This week, it’s time for my predictions.

Key Storylines

The Ben Simmons saga is on a highway to hell: Seriously, what the hell is going on in Philly?

Countless NBA players have demanded a trade, but have we ever seen a player deliberately sabotage a team? I typically favor player empowerment, but this is where I draw the line. I applaud the Sixers for fining and suspending Simmons because what he did was bullshit. However, Daryl Morey had a chance to trade Simmons for James Harden. There have been conflicting reports as to who, Morey or the Rockets, sunk the trade. I look at it this way: if Morey truly wanted to give up Simmons and trade for Harden, he could’ve pulled it off. That’s on Morey.

Now, it’s a waiting game. Morey has to realize that he won’t get a star in return for Simmons. That doesn’t mean a Simmons trade can’t happen. Would the Blazers be willing to part with McCollum? Would the Kings give up De’Aaron Fox (probably not) or Buddy Hield (probably yes)? Could the Spurs package multiple young players like Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson? Trade Simmons now or play hardball and wait. It’s time to shit or get off the pot.

Will Kyrie Irving Play: While the Sixers must make a decision on Simmons sooner rather than later, the Nets can show a little more patience in their approach due to the fact that the team can get by with Kevin Durant and James Harden. Whether or not you agree with the vaccine mandate in New York City is irrelevant. It’s the rule and it’s not changing anytime soon. It’s possible things change when a new mayor takes office, but are the Nets willing to wait until the end of winter/early spring to welcome back Irving? If the Nets are at the top of the East during Irving’s absence, then they’ll continue to wait until the mandate changes. If Durant or Harden get hurt and the team stumbles, then Sean Marks will have to consider trading Irving.

Will The Two Storylines Listed Above End So We Can Talk About The Other 28 NBA Teams: We need something else to discuss.

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks
  2. Brooklyn Nets
  3. Atlanta Hawks
  4. Miami Heat
  5. Philadelphia 76ers
  6. Boston Celtics
  7. New York Knicks
  8. Chicago Bulls
  9. Indiana Pacers
  10. Charlotte Hornets

Eastern Conference Finals: Bucks over Nets

I would pick the Nets to win the East if the Big Three were guaranteed to play together in the playoffs. However, it’s far from a lock. I’m picking the Bucks over the Nets simply because I can’t trust Brooklyn’s Big Three to play every game. I will believe it when I see it.

Western Conference

  1. Utah Jazz
  2. Phoenix Suns
  3. Los Angeles Lakers
  4. Denver Nuggets
  5. Dallas Mavericks
  6. Portland Trail Blazers
  7. Los Angeles Clippers
  8. Golden State Warriors
  9. Memphis Grizzlies
  10. San Antonio Spurs

Western Conference Finals: Lakers over Jazz

I realize I’m a hypocrite for not trusting Brooklyn’s Big Three to stay healthy, but then believing LeBron and Anthony Davis will play every game in the NBA playoffs. LeBron only gets hurt via freak accident so as long as that doesn’t happen, he’ll play every game in the postseason. AD is a HUGE question mark, but if Frank Vogel load manages Davis throughout the season, there’s a chance he doesn’t get hurt come next Spring. It’s a huge “if,” but I’ll bet on that over Brooklyn finishing the season with their three stars.

NBA Finals: Lakers over Bucks

I truly believe LeBron has one more title in him. Year 19 is when he wins his fifth and final championship.

NBA Awards

MVP: Kevin Durant

Rookie of the Year: Cade Cunningham

Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder

Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Most Improved Player: Ja Morant

Sixth Man of the Year: Jordan Clarkson

Here’s to a successful (and healthy) NBA Season.

Leave your NBA predictions in the comments or tweet us, @danny_giro

2021-2022 NBA Season Preview: Describing Each Team In One Sentence

Luka Doncic NBA

The 2021-2022 NBA Season is set to kick off Tuesday, Oct. 19.

This is not a drill.

Within the last 12 months, the NBA finished two seasons, crowned two different champions, and will start its newest season next week. Ever since the pandemic started in March 2020, I’ve lost my sense of date and time. The picture of Jimmy Butler on the scorer’s table after Game 5 of the 2020 NBA Finals was going around on Twitter the other day. Had I not seen the date, I would have guessed the picture was from 2018.

Regardless, I’m happy to have basketball back especially after an exciting NBA Finals. The league is in a good spot thanks to so many young budding superstars. Giannis Antetokounmpo sits on the throne as the best player in the league, but Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and LeBron James could easily take back the crown by the end of the year.

In this exercise, I previewed each team in one sentence. Some are funny, others are brutally honest, and a few might hit home. Let’s dive right in.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the best duo under 25, but do they have enough surrounding talent to become a top-4 team in the East?

Brooklyn Nets: James Harden and Kevin Durant can win a title as a duo, but will Kyrie join them to form the trio?

New York Knicks: Was last year an anomaly, or have things changed at MSG?

Philadelphia 76ers: Is the Ben Simmons relationship salvageable?

Toronto Raptors: If you know the full truth behind the Pascal Siakim injury and his projected return date, I’m all ears.

Central Division

Chicago Bulls: I like Zach LaVine more than most people, and the team is good on paper (Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vučević, DeMar DeRozan), but the Bulls have a date with the play-in game whether they like it or not.

Cleveland Cavaliers: This roster does not make sense especially in the frontcourt, but they are going to be exciting to watch because of Sexland.

Detroit Pistons: Let Cade do whatever he wants.

Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner is somehow still on this team.

Milwaukee Bucks: If Giannis gets a mid-range jump shot, then the Bucks can repeat.

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks: After getting a taste of what it’s like to win big games, Trae Young and co. should be back in the mix for a top-4 seed in the East.

Charlotte Hornets: If LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward stay healthy, the Hornets should once again battle for a play-in spot.

Miami Heat: After getting embarrassed by the Bucks, the addition of Kyle Lowry means the Heat will try to channel their 2020 success.

Orlando Magic: This could be the worst team in the NBA.

Washington Wizards: The countdown to a Bradley Beal trade continues.

Western Conference

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets: If Joker is the Joker and Michael Porter Jr. becomes a 20+ ppg scorer, the Nuggets are a healthy Jamal Murray away from truly becoming a contender in the West.

Minnesota Timberwolves: It might be time to pull the plug on the Karl-Anthony Towns-D’Angelo Russell pairing.

Oklahoma City Thunder: If the Thunder decide to try, then they could win 25 games, but that won’t happen.

Portland Trail Blazers: If the Blazers get bounced from the first round again, Dame is good as gone.

Utah Jazz: If the Jazz went 82-0, would anyone seriously believe they could win the title?

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors: If Golden State can stay around .500 by the time Klay Thompson returns, the Warriors could be the dark horse to win the West.

Los Angeles Clippers: Until Kawhi returns, keep dreaming, LA.

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers are the best team in the NBA if and only if their stars are healthy and that’s a huge “if.”

Phoenix Suns: With the entire core returning, the Suns should battle for the top seed once again.

Southwest Division

Dallas Mavericks: Luka must win a playoff series this year if he truly wants to become “the guy.”

Houston Rockets: The Rockets could be the first team to score 100 points per game and give up 200 points per game.

Memphis Grizzlies: If the Grizzlies make the playoffs once again, we might have to change the trajectory on Ja’s ceiling.

New Orleans Pelicans: If the Pelicans are secretly trying to get rid of Zion, then they’re passing with flying colors.

San Antonio Spurs: With all due respect to Pop, is it time for a new voice?

How would you describe your favorite team? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

NBA Christmas Schedule Takeaways: League Believes In Trae Young

Trae Young / NBA

Christmas Day calls for presents, eggnog, and basketball. As much as the NFL has tried to hijack Christmas Day in recent years, Santa Claus belongs to the NBA. December 25 is the most important day of the regular season.

Yesterday, the NBA revealed its Christmas Day slate. It will feature 5 games that include the faces of the league.

  • Hawks vs. Knicks
  • Celtics vs. Bucks
  • Warrios vs. Suns
  • Nets vs. Lakers
  • Mavs vs. Jazz

Some of these games feature blockbuster matchups and budding rivalries. Others leave me with more questions than answers. Here are my biggest takeaways.

The NBA Believes In Trae Young

Trae Young is a budding superstar. Yes, I said superstar. Before this season, Young was considered a “good stats, bad teams” player who elected to shoot 35-foot contested jumpers instead of getting his teammates more involved. An in-season fight with John Collins, the firing of Lloyd Pierce, and the addition of Bogdan Bogdanović made Young a completely different player in the second half of the season, catapulting the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals. Young averaged 28 ppg and 9 apg in his first three playoff series. Pretty good for a “chucker.”

Putting Young against the New York Knicks in MSG to kick off the Christmas Day slate is a strong statement from the NBA. The league (and I) believe Young can take his game to further heights and become one of the fifteen best players in the NBA. Young is now eleventh in jersey sales as of July, which is his highest ranking since he’s been in the league. Young became a true heel in the first round against the Knicks. I went to Games 1 and 2 against the Hawks, and Young was the most hated man in the Garden. The Mecca hasn’t generated heat like that since the days of Reggie Miller in the 90s. Don’t expect Knicks’ fans to show Young some Christmas compassion.

Nets vs. Lakers Is The Biggest Matchup Since 2016

As Stephen A. Smith likes to say, “This game is box office.” The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to be on a collision course to meet in the Finals last season. Injuries and Giannis got in the way from those two juggernauts facing off. The Nets and Lakers are the heavy favorites to win the championship so their showdown is the most anticipated matchup of the season. For Christmas, I’m wishing for good health so KD, Harden, Kyrie, LeBron, AD, and Russ can play in the game.

The Mavericks Vs. Jazz Is A Head-Scratcher

Luka Doncic playing on Christmas makes sense. He’s a future MVP and arguably one of the five best players in the game today. So why is Luka playing the Jazz? This doesn’t make sense. Christmas should be reserved for star power and rivalries. The Mavs bring the star power, and the Jazz bring the… what do they bring? I really like Donovan Mitchell. I respect Rudy Gobert more than most fans. However, the Jazz do not move the needle. The Mavs should be playing the Clippers because of their recent playoff history or the Nuggets because of Nikola Jokić. There’s still time to change the schedule, Mr. Silver!

Fantasy Booking Christmas Day

It’s time for me to be Vince McMahon and become a matchmaker. If I’m being honest, most of these games are solid matchups. I would make a few minor tweaks.

  • 12:00 PM – Hawks at Knicks – Keep this game. It’s a rilvary with a villain. That’s great television.
  • 2:30 PM – Mavs at Celtics – Luka has to play on Christmas. Luka vs. Tatum is a battle for the future face of the league.
  • 5:00 PM – Suns at Bucks -The two teams who meet in the Finals should run it back on Christmas.
  • 8:00 PM – Nets at Lakers – Box Office. Enough Said.
  • 10:30 PM – Clippers at Nuggets – This has some history with the Nuggets coming back from a 3-1 defecit to defeat the Clippers in the Bubble. Kawhi and PG vs. Joker is a fun, enjoyable matchup.

See you all on Christmas.

Do you like the Christmas Day matchups? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Team USA: Second Straight Loss Highlights Poor Roster Construction

Kevin Durant of Team USA vs. Australia

On paper, Team USA is the most talented basketball team in the world. After two exhibition games, their superior talent hasn’t translated to victories.

Team USA lost their second exhibition game on Monday night, falling to Australia, 92-83, in Las Vegas, NV. This comes off the heels of their historic 90-87 loss to Nigeria this past Saturday night, where Team USA was a 29.5 point favorite going into the game. For context, the United States defeated Nigeria, 156-73, at the 2012 Olympics.

Team USA has been the most dominant international basketball team for the past 30 years. Since 1992, Team USA is 53-3 in the Olympics with all three losses coming in 2004. Furthermore, the United States had been 54-2 in major exhibitions since the 1992 Dream Team before dropping two straight games over the last three days.

Exhibitions are unofficial games but don’t tell that to the rest of the world. Playing against the USA is the equivalent of playing for a championship. Because almost every top International team has NBA players, the days of fearing Team USA may be of the past. Just ask Joe Ingles, who said that his Australian team expected to beat Team USA.

Losing two exhibition games is not the end of the world for Team USA, but it’s a cause for concern. The offensive chemistry will most likely improve considering the team has some of the most talented scorers in the world like Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and Jayson Tatum.

The problem with Team USA is rooted in its roster construction. On paper, 11 of the 12 players on the roster have made an all-star team. The team is constructed of combo guards and versatile wings that can guard multiple positions on defense.

This roster would thrive in the NBA, but the International game is much different. Teams are more traditionally structured, where multiple big men play at once, defenses pack the paint (no defensive three seconds), and teams consistently run offensive sets. It’s not the “3 and D” style that the NBA has morphed into over the past few seasons.

Plus, there is more physicality, and the US team lacks a dominant big man. Small ball will work against the inferior teams, but the United States could run into problems with bigger opponents due to their lack of size. It’s important to note that Australia outrebounded Team USA, 23-20.

The international game is officiated much differently. The refs are not as inclined to call touch fouls like they do in today’s NBA. To be honest, it’s refreshing, but so far, the Americans have failed to adjust to the officiating.

Team USA’s late-game execution has been horrendous. Australia ended the game on an 11-1 run to seal the victory. The Americans are looking to players like Lillard and Durant to bail them out on offense by playing iso-ball. That hasn’t worked in two exhibition games. Although Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday will join the squad after the NBA Finals, this team desperately needs a traditional, playmaking point guard like Chris Paul to get into their sets and generate easy buckets.

Why did Team USA select Kevin Love? In two exhibition games, Love has 0 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist. In other words, Love has been nonexistent. Instead of selecting an aging veteran who could be bought out of his contract, the United States would have been better off filling this spot with a young point guard like De’aaron Fox, LaMelo Ball, Ja Morant, or Trae Young. If they elected to go with a rim protector instead, then Jarrett Allen or even Evan Mobley come to mind.

Team USA may still go undefeated at the Tokyo Olympics and frankly, they shouldn’t lose a game with their talent. If they do lose, then roster construction will be the reason for their downfall.

Do you think the United States men’s basketball team will win the gold medal? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

Casting My NBA Awards Ballot: Who Will Win In Each Category

Stephen Curry / NBA

It’s time to cast my (nonexistent) ballot for the NBA Awards. The NBA Awards include a mix of obvious winners and heated discussions. Categories like MVP and Most Improved Player are all but over. On the other hand, the All-NBA discussion is heating up rapidly as ballots are due next week.

Below is my ballot.

MVP

  1. Nikola Jokic
  2. Joel Embiid
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  4. Steph Curry
  5. Julius Randle

When the dust has settled, Nikola Jokic will win the MVP. He’s almost at the top of every offensive statistical category including in the top five for assists. The 7-footer is averaging 8.4 assists per game, which is ludicrous for a center. Plus, he’s doing this all without Jamal Murray. The Joker deserves this MVP, make no mistake about it.

Update on 5/18/21: The original top 5 was Jokic, Embiid, Giannis, Randle, and Paul. After the weekend, I slid Curry into 4, moved Randle to 5, and removed Paul from the top 5.

Defensive Player of the Year

  1. Rudy Gobert
  2. Ben Simmons
  3. Bam Adebayo

What Rudy Gobert does for the Jazz is irreplaceable. FiveThirtyEight ran a piece about how Gobert’s season is one of the best ever. The Jazz are 11.9 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert is on the floor, which is the best in the NBA. Take Gobert off the Jazz and their entire makeup changes.

Most Improved Player

  1. Julius Randle
  2. Jerami Grant
  3. Christian Wood

I’ve written and tweeted about Randle’s improvement ad nauseam. His leap from a good talent to an All-NBA player is remarkable. Randle is the heartbeat of the Knicks and one of the key reasons for their turnaround. With career highs in almost every offensive category, Randle is a runaway winner.

Rookie of the Year

  1. LaMelo Ball
  2. Anthony Edwards
  3. Tyrese Haliburton

If LaMelo Ball doesn’t fracture his wrist on March 20 and miss time, he wins this award in a landslide. Ball’s averaging 15.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 6.2 apg and one of the main reasons why the Hornets will make the play-in tournament. However, it’s hard to ignore Anthony Edwards’s offensive explosion throughout the second half of the season. He’s a walking bucket, highlighted by his 40 point game in early May. Do you reward the better all-around player who missed more than 30% of the year due to injury or the electric scorer who played in every game and came on strong in the second half? Because he came back from injury and he’s on a playoff team, Ball gets my vote.

Coach of the Year

  1. Tom Thibodeau
  2. Monty Williams
  3. Quin Snyder

I’m sure some of you are going to accuse me of being a homer with this pick. You’re not wrong because I’m a diehard Knicks fan. However, ask yourself this question: Before the season started, did you have the Suns or Knicks making the playoffs? If you follow the NBA, then you would have selected the Suns, not the Knicks, to make the playoffs. Monty Williams has done a masterful job, taking the Suns from a fringe playoff team to a potential one-seed.

The Suns were trending in the right direction thanks to an 8-0 record in the bubble. The Knicks didn’t even make the bubble. No one predicted Thibs would turn this team around so quickly. I love the Knicks with all my heart and I had them as the 10-seed going into the year. Tom Thibodeau changed the culture of this organization in one season. He took a bunch of forgotten players, convinced them to play defense, and molded them into one of the six best teams in the East. That is the Coach of the Year.

Sixth Man of the Year

  1. Jordan Clarkson
  2. Derrick Rose
  3. Joe Ingles

With all due respect (even though I’m about to be disrespectful), the Sixth Man category isn’t as strong as it’s been in years past. There’s no Montrez Harrell, Dennis Schröder, Lou Williams, or Jamal Crawford on the ballot. This award will either go to Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, who both had good seasons. Clarkson is second on the Jazz in points with 18.2 in just under 27 minutes per game. Ingles aka Jingles is the glue of the Jazz. He’s a sniper from deep (45.6 3P%), a solid pick-and-roll creator, and guards the opposing team’s top wing every night. I’ll go with Clarkson, but my heart truly thinks it should be Derrick Rose, who is in the midst of a career renaissance.

All-NBA

First Team

  • G: Stephen Curry
  • G: Damian Lillard
  • F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • F: Luka Dončić
  • C: Nikola Jokic

Second Team

  • G: Jimmy Butler
  • G: Chris Paul
  • F: Julius Randle
  • F: Kawhi Leonard
  • C: Joel Embiid

Third Team

  • G: Kyrie Irving
  • G: Bradley Beal
  • F: LeBron James
  • F: Zion Williamson
  • C: Rudy Gobert

Determining the 15 players to make All-NBA is like picking your favorite Taylor Swift album. You change your mind every two seconds. There are over 20 guys who can make a legitimate claim for one of the 15 spots. In a typical year, 13 of the 15 available spots are solidified and only one to two selections require a debate. This year, the entire third team is up for grabs. That’s how competitive it’s been in a year where many stars missed significant time due to injury.

Position eligibility is the biggest factor in determining each team. Embiid is a true center but can be voted in as a forward. Doncic is the point guard but can be voted in as forward. It’s category fraud that mirrors the best acting races at the Oscars.

My biggest conundrum involves Embiid and Doncic. If I move Embiid to forward, Doncic takes the second guard spot, and Damian Lillard moves to the second team. If I vote for Doncic as a forward, Dame moves up to the first team, and Emiid goes to the second team. Should Embiid be demoted to the second team when he’s going to finish second in MVP voting? All-NBA is a flawed system. If I could change the ballot, I would make it two guards, two forwards, and one position that could be a guard, forward, or center. With the current rules in place, I’m putting Luka at forward, bumping Embiid to the second team, and move Dame to the first team.

Quick Hitters

  • I couldn’t leave a Nets player off the team. If Harden doesn’t get hurt, he’s on the team. Since he missed too much time, Kyrie makes it. (Kyrie has been spectacular, by the way.)
  • Zion finished top 10 in both scoring and field goal percentage.
  • LeBron missed too many games to be on the first or second team.
  • It’s hard to deny Chris Paul’s greatness, which doesn’t reflect in the stat sheet.

What does your ballot look like? Leave your selections in the comments or tweet me, @danny_giro.

All-NBA Teams: Biggest Questions Remaining Before Season’s End

Nikola Jokic NBA

In a chaotic and unpredictable season, determining the All-NBA selections for the 2020-2021 season will be anything but simple.

In a normal year, the three All-NBA teams usually reflect the ten-best players in the game along with five players who had extraordinary seasons but sit outside of the top-20 in terms of player rankings. Superstars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and James Harden combine for over 30 All-NBA selections. However, injuries may bump some of those players off the ballot.

With less than two weeks left in the season, there are arguably more than five spots still up for grabs, which is pretty high at this point in the year. As someone who doesn’t have a ballot, I’m anxious to see how voters weigh certain factors in their decisions.

Does Durability Matter And If So, How Much?

This is my biggest question when it comes to All-NBA this season. Does durability matter and if so, how much? The first question is an easy answer. Yes, durability matters. “Survival of the healthiest” is an accurate way to describe the All-NBA first and second teams. If a player puts up All-Star numbers and missed less than 10 games, then it should strengthen their case for All-NBA. Nikola Jokic is putting up historic offensive numbers, but he’s also played every single game, which ensures the Nuggets’ center will make All-NBA first team.

Durability has to matter, but where will the line be drawn for the number of games played to make an All-NBA team? In a 72-game season, can you play 60 games and still make All-NBA? Steph Curry is a shoo-in to make the first-team despite being a few games over the 60-game threshold so yes, players who played at least 60 games can make the team.

What about 50 games? Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George, three players with great numbers across the board, will cross the 50-game threshold before the end of the season. Despite missing 15-22 games, 50-plus games played will be enough to qualify.

What if it’s below 50 games? This is where it gets interesting because the best player in basketball won’t play 50 games this season. Who is it? Scroll below.

Where Will LeBron James End Up?

A week ago, if you told me LeBron James would miss an All-NBA team, I would’ve said you’re nuts. After news broke that LeBron would need to sit out at least two games this week to rest his ankle, LeBron being excluded from the All-NBA team is more of a possibility.

Do I think LeBron will make an All-NBA team? Yes, but it should not be on the first team. LeBron could potentially miss one-third of the regular season when it’s all said and done. Note that LeBron missed 27 games in 2019 and still made All-NBA Third Team. With averages of 25/7.9/7.8, LeBron will make an All-NBA team this season. It will most likely be the second team, but there is a possibility it’s the third team.

Will One Nets Player Make It?

The Brooklyn Nets are the favorite to win the championship according to OddsShark. However, it’s possible that their three stars, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, will be left off the All-NBA teams. Can this happen? More importantly, should this happen?

Durant, Harden, and Irving are three of the fifteen best players in the league. However, each star has detrimental reasons to keep them off All-NBA. For Durant, it comes down to the number of games played and KD may not even eclipse 35 games. Leaving KD off the teams won’t be a problem.

Harden has played 42 games this season with averages of 25.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 10.9 APG. When he’s played, Harden has looked unstoppable. But, Harden will probably sit for the remainder of the regular season because of injury. More importantly, eight of those 42 games were played as a member of the Houston Rockets. I doubt the media will reward Harden with an All-NBA selection after a tumultuous exit in Houston.

Then there’s Kyrie, who has the best case out of three. Kyrie is averaging 27.0 PPG, 4.9 RPB, and 6.3 APG with shooting splits of .500/.385/.922. Kyrie will end up playing over 50 games on a team that’s in contention for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. However, Kyrie’s off-the-court decisions have dominated the headlines including two leave of absences from the team. During one of those personal breaks, Kyrie attended an indoor birthday party maskless, which resulted in a fine. I’m not here to play moral police, but Kyrie’s off-the-court actions will certainly be held against him.

If the Nets win the championship without an All-NBA selection, it would mark the first time since the 1988-1989 Pistons where a team won a title without having a player who made All-NBA in that particular season.

As teams fight for playoff positions, keep an eye on players vying to improve their All-NBA candidacy.

What are your biggest questions regarding All-NBA? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me, @danny_giro.

The NBA Play-In Tournament Is A Slam Dunk For The League

Luka Doncic Mavs NBA

It’s tough to side with billion-dollar corporations especially when that corporation is the NBA. Nine times out of ten, I’m going to support the teams and players over the league. However, this is the one time where I’m defending the league. I support the NBA Play-In Tournament.

Last year, the NBA installed the Play-In Tournament to determine the final seeds in each conference. The play-in game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers was a slam dunk for the league. The excitement around a game to enter the playoffs with a “winner-take-all” mentality was the perfect appetizer before the NBA Playoffs.

Before the 2020-2021 season, the NBA Board of Governors voted unanimously to install the Play-In Tournament on a one-year basis. This year seeds 7-10 in each conference will take part in the tournament from May 18-21.

The rules:

  • 7 v. 8 – Winner advances as the 7-seed to play the 2-seed
  • 9 v. 10 – Winner advances to play the loser of the 7 v. 8, loser goes home
  • The loser of 7 v. 8 v. the winner of 9 v. 10 – Winner advances to play the 8-seed to play the 1-seed
NBA.com

For fans, this is a win-win scenario. Who doesn’t want to watch competitive basketball where the stakes are high? These games matter, which should translate to hard-nose, playoff-style basketball on the court.

For the league, the Play-Tournament is obviously a huge win. The tournament will dominate the topic of conversation in the sports world that week. More importantly, the tournament gives more teams a shot and curtails fewer teams from tanking. However, let’s call it like it is. To quote Shane McMahon, “Here comes the money.” The league created the tournament to make money, plain and simple.

The only negative voices seem to come from the teams themselves. They’re singing a different tune. Injury concerns, motivation, and fairness are the most prominent reasons for dissension.

It all started when Draymond Green said the Play-In games were “not the real playoffs” and they don’t “motivate” him. Fred VanVleet played both sides of the fence, saying the Play-In games made “more sense for the Bubble.”

The Mavericks were aligned in their opposition to the Play-In tournament. Luka Doncic doesn’t like how two games shouldn’t decide your fate after 72 games. Marc Cuban understands why the Play-In Tournament exists but believes it’s an “enormous mistake” because of the compressed schedule.

Notice how the only voices discussing the pitfalls of play-in games are those teams in contention for seeds 7-10. Is this just a case of sour grapes?

If Cuban wants to complain about the compressed schedule, I’m all ears. Most of the players thought once the Bubble ended, the league would start in January. Because of money, the league pushed for a December start.

Is there a correlation between a compressed schedule and injuries? Perhaps. Many general managers and team health officials blame the compressed schedule for an abundance of player injuries. That being said, there are fewer injuries to starters this year than there were last year according to NBA data.

Cuban makes some fair points against the Play-In Tournament, but it’s important to remember that he voted for it to happen. Cuban was a part of the unanimous vote for the extended postseason. Hindsight is 20/20, and Cuban admits he made a mistake. But, as Stan Van Gundy pointed out, “He (Cuban) pushed for it.”

Would the Mavs be speaking out against the Play-In Tournament if they were a Top-6 seed with a chance of winning the title? Probably not.

The Play-In Tournament gives more teams hope for making the playoffs. Is it false hope considering the Play-In winners will almost certainly lose to the top two seeds? Yes, but championships (and rebellions) were built on hope.

With more teams vying for playoff spots, fewer teams will try to tank. I am not anti-tanking. I’m a Knicks fan. The Knicks tanked for three straight years. The bottom three teams in each conference should (and will) tank. But if you’re the 11-seeded Wizards or 11-seeded Pelicans, you should want to make the Play-In Game. The backend of the lottery won’t solve your problems.

The stakes have been raised in the regular season thanks to the Play-In Tournament. In most years, seeding battles typically involve teams looking to improve their seeds or the 9-seed trying to move up and jump the 8-seed. Now, there could be 24 out of 32 teams fighting for playoff spots. Competition is a good thing for the league and for the fans.

If you still don’t believe in the Play-In Tournament, imagine this scenario.

Steph Curry vs. Luka Doncic for the right to advance in the Play-In Tournament.

That’s a mic drop right comment. That’s a real scenario that might happen as the Mavs and Warriors occupy the seven and nine seeds respectfully.

More is not always better, but more competive basketball with the best players in the world is something I will always support.

Do you support or oppose the NBA Play-In Tournament? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us, @danny_giro.